The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The future of Western classical music is in Asia – specifically China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Why is that?

May 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just about Lang Lang.

The signs are everywhere.

They were present at a recent piano recital by elementary school, middle school and high school students that The Ear attended.

You see it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and at top music schools, including the Curtis Institute of Music, across the U.S. and Western Europe. And you see it in youth groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below).

Western classical music recording labels, such as Deutsche Grammophon and Sony Classical, are looking to develop new markets and so are signing more Asian musicians, such as the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai String Quartet, and releasing more Asian performances. (Below is the Taiwanese-Australian, prize-winning violinist Ray Chen, who is also a master at using social media to build his meteoric career.)

All these items point to the same conclusion: The future of Western classical music looks more and more likely to be found in Asian culture and in Asia  – specifically in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. (Next season, prize-winning South Korean pianist Joyce Yang (below) returns to Madison, where she first gave a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Consider some of the following:

There are, The Ear read somewhere, now more piano students in China than in all of Europe, North America and South America combined. And he is reading about more and more concert tours of China and other Asian countries by Western performers — even while in the U.S. the number of pianos in homes are on the decline.

Increasingly the winners of major international competitions — such as the Chopin competition, the Van Cliburn competition, the Tchaikovsky competition, the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition and the Leeds competition – come from Asia or are Asian. (Below, in a photo by Simon Fowler, is American pianist George Li, who immigrated from China as a child and attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory before winning a silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition. His concert career is now blossoming fast.)

In recent years, China has been building a lot of first-rate concert halls, opera houses and music schools. And the famed Juilliard School in New York City will open its second campus this fall in Tianjin, near Beijing.

China has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution when people could be imprisoned for listening to Beethoven, who is now a cultural icon in China — as you can hear at the bottom in the YouTube video of Li Jing Zhan conducting the orchestra at the Chinese National Opera in Beethoven’s No. 7. (Below is the striking new National Center for the Performing Arts in China.)

Nineteen of the 24 final competitors, ages 13-17, in the second Van Cliburn Junior Competition – which starts in Dallas, Texas, on May 31 and ends on June 8 – are Asian, Asian-American and Asian-Canadian, all with astonishingly impressive credentials and experience. It will be streamed live and free. Take a look and listen:

Why this Asian shift is happening remains somewhat of a mystery to The Ear, although he had been thinking about for a long time.

Then he came across a op-ed column confirming the prevalence of Asian classical musicians. It was written by the American concert pianist and teacher Inna Faliks (below), who teaches at UCLA and who wrote convincingly about her recent concert experiences in China in The Washington Post.

Read it and see what you think, and tell us whether you agree:

Why are Asians so interested in Western classical music and music education? And why do they respect it or even revere it so much?

Does it have to do with the “tiger mom” phenomenon of strong parental pressure to succeed and achieve?

Is it largely a function of population?

Is it because of the collective teamwork required to make a lot of chamber music and orchestral music, or with the intense and instructive teacher-student relationship?

Is it because the cultural depth and seriousness in Western music education – ing contrast to the increasingly pop culture of the West – that prepares students well for the training and intellectual discipline required in other educational fields and careers, including the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

Is Asia simply fascinated by Western culture the same way that Western culture was fascinated by the exotic Asian cultures – especially in China and Japan — during the 19th century and earlier? Or is the West increasingly ignoring its own culture. (The Ear can’t recall any classical musicians performing at President Donald Trump’s White House. Can you?)

How do you see the situation and react to it? And what do you think about the causes and effects?

Please leave your reactions and thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music
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Classical music education: Here are 10 reasons why students should be allowed to major in music

August 29, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many, maybe most, of the college and university students are back by now.

And a week from tomorrow, classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will begin.

K-12 classes in public schools and private schools will also start, if they haven’t already, as will another year of music lessons.

And so will the new concert season.

Coincidentally, The Ear came across a post from Forbes magazine that deals with whether students should be allowed to major in music (below, in a photo by Shutterstock).

Many parents, and many politicians too, feel that more practical, higher paying fields are better investments of energy, time and especially money.

The same logic applies these days to the arts and humanities versus the so-called STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Anyway, the advice columnist Liz Ryan answered the question with 10 reasons why it is a good idea to let a student major in music.

The Ear –- who is an avid defender of the liberal arts and of college years not as a trade school but as a chance to explore and experiment — thought that whether you are a student, parent or teacher, you might be interested in reading the reasons why a music major makes sense.

