Sunday, January 16, 2011

You Heard This "Tiger Mother" Stuff? [Anthony McCarthy]

Not being a mother I'm sort of at a disadvantage to discuss the current rage over Amy Chua's "Chinese parenting" methods. In short, it sounds like a kind of stereotypical stage mother-social climber of a particularly psycho sort in pursuit of social advancement over all else, including the character of her trophy children.

One part of it, as a musican and a music teacher, I can comment on, the insistance that her children study a western, classical instrument and that the choice is limited to two, violin and piano. From what I've read and heard, one of the teenage daughters playing at Carnegie Hall is given as proof that the sadistic regime "gets results". What results it got, musically, would have to await hearing what her playing is like. The first thing I thought of was the story of how, when he was quite young, that an impresario approached Rudolph Serkin's father with a contract to tour the kid around as a prodigy. Serkin's father is recorded as refusing saying that he wanted his son to be an artist, not a prodigy. Playing Carnegie Hall isn't any kind of guarantee of that, I'd think a list of people who had played there in their youth might yield a substantial subset of unfulfilled promise. A while back there was a pianist who played there (won't name him) who is as banal in his virtuosity as he is vulgar in his interpretation.

Why Chua would choose those two instruments is fairly obvious, their supposed prestige as opposed to other instruments. As a piano player, that's a sure sign of someone with a superficial knowledge and view of music. The only thing that makes an instrument "better" is the use it's put to. It's true that piano and violin have very large repertoires constituting many very great pieces, however voice has a far larger one including far more masterworks, there is no instrument with a greater body of work.

More practically, her restrictions to those instruments could be more likely to lead to a pedestrian career as a teacher than as an acclaimed soloist. The competition among pianists is truly amazing, there are hundreds if not thousands of brilliant, wonderful and almost entirely unknown pianists in the United States, whose greatness will always remain hidden from the greater public. It's something I tell every one of my students and potential students, that if they are going to take up the piano it had better not be with world fame as a goal because of the length of that particular cue. Violinists of great ability and depth of understanding and playing are often to be found in the middle of a large violin section of an orchestra, playing in chamber groups. If Chua thought her restriction was going to guarantee a social-economic ticket to the top, she is only showing her ignorance and vulgarity.

No child is likely to do well on an instrument they don't like. If either of her daughters had a greater affinity for english horn or a drum set or the ney flute or a nyckelharpa they would be far more likely to become a fine musician who people would choose to listen to and hire.

As for the rest of it, if I heard that one of my students was being threatened the way that Chua proudly admits that she was threatening her daughters, I'd refuse to participate by teaching them and I'd seriously consider informing child protective services of the situation after telling off BOTH parents.

Where the hell was the father when this was going on? What a jerk!