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The Piano Prodigy
This story, while more likely than not to be fictional, is such a beautiful reminder of the power of love. With love in your heart you can do anything!
At the prodding of my friends I am writing this story. My name is Mildred Honor and I am a former elementary school music teacher from Des Moines, Iowa.I have always supplemented my income by teaching piano lessons – something I have done for over 30 years.
During those years I found that children have many levels of musical ability, and even though I have never had the pleasure of having a prodigy, I have taught some very talented students.
However, I have also had my share of what I call ‘musically challenged’ pupils – one such pupil being Robby…
Robby was 11 years old when his mother (a single mom) dropped him off for his first piano lesson. I prefer that students (especially boys) begin at an earlier age, which I explained to Robby. But Robby said that it had always been his mother’s dream to hear him play the piano, so I took him as a student.
Well, Robby began his piano lessons and from the beginning I thought it was a hopeless endeavor. As much as Robby tried, he lacked the sense oftone and basic rhythm needed to excel. But he dutifully reviewed his scales and some elementary piano pieces that I require all my students to learn. Over the months he tried and tried while I listened and cringed and tried to encourage him.
At the end of each weekly lesson he would always say ‘My mom’s going to hear me play someday’.
But to me, it seemed hopeless, he just did not have any inborn ability.
I only knew his mother from a distance as she dropped Robby off or waited in her aged car to pick him up. She always waved and smiled, but never dropped in.
Then one day Robby stopped coming for his lessons. I thought about calling him, but assumed that because of his lack of ability he had decided to pursue something else.
I was also glad that he had stopped coming – he was a bad advertisement for my teaching!
Several weeks later I mailed a flyer recital to the students’ homes. To my surprise, Robby (who had received a flyer), asked me if he could be in the recital.
I told him that the recital was for current pupils and that because he had dropped out, he really did not qualify.
He told me that his mother had been sick and unable to take him to his piano lessons, but that he had been practicing.
‘Please Miss Honor, I’ve just got to play,’ he insisted.
I don’t know what led me to allow him to play in the recital – perhaps it was his insistence or maybe something inside of me saying that it would be all right.
The night of the recital came and the high school gymnasium was packed with parents, relatives and friends. I put Robby last in the program, just before I was to come up and thank all the students and play a finishing piece.
I thought that any damage he might do would come at the end of the program and I could always salvage his poor performance through my ‘curtain closer’.
Well, the recital went off without a hitch. The students had been practicing and it showed.
Then Robby came up on the stage. His clothes were wrinkled and his hair looked as though he had run an egg beater through it. ‘Why wasn’t he dressed up like the other students?’ I thought. ‘Why didn’t his mother at least make him comb his hair for this special night?’
Robby pulled out the piano bench, and I was surprised when he announced that he had chosen to play Mozart’s Concerto No. 21 in C Major.
I was not prepared for what I heard next. His fingers were light on the keys, they even danced nimbly on the ivories.
He went from pianissimo to fortissimo, from allegro to virtuoso; his suspended chords that Mozart demands were magnificent!
Never had I heard Mozart played so well by anyone his age.
After six and a half minutes he ended in a grand crescendo, and everyone was on their feet in wild applause! Overcome and in tears, I ran up onstage and put my arms around Robby in joy.
‘I have never heard you play like that Robby, how did you do it?
Through the microphone Robby explained: ‘Well, Miss Honor …. remember I told you that my mom was sick? Well, she actually had cancer and passed away this morning. And well …she was born deaf, so tonight was the first time she had ever heard me play, and I wanted to make it special.’
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house that evening. As the people from Social Services led Robby from the stage to be placed in to foster care, I noticed that even their eyes were red and puffy. I thought to myself then how much richer my life had been for taking Robby as my pupil.
No, I have never had a prodigy, but that night I became a prodigy … of Robby.
He was the teacher and I was the pupil, for he had taught me the meaning of perseverance and love and believing in yourself, and may be even taking a chance on someone and you didn’t know why.
March 18 - 2012
From Annie Zhou's Facebook page
This from Michael Liu's Facebook page
This is me receiving a piano lesson from Nadia. As you can see, I am following her instructions with Swiss watch precision. I'll never be as good a pianist as she is, but at least I'm making progress now. Thank you Nadia.
