China vs. Korea vs. Japan vs. Russia

October 12, 2008 at 04:14 PM · Can you name the top 5 or top 10 living violinists from each of these 4 countries ? This means Kogan and Oistrakh don't count because they have passed away. Why do world-class violinists mostly come from those 4 countries presently, but not other countries such as India, Brazil, England, Spain ... ?


October 12, 2008 at 04:33 PM · I dont really think that's true...

What about all the great violinists from america? Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, and countless others. What about Janine Jansen from the Netherlands.

But the only ones I can think of at the moment from those countries listed are Akiko Suwanai and Midori.

Edit: And I think that the reason there are three Asian countries on your list is that they go to school much more than american students (they are in school longer, and more days out of the year), and have a harder work drive. NOTE- I'm not trying to start an arguement or anything, but I think that they're just in general much harder workers and have a stronger drive to achieve well which is a rare quality to find in anyone today...

October 12, 2008 at 07:14 PM · Cultural differences... nd a deep appreciation of the performing arts. sEven the cleaning ladies of the great orchestra halls around the globe KNOW the music, and expect it to be perfomed correctly. Common folks tap their feet, conduct the orchestra from their seats, and sing arias along with the principles. I have attended performances in Italy, Germany, Russia, Great Britan, and France where ordinary folks wandered in off the street to hear a performance. I tell you what, the performers better have a good day, or they get boooooed and jeered. In the USA quite the opposite is true. As noted in an earlier posting, most people here don't know when to applaud. I recently went to a performance with a guest conductor, very poor, he stopped the orchesta a few bars into the music and started over, very few people even knew it. The general music education programs of public schools is very poor indeed, if they have one at all. Children that are truly interested in music, must rely on private teachers and purchase their own instruments in the formative years. The opposite is true in the countries you mentioned. They encourage the study of arts, as well as the sciences. Look at American university orchestras, so may seats are occupied by foreign students.... Venezuela has an unbelievable number of student musicians here. Many of them get full boat scholarships, and usually stick around long enough to earn Doctorates. Julliard, Curtis, and other music education institutions are filled with hardworking, dedicated students from China and South Korea. Where are the Americans? Listening to Brittany Spears, Hanna Montana, etc... I blame this on the parents. No direction, no supervision.... Guess they are too busy flipping houses, and investing in the stock market.

Help.... I think I need oxygen!!!!!

October 12, 2008 at 08:10 PM · If you look at major orchestras this seems to be the case. Also, aside from Midori and Akiko Suwanai I can think of Kyung Wha Chung, Maxim Vengerov and basically the last several winners of both the Paganini and Tchaikovsky competitions. The list grows if you replace "Russia" with "USSR countries back when the violinists of today were born"

But yea, the US (Hahn...and basically everybody studied here anyway =\)? Canada(Ehnes)? Israel (Perlman, Shaham)? Germany (Fischer, Mutter)? France (Capucon)? Let's not forget about them...

As Milstein said "I don't think it has anything to do with nationality or race..."

October 12, 2008 at 08:50 PM · It also has a lot to do with which artists have a really hot PR department working for them. There are loads of fantastic violinists out thee who actually get plenty of gigs and do pretty well, but they aren't what we might describe as "Big Names" simply because they don't have the public relations profile of others... or perhaps they prefer not to have that kind of promotion.

Always a mistake to generalise, of course.

October 12, 2008 at 09:11 PM · I agree with Rosalind, it's not a good idea to generalize.

My theory is that it's both a numbers game and a tremendous emphasis on education. I think Asian countries must have a solid system in place that offers music to most children when they are young. Couple that with a deep appreciation and respect for education.

I think kids there are listening to Britney Spears too.

October 12, 2008 at 10:18 PM · Hi,

Go and see the previous posting that Laurie Miles sent about the Opening seremony of the Bejing Olympics! The truth is that (not everwhere) but in some areas in Asian countries, the children are almost trortured to play well...

Some parents and some teacher are relly mean to the children, however, the biggest players were NOT tortured at least, not physically... Think about the Bron or Stoliarsky or Julliard students who are so reknowned. Finally, is is mostly a cultural reason!


October 12, 2008 at 10:38 PM · Oh dont say that. They're not nessecarily tortured. Different cultures have different expectations; and what you may consider torture to a kid, could be considered the norm in a certain culture. I have many friends who are not of american descent. One of my friends parents are from Guatemala, and she was born there.. She keeps high grades, speaks 3 languages, and her parents expect a lot from her. I had the oppurtunity to meet her entire family at a quincenera and all the children had amazing manners, and listen to the parents well.

I think the whole lax mood of school and working is an american thing, and people of other cultures just expect more from there children which is perfectly ok and shouldnt be judged.

October 12, 2008 at 10:51 PM · As someone who grew up in South Korea, I must say that the level of music education in South Korea is much, much higher than in the United States. The vast majority of Korean kids start to take piano lessons by 4-5 years of age, and as they get older many of them pick up another instrument or two. General music education in public elementary schools is quite intensive compared to that in the US; by the time they reach middle school, they're expected to read music, know basic music theory, and become reasonably proficient on an instrument. The intensity of secondary school education usually prevents many people from becoming professional musicians, but the musical background is usually solid.

When I first came to the US in 6th grade, I was surprised by how many of my new American friends couldn't read music or play a simple instrument like a recorder. In high school, during a performance by a string quartet, everyone clapped so obnoxiously between movements that those who actually knew something about music became very annoyed.

I can go on forever, but the point is, music education is taken much more seriously in South Korea than is in the US. Which partially explains how Kyung-Wha Chung and Sarah Chang became such prominent violinists from a country with population of only about 50 million.. quite amazing.

Of course, I like Joshua Bell and Hilary Hahn as well. :)

October 12, 2008 at 11:17 PM · "I think the whole lax mood of school and working is an american thing"

Not true at all. You know, Guatemala has probably a 50% literacy rate. Your friends from there are from the upper class, which incidentally means they have European physical features (not Indian). One place Americans are lacking though is they'll agree with any possible criticism from anyplace :)) There are a few worse places to be...

