Pi­ano pas­sion

More and younger Chi­nese tak­ing pi­ano lessons and are do­ing so with pas­sion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By CHEN YINGQUN cheny­ingqun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A mar­ket emerges as more young Chi­nese take pi­ano lessons.

Wear­ing a tai­lored black suit and white shirt, Wu Jun­lin bowed cour­te­ously to the ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence, just like any other in­ter­na­tional pian­ist.

But up close back­stage, he looked his age, a youth­ful 17. His young face was flush with ex­cite­ment and cov­ered in per­spi­ra­tion af­ter re­ceiv­ing con­grat­u­la­tions from pi­ano teach­ers he ad­mires.

This was the big­gest day of the teenager’s life, be­cause he had just won an op­por­tu­nity to play in the Stein­way In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val in Ger­many next year, where he will be able to meet many of the West’s best mu­si­cians.

Wu had just de­feated more than 6,000 con­tes­tants from 25 cities in China to win the fi­nal of the 77th Stein­way & Sons In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren and Youth Pi­ano Com­pe­ti­tion (Sixth China Re­gional Com­pe­ti­tion) in Xi­a­men, Fujian prov­ince.

“I started learn­ing pi­ano when I was 6 and have been learn­ing Western melodies and tech­niques ever since,” Wu says.

Al­though Western­ers’ pas­sion for play­ing the pi­ano has de­clined in re­cent years, mainly be­cause of the preva­lence of elec­tronic in­stru­ments, the In­ter­net and a range of other leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, Chi­nese chil­dren and young peo­ple have de­vel­oped such great pas­sion for the in­stru­ment that China has be­come the most dy­namic pi­ano mar­ket in the world, says Feng Yuankai, deputy sec­re­tary- gen­eral of the China Mu­si­cal In­stru­ment As­so­ci­a­tion.

The as­so­ci­a­tion says that in 2012, China made 380,000 pi­anos — 77 per­cent of global pro­duc­tion worth 6.8 bil­lion yuan ($1.12 bil­lion). The coun­try im­ported 106,800 pi­anos in 2012, a year-on-year in­crease of about 16 per­cent on 2011. It ex­ported only 50,000 pi­anos.

“China has about 5 mil­lion chil­dren and youths learn­ing the pi­ano. About 80 per­cent of the pi­anos sold in China each year are for them,” Feng says.

Pro­duc­tion has been sta­ble for the past few years, but de­mand for high-qual­ity pi­anos has in­creased, he says. In 2007, the av­er­age price for a pi­ano in China was about 13,000 yuan, but in 2012 it was 18,000.

Im­ports of higher- qual­ity pi­anos — mainly from Europe, the United States and Ja­pan have in­creased. By the end of the third quar­ter of this year, China had im­ported 88,525 pi­anos, a year-on-year in­crease of 11.8 per­cent and 2.5 times the num­ber in 2007.

“Some par­ents spend mil­lions of yuan on a pi­ano to make sure their chil­dren get the best sound from the be­gin­ning,” Feng says.

The im­prove­ment in the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion of many Chi­nese in the past 30 years has made the pi­ano, which used to be a lux­ury item for most peo­ple, more af­ford­able for many fam­i­lies. This is the main rea­son for its cur­rent pop­u­lar­ity. The pi­ano, which is seen as an el­e­gant in­stru­ment, has be­come par­ents’ first choice for their chil­dren, Feng says.

In ad­di­tion, more chil­dren and youths are do­ing well in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions and some have be­come fa­mous pi­anists, such as Lang Lang and Li Yundi, who have also be­come role mod­els for China’s le­gions of young pi­ano play­ers. Such suc­cess sto­ries make par­ents even more pas­sion­ate about their chil­dren’s pi­ano lessons.

Ev­ery year, there are hun­dreds of large pi­ano com­pe­ti­tions in China, which are or­ga­nized by pro­fes­sional in­sti­tu­tions, gov­ern­ments and com­pa­nies. Wu says that be­fore win­ning this bi­en­nial event, which is run by the 160-yearold Ger­man-based Stein­way & Sons, he had en­tered more than 20 con­tests.

Al­most all Chi­nese chil­dren who learn pi­ano will be asked to take part in a grad­ing test. Now more than 300,000 do so ev­ery year, Feng says.

Werner Hus­mann, pres­i­dent of Stein­way & Sons Asia-Pa­cific, says the skills and tech­niques of young Chi­nese pi­anists have im­proved greatly since Stein­way started its op­er­a­tions in China a decade ago.

“I think what ev­ery­one in the West sees ev­ery year now is that if you look at in­ter­na­tional pi­ano com­pe­ti­tions and other pi­ano events, it’s very rare that you won’t find Chi­nese con­tes­tants at least in the fi­nals.”

Hus­mann says this im­prove­ment is down not only to parental com­mit­ment but also to sup­port from Chi­nese gov­ern­ments.

“Pi­ano ed­u­ca­tion in the West is not at the level I find in China: how much the gov­ern­ment is fund­ing it and how much you can con­vince peo­ple they’ll re­ally en­joy play­ing pi­ano,” he says.

“Look­ing at the re­sults and the skill level in com­pe­ti­tions around the world, what China has done in pi­ano ed­u­ca­tion in such a short time is way ahead of other coun­tries.”

In pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion there are many col­leges, high schools and pri­mary schools that fea­ture pi­ano ed­u­ca­tion. That is rare in the West, where learn­ing the pi­ano is more a mat­ter of per­sonal choice.

Wu Ying, dean of the pi­ano depart­ment of the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic, says it did not have a pi­ano depart­ment un­til 2001, but now it is an al­lStein­way school.

“The col­lege has in­vested a lot in equip­ment and tech­nique, which are nec­es­sary to pro­duce top pro­fes­sion­als,” he says.

How­ever, while the pi­ano mar­ket and re­lated in­dus­tries have wel­comed this boom, ex­perts like Wu find it a mixed bless­ing.

“We are happy to have some ta­lented stu­dents who could be ex­cel­lent pro­fes­sional pi­anists,” he says. “But for other chil­dren, the pi­ano is just a en­ter­tain­ment and par­ents don’t need to be too con­cerned about grad­ing tests or things like that.”

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