Use Your Talents
by Bill Ross
I want to submit
a rebuttal to the blog by Dr. Glenn Winters entitled 'About those child
opera singers: here's the deal.' My reason is that such a powerfully
negative submission ought not to float around the cyberworld without
being challenged, or at least garnished with an alternative perspective,
going to level my opinions against those of Dr. Glenn Winters' blog
which, at first glance (and possibly subsequent glances) seems to decry
and discourage talented children from blessing us with the fruits of
their talents and abilities. His blogsite from which I have taken mental
notes is copyrighted, so I cannot copy and paste his testimony onto
this site but I will include the URL so you can click your way to it
I, however, do not attempt to copyright anything so, for all I care, anyone can copy, paste, smoke, eat or drink anything that I have created.
the section titled, 'About Glenn', his professional qualifications
appear to be far greater than mine and will always be so, although I am
blessed with a couple of universal qualifications that might be deemed
superior to his: a keen sense of hearing and a love of music. This leads
me to the fundamental question of why we create music at all. Why do
we? What is its central purpose? I would hasten to suggest that it's to
provide enjoyment to ordinary people who do not necessarily know or need
to know much about the technicalities of music; people who are not
professionals. Indeed, professionals of Dr. Winters' caliber (I'm
spelling American although I am a Limey) form a minuscule proportion of
the music loving race. My 'profession' during my working life was
tracing problems with domestic electronic equipment such as televisions
and video recorders. My knowledge of the interior and workings of a
television did not make me more qualified on the TV programme content
than the owners of the equipment.
often heard it said that where there are gifted and talented children,
their parents are too pushy and could be doing the children more harm
than good (Dr. Winters says that in his blog too). I wouldn't deny that
there could be such cases, indeed, I've seen it, but we should avoid
confusing that with encouragement. Anyway, its cliche attribute is
making this a little boring now, we've heard it so often. It's a fact
that most parents would like to see their children do well at something.
Maybe my mother was pushy (my father didn't care less and only
discouraged me in everything, but that's another story); she would have
liked to see me become a concert pianist, after all, she invested enough
money in that objective. It was never going to happen though,
principally, because I wasn't good enough. I've drifted through my life
telling people that when I was a kid, I wanted to be a concert pianist,
but one key element was missing: I needed to be able to play pianos, and
despite seven years of lessons, I couldn't do that.
why do children who are capable of playing Chopin and Rachmaninoff
continue to do so? Could their time be better spent playing with dolls
or maybe working towards a career at Burger King? Dr.
Winters speaks for himself and other professionals (thankfully not me
and millions of other lay music lovers) when he says that they (the
glitterati professionals) don't have much use for the phenomenon of the
child prodigy. You see, that's where I started this. What does he mean
by 'use for' and why are professional musicians key in this area? Does
their opinion matter? Does anybody care what they think? It implies that
the only reason for the existence or the performances of musicians is
to appease professionals such as Dr. Winters, whereas it's really aimed
at the hoi polloi (thee and me).
Many of the talented children whose performances are included within my websites (Genius Piano Kids & Girl Superstars) are quite likely not being paid for their efforts, which would suggest that they are building up to a career and have not yet reached that pinnacle. Dr. Winters appears to have either overlooked or deliberately discarded this notion by stating that the children are not up to the standards of the professionals. Does he believe that the professionals have always been so consummate? Were they born professional, or did they go through a graduation process just like the children for whom he has no time? As we parallel the silly story about a centipede asking in which order should it move its legs, with children playing musical instruments, I tend to lower my respect for the expertise of even a doctor.
Child pianists memorize intuitively whereas adults do it analytically, explains Dr. Winters. Does it matter? Can the performer play it without staring at the sheet music and turning the pages from which it came, or not? If so, what more is needed? This story is suggesting that children who learn complicated pieces without knowing how they did it fall into a similar state of paralysis as the centipede. I too play complicated pieces from memory and I've no idea how my mind has recorded them, analytically or or intuitively, and quite frankly, I don't care. I just do it! Paralysis huh? As I watch the tiny fingers of some of these 5, 6, 7 and 8 years olds flying across the piano keyboard at the speed of light, the word paralysis does not come rapidly into my mind.
