Saturday, June 29, 2013

The making of a pianist - vacation in France - XI

June 24, 2013.  Monday

The kids slept in the car on the way back from our climbing trip last night and went to school as scheduled this morning.  After school, Zhuzhu did some extra work for her tiger mother: she went to practice her piano, although she was clearly needing sleep.

Speaking of piano, here is a chance to go deeper on the topic.  

Have you guys read the famous tiger mother book yet?  No, I have not either, but I've been living a life as a tiger mother of 2 cubs myself in the past 6.5 years.  So it should not be too difficult for me to write a book of my own.  Here is how a pianist is made in my practice.

The story starts in the summer of 2010 when Zhuzhu was nearly 3.5 year old, a random email from a piano teacher Ms. Hua to our Chinese community implanted an idea to my head.  Somehow the fact that all of the other piano teachers that I had contacted rejected to accept students under age 5 did not stop my dreaming of making a pianist out of our premature and music-loving daughter.  Ms. Hua was recruiting new students and I was trying to expose Zhuzhu to piano as early as possible.  Plus, the piano teacher lived only few streets away from our house so we went to meet Ms. Hua at her studio.

"Don't you think it's too early for Zhuzhu to start piano?  Does she even want to do that?"  The Daddy warned me before we headed out.  "What?  Have you ever met a single Chinese who made into a good college without being able to play piano like a pro?!"  I protested.  "No, but I am sure there are plenty.  And by the way, our kids are not Chinese."  He tried to put a new ID on our kids.  Good try, baby, but they were!  I left home and he knew better not to intervene with a tiger nurturing her cubs.

There we were, the 4 of us in the living room/studio: Zhuzhu was sitting in front of a piano with Ms. Hua and Niuniu and I were sitting behind them to be Zhuzhu's moral support.  Ms. Hua patiently taught her how to count her fingers by putting both hands against each other and asked her to round up her hands as if she was holding an apple when she pressed the keys... The girl was sitting there but doing nothing.  She refused to imitate nor would she bother to make a proper eye contact with the teacher.

In the following few lessons, Zhuzhu remained to be unresponsive to Ms. Hua.  The poor teacher tried to bribe her with little stickers, cakes, candies, and even small toys, but nothing had changed.  Our girl often asked to leave as soon as we walked in the studio.

One time we were late for our lesson yet Zhuzhu chose that particular moment to cry out loud, so loud that I had to turn my head to the back seat to examine under what type of horrible distress she was.  The next second, our car rolled ahead right into a Jaguar parked beside the curb, resulting a big dent on its front door.  Damn, why could not you choose a cheaper one to kiss?!  I blamed my Toyota Rav4.  Thankfully the Jaguar owner was nowhere to be found so I had decided first to rescue our remaining piano lesson time and then to come back to deal with the Jaguar owner - this reminds me that I did not need to pay $250 deduction.  But I did try by calling Geico and was told that cars do kissing each others on occasions and not to worry about it.  "Seriously?" I asked, "It was my Rav4 rolling into the Jaguar.  Why am I not responsible for the deduction?"  I am known to be dumb.  He gave me few reasons but I could not grasp any of what he told me on the phone so I concluded that either the Geico representative was as dumb as I or the Jaguar owner was super sympathetic and generous who paid the deduction for a sleep-deprived mother!

Well, that small accident made us to revisit our decision of making a pianist out of a 3 year old!  

The Daddy said, "Some kids just don't' like to play piano."
Zhuzhu said, "Mommy, I'll play piano again later when I am older."
The tiger mother said, "Promise?!" to Zhuzhu, and then
Zhuzhu said, "I promise!"

When Zhuzhu walked away, the Daddy said to me, "Good luck on forcing your childhood dreams upon your kids."

Fabrice had been either blind or deaf to our little Zhuzhu's hidden talents.  The girl could sing all the songs in Mulan in both Chinese and English when she was not even 2 and could hardly express herself with words yet!  She also was able to manipulate computer to dig out youtube videos at that age to learn those songs!  Plus, both her parents love music, how far can an apple fall from the tree?

