Culture in Your Living Room – Episode One: a little something for everyone on YouTube

Many of us are struggling with the recent changes to our lives: our regular routines have been thrown for a loop; we are isolated from our friends and family; and, we are inundated with negative news reports whenever we turn on the radio or television. Fortunately, many artists and cultural institutions have rallied to provide hope and inspiration. Over the past few weeks, I have been exploring online cultural content — whenever my bandwidth will allow. I thought I’d share a few of my discoveries, for the next time you need to lift your spirits.

First off is a shout-out to Bergen’s own Jamie Syer, who has been posting YouTube videos of Long Distance Piano Duets. These performances are masterful, the pieces are varied, and each episode is an individual artistic presentation, with an informative description. The performances are so captivating, one is unaware of the complex technological logistics required in order for the two pianists to respond to one another in playing a duet. Episode 8 deserves special mention, since it must have been double the work, but it is double the fun to watch. So far, my favourite episode is Claude Debussy’s “En Bateau,” simply because the peaceful music transports me to the boat on the water. 

If you prefer theatre to concerts, the United Kingdom’s National Theatre has been broadcasting a different play (previously filmed) each week as National Theatre at Home. These plays cover a broad range of genres. I watched a comedy set in the 1960s, as well as the classic Treasure Island. A number of Shakespearian plays have also been offered. Supporting videos that take you behind-the-scenes at the theatre are also available on the National Theatre website, if you want a more in-depth experience. Only one play is shown per week, so you will need to keep checking back to find one that appeals to you.

Among the events that have been postponed until healthier times are museum exhibits. An excellent YouTube series is The Stay at Home Museum. This set of private tours to five museums in Flanders, Belgium allows you to experience art exhibits of the Flemish Masters, such as van Eyck and Rubens. The beauty of these productions is that the guides are passionate curators who explain the background and significance of the various works. The website also has short articles about the artists.

I spent today exploring London’s British Museum and discovered a series that has been produced for the past several years, called Curator’s Corner, wherein the “curators … tell you all about themselves, their research and what it’s like to work with some of the world’s oldest and most significant objects.” Five seasons of short videos expose you to a vast array of different areas of study. All the curators are excited about what they do, yet each approaches their work in a different way. Some talk about their personal history, while others tell the story of a specific artifact. With over 50 videos available, you are sure to find something of interest.

For those who are fascinated by the past, I recommend a series that I have been watching for years: Les Feux de Guédelon [The Fires of Guédelon]. These short videos are recorded in French, but do have subtitles. They explain an experimental archaeology project in France that began in 1997. Experimental archaeology is a form of study where one learns by doing, in this case trying to figure out how to build a 13th century castle using historically accurate materials and technology. So far there are three seasons, each with its own theme. An individual episode has several segments to describe a particular aspect of the construction, explain the ancient technology, and reveal cultural tidbits. The hosts are recurring characters who interview the construction specialists, and they incorporate humour to teach history to young and old alike. Since this project is currently on hiatus, I will have to wait patiently for the next instalment.

So, if you occasionally want to escape from your living room, these new offerings and long-standing series can broaden your worldview, while connecting you with creative expressions of the human spirit. Whether you prefer music, theatre, art, or history, there is a cultural opportunity just a mouse-click away.

This article was originally printed in THE BERGEN NEWS and is being reprinted with permission.