Let us move onto the tortoise and hare syndrome: child musicians play complicated pieces 80% perfectly with 40% effort and they will soon be surpassed by less gifted people who will attain 95% perfection with 110% effort. Well, aside from colloquialism or imagined emphasis value, the term '110%' can't exist.
If all of the above is discouraging for pianists, wait until we get to the opera singing. In essence, according to the Doctor, no 11 year old 'tweeny' girl should be doing this, primarily to avoid the harm she could do to her fragile and easily damaged vocal folds and her skeletal bone structure - bones, muscles and tendons are all are at risk of serious injury. Oh my goodness, dial 911, get some emergency help out to Jackie Evancho quickly, before she cripples herself.
"These girls are writing checks they cannot cash. No pre-adolescent children should do it and few teenagers should do it," states the doc. I've noted here that he said no pre-adolescent CHILDREN should do it, and not, no pre-adolescent GIRLS should do it. He adds that few teenagers should do much of it also. Would Dr Winters explain how boys fit into this? If children should leave soprano singing alone until they are adults, then boys have missed the boat.
Dr. Winters goes
on to suggest that if your ten year old girl has a nice voice, then
encourage her to play guitars or pianos, er.........., have we not just
been there with our 'don't do this' proposal? I know, it's me, try to
allow for this please, it's my age! Some of the girls' voices sound nice
because they are young. They
may or may not sound good when the girls become adults, so why should we
miss what is possibly temporary. I'd suggest that when/if they can't
sing in later life, then they could then go onto something else, but in
the interim, I am likely to cut my wrists if I can never hear the sweet
voices of Noelle Maracle or Madi (and many others) ever again.
I now find myself in agreement with Dr. Winters. I too despise
competitions where children are concerned, in fact, I don't like the
concept of piano competitions at all. The only upside to them is that
they give us, the music loving public, the chance to hear performances
that wouldn't come our way were it not for them, so I can live with
them. I do find shows such as the 'X Factor' and 'Every nation, city,
town, neighborhood, street on Earth has got talent' somewhat sickening.
Let us ask ourselves, what on Earth do Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and
their judging cohorts know about classical pianism? Would Dame Fanny
Waterman like to include them on her panel of judges at the Leeds Piano
Competition, or might we see them judging at the Van Cliburn in Fort
Worth or the Tchaikovsky in Moscow? Give me a break already!!
I suppose it must be time for me to epitomize: Dr. Winters has done it for me. "Children sing in church, home and school, leave the stage and the recording studio to the big bad grownups."
Groan.....Yawn...Snore...Zzzz...Zzzzz. WE'VE DONE ALL OF THIS!!! WE'VE
BEEN DOING THIS FOR CENTURIES!! (I wish I could control my shouting!)
The birth of the internet and You Tube has opened up a new vista for
talented children. Dr. Winters is fundamentally suggesting that we
should discourage or even prohibit children from performing in all areas
of music, notwithstanding their inherent talents, yet from other
professionals, we hear that the time to start is when young.
abandoned my piano playing when I was a teenager and I have regretted
it ever since. It was many years later that I became 'born again' and I
know that what I could have gained, I shall now never gain.
Please, anyone reading this, don't let it upset or discourage you. Take my stance, that being of one who bestows little or no respect for the 'expert' views of Dr. Winters. Were there much substance to his expert claims, there would be a torrent of disabled or badly crippled little girls, the product of their desire to sing. Personally, I would put money on a forthcoming brilliant career for the likes of Jackie Evancho and many of the pianists and other musicians featured on my two websites.
next section is far more encouraging. In contrast to the views of this
'professional', there are other professionals who clearly do not share
Dr. Winters' opinions. Let us take for example the late Patrick Tabet. I
haven't been able to obtain much information about Patrick, but from
what I can glean, it seems he devoted much of his life to encouraging
and furthering the careers of child musicians around the world and in
particular, to those of Aimi Kobayashi, Nadia Azzi and Umi Garrett among
others who are featured on these sites.
matters not who you are, what your aspirations are, how well and how
disciplined you conduct yourself, you will always face the negativity
that is spawned and extrapolated by the nasties of this world. Shortly
after Patrick's death, whilst attempting to find more information about
him, I inadvertently landed on a You Tube site that was filled with the
most disgusting rants of one particular individual. There was a time,
not too long ago, when a man who was fond of children and encouraged
children in what they do was considered to be a nice man. In fact, many
women who submitted their lonely hearts adverts to the Personal Columns
of newspapers would often be, '....looking for a man who had a GSOH
(good sense of humor) and must like children.'