Anyway, I had not given up so 2 years later in the summer of 2012, Zhuzhu became quite anxious about having no special plans for the summer, which somehow reminded me her promise.  I determined to find her a good piano teacher.  Coincidently, Zhuzhu's Chinese dance teacher organized a big year-end party at that time, which provided a great opportunity for me to ask around.  Waring the most charming mask, I actively engaged myself with everyone at the party.  Then I met a mother of 2 children who happened to work closely with a colleague of mine so we chatted like old friends.  "So have you started your kids with piano lessons yet?"  When the first opportunity arrived, I asked.  Her youngest was 2 years older than Zhuzhu and tips from her might be quite relevant.  "Yes."  She answered positively.  Oh, great, we were getting somewhere.  "Do your kids like their piano teacher?"  I continued to lead the conversation.  She looked at me and smiled, but did not answer immediately.  "Oh, isn't s/he any good?"  I did not let her go off the topic so fast.  Come on, give me some help here.  "My daughter likes Ms. Alice but not my son."  She answered me.  "Oh, why is that?"  I needed to evaluate where the problems lied.  "Ms. Alice is very passionate and serious about her job, but my son does not like to practice at home."  She explained and then added, "The piano teacher does not praise her students AT ALL if she does not think the kids deserve it."  This last sentence really helped me to make my decision.

Then I made her promise me to send me Ms. Alice's contact information before she left the party.  I am that pushy!

After the party, I started to prepare Zhuzhu for the new teacher.  Have I told you that our girl needs to be prepared for every single task as little as a birthday party and as big as piano lessons?

"Zhuzhu, remember 2 years ago you promised me that you would pick up piano lessons later when you  were a bit older?"  I asked Zhuzhu soon after the summer party.
"Yes."  The girl does have superb memory.
"Don't' you think it's about time to do that now?  You are going to big kids' school after the summer.  Your friends Kailyn and Marie have already started their piano lessons few months ago." I am good at using her peers.
"I just found a great piano teacher for you at your Dance Party last Saturday.  Ms. Alice is a great piano soloist.  Do you know what that means?"
"That means she often plays piano on a big stage.  Isn't that cool to have a stage performer to be your piano teacher?"  I made this up to take the advantage of the fact that Zhuzhu just had her ballet recital not long ago on a big stage and fell in love with the spot light.
I waited, patiently, and then I heard this,
"But Mama, I only promised to go back to Ms. Hua.  I don't want take lessons from another piano teacher.  I don't like to have a new teacher!"  True, kiddo, but Ms. Hua could not even make you talk to her, let alone teach you anything about piano!  I did not say this, instead, I said,
"You have not even met her yet, how would you know.  Why don't you go to meet her and then decide?"

That's my girl.  She fell right in the trap!  The first attempt was a success and I left the topic there until I confirmed our audition date and time in the middle of the summer.

Ms. Alice only teaches in the late afternoon so we arrived at 5 pm on a Friday, a time of the day and the week that Zhuzhu would be tired and cranky for our audition/interview.  The teacher dressed casually, in another words, she was not in a "beautiful" dress to attract Zhuzhu who seemed only like girls in princess dresses.  So the same story had happened: Zhuzhu did not answer a single question that Ms. Alice asked with words, body language, or eye sights.  Ms. Alice then interviewed us parents.  While we were answering her questions, Zhuzhu and Niuniu acted like 2 little monkeys moving about, touching every thing reachable, jumping up and down, giggling loudly, turning the little chairs upside down... When we got them to be quiet by providing our attentions, Niuniu, instead of Zhuzhu, played a few notes for Ms. Alice.

How embarrassing, I told Ms. Alice that Zhuzhu was mature and ready for piano lessons.  Now can you imagine how we get things started?

Here is the moment to test who is a real tiger Mom!

"Mommy was very disappointed in you, Zhuzhu."  I guilted her on the way home.
"Could you tell me a single reason why you behaved so badly in Ms. Alice's studio."
"Do you want to start your lessons this summer?"
"You don't have to learn to play piano if you really don't want to.  But I want to tell you that soon you will find that you are the only one who doesn't know how to play piano among all your friends."  I love to use peer pressure.
"There is one more thing I wanted to make it clear to you here and now: piano is not something that you can learn quickly.  It takes a life time to master.  The earlier you start, the easier you feel.  If you don't start now, when you turn to a teenager or even older, you will never be able to play as well as your friends who start early."
"Ms. Alice is a great teacher and she can only take 2 new students this summer (I did not make this up).  There are many students waiting to get in her classes.  If you won't take the opportunity this time, you may never have it later on."