"...everyone clapped so obnoxiously between movements that those who actually knew something about music became very annoyed."

Ah, but this hints that your exemplary S. Korean musical upbringing didn't really teach you as much about music as you think.

October 12, 2008 at 11:47 PM · There is a book called Teaching Genius, about Dorothy Delay. There is a section in that book about Delay's opinion about how the current immigrant wave represents the current group looking for a larger audience and leave their native lands. So if the immigrant wave is from USSR, you will see more "talent" from USSR in a particular time period. That is not to say there is not talent from anywhere else, but the immigrant mentality is the issue more than one culture or another. Israel for a few decades, then Japan for a while, Korea perhaps, Russia again after the USSR, Eastern Europe and so it goes. The same was true with Ballet from USSR with some famous defections a few decades ago.

I accept this explanation in general as I believe it explain why maybe more people from Spain, for example are not driven to "compete" at the highest level. Notice I say "compete" versus "achieve" at the highest level. Many achieve but the need for recognition at the highest level may be culturally or financially driven more so than the actual motivation to achieve which is individual. For all we know in some countries there is a fine audience and artists don't leave to come to the US to find bigger audiences and more orchestras to play in. Maybe their musical careers are sustained and complete without worldwide recognitions and more power to them! How many orchestras does Israel have? I am not sure, but it could not be many with such a small population. It seems plausible that Delay was correct in her analysis.

In general I notice when I go to Europe that the level of playing is very high but no one seems driven to prove anything. They just play as part of their lives.

I observe this same phenomena in general education. The immigrant populations work pretty hard to have a crack at success but after a few generations blend into the popular culture. The novelty factor declines as they Americanize. Many US students could compete and don't. Maybe they don't see it as necessary for their art. I am not sure but culturally, the drive to compete in classical music is not nurtured by schools or teachers public or private in most cases. Maybe because there is such a focus on being and individual in the US. Music is an expression versus a craft to many. I know many music teachers from Europe who competed very young in violin and piano. The US teachers just are not geared to encourage that avenue for students.

I don't hear of many "local competitions" either. There is no shame in competing, or not competing, but it does not seem to be the way many measure success in the US. My friends from the Eastern block competed to "get out". Maybe the motivation does not exist (yet) here due to the general lack of want and the many options people have for individual expression. Many great musicians never get recording contracts but no one believes they are less of musicians because of that.

October 13, 2008 at 12:07 AM · Your question is an excellent one, indeed. It raises both logical and sometimes mystical questions for me as a music historian. It would make a great and informative blog article.

The whole idea (or possibly theory) of why one nationality may, at certain times, produce fine artists is very complex in nature. If one looks at music history, let's say staring at around 1550, we see that the Italian, Spanish, German and French Schools, respectively, were turning out the finest violinists, composers, etc. which lasted up until around 1850. I am not even considering some of the lesser know European countries, as I do not for this post to end up a music history lesson. All the countries I may refer to will continue to produce fine artists, but possibly not to such a historical degree as they did then. The Russian School had it's reign for quite a long period in the last half of the 19th century and well beyond the middle of the 20th century. The Oriental School, which seems to be the reigning school of thought, has come forward and is very strong to this day. Without any biased to any of the above mentioned schools, I have always wondered why England, America, India, Africa, etc. have not ever been considered as productive in producing a large amount of fine artists. They seem to be more richer in folk music traditions than fine art traditions, England possibly being an exception, as much of American culture is English in nature. You will find more fiddlers than you will violinists in any particular square mileage, particularly in England, Ireland and Scotland and in America and Canada, as well. I could be wrong in my perception, but I have always noticed that it has to do much with " work culture" and those cultures that stress the priceless value of hard work. The concept of intrepretation seems rather bizarre to some whom have asked me this perplexing question many times: How can an Italian artist properly intepret German music, or an Oriental artist play the music properly that has been written by a Russian composer. Sometimes I find the answer is that they are forgetting that they are all simply human, and that it would not matter if the artist or composer came from Venus, the idea of interpretation is still the same. As human being, we can be subconciously biased when we encounter an artist who is of one culture and masterfully plays the music of another culture. It is one of the principal reasons that musicians are required to audition behind a screen, with only a number as their identity. Not doing so could raise many civil rights complaints, either in frivolity or truth. Music is a universal language, so therefore, it requires no real cultural bounderies, just good old-fashioned determination and hard work. Talent is not always a factor, as some famous artists have proven. It is the art of advertising that may also make a "great" artist. It is nothing new. It is something that has always been, through music history, but not to a degree that it would be remembered and taught to a student of music history, even if the professor was shamefully aware of the truth. One must remember people thought differently, about everthing, 300 years ago, and even as well as 70 years ago. I have a theory that it is simply that the accessability to media, from all over the world, and the ability to share information with diverse cultures is the greatest factor. It is the individual who places themselves where they are, both here in the present and in the memory of history.

October 13, 2008 at 09:59 AM · j, excellent analysis. do you think the us or the european system/environment will be better for your own kids' music education?

October 13, 2008 at 02:15 PM · the basic training of those asian schools are astonishing.

They emphasize on scales, bow arm quite a lot.

October 13, 2008 at 08:09 PM · Friends, Ask anyone, who was educated in a music school in Moscow, how things were ordered. If you could pass the audition phase, where hundreds of international students competed for maybe 10 slots in the school, you were in, free of charge. Once accepted, Students had a very rigid (unbeding regimen) to conform to. There were no parents around to yell out "Good Job Johnny." You were on your own. The teachers were treated with the higest level of respect imaginable. If you dared to show up without having practiced your lesson, you were told to go across the hall and practice. You were not going to get a lesson that day. You didn't practice on the teacher's time! When you pass one of the teachers in the hallway, you had better offer up a respectful bow, or you heard about it. You had to work as hard as you could, and practice, practice, practice. Periodically, you had to re-audition... as if they din't even know who you were. If you had not achieved the level expected of you, you were out. Goodbye, don't let the door hit you in the ass. No excuses, no pleading your case, no amount of money could buy your way back in. You were out, and could not return. They did not accept substandrad behavior, or laziness. Now, many of you are probably thinking that this approach is a bit too extreme... but they sure produced results. If you were serious about music, it was the place to be. If not, too bad for you. You lost a great opportunity.