Now, following all the media brainwashing of the public, such a man
these days draws a title other than 'nice man', the exact word used, I
won't type here, but it adorned that You Tube site extensively. I
choose to ignore such garbage; I've heard nothing but good about Patrick
from child musicians, many of whom are my Facebook and You Tube friends
and are featured on my websites.
If the testimony of Dr. Winters is worthy of any credibility, then the AADGT (American Association for Development of the Gifted and Talented) may as well close its doors forever. This organization, based at 8 Brookwood Road, New Rochelle, NY10804 Tel: (914) 712-665, exists to assist talented children to reach the pinnacle of their potential, many of whom, as a result of their involvement with AADGT, have performed for large audiences at New York's famous Carnegie Hall.
If we need more encouragement, we need look no further than Lang Lang who tours the world, not only performing in the world's greatest concert halls, but spends a lot of his time teaching and encouraging child musicians. Anna Larsen has received a large amount of teaching and assistance from him, as have many others. In London last year, he was responsible for organizing a massed piano event where 50 Steinways and a hundred children were on stage simultaneously, creating a magnificent sound the likes of which I'd never previously heard.
to sum up finally (I'll do it this time), it would appear on the face
of it that Dr. Winters believes that encouraging children in their
musical and singing talents is bad for them and the rest
of us, whereas the likes of Lang Lang, Patrick Tabet and the AADGT
believe that talented children are to be encouraged as much as is
possible. So do I. Let us move forward with our child musician crusade,
for if we are to rely exclusively on musicians whose careers begin in
adulthood, we'll need to prepare for a massive shortage.
mind wandering now - question - why did Dr. Winters write that blog?
What was he hoping to achieve with it (I'll finish this soon, I
promise)? It's had many hits, but because of it, will even one child
desist from playing music? Will one little opera singing girl desist
from singing. Do you know what all singing girls (without exception) say
? They all say that they sing because they love to do so more than
anything. Should they be deprived of this key pleasure in their lives?
I've yet to hear of a case of a girl's bone structure or vocal folds
collapsing following a singing session.
doubt, if Dr. Winters hears of this article, he'll proffer his own
rebuttal against it, but no problem; I'm thick skinned. I already know
what my problem is. It's that I have far more respect for children than I
do for adults. That's one thing kids do not receive enough of from
adults - respect. Try awarding it to them and hey listen, you'll be
amazed at how much respect they have stored up waiting to be unleashed
in your direction. I know, I've been there.
Is this a record": In September 2010, I ordered and bought tickets for a Lang Lang concert in London's Royal Albert Hall. The concert will take place in March 2012.
Is this a record?: Yamaha has introduced a new concert grand that it hopes will tackle the supremacy of Steinway in concert halls. It took 19 years to develop it. It's gotta be good huh?
Why am I doing this?
The question will undoubtedly raise its head someday, why create a site for musical little kids? Why not focus on a adult musicians? Answer, because adults are well represented already. Genius children may have always been with us but before the onset of the internet and You Tube, their brilliance rarely spread further than their own home towns. Now, it's world wide and the way I see it, I'm doing my bit here with this site.
OK, I know we can Google a name and all the You Tubes will come up, so why do we need this site? Answer, because this site provides an umbrella for a gargantuan amount of them thereby introducing children to people who would previously have never heard of them so wouldn't have a name to enter into Google - make sense?
I strongly believe that there are far more kids worthy of good publicity than bad, yet, if a riot breaks out in London or DC this evening, the entire world will see it by this time tomorrow. If a little girl plays a Piano Concerto in front of a large audience tonight, only that audience will know of it. THIS IS WHY I'M HERE FOLKS.
