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Testing times for budding pianists

By Zhou Wenting | China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-22 08:34

The organizers behind the first graded tests for amateur pianists in Shanghai say they were searching for the people who took the test in 1988, the first year it was held in China.

A TV show about these first participants, what they are doing today and whether the piano has contributed anything special to their lives, is also being planned, says Tang Zhe, who is head of the piano branch of the Shanghai Musicians Association.

Some of the young players have become professional pianists or teachers at conservatories.

For example, Wei Wanchen, who took the fifth-grade test then as a primary-school student, is now a teacher at the piano department of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, says Tang, who is also a professor at the department.

However, most participants moved into industries unrelated to music.

Chen Zhijie, an entertainment TV-show director, started to learn the piano in 1989 at the age of 5.

He passed the 10th grade, the highest level an amateur can achieve, after a decade.

"My mother always had a ruler by her side as she monitored me," Chen recalls.

"She would tap me on the palm if she thought I was being lazy during the one-hour practice sessions."

He says he was aware of his parents' high expectations and exacting standards. So he was diligent.

Their investment was indeed huge.

"My family forked out more than 3,500 yuan ($500) to buy a piano for me," Chen recalls.

"That was more than what my parents earned in a year. They had to borrow some of it from relatives."

His mother, Huang Xiaomei, says their relatives would often joke that she was pouring too much money into "cultivating a pianist" when they heard that she was sending her child to take piano lessons in those days.

"I understood that it was hard for an individual to make it in their particular field. But at least my son could become a piano teacher to prove that our years of investment were not in vain," says Huang, who left school after junior middle school like many people in her generation.

"My son was part of the generation born during the country's family planning policy," Huang says.

"These only children shouldered the high hopes of their families.

"As parents, we hoped that we helped them to become more competitive."

Li Ruisi, who learned to play the piano as a youngster in the 1990s, says she never thought that her decade of piano practice was wasted, even though her job is unrelated to music.

"I often spend time alone playing the piano. Music is like a friend that no one can steal from me," the 30-year-old bank clerk says.


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