October 15, 2008 at 07:45 AM · Mr. Gammuto is correct in his post. It can be rough, as the music business is here in the United States can be challenging to the student, and even the professional, as well. It can be very competitive. It would be logical to say, it is a universal attitude that is almost military in nature. Competitiveness is good for any child, taught, of course, in the spirit of common courtesy and realizing that "you can't win them all". The parent must be supportive, but not push the child. Here in the US, opportunities are not as readily available as they were in the past. I refer mainly to the public school music programs, which have suffered, due to budget situations. This is a sad reality. At least the private teachers and community orchestras and ensembles are available. The children who will "make" it, no matter where they are being trained, will have possess certain necessary requirements: genuine desire, unceasing hard work and at least a fair quantity of natural talent.

October 15, 2008 at 10:59 AM · Actually the top violinists are all living in Hungary but no one knows it.

October 15, 2008 at 11:24 AM · it goes without saying that to reach master level in violin, the key ingradient is hard work, no matter what nationality you are. people are usually born with talent and into an environment. hard work is under self control.

beyond and besides music training systems and environments, another element often overlooked is the power of inspiration from national idols. from korea, we have chung and then chang and i pretty sure chang currently serves as a role model for many young korean players. an interesting simili is found in prof golf for the ladies. korean players play a disproportionally dominant role because one player broke into the world class level 10 yrs ago,,,

because of lang lang, millions in china pick up piano. talent or not, it is easier to identify the better ones from a bigger pool.

here is a violin kid trained in china,,,at one point in time, some thought he was the best in moscow,,,(and, with those recently talked about god darn coughs:)

October 15, 2008 at 11:26 AM · Sarah Chang was born in the US. Does she still have legal residence and citizenship in the US, or does she now live in South Korea? (I am under the assumption that she would not move to North Korea!). The reason I ask is that she has been referred here in this discussion as "Korean". I was under the impression that while Chang's parents were from Korea, (South? North? Not sure...), Sarah is American as anyone else born here. Can anyone clarify her nationality?

October 15, 2008 at 11:39 AM · anne, i don't think she is from the north. for that matter, i don't know ANY known violinists from the north.

point is, even though she is korean american, to many kids in korea (ok, south korea if you insist:), it is easier for the korean youth to identify with because they share the same ethnic background.

October 15, 2008 at 11:43 AM · American-Korean? (Insert smiley face here).

You are correct about ethnic identification, of course.

October 15, 2008 at 11:45 AM · i mean, to be fair, since she was born here, she is undeniably american. however, to the youth that idolizes her from korea, what passport she holds kinda doesn't matter:)

almost like the ad world right now where they try to feature models that look as white as asian as black...the global hotpot look? :)

October 15, 2008 at 03:45 PM · Al,

I think a more European approach better serves my own children. Coming from a European background I am comfortable with that as well so it works out pretty well. We balance that with a bit less formality, but the teacher/student relationship is quite formal for the boys. The main thing is how there seems to be no rush which I like and mirrors my own opinion about learning complex disciplines in general. Competition is based upon the child not the parent or their teacher, and that has worked well. Al, I think the speed of knowing or understanding tricks kids into thinking that the doing will be just as fast. In my experience this is patently false. As parents it is easy to get sucked onto that treadmill and try to skip over a childs development in favor of the fast result. I am very conscious that many kids quit because it does get really tough to put it all together and like wine, you must be very patient and the child needs to learn to be patient.


The interesting part of you post is that no one knows about the Hungarian players. There is an isolation in Eastern Europe but I agree that some of the old Eastern block has amazing players who are sustained in that environment without the competition or recording contracts or so it seems. When you google them you find nothing. They are sustained in their environments as best I can tell where there is reciprocity and they make a living. They are working musicians and possibly depend on tourism more than musicians in the US, but their isolation seems to make for different schools, or styles which I appreciate versus the slickness we get on the recordings these days.

I know a Russian soloist who worked like the devil. Just like sports he said you had to be the best to get out. That is what drove the competition; an opportunity to have a better circumstance. Here in the US that simply is not the case. I guess the competitive school described in the previous posts where the door hits you on the way out, mirrors the Olympic schools for athletes. You do everything right for years and if you mess up on the rings you are gone. Miss a note, your toast! Miss by a fraction of a second and it is like you never existed. There needs to be something that drives that level of competition beyond winning. I think it is a temperment that sustains such competitive people fueled by material rewards in many cases. Many children take swimming or gymnastics but not all aspire or qualify for that level of competition. I don't think you can make a living doing competitions your whole life however in sports or music. You can only be in school for so long and then their are variables that kick in. The end game I guess for these competitors is a recording career with a solo tour to go along. Gold medal people look for endorsements or seem to find work as motivational speakers later in life. Violinist who compete end up recording or playing in orchestas with some solo work if they are not recording artists. The competitions differentiate their resumes and open a doors but they are still only as good as their last recordings it seems. Look how pundits talk about the career of soloists and spout opinions about their careers at youths and then as mature adults. So even when they meet the highest standard the industry moves the goal post.

October 15, 2008 at 03:37 PM · Thanks for all the contributions. Seems to me most responses here agree that education and culture are the major reasons. But culturally, you would expect Italy and Europe to dominate because the violin is a European musical instrument, not Asian.

The other question is why India (population over 1 billion) doesn't produce any violinist who could play for an orchestra such as NY or LA Phil, Chicago, London or San Francisco ? Do they even have a music conservatory ? Is there a cultural issue, or an educational issue ?

October 15, 2008 at 04:17 PM · "The other question is why India (population over 1 billion) doesn't produce any violinist who could play for an orchestra such as NY or LA Phil, Chicago, London or San Francisco ? Do they even have a music conservatory ? Is there a cultural issue, or an educational issue ?"

They have a different tradition

L. Shankar could have been a world class classical violinist if he wanted too

His playing and phrasing on the Shakti Albums from the seventies is amazing

How many could play glissandos like he does among the western violinists?