Although I had been monologuing, I knew the girl heard every word.  I also knew that she needed her time to process what she heard.

Soon the Daddy was calling us for dinner.  So I let her off the hook but kept my straight face during the entire dinner time.  Little kids are smart creatures and cannot afford losing their parents' love.  That is why they look so cute, cuddly, and inresistable!

Immediately after the dinner, Zhuzhu announced, "I'll go to piano lesson next week."

Having been a parent for 5 whole years, I still needed to be reminded the obvious fact that our little girl would only be agreeable when her little tummy is full!  

"I knew that you would come around!"  I asked her to send herself to me and she knew that's the signal for her tiger Mommy to show her some love.  Tightly caging her in my arms and chest, I told her, "As soon as you can play a few songs, you will be in love with the piano.  I am hoping that you will soon to be able to teach your little brother."

I ended my monologs with a positive and loving tone.

Then I informed Ms. Alice about Zhuzhu's decision.  As predicted, the decision couldn't be made by Zhuzhu alone.  The piano teacher only agreed to give Zhuzhu a test lesson before her formally accepting her.

Our first lesson was scheduled on the following Tuesday from 4:45 to 5:15 pm.  This time, I carefully prepared Zhuzhu.  I brought her freshly cut apples and fruit juice.  From Zhuzhu's daycare to Ms. Alice's studio was a 5 min walk, I took the time to go over rules and consequences for each of her potential behavior.  I emphasized once more that she did not have to play piano well for the first time, but she had to give it a try.

She understood what "give it a try" meant because that was what we would say whenever we presented her food that she might not like.  She knew if she tried it and disliked it, we would not force her for another bite.  Although a "give piano a try" would have been "give it many tries until you are fed up by it". 

When we arrived, Zhuzhu walked in the studio and sat down in front of the piano obediently.  Ms. Alice sprayed her hands with sensitizer and then taught her how to properly sit and where her feet should be rested so that she would be stable.  That alone, took more than 5 min!  Then she went on to teach her to breath and relax as if it was a "Yoga" class.  That took another 5 min.  Then it's time to take a look at the instrument.  Ms. Alice pointed at the keys and told Zhuzhu the total number of the keys and their arrangement.  Following that, it was Zhuzhu's turn to find all the black "2s" and "3s" with 2 and 3 fingers, respectively.  Then Zhuzhu was introduced to 2 notes, "A dog house (D) in between 2 black keys and a cat house (C) left to D.  Lastly, it's time to play pepperoni pizza.  Zhuzhu made an eye contact with me and smiled as soon as she heard the words of pepperoni pizza.  I knew that Ms. Alice had her at that moment.  Zhuzhu likes familiarity and she has learned "pepperoni pizza" from her best friend Marie recently.  She showed her eagerness to show Ms. Alice what she "knew" but the experienced teacher did not let her.  Instead, Ms. Alice took the opportunity to ask her to clap hands repeating after her.  Zhuzhu imitated her teacher flawlessly without the need of being shown twice!  She got all those rhythms of the 5 twinkle variations in the Suzuki book I!  I am pretty sure it was at then that the teacher knew that she was getting a perfect student.  Zhuzhu was impressive even to me.  She earned her chance to finally touch the piano now.  Ms. Alice showed Zhuzhu how to get the hand position first: open the right hand, stretch out all her five little fingers, turned her hand a bit so her pinky would point to the air and the thumb would touch the middle C, then stroke the key in the first rhythm that she clapped a moment ago.  Zhuzhu happily played as instructed until she finished all the rest of the 7 notes in one shot.

The whole process of Zhuzhu's first lesson surprised both Ms. Alice and me.  The teacher walked us out of the studio and said, "Mia is a totally different person today.  Let's get her started this summer."

She got in, yay!  

On the way back, I told Zhuzhu, "You made my day!", which followed by a shower of kisses.  I love to touch her smooth cheeks and to tickle her soft necks with my lips.  She waited until my craziness bursted out and said, "You know, Mommy, pepperoni pizza has the same tune as twinkle twinkle little star"!

Told you, apples don't fall too far from the tree.  In fact, that was an underestimate.  An accurate description about her should be that her sense of tunes is sharper than both Fabrice's and mine.

