For five days I’m writing about the most interesting methods people have used throughout history to raise brilliant children of all types. Yesterday I wrote Poor Baby? Nope. Strong Baby.
Sirena Huang started violin lessons at age 4 and made her professional solo debut at 9 with the Taiwan Symphony Orchestra. I watched her play on TED several months ago and she’s been on my mind lately. Especially after reading Amy Chua’s book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I’ve seen musical prodigies before, but what blew me away when I watched Sirena, is how articulate she is and how at ease she seems on stage. This kid must practice six hours a day, just like Amy Chua’s pianist and violinist daughters.
This is what I’ve thought: Does Sirena’s mom use the same techniques–mainly (as seen from a Western parent’s perspective), verbal and emotional abuse? Is Sirena so well-spoken because her mother makes her practice (the Chinese way–i.e., a million times with no bathroom breaks or dinner) speaking as well? And, does Sirena get as little sleep as the Chua daughters?
I will have to contact and interview Sirena’s mom soon, or at least before she writes her own book on raising a musical prodigy.
Musical prodigies–more common today than fifty years ago because of Sinichi Suzuki’
s method of music education, learn to play the violin or piano, like we all learn to speak–through immersion. With the Suzuki method, children begin lessons at three years old. Parents attend all lessons and learn the instrument along with their child. Practice sessions, ideally short–but plentiful throughout the day, become a main ingredient of early childhood. Perfection is the goal.
Amy Chua (a.k.a., tiger mom) got the perfection part correct. But she missed Mr. Suzuki’s core belief: children learn best surrounded by lots of love and approval. For Suzuki, the hard work of learning the violin, such as, is not experienced as hardship by a young student; like learning to speak your native language is not a hardship. The point of early music education is to make the learning seamless. And the point of music education is to uplift the human spirit through inspiration. Suzuki said,
It is necessary to be concerned about the importance of educating a really beautiful human spirit.
But Suzuki wasn’t the first to think young children quick-studies of difficult instruments. The first young musical prodigies– Nannerl and Wolfgang, lived in18th-century Austria. The siblings (11 and 7 ) traveled Western Europe by horse-drawn coach on cobblestone streets and muddy roads with their father, who had taught them ( the piano and violin, also respectively) with love and encouragement. The girl, Nannerl, played the piano for her family the rest of her days, and that is about all we know about her. But the boy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
, composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. His music became part of Western popular culture. You can hear Mozart’s music in TV commercials, movies and cartoons, even today.
When the Mozart children performed in Germany 235 years ago, a young tenor of the German court sat in awe listening in the audience. Eight years later, when his son Ludwig learned to speak, he began teaching him music. Beethoven’s father, Johann, used Amy Chua’s methods–well, she actually used his. He yelled, screamed and beat his son to the point of sobbing at the piano.
Is there a lesson here?
Here’s what I take from these stories:
I am partial to Beethoven because his music is so much more emotionally charged than Mozart’s– it makes grown men cry spontaneously, still today. But, both men were Highly Creative musicians. The loving-inspiration method worked to make Mozart one of the top musician/composers of all time. But the angry-yelling Johann, also seems to have produced musical genius–as shown in his son, Beethoven. Regardless, both parents did have something in common. Both sat or stood beside their children as they practiced and helped them along every step of the way–in the beginning. That, is the lesson.
The lesson for Amy Chua is: She did not have to yell at her girls to get them to Carnegie Hall, after all. She could have been more like Mr. Mozart, if she had been so inclined.
I’ve included Sirena Huang’s TED performance below. For the sake of my personal comfort (and with best wishes for little Sirena) I will assume her mother raised her like Mozart –not the Chua girls. Check it out!