October 15, 2008 at 04:40 PM · Yes the Indian culture fosters folk music to the highest degree possible. Same goes for my country, Greece. So many people there are involved in music, almost everyone I know. It just happens to be traditional greek folk music.

October 16, 2008 at 06:11 AM · My observations from spending 3 years teaching in Taiwan:

There is a lot more pressure from parents/teachers on students. They attend school 8-5pm daily (even on Saturdays) and if you didn't attend school during vacation, you were the odd one out. (We're not talking summer camp here, we're talking regular school extended over summer vacation). Cram school (attended after school) is the norm. There is a famous street in Taipei filled with cram schools (especially for TOEFL) where hundreds of kids take classes after school. The style of teaching also differs; independent thinking encouraged much more in the US. Extra-curricular activities are also much more emphasized here.

Proportionally to population, many more kids learn violin or piano, in Taiwan than in the US. Perhaps only the top 1% of those who learn go overseas (to the US).

Unfortunately, wind and brass instruments far less popular.

Dealing with Asian parents (both in the US and Taiwan) is quite different to American parents. I've been asked numerous times by Asian parents to be more strict to their kids. The parents judge their kids achievement by how many competitions they win and the difficulty of the piece. American parents just want their kids to be happy and all-rounded. I've never ever been asked by American parents to be more strict. Funnily when I was in Taiwan, I wished parents gave their kids some more slack. On the other hand, I feel parents here are sometimes too laid back.

October 16, 2008 at 04:07 PM · ...

October 16, 2008 at 04:23 PM · good point on that inaccurate assessment.

however, i take exception to this line, or shall i say, me not clear ..."relaxed way of training kids in the rest of the world". as the saying goes,,,am i missing something?:)

one one extreme, we have the stereotypical asian heavy handed approach. the chinese in mainland/taiwan/hk, the koreans, the japanese, the same thing! (mind you, the most prominent mainland chinese teacher received his training in the soviet union. i wonder if the reputed harsh training regimen from the soviet union had spilled over to china where hard work had already been the cornerstone of success.) double happiness for the chinese kids.

on the other hand, we have now what is referred as a "relaxed" way. can anyone define it in detail because i would like to know for selfish reasons. i think it is a perfect system for my happy go lucky kid who loves to chill.

the other point that i would like to bring up is about competition. to some, it portrays a lack of soul, compassion, true understanding of what music is about, or even humanity. to some others, it may mean a way out of less favorable living conditions, musically, financially, politically, spiritually, what have you,,,

for instance, if an american kid aims for juilliard, it is not unthinkable for him to practice hard and manuever himself toward nyc through contacts or teachers. for kids in china or russia--may be things are getting easier--it is a lot more complicated.

some of you, in extreme starvation, probably consider the otherwise unthinkable and start eating tree twigs or worms:),,,in the other parts of the world competition is perhaps a must-take route to survive.

October 16, 2008 at 04:31 PM · Cesar -

I think you really need to pick up recordings by Kyung Wha Chung and Cho Liang Lin. Chung's numerous recordings with the best orchestras are very highly regarded by violin specialists and critics alike. Jimmy Lin's recordings from his prime reveal a special talent and a blazing technique. Sarah Chang and Midori represent today's generation, but if you look back a few decades you will find consummate asian artists. These two basically broke the stereotype that asians cannot "play with feeling". Chung's passion is sincere and her technique is never in doubt. She can play with the utmost serenity and can explode into deep passion with organic fluidity. Lin's sincerity is also never in doubt but with a different subtler, sweeter style.

I would put these artists on the same league as the ones you have mentioned.

October 16, 2008 at 04:35 PM · Kevin,

I love your "user pic"--marvelous,I'm still laughing.

Great !!!!!!

You made my day !!!

October 16, 2008 at 04:31 PM · "Just compare...apart from Sarah Chang and Midori, no more names come to my mind, I mean names in a similar league to Itzhak Perlman, Hilary Hahn, Julia Fischer, Vengerov, James Ehnes, Leonidas Kavakos, Nigel Kennedy, etc.....and even Chang and Midori would have it hard to be considered in such league...."

I wouldn't leave Sarah Chang and Midori out of this "league" of superstar soloists. They are and have been in constant demand by the top-notch orchestras for their entire careers...both have been performing since the age of 10. I would further argue that Midori has done more for the classical music community with her service programs and charity organization than most of the names you have listed.

I just wouldn't count those two out of the "elites" of today...

October 16, 2008 at 05:10 PM · Joe- Lol. Glad to be of service.

Lets look at some the top orchestras in the country:

Philadelphia Orchestra -

David Kim, concertmaster

Juliette Kang - associate concertmaster

6 other asians in the violin section

Choong Jin Chang - principal violist

5 other violists are asian

Cleveland Orchestra

Amy Lee - associate concertmaster

Yoko Moore - assistant concertmaster

5 other asians in the violin section

NY Phil - I think the whole section is asian..:)

Michelle Kim, assistant concertmaster

12 other asians in the section.

Top young string quartets:

Miro Quartet - Daniel Ching, Sandy Yamamoto, violins

Biava Quartet - Hyunsoo Ko, violin

Jupiter Quartet- Nelson Lee, violin

Parker Quartet - Danny Chong, Karen Kim, violins

Kee Hyun Kim, cello

Formosa Quartet - Jasmine Lin, Ayano Ninomiya violins,

Brian Chen, viola

Check out these guys and gals websites....phenomenal musicians...

October 16, 2008 at 07:13 PM · I think most asian students being that they come from schools with limited resources that won't bring them contracts and stuff they need to go to international competitions. Look at the finalists of the major violin competitions for the last 10 years.

October 16, 2008 at 08:16 PM · Greetings,

not got any deep thougts on this. But, remeber what Misltein said in his autoiography about he elarnt all the Paginin Caprices , Bach solo sonatas etc at a oyung age because there was no TV. Maybe the equivalent situation is that Asian parents dont let their kids watch so much?;)



October 16, 2008 at 08:38 PM · I am not sure I agree with the contention that the top violinists mostly come from certain countries, but I think that the resourcefulness required by people who overcome hardship transfers to success in lots of other areas.

