The resounding crescendo of the 16th Shanghai International Youth Piano Competition’s finals echoed from August 10 to 13, captivating the hearts of nearly 1,600 contestants. Carefully curated from a pool of tens of thousands of aspiring children and adolescents hailing from 36 provincial-level administrative regions across China, these competitors embodied the enduring ardor for the ivories.
This year’s competition bore witness to an unprecedented number of participants converging in the finals, a testament that speaks volumes about the unwavering affection for the keyboard instrument within China’s cultural fabric.
In contemporary times, piano lessons have assumed a prominent role as one of the most prevalent forms of extracurricular enrichment bestowed upon Chinese youngsters. While some critics might contend that many children might not have the autonomy to opt out of these musical pursuits, the fervor of the competition participants attests to an unfeigned passion for the art.
Among these fervent aficionados is Wei Changyou from Luohe city in Henan province. Initiated into the world of piano at the tender age of 4, the 8-year-old waxes poetic about the heartwarming sensations that envelop her when she’s enveloped in the embrace of beautiful piano compositions.
“Spinning Song” by the German composer Albert Ellmenreich is her personal anthem – a melody that dances with the grace of flowing water and weaves a sense of enchantment as the chords fluidly traverse beneath her fingertips.
Meng Hebai, Wei Changyou’s mother, recounts the genesis of her daughter’s musical journey. Initially, a mere few minutes were dedicated daily to piano practice, but it wasn’t long before her fascination transformed those moments into hours. Today, Changyou devotes approximately two hours every day to hone her craft, often guided by her inner initiative.
“I can see that whether she feels happy or frustrated, she’ll sit down at the piano. It has already become her friend,” observes Meng, highlighting the emotional bond forged through the instrument.
Changyou’s musical pursuit has bolstered her self-assurance, as attested by her mother.
Across the vast expanse of Guangzhou, Guangdong province, Zeng Tanyuanjun echoes this ardent devotion to the piano. A mere 9 years old, he proclaims his rendezvous with the piano as the pinnacle of his day.
Tanyuanjun’s mother, Li Qiong, shares the remarkable evolution she has witnessed in her son’s relationship with the instrument. From being a source of gratification, the piano has evolved into a channel of solace for others.
A poignant anecdote emerges from two years past when Tanyuanjun’s health precipitated his hospitalization. Despite his frailty, he sought comfort in the music, insisting that a piano be brought to his hospital room to alleviate the hours of convalescence. The heartening result was an impromptu congregation of listeners entranced by the melodies he offered.
Li Qiong reflects on this episode, stating, “People were drawn to the music and formed a circle around him. I felt deeply touched at that moment as the music must have healed many during the hospital stay.”
For Wang Xichong, the father of Wang Yukun from Wuhan, Hubei province, the piano represents more than a mere instrument of mastery; it offers a therapeutic release.
Recalling his own childhood, Wang Xichong attests that piano playing served as an outlet for emotional expression, notably during the stress-laden days preceding the gaokao, the national college entrance exam.
The sentiment is mirrored by Deng Zipan, 24, whose journey with the piano began in kindergarten. Currently studying piano at Russia’s Rachmaninoff Conservatory of Music, Deng elucidates the parallels between practice and life’s trials.
“The journey with a new piece of music is akin to endurance and pain, with every note a step forward. Yet, as mastery sets in and the nuances are embraced, it transforms into a profound pleasure – a moment to wholly immerse oneself in the music,” muses the native of Wuhan.
Chu Wanghua, eminent composer, pianist, and chairman of this year’s judging committee, is effusive about the effulgent passion he witnessed during the competition. A striking moment was a contestant channeling Wolfgang Mozart’s masterpiece, a fusion of eras seamlessly conjured by the nimble fingers of a contemporary child.
Chu articulates, “It was amazing to see how a child of today was able to express Western classical music from centuries ago so well with their little fingers. The child really immersed their heart, hands, and mind in the music.”
Notably, Chu underscores the exponential rise of young piano enthusiasts, with at least 30 million budding pianists in China today. This cultural surge has accorded the piano the unparalleled distinction of being the quintessential musical instrument for study since the dawn of the 21st century.
“Many of them may take different career paths after they grow up. But a society makes progress when its members have improved comprehensive qualities — learning music is one way to achieve this,” asserts Chu, encapsulating the profound and multifaceted significance of piano education.