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Mission Statement and Rules

Posted: Thu Jun 12, 2014 7:49 pm
by pianoman
A well-circulated 2012 article with the headline “Can Asians Save Classical Music?” presented the following statistics:
Of Asian-Americans 18-24 responding to the same survey, 14 percent reported attending a classical concert in the past year, more than any other demographic in that age group. Despite classical’s deserved reputation as the whitest of genres, Asian attendance rates match or surpass the national average up through the 45-54 age range. To put it one way, the younger the classical audience gets, the more Asian it becomes. To put it another, the only population that is disproportionately filling seats being vacated by old people dying off is Asians.
Asians make up just over 4 percent of the U.S. population, but 7 percent of U.S. orchestra musicians are Asian, and the figure rises to 20 percent for top orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic. At the elite Julliard School for Music, one in five undergraduates—and one in three PhD students—is Asian.
Music writer Alex Ross of The New Yorker makes this bold prediction in the concluding chapter of his 2007 book The Rest is Noise:
If the Chinese classical business can accommodate new music in the coming century, the center of gravity may shift permanently eastward.
It is a stereotype, but Asians really like classical music. As the article puts it: “The prestige Asians ascribe to classical music is, it should be noted, completely disproportionate to the actual salaries earned by professional musicians.” But: “One area in which Asians do not dominate, Yoshihara notes, is orchestra management, which remains overwhelmingly white . . . in contrast to celebrity musicians like Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang, Asians haven’t made much headway into conducting or composing.”

By some estimates there are millions of Asians around the world who have devoted some portion of their lives to the serious study of classical music in some form. Yet there is no space in the established media in which Asians can come to any kind of consensus about their own aesthetic values, their own musical traditions, or even other Asian professional musicians and composers. Many Asians who listen to or perform classical music in the West go their entire lives without ever hearing other Asians talk about classical music outside of their immediate circle of friends and professional connections.

The goal of this forum is to provide that space.

EDIT 12/18/2017: I think it is obvious at this point that this website has become something other than what it was originally intended to be. As someone famous once said: "Classical music is long, Internet forums are short, and monetization is very far off." I really did not intend this to be a personal blog (which would have been much easier to set up). If anyone out there wants to contribute to this site, please register and send me a PM with your idea. I will give you feedback and help in any way I can. I do not expect you to write like me or agree with everything I say. If anyone wants to contribute but is not sure how, I have a backlog at this point of 10+ subjects that I can part out to anyone who is interested. Again, just register and send me a PM.

Re: Mission Statement and Rules

Posted: Sat Jul 05, 2014 12:18 pm
by pianoman
We have a dissenting opinion!

A writer for this website, which appears to be a classical music advocacy site with a 21st century emphasis, responds to the article above.

The article is not that in-depth (he almost quotes more from the article than he writes). He makes one legitamate point here:
These passages indicate that a majority of Asian (parents) have a narrow view of classical music that is extremely limiting for the genre, and their children. Precisely at a time when the traditional orchestra model is faltering, parents are “encouraging” their kids to move into that industry. While their idea is one with the honest best intentions (“soloist superstardom”), it lacks grounding in reality. Moreover, such a perspective is anathema to what classical music needs, which is greater innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. The “Asian” view of a classical musician seems to be the role which, in modern days, very much resembles the cog in the wheel of the industrial machine.
The stereotypical "Asian" conception of a classical music career track is to pursue a soloist career in violin or piano and then "fall back" on joining an orchestra or teaching. There is little emphasis on the other aspects of serious music, such as research, theory, scholarship, orchestra management, directing, conducting, composing, or any of the other instruments besides piano and violin. All of these roles must be filled by talented, dedicated people for a music tradition--in the West or in Asia--to flourish.

My theory is that this will come in time as more and more people attain a level of economic stability in Asia. The almost singular pursuit of international soloist status is sort of an "all-or-nothing" approach to music, which should develop into something much more graded and diverse as more Asians feel they can commit to the study and development of culture as a career choice.