I recently had a conversation with a Chinese-American parent of a 9th grade violin student that I thought was interesting. She told me that her husband's parents back in China can neither write nor read and that he is the first to go to college in his family. He is in the US with a job involving clinical trials. She is also the first in her family to go to college. She is now an engineer. She said that the first generation out of poverty must do something practical while the next generation has the liberty of pursuing the arts, but if they do, the pressure is on to be successful.

In our family, my father was born in a dirt floor cabin. Unbelievably, his mother did not own shoes. My father-in-law was likewise born into severe rural poverty with immigrant parents. My father-in-law became an engineer as did his brother (both Ph.Ds), and my father became a biologist. My husband is an engineering professor and I am a biologist. The consciousness that you are one step from poverty means that you take your training and career very seriously and are not inclined to dabble. It also means that you take parenting and the preparation of your children for the competitive world very seriously. This leads to a certain focus that is useful in violin training.

October 16, 2008 at 09:01 PM · Greetings,

absolutely. In one of his interviews Leopolad Auer actually said that aside from talent etc. one of the main determiners of becoming a world class soloist was having known hunger.



October 16, 2008 at 09:34 PM · Jennifer,

Well put. It is funny when you tell kids these types of things. They think you are just laying a guilt trip on them. Marty Feldmen did a skit about rich guys bragging how poor they were as kids. The last guy said he lived in a shoe box in the middle of the road as they sat in a country club smoking cigars. I appreciate your family's struggles and now look at you playing music! What a tribute to their efforts. My grandfather was a shepherd and people honestly think I am joking if I mention it. On SNL there was a skit about a shepherd and my whole family (older relatives) sat, stoney faced, waiting for the joke. They honestly didn't know SNL was making fun that anyone could be a shepherd. My mother and her siblings had Celiac's disease when they came to the US. My grandparents bragged that they personally knew a woman who cleaned the house of a conductor of one of the big five orchestras. Six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon can work in reverse. And now we have the luxury to blog about violin and music. What a great world where one could have the time to do such activities.

October 16, 2008 at 10:44 PM · I didn't ever watch TV when I was a kid, and I certainly didn't learn any paganini caprices! and my bach was pretty awful...

October 17, 2008 at 05:38 PM · Kevin Jang did his homework!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Is there any further doubt. The list is much longer than he provided in this posting. Walk the halls of Julliard, Curtis and Cleveland Institutes, Indiana University, etc., and tell me what you see. These students come to America to study with great teachers and well established study programs.

October 19, 2008 at 08:32 AM · considering the number of asian players and the trend of more to come, there seems to be a barrier reaching the top tier violin soloist level.

top tier violin soloist level and high level orchestra career are perhaps different animals. yoyo ma with cello, lang lang with piano,,,both highly charismatic, with mass appeal and commercial success. the violin world has been different so far,,,

October 19, 2008 at 02:26 PM · What an interesting and fraught discussion.

I can't see Kevin Jang's ballyhooed profile picture-- did he delete it?

About Sarah Chang, she grew up in Philadelphia and attended Germantown Friends, a progressive Quaker school in Philadelphia, kind of the opposite of the rigid educational systems described above. If you read interviews with the family you hear that she attended through high school and had a normal, upper-middle class American upbringing. One of my daughters was in a 5th grade class that had been SC's a few years later. We asked the teacher who reported that she did not come to school all that often and pretty much disappeared after winter break. "But of course she was practicing 8 hours a day."

Sarah's brother Michael, who was a decent cellist and a very competitive tennis player in high school, was in the local youth orchestra. Sarah would come by to pick him up, causing as you might imagine a huge stir among the young violinists. One mom called out to her and asked how long she was practicing at age 10. Her answer was, "Oh, an hour or two a day."

This is just an anecdote, not support of any of the theories outlined above. But I think it's clear that Asian pianists and violinists are a disproportionate percentage in the top American conservatories, and are pushing the bar for technical achievement to a new level. I also don't think we can discuss all of Asia in a single breath without succumbing to crude, reductive racial stereotyping -- South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Mainland China, for example, are different places and cultures.

October 21, 2008 at 02:17 AM · I met Sarah and her mother at Nelly Berman's Music School several times jst outside Philly. She is American 100%, but she is a product of her mother's hopes and aspirations for her. Her mother lead her down the correct path... we are the beneficiaries.

October 21, 2008 at 01:24 PM · Hey Pals, anyone tried NingFeng from China before?He is the Gold Medalist of the Paganini Competition in year 2006, he is absolutely grea and you can get some of his video clips in youtube!

October 22, 2008 at 01:12 AM · I tried to embed the video but it doesn't seem to work. Do any of the modern superstars that are being milled in our various schools make an impression like this?

October 25, 2008 at 12:26 AM · I think it also goes back to the fact that music is getting eliminated in many schools due to cost. As we all know it is expensive to learn an instrument and that cost eliminates a lot of bright rising stars. I feel diversity is best in all fields and music is not different. You will gets different styles and creativity as a result.

October 26, 2008 at 01:02 PM · What about genetics?

I know this is TABOO and I don't want to hurt anyone but as a (weak little fingers + long neck) person, I am forever noticing that although they are MANY exceptions of people who have my stature and are accomplish professionnals,(for examples asians who are very delicate) the people from the countries you mention are often physically shaped for the violin... I used to go train at the militairy base near my home and we had a lot of people from Russia and Eastern europe. They definitively had shorter necks, bigger fingers and were stronger than the other militaries (sronger built naturally). Of couse, they did some types of exercises that I had never seen anyone do and that were so chalenging. Even the women were more strongly built than those here. I notice the same things with my german frineds, with some chinese at the olyimpics... When I am joking with my violin and put my two shoulders up just to see how it would be to have a tiny neck, I really see how comfortable and stable it would be, when my fingers have to press two strings at the same time and that I see people with huge fingers do it with such facility, when I hear all the violin teachers on forums who say that it is hard to find the right devices for their longer neck students... I have to admit (even if the truth hurts) that violin (just like any other sport) is easier for those who have the physical qualities required for it. Why black people run faster, why basketball players are so tall, why do asians are so fast when they move? Because of the genetics, because that some peoples of some countries have physical advantages to do a sport or a specific discipline. We hear about this in sports (they even separate the boys from the girls but it would be stupid in music...)but in the violin and music, it is taboo! Of course, their is exceptions and thank god they are some but typically scientists know that there is for each sport an ideal "body" with the ideal characteristics and violin is not an exception and in some countries, the people have a phisionomy that is closer to this than in others. Though, I think the love of music has nothing to do with if you have the ideal body caracteristics or not! However, the two combined together give us prodigies!