So was our Zhuzhu on her rocket way to becoming a pianist?  

Not so fast.  

After few lessons, Zhuzhu had shown her reluctance to go piano lessons, again!

It would be a lie if I was surprised.  But the reason that she gave me somewhat surprised me.  The girl did not play to make ME or herself happy but to please her teacher and then she expected the teacher to please her back by... her stickers!

As simple as that!

"Ms. Didi (ballet teacher) gives me stickers and Ms. Xiaolin (Chinese dance teacher) gives me stickers.  I don't like Ms. Alice, she does not give me anything, even though I play well!"  She complained.  "Marie gets stickers and toys after her piano lessons."  She was not ready to stop.  "Listen Zhuzhu, you have gotten Ms. Alice's smiles and praises.  These are much better than stickers."  I even reminded her that she never kept her interests on any stickers more than 10 min anyways.  "But I like stickers."  She insisted.  I was ready to suggest Ms. Alice to do that specially for her.  Yet at the next lesson, I forgot to bring Zhuzhu's piano books and the lesson following that, Zhuzhu did not get any praise from her teacher due to lack of significant progress.  So the opportunity for me to bring up the topic did not appear.

In one of the following lessons, Ms. Alice asked Zhuzhu to strike the keys hard but the girl kept playing gently.  The shyness in Zhuzhu's personality made this weak stoke clearer.  Ms. Alice turned to me and asked, "Do you have access to a real piano for her to practice?"  I was embarrassed for lacking of confidence in Zhuzhu's love for piano and for showing Ms. Alice as a uncommitted parent.

Told you this teacher is good in all levels.

In responding to Ms. Alice recommendation/pressure, Fabrice and I immediately invested a real and brand new piano.  By then I knew her enough to keep my mouth shut about the stickers that Zhuzhu wanted so badly.  It would definitely not be of her tool to motivate her students!

So the "I hate piano and I don't like Ms. Alice!" continued for few more weeks.  At that point, our honeymoon was clearly over and Ms. Alice showed her strict style, which scared Zhuzhu a bit.  When Zhuzhu cried prior to her next lesson, I made an appointment with Marie's piano teacher.  My logic was  simple: I did not want 花钱买罪受 (Huā qián mǎi zuì shòu, spending to be punished)!

It was then that Fabrice reinvented his "Golden Star" rewarding system.  He sticked a piece of blank paper on the fridge and said to Zhuzhu, "Now if you get praise(s) from Ms. Alice, you will get a big star.  If you practice at home for more than 10 min any day, you also earn a star.  If you earn a total 7 stars, you can buy a small toy."

The Daddy stood up for Ms. Alice, what a surprise!  He was the one warned me not to have my hopes up for this piano teacher at begin with.  He told me that he had never believed that Zhuzhu would even touch the piano with an ounce of passion or seriousness, but she had demonstrated her persistent attendance and this level of commitment has made "significant" progresses already.  True, she moved on from "pepperoni pizza", "quick slow/roll quick", "run bonny, run bonny", to ... and finally to a whole "twinkle"!

Few lessons following the Daddy's rewarding system, Zhuzhu went to her lesson happily and played pieces of her homework almost perfectly to Ms. Alice.  I did not expect that because she never did her daily practice, not even every other day practice.  Her "homework" was usually done 15 min prior to her lesson.  It's a mystery to me how little girl's mind works.  Just at the moment that I was ready to quit Ms. Alice, Zhuzhu fell in love with her.  When I revealed this cheating behavior of her to Ms. Alice, her initial response was surprised and then she had figured out why she could do that, "Well, the pieces in Fabor's book I are all quite short so she succeeded so far.  But from Book II and beyond, there will be no way she can still cheat."  How disappointing, I thought I had a talented daughter!

Needless to say, Zhuzhu's performance was highly praised by Ms. Alice so our appointment with Marie's sticker-giving teacher never occurred.  In the mean time, Zhuzhu has never earned her 7 stars either.  The piece of paper with few stars on it mysteriously disappeared - we were all too busy and forgetful to keep track a piece of paper.  That also tells you how "often" and "hard" she got her praises and "practiced" at home! 

Clearly, she does not need another toy to motivate herself.  But she continued to ask for stickers.  And my answer to this request has also been consistent, "You are a big girl now and your school teachers do not give students stickers either but they do praise you and give you various rewards if you do well.  Ms. Alice treats you as a big girl, you see."  