Here is a link:

Classical music education: Let us now praise K-12 music teachers as an elementary music teacher in Whitewater wins an award for Excellence in Music Education

May 31, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Memorial Day holiday is over and now we start winding down the academic year in public and private K-12 schools.

That makes it a great time to catch up with news that reminds us how important music education and education in the arts, humanities and liberal arts, can be to the development of the whole child or young person and to lifelong learning.

It helps us to realize that, despite what many legislators say, education should never be a trade school that provides vocational education or career preparation, and that education is not always all about the so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – deemed so useful to business, industry and individual wealth accumulation. (You can hear educator Richard Gill give a popular TED Talk about the value of music education in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So here is open important reminder via a press release:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and Ward-Brodt Music have awarded their 2016 Award for Excellence in Music Education to Whitewater music teacher Christine Hayes of Lincoln/LINCS Elementary School at a choir concert for grades 2-5.

The presentation was held on Tuesday, May 17, in the Whitewater High School Auditorium.

This annual award celebrates an educator who displays leadership, passion, dedication, and innovation within the music classroom, positively affecting the lives of his or her students and the community at large, and is designated for one outstanding music educator in southern Wisconsin.

The MSO and Ward-Brodt developed the award to recognize that cultivating the artistic growth of young students is one of the unique and challenging jobs for teachers in Wisconsin.

Christine Hayes (below) has dedicated her life to enriching young people and the communities around her through music education. In her 29 years of working in the Whitewater Unified School District and by contributing to music in her community in a variety of ways, she’s changed the lives of many students and her colleagues. She believes that “inspiring and challenging children today will lead to their embracing music for their lifetime.”

Christine Hayes

In the nominations by parents, teaching colleagues, church members, and school administrators, Hayes was described as “a power house of creative energy” who “encourages children to express their feelings through music.”

Her students at Lincoln/LINCS Elementary School, where she has spent the last 19 years, can take part in diverse musical experiences including world drumming, playing guitar and recorder, composing music, and singing in many languages. All of these experiences for children make her classroom “an exciting, musical adventure.”

She has also taught elementary and middle school band, middle school guitar, keyboards and general music.

A former colleague who nominated her wrote, “Mrs. Hayes leads by example by continuing to find ways to improve as an educator by constantly pursuing her own education. She recently completed a trip to Ghana in order to learn about their musical culture.”

In her own words, Hayes said, “My goal is for each student to imagine themselves in musical experiences, provide them authentic learning situations where they create, respond, perform and connect, then collaborate with those students to apply their knowledge and skills to discover their personal musical path.”

Outside the classroom, she founded an after-school orchestra where she volunteers her time as coordinator allowing children to enrich their music education. Currently in its eighth year, the Whitewater Unified School District Strings Program has touched the lives of many school children, with 72 students participating this past year, ranging from fourth grade to high school.

She is also a music leader in her community. Hayes has been serving as the Choir Director for the First United Methodist Church in Whitewater for the past 20 years and served on the board of directors of the Whitewater Arts Alliance for five years.

In her free time she plays clarinet with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Community Band.

Hayes has also been deeply involved with developing Wisconsin state standards for music education by serving on the writing committee for the National Common Core Music Standards from 2012 to 2014.

In 2015, she was asked to join the Steering Committee for the Wisconsin Music Educators Association (WMEA), continuing her work to improve music education in Wisconsin. Hayes has served as the Chair of the NAfME National Council for General Music Education and as a President of the WMEA.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in music from Northwestern University. She currently resides in Whitewater, Wisconsin.

In 2007 she won the Wal-Mart Wisconsin Teacher of the Year award and in 2008 the Herb Kohl Fellowship Award.

Hayes will be awarded a commemorative plaque and a $500 prize. These prizes have been made possible through the generosity of Ward-Brodt Music of Madison, Wisconsin.  To be qualified for the award, a nominee must have taught within a 75-mile radius of Madison in a public or private K-12 school and instructed a band, orchestra, choir or general music course.

Colleagues, current or former students, parents of students, or friends were eligible to nominate a music educator for the award.

The review panel consisted of representatives from public and private school administration, veteran teachers, university staff and knowledgeable community members. (For the sake of full disclosure, The Ear sat on the committee that reviewed the many impressive nominations and decided the winner of the award.)

For more information regarding the Award for Excellence in Music Education, visit

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