When I was seven, I played violin for about a year. I hated practicing and when my parents finally let me quit, I could not be happier. As I grew older, I often wondered what would have happened if my parents just pushed me a little harder, like a Tiger Mom. My friend ChenXin Xu told me that my feelings were very typical of quitters.
“Everyone hates practicing at some point in their lives, but no one I know of ever regrets if they persevere. I only hear regrets from people who did quit,” she said. “After all, we all love music by nature.”
ChenXin was speaking from her more than 10 years of experience teaching music. A Julliard graduate and award–winning pianist who’s played around the world, ChenXin founded New York Music & Arts (NYMA) in 2006. Her music school currently has two branches—one in Great Neck and one in Forest Hills—and she’s looking to expand its operations in New York City and major cities in China.
Every semester, more than 500 students register at her school to take lessons in instruments, such as piano, violin, double bass and many more. ChenXin also offers free chorus practice lessons to all her students because she wants to expose them to as much music as possible. She believes that our voice is “the natural instrument made of our body,” which brings us music wherever we go.
NYMA recruits students from all over the world, and every year it sends scores of them to top music institutes across the nation. However, to ChenXin, winning awards or going to a top music school does not mark the success of musical education. In fact, if she finds that her students’ passion is not in becoming a professional musician or performer, she encourages them and helps them explore other ways to realize their talents.
ChenXin is taking an approach completely different from her own experience growing up in China. She started playing piano at age 2, and her Wolf Dad (the male version of Tiger Mom) made sure that she wouldn’t quit after hours of practicing each day. She often jokes about how her dad and concert pianist Lang Lang’s dad exchanged beating techniques (disciplining children by beating is legal in China) to ensure that their children would march toward various level tests and competitions.
When Lang Lang became a household name for success in music, this Wolf Dad’s approach was applauded by many in China. ChenXin finds it unfortunate because it’s too utilitarian.
“No one should practice a piece for years only to win a prize in some competition,” said ChenXin. “Instead, one should strive to communicate between the composer and the audience, because we are just servants to music.”
ChenXin owes much of her broadened vision in music to her education in the States. Many of her Julliard classmates went on to law school and medical school after graduation, which would definitely be considered anomalous in China. “But if music is just one of the many talents one possesses, then why not?,” she asked.
To many, a professional musician’s career normally includes performing and teaching. But, ChenXin has expanded it to include community involvement, too. Her music school gives free music classes to the public during an open house every month. She also serves on the board of the Great Neck Chinese Association, and has arranged musical performances in many places throughout the community. In an era where classical music is dying and school music programs are the first to be cut during school-budget crises, ChenXin deems it imperative that musicians reach out to the community and raise the next generation of music lovers and concert goers.
At the age of 5, ChenXin’s twin daughters are already concert frequenters. But, they don’t practice musical instruments on a regular basis, and ChenXin will not push them. She said that she would be happy as long as her daughters grow up to enjoy music.
Practicing, once hated by ChenXin when she was young because it was the only thing she was allowed to do, has now become her life and passion. After putting her daughters to bed each night, ChenXin practices piano for hours as she prepares for her upcoming concerts and CD recordings, and explores new dimensions in music.