Zhu Yafen in front of a statue of Chopin in Weihai, a coastal city in Shandong province. [Photo/China Today]
"The piano and music are what I love most," said Professor Zhu Yafen about her lifework.
Hearing Zhu speak about her creative life is like listening to an elegant and melodious piece of piano music – it evokes a sense of calm, making one feel soothed and relaxed.
In a recent interview with China Today, Zhu spoke about her artistic accomplishments and her understanding of the current and future state of piano education and artistic development in China.
Q: After years in piano education, you have students everywhere – among your students is the internationally renowned pianist Lang Lang. How do you cultivate your students?
Zhu Yafen: I have a deep passion for piano education. As a piano teacher, I do what I can to nurture my students' talents and think about their healthy development. Although students' talents are not on the same level and they will take different paths, I still believe that a teacher's encouragement helps students find their way in the years that follow.
In teaching students at the conservatory and music schools, I pay attention to strict training and comprehensive cultivation of students' knowledge and skill. I have always emphasized the importance of balance between mastering technique and musicality, preventing the mere pursuit of technique or short-term profits. For talented students, I help them understand the arduousness of a career in music, which requires diligence, hard work and perseverance. One should not focus on instant results, but take a long-term view. In addition to teaching my students the skills required to become professional pianists, I pay attention to their ideological education, hoping to influence them to take a healthy path of life.
I teach my students not just to chase high grades, but to foster their real capacity. I have always asked my students to work on a wide repertoire, by mastering various kinds of piano pieces, not just examination pieces. Many of my students excel in performance, which encourages them to continually improve their practical capacity for piano playing. My method works – my students develop well in their careers.
I also taught Lang Lang in this way. Lang is a God-given genius, and I am lucky enough to have been his first teacher. In his childhood, Lang showed his distinctive musical talent and passion for the piano. I helped him to lay a solid foundation, encouraged him to be hardworking and diligent, and strengthened his willpower and endurance, thereby helping him achieve his dream as a pianist. Moreover, in agreement with his parents, we did not publicize him as a "child prodigy" so as to prevent him from being vain or superficial. When he was 10 years old, we encouraged him to apply for the primary school attached to the Central Conservatory of Music to broaden his vision and compete for more opportunities. The story of Lang's success is as much about his different teachers' guidance during various stages of his piano education, as his talent and efforts.