October 29, 2008 at 06:58 PM · Anne-Marie, genetics is only taboo in the US, but not in many other countries.

October 29, 2008 at 08:35 PM · Greetings,

I liked their earlier album `Selling England By the Pound` the best.



October 29, 2008 at 09:28 PM · Yes that's wright Ho! In China, they make forced marriages or at least they make sure that the most successful people have kids and by this way, they have persons will the perfect physical skills for a specific sport. In addition, if the average person in such countries has good "proportions" to play violin, they are sure to get good resaults and of course, hide from us all those who failed... I also read in the newspapers such things about the soviet athletes in the 50-60 s. I don't think they have the choice to do what they like or not though... Do they do the same with musicians? However, I have notice that naturally musicians stick together as scientist, healthcare workers, teachers, athletes and so on. Look in the musicians biographies, the parents are often musicians too. So, I think a kind of selection is often naturally done even if I know that in these countries they want the better selection possible... Well, all this is about cultural differences.

Happy Halloween to everyone! (I know this is off topic!!!)


October 30, 2008 at 04:39 AM · It's not a matter of hand size or shape or neck length.

Itzhak Perlman: I hear he can do the Paganini Stretch? His fingers are quite wide too. Oh and he seems to have a relatively short neck.

Midori: Tiny, slim fingers. Also a fairly short neck.

Ginette Neveu: Pretty long neck there...

Thibaud: it's not genetic but he messed up his hand...

Besides if that were the case, the great Russian violinists would have been unable to play in high positions because their fingers are fat and the Asian violinists could never play fifths because their fingertips are tiny. No, I think it's a matter of dilligent practice with careful attention to every detail done regularly for a long time, preferably from a young age, with enough persistance to overcome or work around the shape of one's body (within reason) that probably makes a technician. Starting early, exposure to classical music, a certain personallity, possibly some inherent musical sense that may be genetic or developed early in life, and more hard practice I think make that an artist.

Are these things more common in certain countries...Well...I think in some of the countries listed children who show a good musical sense are/were "encouraged" to work hard toward becoming musicians (*cough* forced *cough*). In others (I know for sure in Japan and I think also in Korea and parts of China), many children are introduced to music in public schools. Naturally if you cast your net wide you'll get lucky more often. Add to that the kind of work ethic that at one point had Japanese kids going to school 5.5 days a week with many going to extra schooling after regular school hours and (I found this statistic, but I'm not sure just how accurate it is) has Chinese kids in school an average of 9 hours a day?

I think it's just more people are seriosly trying so more people end up pretty good outside the US. I definately think genitics are a tiny factor if there's any trend at all....

October 30, 2008 at 04:29 AM · Greetings,

yep, Perlman did the Paginini stretch in front of Joseph Gingold at Meadowmount when he wa sin his ealry teens. He seemed surprise dthta it wa sa big deal. I cna do that stretch and my hand is somewhat smaller thna Perlmans. It isn`t as hard as many people think.

Primrose had a thing about teaching in Japan. He stated that it was rather odd the way Japanese ladies gravitated ot the viola at the time but that because of the size of their finger tips they culd never get a truly meaty viola left hand. Thus he focused his attention primarily on bowing(his words.)

Japanese kids did do 5.5 hours a duy of school. When the Ministry decided to cut the hald day a few years ago the kids were simplky forced to attend longer hours at cram schools to get the hours back.



October 30, 2008 at 04:48 AM · The most important determinant of success is culture. Genes matter to a degree but they only get you to the starting line--they don't predict the finish.

But culture teaches people the value and importance of work. It teaches the value of the objective and if it is a good culture it rewards work.

October 30, 2008 at 10:03 AM · Everyone is wright but what stephen said is interesting. Of course with hard work and cultural reasons, talented people of all shapes can succed equally. However what I said is that I believe that like in any sports, they must be an ideal shape (genetically)+ of course good training! When I go to see orchestras, (ok maybe I'm too scientific about it..) but I look at the violinists and I notice that the majority have short or medium necks! I see a link between the most wonderful wide and expressive vibratos I have ever heard and huge fingers. Have any one notice how beautiful are the vibratos from people like Perlman, Oistrakh, Zuckerman etc... If I'm not wrong, they all have similar hands. I believe the only disavantage of having to big fingers is to play chromatic scales in high position! Do I am the only one who have notice that girls or boys with very long necks often play with their neck bend and that it doesn't seem very comfortable even if they sound great! Perlman who said that it was odd... I have notice that with small fingers, it is easier to do an electric vibrato and harder to have a good grip on the bow to produce this "fleshy" sound. If I can talk a little about this fleshy "sound" I can take the example of me and my mother. We once tried a cello (but I believe it would have been the same with every other instrument that has a bow...) Neither me nor her had ever tried a cello. I am kind of delicate and my mom is more "solid" with heavier arms of course. The difference of reasonance when she played on the cello and when I play was noticable. With no technique, she would produce a lot more volume of sound and was naturally able to "press" the string with the bow way better than me! Well I guess with practice it would have been ok but this is another story. Of course, I hate to admit all this since I have myself long neck (that means more trouble and accepting a little less stability) and small fingers (vibrato with 4 finger is quite and advanture!)and have to work more because of that. I believe there is something scientific there and anyway, what would it bring to actually find the answer. I just wanted to know if someone notice this in general (because I know their is so many exceptions too) and I'm not saying that it is impossible to overcome these genetic issues. With good training, probably it is possible...

Have a nice day,


October 30, 2008 at 11:06 AM · This body shape talk is rather disturbing to me for some reason. It also reminds me of two violinists, Heifetz and Elman. Can any body sahpe be more different than these two whether they are from the Mars or just the other side of the ocean?