From the BBC News Channel - 5th March 2008
China's love affair with the piano
By Petroc Trelawny
An outbreak of piano fever has struck China, with conservative estimates suggesting 30 million Chinese children are learning the instrument and the number set to rise dramatically over the next few years.
Parents vie to get their children into piano schools
As the sun rises through the industrial smog hanging over the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, a factory comes to life.
Three thousand employees staff eight production lines, each equipped with high-tech machinery for precision engineering.
The company representative showing me around tells me not to photograph any of the machinery without checking with her first.
Industrial espionage, she says, is something the company is very aware of and it does not want rivals getting hold of its new technology.
This plant is not manufacturing cars or computers or mobile phones; it is making pianos, 100,000 of them a year.
The noise of saws and drills mingles with the resonant sound of hammers striking strings, keyboards being tested, dozens of instruments being simultaneously tuned.
During the Cultural Revolution, the piano was seen as the most dangerous of all Western instruments
A walk around the factory is a bit like listening to a vast, discordant piece of contemporary classical music.
The Pearl River Company is one of half a dozen similarly sized businesses making pianos across China, all of them attempting to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding market.
A basic Pearl River instrument will sell for around £800 ($1,500), an unimaginable sum for most Chinese but well within the budget of the country's burgeoning urban middle classes.
During the Cultural Revolution four decades ago, the piano was seen as the most dangerous of all Western instruments. It was once described as being akin to a coffin, a black box in which the notes rattled around like the bones of the bourgeoisie.
In a hotel near the factory, I spent a morning with Liu Shih Kun, a tall, dark-haired, elegant man.
Liu Shih Kun has been described as the greatest pianist of his day
In 1958, as a 19-year-old, he won second prize in the Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow, an event regarded as the pre-eminent contest for pianists.
China's musicians were only just beginning to cause a stir internationally, and he returned home to a hero's welcome.
He regularly performed for Chairman Mao and other senior political figures. Less than a decade later, he suffered the full wrath of the state.
Because of his travels abroad, because he had shaken hands with Soviet President Nikita Khrushchev, because he played Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, he was labelled a "counter-revolutionary revisionist".
First he had to clean the toilets at the Central Conservatory of Music. Then he served six years in Beijing's Taicheng prison, just about managing to keep his strength up by augmenting his daily two bowls of brine with worms culled from rotting vegetables.
Another distinguished pianist who defected to the West rather than face the madness of the Cultural Revolution told me he believed Liu Shih Kun was the greatest Chinese pianist of his day.
Now the 69-year-old rarely plays in public, his will to perform sapped by his experiences under Mao and another period of house arrest in the 1980s.
Most parents... see learning the piano as a route to a good high school or university place
Instead he looks to the future, running a series of piano kindergartens across China. Parents vie to get their children into these schools, where four- and five-year-olds are taught music alongside Chinese, maths and gymnastics.
After visiting a kindergarten in Beijing, I head for a branch of the Jiang Jie piano school, housed in a building above a Western fast food restaurant.
A spiral staircase rising up six floors is lined with tiny piano studios, 120 in all.
Business is so good that the school has just hired a dozen teachers from Russia. And this is just one branch of the Jiang Jie chain; there are 15 in Beijing alone.
Lessons are taken extremely seriously. Parents sit alongside their children while they are taught, making copious notes.
The Western concept of learning being fun is not practised here. It is about hard work and focus.
Once home, mothers and fathers will ensure their offspring practise for two or three hours every day.
Some parents undoubtedly hope that their children will become the next Lang Lang or Li Yundi: the starry pianists who are the current darlings of the music industry and whose posters cover many a teenager's bedroom wall.
But most are practical, seeing learning the piano as a route to a good high school or university place.
In a piano shop, I meet a man who works as an engineer at a power station. He tells me he hopes learning the piano will make his 10-year-old daughter grow up a well rounded individual.
"The discipline will be good," his wife adds, "It will make her concentrate."
A professor at one of China's music conservatoires puts the current love affair between the piano and China's children even more succinctly:
"Kids who are studying piano don't go wrong."From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 5 June, 2008 at 1100 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.