Everyone knows the stereotype. All Chinese kids play an instrument. Growing up as a Chinese Canadian, I’m certainly well acquainted with it. My parents are both immigrants, and they pushed both my sister and I to play piano ever since we were four. I recall playing at my piano teacher’s yearly recitals, barely being able to reach the seat; my hands too small to press down more than two keys at once; performing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ in front of a crowd of parents, all cringing at the flurry of wrong notes. My parents always pushed me to play piano and it was never my choice to stop playing piano.
As the years went by and my piano books mounted, I began noticing that all of my Chinese friends, at one point or another, were pushed to learn piano by their parents. Of course, there are other instruments—Violin, Cello, the occasional drummer; the usual suspects. But piano is by far and wide the most played. But what causes piano fever for Chinese parents?
According to the BBC, Asian parents push their kids to play piano because it’s an opportunity they never had. My parents went through the Cultural Revolution under Mao’s China. During the revolution, millions of pianos were destroyed in China—they were seen as zealous forms of aristocratic life. So, as the BBC claims, Chinese parents never had an opportunity to play an instrument; now that they’re established in Canada, they now live their dreams through their children.
Nonsense. I think there’s a much larger reason why Chinese parents push their kids to play an instrument. One word: University. It’s no secret that Chinese parents are obsessed with making sure their children attend a prestigious academic institution. In Canada, we just so happen to have the Royal Conservatory of Music, or RCM. The RCM works in close conjunction with the Ontario Ministry of Education’s curriculum, as students who reach a high enough level through the RCM’s curriculum can obtain an equivalent of a high school credit.
And so immigrant parents jump on the bandwagon; the utterance of a high school credit to Chinese parents is the equivalent to having struck gold. After all, excellence in high school academics equates to attending a good university. Playing piano becomes a religion; kids are forced to practice daily, parents go with their children to the piano teacher on the weekends, and pray to the RCM gods that their child passed their recent piano exam.
My parents would propagate that all of my hard work was not for a career in the arts (Chinese parents revolt at the idea their child would ever consider a career in the arts), but instead for my ‘future enjoyment’. “Kevin, playing piano is a gift! You’ll enjoy it in the future!” I’m willing to bet that every Chinese parent has said that to their kids at one point or another. And you know what? Out of all my Chinese friends who played piano from young age and completed their studies with the Royal Conservatory, none of us enjoy playing piano today. In fact, very few of us even bother to touch a piano anymore.
But I have one Canadian friend, James, who similarly was pushed to learn piano through the RCM curriculum, but still plays piano religiously. When James reached Level 10 in the Royal Conservatory, he took on a sudden interest in learning jazz piano. Since the Royal Conservatory rejects jazz music as being a core part of the curriculum, James and his father rejected the RCM’s approach to music, instead electing to drop out of the RCM and learn jazz piano fulltime instead. Today, James has received numerous awards for his jazz playing and has made a career out of playing piano. According to James, his passion for music would have ended if it wasn’t for that very decision he made.
I never got to practice music that I enjoyed. Unlike James, I was forced to progress through the ranks of the RCM. Jazz? There is no ‘award’ or ‘merit’ for playing jazz. Certainly, there are no high school credits for playing jazz piano. And that meant I was never given the chance to learn jazz piano or popular music. And it’s this relentless academic approach to playing piano that’s sucked the enjoyment out of playing instruments for myself and thousands of Chinese Canadian kids alike.
Personally, I rarely touch a piano anymore. Throughout elementary school, middle school and high school, I practiced over 6000 hours of piano. In the past 4 years, I’ve probably only played 6 hours of piano. When I sit at a piano bench today, all I can think about is the horrendously boring music, the agonizing scales and arpeggios that I played for hours on end. I’m not saying playing piano is a complete waste of time. I also have no gripe with the Royal Conservatory. I’ve learned many great lessons through my RCM training—discipline, hard work, focus, to name a few. No one would argue those aren’t positive traits.
But it’s a great shame that none of my friends, me included, play piano anymore. So much for ‘future enjoyment’.
我们鼓励所有读者在我们的文章和博客上分享意见。We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. Visit the FAQ page for more information.