Could it be the socio-economic? Someone who's been associated with a youth orchestra for a long time once commented that first, it was Japanese kids started coming, then Korean kids, now they see more Chinese. In what way socio-economy is linked to violin playing, I can only guess, maybe one way to reach what one perceives status?

October 30, 2008 at 12:26 PM · in terms of "body shape", i have often seen violin teachers examining new students by looking at their fingers, esp the left pinkie length. is that genetics or being too selective or being biased? whatever. but i can imagine that some students in this world are told earlier in their lives that certain instruments may not suit them in the long run if they want to be very serious. in the video of a young talent with a recent cd (what her name again?) she related that she was switched into violin after the piano teacher suggested that her fingers were too short for piano. what a brilliant piano teacher that we should be thankful to!

needless to say, in some sports, body shape has a lot more influence. often it is a self selecting process as well. a linebacker sized gymnast will not go far.

the other point,,,with socioeconomical development comes cultural advancement and diversification. with money to spend, third world parents tend to treat their kids' competitiveness as priority. to make music as a means to climb the cultural ladder is often an obvious choice.

my biased observation is that at this juncture, classical music to youth in asia is not as "geeky" as it is to american youth. lang lang is a multimedia phenom, a hero to many youths. it makes it easier to encourage classical music in that environment.

also, to afford the tuition of american music schools, for many in the other side of the globe, winning an int comp is a more reliable way to getting full scholarship. thus many have goals very early on.

meanwhile, kids like mine and many others, bathed in luxury, do it without much pressure to excel. in america it is labelled as good parenting:). others wonder if that is how rome fell...

October 30, 2008 at 12:18 PM · Al, Funny you bring up pinkie length. We once had an excellent violinist for a teacher, well established, well known in the knowing circles. Rosand himself was eager to have him in his studio. Curiously, his pinkie was only half as long as my daughter's who was taking lessons from him. If he's not better known, it's not because of his pinkie. That I know.

October 30, 2008 at 01:14 PM · Since we are talking about hand shapes and pinkie legths etc, I recall a conversion a few weeks back with my kids' piano teacher who just did a recital playing some Rachmaninov. My son is 7, has slim hands, and is almost (but not yet)able to reach an octave on the piano (so he has to roll a lot of the octave chords). The teacher said jokingly not to worry, in a few years time, his hand will grow and be able to play tenths in the Rachmaninov pieces.

In violin, are there any passage/chords that need stretching (thus we talk about short pinkie being a hindering factor), apart from fingered octaves and tenths?

October 30, 2008 at 02:13 PM ·

in the beginning of this video, is that a real photo of mr p? no wonder he did not need to learn to shift:)

but then again, we have heifetz who, i think, based only on my interpretations of his videos, does not own a pair of big hands. in fact, some passages his entire pinkie looks a bit on the flat side while reaching the note. BUT, his hand flexibility, agility and the entire circuit, from the "heart" to the brain, to the spinal cord, to the peripheral nervous system, to the nerve endings on his fingertips is a different story.

October 30, 2008 at 04:24 PM · i have often seen violin teachers examining new students by looking at their fingers, esp the left pinkie length. is that genetics or being too selective or being biased?

You have often seen this, Al? I'd be shocked by that behavior. When my daughter was 12 and very small for her age I took her to a famous teacher who did seem concerned about her size and asked some invasive questions about sensitive topics like the family medical history (onset of menarche), etc., claiming that because her husband is an endocrinologist she knows about these things. My daughter, who was small but not stupid, was mortified to be discussed as if she were a cow going up for auction.

In the end she went with a different teacher and within a year or so grew to be big enough to play a full-size instrument.

October 30, 2008 at 04:55 PM · There is this violinist in the Cleveland Orchestra who neck is so long that he had to commission a special chinrest that is more like a chin tower since it is a least 5 to six inches away from the violin! Speaking of long necks and tall people, Arnold Steinhardt? Joseph Szigeti?

BTW, congrats to one of my oldest friends, Valerie Li, who won 1st prize in the Concert Artists Guild Competition as 1st violinist of the Afiara Quartet!

October 30, 2008 at 08:56 PM · Greetings,

I think this examination of finger length etc is a load of old cobblers. There is a brillaint older Chinese violnist featured in the way they play with an abolsutely minute litlte finger. He devise d atehcnique to get round it.

What can be a factor I have found over the yeras is a certain degree of innate stiffness in the physique generally. some people simply fucniton that way and although they can achive a high level of palying there is some kind of cut of point. I think it tends ot occur with very academic people who can then fortunatley go onto successful and rewrading careers in iother fileds.

As far as Hefetz is concerned Hugh Bean observed him from up close s cocnertmaster for many recording sessions and cocnerts. He said the most striking thing about heifetz hands was how ordinary they were. That is nothing was either particularly long or short. On the whol this is pretty helpful....



October 30, 2008 at 09:45 PM · In the only picture of Chopin (I know of) he also seems to have perfectly ordinary hands.

As for examining pinkey size, that's, in my mind, horrible behavior. I know somebody who has one joint on the pinky fused so it doesn't bend and can still play and vibrato with the fourth finger.

As a counter example, I have hands of average length with average to slim fingertips and a palm might be slightly wider than normal. And every finger is double-jointed (they can bend backwards 90 degrees and wrap around each other and my thumb will bend in any direction 180 degrees). If genetics had much to do with it I'd have amazing left hand technique (intonation in higher registers and ability to do extensions) and that just isn't the case (at all =( ).

Btw. Buri I tried doing to paganini stretch today. I discovered if I stretch my first finger so it's almost straight and parallel to the neck and turn my hand toward the violin I can almost do it....but still no dice. Whatever you say I would be amazed if you or somebody else were to do it in front of me. Maybe just for people who can do it it's not a big deal....

