By Dawn M. Chiossi
Where the magic happens: Creative magic is intangible, yet people know it when they see it. That is surely the case with West Orange’s Matt and Riley Hahn. Making a great team, this father and daughter took YouTube by storm last winter when they performed a cover of “Shallow” from A Star is Born. Their duet, guitar, and ukulele performance from the heart resonated with viewers, touching their emotions, and soared to over five million views.
An avowed “musical family,” this I.T. Security worker, and 9th grader from West Orange High School share much more than family ties. Both are warm, funny, and have a passion for creativity, music, and performing.
For them, “Shallow” was just something born out of an impromptu desire just to have fun. The response from the public was both unexpected and amazing, throwing them both for a loop.
“It was just something we were doing at the dinner table, going through “Shallow” once or twice, and I decided to post it online.” Matt Hahn relates. “It really wasn’t that big of a deal. I’m not sure how the whole thing snowballed, but when a site called “Music Life,” decided to get involved, our rendition went viral. It was something that went from a few views to 100, to 1 million to 5 million. We were like, what’s going on?” he says incredulously.
“Oh my God, it was crazy,” Riley agrees.
They share that they had just decided to perform the song after seeing the Grammy Awards, and Matt Hahn immediately credits his daughter with the whole idea.
“After I taught myself how to play the ukulele, (something that she had found in the attic..it was actually Matt’s), the next day I went downstairs and asked Dad if he wanted to do “Shallow” with me,” Riley tells.
For both the Hahn’s music is a shared bond. Matt asserts that he started playing guitar soon after his Bar Mitzvah, quickly learning to play by ear. In addition to playing in a band, he wrote his own songs, something he still enjoys doing today.
“Even now he still plays guitar all over the house,” Riley quips.
At only 14, a theater enthusiast, Riley has already performed in a myriad of productions including Les Misérables as Young Cosette, (this when she was 12), an eclectic version of Shakespeare’s Comedy Of Errors, (In which she performed a musical solo), and enthuses that her true dream role would be to play the iconic Eponine in Les Misérables.
Additionally, Riley had been selected as part of Paper Mill Playhouse’s 2017 Summer Music Theater Conservatory.
For both the Hahn’s, their tastes in music is both broad and eclectic, enjoying different styles of music; their creative inspirations stem from Pearl Jam to Cindy Lauper, (it was Lauper’s True Colors that Riley had taught herself to play on the ukulele) to the Beatles, Beyonce, and more! But both Matt and Riley state that their biggest inspirations are each other. Not just for the talent, or expertise they give, but for the unconditional support and encouragement they provide for the other.
For Matt Hahn, it’s all about being a dad and supporting Riley’s passion. When Riley travels all over to perform, Matt’s at her side, rallying around her, investing in her dream.
“I always wanted the house to be music-positive.” Matt Hahn tells. “Part of being a dad is to enable passions, building things like the arts, and (having kids) express themselves in that way. Our job is to make sure that it blooms in the best possible nature. I want my daughter to go through the journey, to be creative, and explore different aspects of life, and expand their horizons. I wanted my family to know how to show excitement and chase the dream. That’s what it’s all about. It empowers them.”
“I was raised on music,” Riley says. “I wouldn’t be where I am without my parents’ love and support. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Performing is so much fun, there’s always something new,” she enthuses.
More than just a cover of a popular song, or just another video, there’s something special about Matt and Riley Hahn’s version of “Shallow.” It’s the utter pride they have in each other, and the enjoyment that they are having that sizzles through the screen.
“Even when I was at the airport in Texas someone came up to me and said, “Didn’t I see you on YouTube singing with a young girl? It was great!” Matt relates.
Still not quite getting over the surreal quality of it all, he goes on to say, “It’s amazing that total strangers can get joy out of something like this, not only appreciating talent but taking it for what it is…people singing a song. It’s wonderful they are so appreciative.”