Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mozart and Mandarin

I was driving down Santa Monica Blvd. when my XM radio began playing Sarah Chang's recording of the "Lark Ascending," by Vaughn Williams. Her violin's transcendant sound practically transported me out of my Prius.

Sarah's parents are Korean. The greatest cellist in the world, Yo Yo Ma, has Chinese parents.

Since I live in a very Chinese-American world here in Los Angeles, I've noticed that parents whose children do not practice a  musical instrument, are parents who don't care if their kids get into medical school.

I once attended a violin competition for elementary school students held at a Southern California university. Every child was Asian.

Asian music comes from a very different (wen hua) tradition. Mozart and Beethoven aren't part of the history of North East Asia. Yet today some great classical performers are coming out of China and Korea. Their orchestras are getting better.

My mother was a concert harpist, but I stopped playing my French Horn in high school. Neither of my brothers took up an instrument. At what point did Asia become a breeding ground for Western classical musicians?

One of my guesses involves the Chinese and Korean work ethic. As Malcolm Gladwell points out, putting 10,000 hours into anything almost ensures you'll be good at it. There are some white kids who will turn into classical music prodigies. However, the Chinese-Korean work ethic, with its expectations of excellence, will help musicians from those countries excel.

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