His other argument, though, is seriously flawed:
Ironically, time is the factor working against us. The greatest problem in a gradual shift of classical audiences and performers towards an Asian majority is that it destroys one of the great pillars that classical music rests upon – classical music as a universal language and a platform for communication. Classical music should never be thought of as something for any specific racial, ethnic, cultural, or any other kind of group. The more homogeneous the demographics become, the more limited its scope to impact people becomes. And time seems only to be making such a future more a reality in the present.
It is bizarre to make the argument that Asians in classical music "destroy" the universality of the tradition. If anything, Asians being outsiders to a tradition that is almost entirely European extend the universal appeal of that tradition and diversify it. The author must not have thought this argument out!

Re: Mission Statement and Rules

Posted: Sun Aug 03, 2014 6:09 pm
by pianoman
Here is another take. Slightly dated, and from a Canadian perspective, this article reaffirms the basic contours of the Asian presence in classical music. Much of the article is about piano and violin soloists winning prizes, and there is mention of the stereotype that Asians are technically impressive but lack "artistic expression." But there is nothing here about Asian composers or Asian musical traditions. When will Asian performers perform music composed by Asian composers the way they automatically perform Mozart or Chopin, and to a critical audience that understands and collectively experiences that music? ... ues-en.htm
The Rise of Asians in Classical Music

by Denise Lai / February 9, 2004

Seeing Asian musicians on the concert stage these days is not uncommon. What is striking is their level of recent success. The 64th Montreal Symphony Orchestra Competition last November was noteworthy not only because the winner was Ang Li, a Chinese-Canadian, but that overall, four of the six winners from the different age categories were Asian-Canadians.
Although Asians constitute only 5.8% of the Canadian population, they make up the largest group (43%) of the nation's visible minorities. They are well represented across the country and excel in various fields, including science and engineering.

Outside the sciences, the number of Asians making a career in the classical music industry is becoming more notable, with the Chinese and Koreans leading the way. Korean-born violinist Young-Dae Park, a 25-year veteran of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) and a violin coach for the Toronto Symphony Youth Orchestra (TSYO), recalls that when he studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in the 1960s, there were only two other Asians in the entire school. In the Glenn Gould Professional School (GGPS) alone, there are currently eighteen students from Asian countries, not counting Asian-Canadians. According to Jenny Regehr, a piano examiner for the Royal Conservatory of Music who is also on the faculty of the GGPS, more Asian students have been going through the exams over the last ten years. And there is no lack of Asian musicians playing in Canadian orchestras. Park notes that "over half of the string section in the TSYO now are Asians, of whom eighty percent are Koreans."

The stereotype that Asians excel in the sciences rather than in the arts implies that Yo-Yo Ma, Midori and Sarah Chang are anomalies in the music world. The outcome of the recent 64th Montreal Symphony Orchestra Competition is just one example that refutes this conclusion. Other examples include the fact that top winners in the piano and violin categories for the latest Kiwanis Music Festival were predominantly Asian, and the last two gold medallists of the prestigious Honens International Calgary Piano Competition were Chinese. As well, TSYO concertmasters during the last five years have been Asian.

That Asians are increasingly excelling in the musical arena can partly be explained by culture. They are reputed for being academically inclined and possessing a strong work ethic with a high level of discipline that serves as a powerful driver for success. Parental influence is a key factor nurturing this attitude towards progressiveness. Asian parents actively encourage their children to study music at an early age in order to enable them to become well rounded and disciplined Because music lessons are expensive and considered a privilege reserved for the wealthy and cultured, Asian parents take their children's music education very seriously. Consequently, they are more apt to accompany their children to lessons and push them to practice diligently at home. More ambitious parents may even tag child prodigy potential to their offspring, thanks to the example of high profile virtuosi like Midori. Sometimes, parents transfer their unfulfilled aspirations to their children. Such was the case for violinist Sydney Chun, one of the newer members of the TSO. Her mother played the piano in her native Korea, but regrets not pursuing it professionally. As a result, Chun feels that her mother greatly influenced her decision to become a professional musician. She also credits the growing number of successful Asian role models, in her case Kyung-Wha Chung, for further inspiring her to pursue a career in music.