Half of a summer and a fall semester later, Zhuzhu progressed to learn how to coordinate left and right hands.  Ms. Alice showed her how to slowly put both hands together to try to play Cuckoo right before the winter break, "It is extremely hard.  Most of my students take months to master.  The good news is that they all eventually get it.  Give it a try during the winter break and see how it goes."  The teacher challenged and encouraged Zhuzhu and the latter was motivated.

During the winter break, Zhuzhu taught herself to the entire Cuckoo.  When her Spring class began, she made Ms. Alice cry!

Following that, it has become easier and easier for me to take her to lessons.  She is now a great piano player among her peers, which has led to a "superior" grade from her first piano competition this Winter and the third place at this semester's recital early this Summer.  Objectively speaking though, Zhuzhu does not play piano as well as majority of the other Ms. Alice's students.  She got the 3rd place because the judge has taken into the consideration of the length of time for each student to reach a certain level.

On the way home after the piano recital, Zhuzhu said, "I knew I would get a prize."  Her confidence sent a chill to my spine.  What if she did not win anything?  Again, I failed to make her understand the truth at this point.  Remember I also did not tell her that she had not passed the "standard test" to label herself as a "genius".  Zhuzhu still says that she hates piano often and still asks me to sign her "off" piano lessons.  But she never means it.

How do I know, you say?  Because she does not play piano for me, for Ms. Alice, or anyone else anymore, she plays for herself now.  She enjoys playing piano and she likes to put on a "piano show" for her audience, at witch she and her friend(s) or her brother take turns to play a piece of music.  I invented the game because I was inspired by my cousin who made her first daughter a pianist and second a violinist.  These 2 music lovers always put on a duet concert for us every time when we visited them!

Since you have read so far, I am revealing you here and now a top secret of Chinese tiger mother: we don't make little tigers, they are already tigers when they are born.

If Zhuzhu were a tone deaf, no matter how many nights that I played the piano, she wouldn't respond to the musics that she heard with accuracy.  Right, I forget to mention that I had put my rusty fingers on a piano almost every night after the kids go to bed, didn't I?  Ever heard a quote from Kathleen Casey Theisen "Most kids hear what you say, some kids do what you say but all kids so what you do."  Well, now you have.  I'd learned it from a newsletter from the kids' daycare teacher.

I played piano almost every single night for a period of time with the intention to motivate Zhuzhu.  I played so much and so often that made Fabrice to shut the bedroom door in order to sleep and Niuniu to change his bedtime request from "Mommy, can you read me the frog book" to "Mommy, can you come to my bed for 5 min after your piano?"

Zhuzhu may never grow into a professional pianist, but I bet she will develop a stable love for piano and music, just like my niece who is 19 year old now.  She started to learn piano at 4.  She came to live with us for 6 weeks 2 summers ago.  From the second week on, she had shown signs of a drug addict!  Later I found that she was suffered because we did not have a piano at home!  Luckily we found few pianos on campus on which she could put her hands.  She even chose her University to attend based on the very fact that her school has a piano in every classroom!

On what basis that I think that Zhuzhu will turn into my niece?  Zhuzhu, although only has learned piano a year ago, she had also showed signs of missing her piano after 1 short week of her separating with it.

A few weekends back, when she saw the pianos at Rousset's house in Lyon, she immediately put her hands on one of them.  Too bad that we had to cut her show short because we were in a rush to catch our early train.

Last Friday, I was in panic also because I realized that we had not done any piano "homework" and pushed Fabrice to find a piano.  So the man thought about asking whether the city music school could rent a studio to our Zhuzhu and the answer was even better: Zhuzhu's school has a piano and she can play for free.  After school on that day, the Daddy and I took Zhuzhu to visit the campus and she was thrilled to be able to play again!  

"Look, how happy you are now!"  I told her when we finished the practice.  She was embarrassed to be caught happy.  Although it is unclear whether she was happy because she finally was done with part of her homework or because her crave for piano was satisfied.

Either or both makes me happy too.

There you have the story of the making of a pianist.  Stay tuned to see how things will turn out!  A word of warning, if you want to know how to make a real pianist like this, you must first learn Chinese/Cantonese.

No comments:

Post a Comment