Zhu Yafen: The Elegance of Piano Education

Zhu Yafen: One important goal of fostering piano talents is to cultivate more globally influential and outstanding pianists. And China has much experience in this field.

At present, China’s conservatory system consists of college and affiliated middle and primary schools, offering competent students a strict and systematic education from the beginning. Many of our youth pianists are internationally recognized. Nevertheless, we could do better in this aspect. We should change our competition-oriented attitude to one of comprehensive knowledge, and explore cultural accomplishments to help more pianists become musicians and artists with international influence.

Accordingly, we need more dedicated piano teachers, musicians and educators. We also need more dedication from “back-stage” workers, regarding talent cultivation as an important part of culture and art.

In my opinion, general piano education is the social base to cultivate talents. China has some 50 million children learning the piano; only a precious few will become professionals, and most will become talents in other fields. However, piano education can nourish their growth. In addition to modern advanced specialized knowledge, a musical upbringing can help them become creative people in all walks of life.

China Today: People say that giftedness is needed to study the arts, what do you think of this?

Zhu Yafen: I agree that to learn a creative skill, especially music, requires giftedness; however, it is not the only element.

An excellent pianist indeed needs to be gifted – inspiration, an artistic imagination, personality and musicality. Some talented people are more rational. They have a wealth of music knowledge, but they might lack strong interpersonal skills. These people are well suited to music theory education.

Besides, giftedness is in some sense relative. People without inherent talent can still realize impressive achievements through cultivation and practice.

China Today: How do you view your personal life in music? What have been your most memorable experiences and what did you take from them?

Zhu Yafen: Although my musical life has been tortuous and, occasionally, full of frustration, I have had rich and rare experiences.

During the “cultural revolution” (1966-1976) I was working with the Orchestra of Liaoning. My entire family was forced to move to the countryside and join production teams. Although I could bring my piano, I was not allowed to play it. Through working in the fields, I made friends with many local famers. When they heard that I was a pianist they were quite curious and wanted to have a look at the piano. Then someone proposed that on Chinese New Year’s Eve, we should have a party at my house and I could play the piano for them. No one would stop me because it was a special occasion. On that night, I improvised a number of songs on the piano that were popular among the masses at that time. I was impressed to see that the peasants were fond of music and the piano, and took delight in singing songs. Music bonded me and my friends together, it was very meaningful. Even today the scene remains fresh in my memory.

I spent five years working in the fields, an experience that tempered me in every aspect. Moreover, my children attended a rural primary school, and did farmwork like local children. Their childhood in the countryside helped them grow into healthy and successful adults. In a way, the hardships they endured at that time have turned into wealth.

For decades our country has experienced twists and turns, changes and developments; I also have acquired abundant life experience. As a piano teacher, I happily enjoy all I have now, and am full of hope for the future.

China Today: In 1954, you graduated from the Piano Department of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. What made you choose music as your major? Can you describe the affection you hold for the piano and your career in music?

Zhu Yafen: I was interested in music when I was young. My father, a university professor, loved music and could play several instruments and conduct. At home, he often played classical music on a phonograph. It was he who let my sisters and I learn the piano. I still remember playing the piano together with my two younger sisters in the kindergarten. The piano was our hobby. Later, my family could not afford our piano lessons, but my interest did not fade away and I continued to practice.

I wanted to apply to a conservatory of music after middle school. However, my father suggested I enter the university where he was working to save on expenses. I took his advice and studied English as my major. As a college student, I had been working part-time jobs, hoping to earn enough money to one day restart my piano lessons. But the cost kept rising. Two years later, I passed my exams and entered the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Determined to overcome my economic troubles and finish my studies, I worked hard to make money by accompanying a vocal music professor on the piano and teaching young learners.

      1   2   3   4