Ironically, although Asian parents often enrol their children in music lessons, they tend to consider music as an extracurricular activity rather than as a possible career option. Whereas medicine, law and engineering are deemed respectable professions, a music degree is not regarded as "real education," a perfect illustration of Asian pragmatism. "There is some degree of sexism," notes Chun. "Asian parents will push their sons to become doctors and lawyers, but their daughters to become musicians." Park shares the same observation, noting that there are far more female Asian players in orchestras than males.

Does being a visible minority in the music industry present unique challenges to Asians? Park and Chun, both seasoned musicians, say that they have never experienced discrimination because of their ethnic background. Amy Park (no relation to Young-Dae), a Korean-born student in the eleventh grade and current concertmaster for the TSYO, hopes to pursue a music degree in performance. "Certainly there are many barriers [to pursuing music as a career], but they don't have much to do with being Asian," she says. She does think that Asian parents instil in their children the idea that they have to push themselves harder because they belong to a minority group. Andrew Kwan, an artistic manager who represents several Asian players in his roster, comments, "The classical music market plays no favouritism to any culture," affirming that Asians and non-Asians alike face the same challenges in trying to break into the industry. On the other hand, some believe that being Asian actually has its advantages. Philip Chiu, a Chinese second-year performance piano student at the GGPS, says that "some teachers may think that Asians are better students because they practice more!" While Regehr hesitates to make such a generalization, she does observe that students from Asia usually have a tradition of respect for teachers and tend to follow their instructors' advice more readily.

Stereotypes associated with Asian musicians remain. Undoubtedly, Asian players tend to favour the piano and the violin, the Chinese being considered the better pianists and the Koreans the better violinists, as exemplified by artists like Lang Lang and Sarah Chang, respectively. This generalization may be founded on the fact that the best-known classical music repertoires are written for the piano and violin, thereby attaching a "glamour factor" to these instruments. Also, for parents wanting their children to learn music at a young age, the piano and violin are more feasible; playing a brass instrument, for instance, would be more cumbersome for a small child to handle physically. It is therefore no coincidence that the Suzuki method was developed by a Japanese musician who originally conceived the method for the violin.

When considering the subject of Asians in the classical music scene, perhaps one of the most prevalent stereotypes is related to artistic ability. Just as Asians are thought more likely to excel in the sciences rather than in the arts, Asian musicians are more often acknowledged for technical merit instead of artistic expression. Overcoming this stereotype is likely one of the more formidable challenges for Asian musicians today.

With a growing concentration of Asians in major Canadian cities, and an increasing number choosing a career in music, one might expect a similar trend reflected among concertgoers. But this is not necessarily so, according to Liz Parker, Public Relations Manager at the TSO, herself half Japanese. "Certainly, concerts that feature Asian artists like Midori are very well attended by people from their ethnic groups, but the audience in general does not reflect the diversity of the population." The TSO does not officially compile data on its subscribers and donors based on ethnicity, but it is "definitely aggressively going after the Asian market, particularly the Chinese and Koreans." The TSO now features a Chinese-language website and telephone hotline. Concert ads are taken in Chinese and Korean newspapers and interviews are aired on Chinese radio and television. For the 2004–2005 season, plans are underway to create distinct programming and subscription offerings aimed at the Chinese community. Mike Forrester, vice-president of Marketing and Development, is tight-lipped about details but admits that tickets sell extremely well through the Chinese hotline. "I'm confident the marketing efforts are already working, and I'm very thrilled and optimistic that more Asian concertgoers will come on board."