Zhu Yafen: The Elegance of Piano Education

Over the past decades, I have realized that the greatest happiness in one’s life lies in engaging in what you love through resolution and effort, and making a contribution to society. I don’t regret my choices.

China Today: Your career spans from performing abroad to being a piano teacher, and even being a panel member at piano contests. How do you evaluate this variety in your roles?

Zhu Yafen: Once you’ve decided what career you want to pursue, you’ve got a general framework and direction. But you have to fine-tune the details to be in harmony with the climate of the times and society at different stages.

In the early years of the People’s Republic of China, I toured with artists’ groups organized by China’s Ministry of Culture three times to Europe. In 1955 and 1956, we visited a number of countries in Western Europe, many of which had not yet established diplomatic relations with China. Therefore, our tour was very important as we presented Chinese traditions and culture to the West via music and art.

After returning to China, I was appointed to work in Shenyang of Liaoning Province where pianists were rather rare. In the Liaoning Opera Theater, I appeared in solo performances, chamber music, and playing with orchestra. Sometimes I had to play for over eight hours in one day to accompany opera and dance rehearsals. Although it was tough, I loved my work. Experiences in this period of time taught me a lot and greatly helped my teaching work afterwards.

Working in the farm fields during the “cultural revolution” left me with rheumatic arthritis in my hands. Owing to my arthritic fingers, I preferred teaching to performing. I was transferred to the Shenyang Conservatory of Music and served as dean of the Piano Department, teaching undergraduates and postgraduates as well as students from the conservatory’s affiliated middle school. Even after retirement, I still gave classes to on-the-job graduates. My students also included pupils from the conservatory’s affiliated primary school when it was first established and when the “piano boom” took off in the 1980s. In 2001, I was invited to teach at the music department of the Xu Beihong School of Arts at Renmin University of China in Beijing, where I am today. Since I’m not as busy as I used to be, I teach students outside the school as well. Some have gone on to be admitted to prestigious conservatories, others have gone abroad, and still others make great achievements in other fields but are still fond of playing the piano.

In recent years, I have been invited to teach and give lectures around the country, especially in smaller cities and remote areas where professionals are needed most. And, as you mentioned, I sit on the panel of judges at piano contests. Apart from inspiring young piano learners, I also give talks to their parents. I enjoy sharing my passion for music with students, parents and fellow teachers while offering them support and help.

China Today: What kind of efforts have you made to promote international exchanges in arts and music?

Zhu Yafen: After the reform and opening-up policy was carried out in China, I realized that cultural exchanges with other countries would increase and I began to rebuild my English proficiency. Moreover, I tried every possible way to invite pianists and musicians from the West to give concerts and master classes at the Shenyang Conservatory of Music. Such events were warmly received by all teachers and students at the conservatory, bringing about an upsurge of enthusiasm in the whole school and promoting piano and music education to a higher level.

In 1991, along with a pianist from the U.S., I initiated an International Music Festival in Shenyang, which was the first of its kind held by a conservatory of music in China. The festival, attended by teachers and students from conservatories throughout the country, was a great success. In the following years, the festival was held in different conservatories in China, receiving enthusiastic responses.

In addition to inviting pianists and musicians from abroad, I also acted as organizer, coordinator and interpreter for musical exchange events. This not only boosted international friendship and communication, but also brought me lots of friends while opening a door for me to learn more about piano teaching and music culture in the West. These events, at the same time, showed China’s developments and progress to the world.

From 1991 to 1992 and later in 1998, I lectured at seven conservatories and music schools in the U.S. The themes covered Chinese piano music, including masterpieces from different times, and the nation’s piano teaching. The pianists and teachers there were surprised on hearing the recording of my pupils’ playing and their improvised compositions.

These precious experiences have given me a wider perspective of the world and have greatly enriched my knowledge both in my profession and in many other fields.

China Today: As a pianist with so many achievements, how do you balance work and life? Do you have any hobbies besides playing the piano?

Zhu Yafen: I’m lucky to have the backing of my family. Over the decades, my students, both conservatory students and amateurs, have been encouraged and cared for by my family. Some of them have become close family friends and some have stayed in touch with us for decades. Family support enables me to go anywhere with one heart and one mind, worry-free. In a sense, my work does not contradict my life; it has merged with my life and is an inseparable part of it.

When I’m not playing the piano, I read a lot. I often translate books and articles concerning music from English into Chinese to share with my students and colleagues. I’m also fond of literature. On top of that, I love nature: Mountains and rivers, trees and flowers always make me happy.

      1   2   3   4