I’ve just finished watching a recording of Lang Lang, filmed in 2011 at the Camden roundhouse as part of the itunes festival. To watch the start of it you would have thought it was a rock concert, with a 1 minute countdown ringing out over a smoke filled stage and an audience going wild in anticipation. I have included a link to YouTube of the start of the show, although I have no idea of the copyright permission obtained by the uploader of the video.
It’s the first time I’ve actually seen footage of him playing, although you would have had to have been living in a cave in the cultural desert for the last few years to not have heard of him. I heard him being interviewed in 2010 by Kirsty Young for ‘Desert Island discs’. He told how his parents, who were already poor, gave up everything for his father and him to move home so that he could study at the Beijing Conservatory of Music. He tells the story of how he was kicked out by his tutor for supposed lack of talent; this shamed his father so much that he told the young Lang Lang to throw himself off the balcony. It was during this period that he also tried to wreck his hands by repeatedly punching the wall. Fortunately for the music world, he didn’t jump, nor damage his hands permanently, however the reaction of his father is quite shocking to us in the western world, but I suspect it would be easy to understand to those familiar with Chinese culture.
I am reminded of another BBC documentary I watched in January 2012 called ‘Meet Britain’s Chinese Tiger moms’. In it the contrast between, attitudes to parenting in the western world and those of Chinese origin, is highlighted in a both comical and worrying way. The predominate thinking in the UK, is that learning the piano should be fun for children, however that was not the attitude of these ‘Tiger moms’. Two hours practice each day with parental supervision was seen as completely normal. Complaints about being tired fell on deaf ears, and sessions could not be ended with something unfinished.
As a child I didn’t have access to a piano, and therefore wasn’t exposed to anything like this. Knowing how my parents were with other aspects of my learning I am completely confident that they would have been very British about it, possibly a bit of gentle encouragement, but no real pressure. Would this have been right for me though? I am not so sure… The were many interests in my childhood that could have been developed, however I lacked the self-motivation. My school report cards were always filled with statements, such as, ‘He is clever, but must apply himself’. I suspect that if I had started the piano at an early age there is a chance that it might have tailed off. I was definitely one of those kids who would have benefited from being pushed by his parents. I would love to be a better pianist and am doing my best to become one; however I will always regret not starting earlier. I am not convinced by the idea that children pick things up quicker than adults, however by starting learning at the age of 30, I have missed out on at least 20years of learning.
The ’Tiger mom’ approach can backfire though. One high profile case of this is that of Vanessa Mae, who’s mother was very pushy, when she was growing up and went on become her manager, however the relationship broke down such that the two are no longer on speaking terms. This can be seen as an example of where the approach failed, but let’s not forget that it allowed Mae to become very successful in her field. That is not to say that all children that are so heavily pushed reach the goals of their parents. However, it is surely the case that someone lacking motivation, either from themselves, or from their parent, will be very unlikely to succeed.
To sum it up, I guess what I am saying is that I wish I had started learning a lot earlier, I also think that I would have benefited from some pushing, to give me the motivation that I often lacked. There is of course the chance that I might have rebelled, had a strop and refused to continue. But knowing how much I love playing now, even if this had happened after a few years at least I would have left my childhood with some years under my belt. I would therefore have had a head start on my current learning. Still I have the self-motivation now, and plenty of time left to get to where I want to be, and I have never been the sort of person to hold onto regrets.