This past week I had the fortune of visiting a hip, up-and-coming international music school in Shanghai that my undergrad classmate and her fiancé recently founded. As it happened, one of the teachers got sick last minute and I inherited his teaching load.
The experience I had confirmed what we already hear about the boom of the piano culture there: That the scope and scale of it is incomparable. (Perhaps even surpassing the pianomania that shook Europe in the 1840's when Liszt was storming the concert halls and having women trying to get a lock of his hair as a concert souvenir).
The average practice time of some of the students clocks in at 8-11 hours per day. They have studied all of the Chopin etudes. (k12 aged students). They travel hundreds of miles to come to lessons (A group of students comes weekly by train from the neighboring city of Nanjing), and after their piano lessons stay around for interactive music theory and history classes. They practice their technical studies with the same care, craftsmanship and invested fervor as if they were practicing a Beethoven sonata. The rate for piano lessons is 800 RMB per hour (U.S $130). Most notable, however , is their attitude towards study; it's completely accepted that music is something one JUST DOES, and works as hard as much as any other subject. Practicing piano taking a back seat to sports activities and school projects is an alien concept. Contrary to Western perception, despite any "pushing" that may be going on into forcing students to study music, all the pupils I interacted with demonstrated exceedingly keen and sincere earnestness to dig as deeply as they could into the music, and this alone seemed their sole motivation for studying. (It was an endearing moment to watch a young teen explain to me, even with communication gaps, how one voicing possibility in a Chopin Nocturne touched his heart more than another, and ask for advice on how to achieve that). The only places in the USA were I could imagine and equivalency to this are the pre colleges of Juilliard and Curtis.
Granted, this is a very well-established and marketed school and is by no means representative of the entire country at all. (Some of the students came as "refugees" from far stricter and more "traditional" schools in northern China, where they suffered broken noses and ears from teachers due to bad preparation in lessons) - but even within the confines of such an elite school one can feel the nation's collective surge of passion for piano music that is overtaking the place like a tidal wave.
During a walk in the downtown area I stumbled across a street that made me wonder if my unaccustomed American palate had reacted to the Jiangsu Cuisine in a way that induced hallucinatory visions: For six blocks (minus the occasional violin shop or bakery)..there was nothing but piano stores. There must have been about twenty total, all standard sized and stocked with traditional German, American, and Chinese brands, each store mounted one against the other.
Everyone's entitled to their own opinion about this phenomena and it's connotations; but what is for sure is that if you're anybody in the piano world has never had the Chinese experience it will be the trippiest trip you've been on ~~~