Should pre-college piano students play “big” pieces?
Taiwan was the first Asian country I visited, about 25 years ago. It’s changed a lot. Based on what I can see, the daily life of the people is in many ways better.
Some senior piano teachers of my acquaintance there complain. They say there aren’t as many students as before (demographic statistics support this, Taiwan has one of the lowest birthrates in the world) and the students that do study are practicing less, for a variety of reasons just like those in the States: too much homework, too many distractions and, well, I have to say it, I heard the word…laziness.
So it was a pleasant surprise to work with some very talented and hard-working students during my time there, in all cases, no matter what their age, playing advanced-level works.
Is this wise? I remember asking the distinguished American pianist Abbey Simon (still performing today at the age of 92) this very question, about a 14-year-old girl with big hands who wanted to learn the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no.1. “It won’t be good now,” he said. “But when she’s 34 she will have played it for 20 years.”
Good point. But does learning “big” pieces too young cause student burnout? Does it increase the likelihood of hand and arm problems later? Is it, simply, too much too soon?
What do you think?
P.S. I had a great time teaching in Taiwan. Thanks to my former students Daniel Chia-Te Liu and Wan-Ju Ho for arranging things for me. Based on what I heard, the art of piano playing in Taiwan is healthy and going strong.