October 31, 2008 at 11:10 AM · yes, e, it is interesting--probably the wrong word--to see so called experts in one field marching into another without enough back-up, acting as the masters of the universe:) it can be quite traumatic to the receivers who do not know better.

as i was saying, you know the line on the palmer side of the ring finger formed by the joint next to the nail (the DIP joint),,,well, according to some:), if your pinkie is longer and passes that line, you have more potential for violin:):):)

October 31, 2008 at 06:45 PM · How wierd this theory of the ring and the line of your pinky???????

November 1, 2008 at 10:46 AM · actually, it is weird i admit but not that weird if you think about it.

i think violin is about efficiency, playing it easy and make it look easy.

try this: on g string first position, plant the first finger on A and fourth finger on D. can you maintain reasonable hand shape without much wrist realignment?

now, with first fing on A slide the fourth finger up, from D to D+. how is it now?

someone with very short pinkie may find this not easy to do. i am sure it is do-able somehow, but not easy.

November 1, 2008 at 01:25 PM · Ah yes, the ring is to see how long is your pinky but

I also think, but I'm not sure, that how far you can go with your pinky when your first finger is one a note must have a link with how wide your palm actually is. I mean you can have the best extension in the world but imagine a great extension + a wide palm, the result must be that the distance between your 1 st finger and pinky is even greater.

However, (In USA) Even in places like Julliard, the students are selected by auditions and IF there is a natural selection, it is not because the teachers look at them like "cows in an aution" to state a comment above!


November 1, 2008 at 01:54 PM · Venezuela is indeed poised to shake the music world.

November 3, 2008 at 05:20 PM ·

i think it is what you first said,,,hard work.  well, lets say if you learn to speak fluent chinese in one year, then i think you can also play violin very well in one year, because the similarity is that you work hard to apply yourself.

this hard working asian thingy is as much of a legend as it is a fact, and as much of a fact as it is a fallacy,,,imo.

a saying goes: if there is no dream, there is no  need to work.  if there is no work, there is no need to dream. 

well, very often, asian kids work to fulfill their parents's dream,,, and when one asian family starts to compare with another asian family,  things can turn ugly.

to some kids, it is like getting a westpoint education from day one, except that for regular westpoint students they apply to the school on their own (more or less), but for many asian kids, the indoctrination is so early, so intense, that the kids simply do not know what not working hard is.  through this process of non relenting encouragement, pressure, coaxing, coercing, or what have you, simply by the law of probability, you will see the bell shaped distribution of achievers and for matter of simplicity, i will put them in 3 groups.

 a few are simply brilliant in their chosen discipline.  i had a classmate in college whose exam papers are photocopied for distribution as the answer key in whatever courses he took.  the neatness of the handwriting, the clarity of the thinking processes, under pressure, was just mindblowing.  now, if one day he wants to be a neurosurgeon and  competes with a "typical" american teenager who has been hanging all his life,  there is no comparison.

then we have the mid tier,  great grades, great aptitudes, great doers/instruction followers  but not necessarily great thinkers.    when you compare this group with non-asians who come to be brilliant on their own initiatives,  the non-asians in the future  will lead because they know why and the asians just know how.  

the sad and neglected group:  pushed into insanity by well meaning, over-zealous parents. snap.  over the cliff to the point of no return.  i have seen quite a few kids like that .    perfectionism invariably leads to mental breakdown which spreads into other parts of life.

as a parent, how do you know which group your kids will end up?  you don't and therefore as confucius says--no, not from fortune cookie:  everything in moderation.

that means, playing a little violin is bad and so is playing a lot:)!

ps.  i think this asian thing is more like a cultural thing, not necessarily an ethnic or racial thing.  in other words,  with other cultures, there are similar trends.  it is just that with the asians the number game makes the situation looks more lopsided.





November 3, 2008 at 05:12 PM ·

Dear Ho,

     I am from India and am a western classical violinist. Well, its true that India couldnt produce famous violinists on western classical music because of the crsis of audience and sposorer in India for western classical music.

     On the other hand, you should know that, Indian classical music (raagas) is the traditional culture of India, in fact it is one of the oldest cultures of this World. So, naturely, we have more learners and listeners for this style. If you listen to Violinists like Dr. L. Subramaniam, you will understand how well people play violin in India, but yes, on its style. They regulerly perform on the stages like Royl Albert Hall and rome around the World, but yes, we couldnt give many western classical violinists to the World, eccept very few like Mehli Mehta, John Mayer, Robert Gupta, Anup Kumar Biswas (Cellist) etc.

      Just thought to share with you, cheers.




November 3, 2008 at 05:39 PM ·


I certainly agree that hard work etc. is not a racial characteristic but rather a cultural one. One of my favorite thinkers, Thomas Sowell, has written very eloquently about race, culture and ethnicity in his book Race and Culture as well as other books.

November 4, 2008 at 12:59 AM ·

 They regulerly perform on the stages like Royl Albert Hall and rome around the World, but yes, we couldnt give many western classical violinists to the World, eccept very few like Mehli Mehta, John Mayer, Robert Gupta, Anup Kumar Biswas (Cellist) etc.

I stared at this for a long moment. John Mayer is an Indian classical violinist? But there is an Indian violinist named John Mayer, born in 1930. And Robert Gupta, what a phenom. 


November 4, 2008 at 03:19 AM ·

I never said John Mayer is an Indian classical violinist.........I said, John Mayer (the one you know him,1930 was born in Calcutta) and the other few musicians are the only  few musicians from India could make it at west on western classical music.

November 4, 2008 at 08:57 PM ·

Sorry, i didn't mean to impugn your statement! I just thought it was interesting to know that there are two John Mayers; one is a rock/blues star born in 1977. 

November 4, 2008 at 09:27 PM ·


tehre are probaly hundreds of thousands more John Mayers who are quite distressed by your reductionist approach;)



November 5, 2008 at 01:02 AM ·

 LOL, Buri.

(--Proud to be from PA right now.)

November 5, 2008 at 01:39 AM ·

This proud? 

Or this proud?

November 5, 2008 at 02:36 AM ·

 Not sure I get your point.

November 5, 2008 at 10:01 AM ·

I am not sure I understand why you wouldn't get my point. 

November 5, 2008 at 01:23 PM ·

 I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, but it appears you were actually trying to create some kind of inductive argument about my home city and state based on silly YouTube clips? 

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