Friday, June 16, 2006

Piano Lessons and the Chinese Family

KUA n. music

Another reader's e-mail.

Dear Sisuahlai,

What is it with Chinese families and piano lessons? I don't think piano lessons will make my son a genius (strangely, striving to be a genius is often regarded as a noble Chinese ambition, not child abuse), yet my wife kept insisting we send our 6-year-old to a music school. Help.

F., Sibu.

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Dear F.,

First of all, may I just say that I fully sympathise with your delicate position. Pleasing the wife is never easy, especially if she has an urban upbringing. (Ladies, before you start throwing your high-heels at me and calling me a chauvinist; let me offer you my sincere apologies and I beg that you read on before judging.)

Piano lessons for many urban Chinese families is almost like pang-sai (poo-poo, or No. 2 in Hokkien), it is compulsory to maintain a balanced physiological well-being. Kids have little say about this enforcement.

If the parents spot any unease when the child is sat on the piano chair, the first corrective measure is to deliver a psychological torment usually with words to the effect of "you don't know how hard we work to make money so that you have the chance to play music, don't disappoint us!"

If the child shows more signs of resistance, the piano is promptly traded in for a violin. In other words, the parents always win and the child almost always ended up sulking in a major beh-song way.

F., like you, I fail to appreciate this piano lessons culture . It is definitely not to cultivate the love for music. Most middle-aged Chinese parents do not appreciate 50Cents, Eminem, and Three 6 Mafia. And these are seriously talented modern musicians. It is definitely not to bring the joy of music to the household, not many parents can tolerate repetitive Old Macdonalds.

So why piano lessons? Why not vocal lessons? What is wrong with karaoke culture?

I turn to social psychologists for the answer. Most middle-aged Chinese parents exhibit what psychologists call a "compensation syndrome."

According to a superbly written article by Todd Crowell and David Hsieh, in China, these parents attended political lectures instead of taking piano lessons. Universities were viewed as bastions of "bourgeois ideals" to be avoided rather than avenues of personal advancement to travel. Many look back sadly on their lost childhood and are determined to make sure their kids won't have to endure anything like those bleak years.

Now what about Chinese families in Malaysia? I believe that they still carry a huge cultural baggage, copied from their forefathers in China. Don't despair F., your kids are likely grow up with a different cultural aspiration. Unless of course, you continue to allow your wife to imprint this "compensation syndrome" on them.

It's not too late. Let's reason with her. You should tell your wife that the chance of your child (assuming he shows the normal mental tendencies for a 6-year-old, i.e. not autistic) turning into a musical genius is highly improbable. He can still enjoy and appreciate music without having to turn to piano-playing. They are other way to instil culture, going to library and sculpturing play-doh to name a few. And don't forget to tell her this: Bill Gates cannot play piano, and yet he is the richest man in the world.

Need more help?

Sisuahlai. (Now ladies, you can start throwing your high-heels...)


Anonymous AJ said...

F should ask his wife to read "Raising Boys: Why Boys are Different - and How to help Them become Happy & Well-balanced Men" by Steve Biddulph.

I reckon parents' job is to keep their children alive until they are old enough to get help for themselves.

June 15, 2006 5:06 PM  
Anonymous Hijackqueen said...

Personally, I don't want my daughter to feel left out cos every other kids is doing that. At their younger age, let them explore to the max. When they are older, they will voice out the beh song thing. Of course i don't decide for my daughter. I ask what instrument she like and she pick one. Just like blogging. Why do we want to blog. Cos is a trend now. I do feel that F must know what he want and not consult you on what you think. Everyone have different perspective. I can go on. But better not.

June 16, 2006 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kua, I thought is a hokkien word for "song" not so much as "music" right?

It's true about what hijackqueen said. Why? It's difficult to say when you are become a parent yourself, a different side of you would come out, and you didn't know that you can be like that. I guess, it's good to expose, but and I feel that music is good to help kids to be more expressive. Of course, like what Sisuahlai said, it probably doesn't have to be a piano. Another instrument would be just as good, but as a musician myself, I would encourage a parents to push a little. This is because it is natural for kids/adult/world class musicians to practise their instrument. Hence, their full talent is not unveilled. If that's the case, I would call it "waste of talents". And if the kid did practise and yet didn't excel, maybe try something else. May not be music, may be poetry, or art, cooking, etc ... it's good to be creative ... really creative. Even a web designing is something creative.

June 28, 2006 9:47 AM  

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