Is violin REALLY a difficult instrument

June 22, 2006 at 04:15 AM · I have been pondering this question for some time. Well, the last 2 years that I have been learning violin.

So here's what I want to know - why are there so many really excellent young players, i mean young as in 10 years and under. I mean, the violin is supposed to be a difficult instrument, and the advanced repertoire is supposed to require outstanding musicality and feeling, which we would normally assoicate with experience = age. And I am just now reaqlly coming to terms with the fact that every single note has to be thought about/planned/ and the bow and left hand set up almost changes every note and phrase, so with that kind of technical demand, how on earth does any kid do it? And sure, I could understand that one or two kids in a generation could be exceptional, but if you trawl through the internet you can easily be presented with hundreds of these guys. So can the instrument really be that difficult?

And the second part of my question is, for those kids that are considered exceptional, do they actually think about what they are doing when they play. i think, as an adult learner, i tend to intellectualise A LOt, and that just gets in the way of playing. But hey, as an adult I have developed the skill of top-down analyis and focusing for a situation. And I can't just let go of that. But surely these little kids don't think all the time in this way, do they?

And finally, the third part of my question - if little kids can do it with such apparent ease, then why can't I do it too, with equal skill and ease? I'm musical, I have excellent pitch, I understand how to get a sound out of the instrument, why can't I (or possibly any other adult learner) just do it with the same ease as a child? In fact, why can't I do it easier and quicker than a kid?

I'd be most interested in all of your perspectives on this.

Replies (101)

June 22, 2006 at 04:20 AM · It's very similar to learning a language, and many would argue that you are learning to speak a language through the violin. It's much easier to learn a language as a child because the brain will absorb much more information at once. If you've learned a secondary language after the time you've turned 20 or so it is much harder than when you were 10. Also you don't think too much about your playing once you become really good. In this aspect it is also very similar to a language. When you speak to someone you think about what you want to express and you don't really think about the words, they just come out. In music you think about the feelings that you want to express and the violin is your words, so to speak. BTW, it is a very difficult instrument, imo the only reason there are so many youngsters really proficient in it is because more people are exposed to it than before. This is pretty much true for everything these days. The more people who are better the more good teachers we will have later which will lead to even more good kids.

June 22, 2006 at 07:27 AM · YES!

June 22, 2006 at 07:46 AM · Most people lose a lot of their ability to learn with age. Ability to learn and understand is the one thing i treasure most.

June 22, 2006 at 12:35 PM · There are 5 billion, no wait, 6 billion? humans on this planet.

Measured against that, even counting the mechanical "perfect genius" 4 year olds, there really are not many good players out there.

And if you remove the mechanical little parrots, well, there are very few.

After a while of listening, you will learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

June 22, 2006 at 12:52 PM · Bill, in fact, did Midori and Chang were really prodigies when compared to the young Menuhin or Joseph Hassid?

June 22, 2006 at 12:57 PM · The violin is one of the most difficult instruments out there. You can progress in three yours on the flute to the same point that it takes 8-9 years to reach on violin.

June 22, 2006 at 02:36 PM · I don't think that's always true. I think difficulty is relative. For example, I've known how to play piano since I was eight, and I struggle with it and still find it to be extremely difficult, and I still play at a child's level. I've played trumpet since I was 12, and after six years of playing it in music ensembles nearly every day, I still sounded horrible and couldn't get very far beyond the basics. I took guitar lessons for two years, practiced all the time, and could barely get out chords without a great deal of effort. However, I picked up violin when I was 15, and I took to it like a fish to water. I've found it to be easier than all these other instruments. I mean, I sucked at everything I tried before, and all of a sudden I pick something up randomly and have a really easy time with it. But you see, in my case, violin was easy compared to the others. In someone else's case, flute could be ten times more difficult than violin, or vice versa. It all depends on what people have a knack for. Some people just naturally take to different kinds of instruments, like woodwind or percussion or keyboard. So, I guess my point is, there's no real way to say that one instrument in more difficult than the other without taking all this gray area into consideration.

June 22, 2006 at 03:26 PM · For myself, it's the hardest instrument I've tried to play (piano, several wind and brass instruments, all styles of guitar, have MM in classical guitar). I haven't attempted pedal harp or french horn.

June 22, 2006 at 03:53 PM · ...everyone can play the violin to a certain level. This has been proven by the Susuki method.To reach the level of Kreisler, Heifetz, Oistrach, Ehnes or Hahn, this is another matter.

June 22, 2006 at 05:31 PM · The kids play well because they start at a really young age and practice a lot, so they get the technical part down. Violin is very difficult, but it's still all mechanics, and it's easier to learn mechanics at a young age. However, I don't think most kids really understand the music they play. I started playing violin when I was 6 and (to my observations) I only started to understand properly what I was playing when I was 14, and I'm not 17 and understand it much more than when I was 14. So I think the expressive and musical part of music usually (exceptions of Heifetz, Menuhin, Hassid) come with age.

But now that I think of it, I started "understanding" music better when I get a new, better teacher so that also has important impact.

June 22, 2006 at 06:27 PM · Young children can be trained to "parrot" great music - I was one of those.

But to play what comes from the heart - much harder for anybody of any level.

June 22, 2006 at 06:39 PM · To take Enosh's and Kevin's points together, there is playing the violin, and then there is playing the violin.

June 22, 2006 at 06:48 PM · There is a big difference between a child who is going through the "motions" and a thinking adult who "understands" what he or she is doing.

Take Menuhin, for example - Correct me if I'm wrong, but I have heard that his technique became sloppy after his twenties because his intellectual development had caught up with his gifted musical instinct - in other words, when he had to actually think about what he was doing (due to maturity and normal development of the brain and thought processes), he couldn't comprehend the amazing talent he possessed, and he was basically out of sync. It's an interesting theory, no?

To back it up, my first conservatory teacher at NEC told me that I was different than most kids because although at the age of 18, I was mostly below the technical level of where I should have been, I chose to become a violinist, as opposed to the 12 year olds who were playing the violin like a video game. These were her words! Now, at the age of 25, I've had the gift of being able to analyze and intellectualize every step I take to produce the most personal sound possible


June 22, 2006 at 07:05 PM · Daniel,

Menuhin is a more complex matter...He frequently suffered from major depression, even when he was a teenager.And he was surexposed to soon as a performer. Stress was hard on him. Critics took revenge on the ex-child prodigy, even when he performed well. Menuhin had to struggle all his life because of his past as the greatest of all prodigies...


June 22, 2006 at 07:29 PM · Children, in general, don't have to worry about extramusical factors like paying bills and dealing with sick parents and other such things that constitute the entire of what we call "life".

So many prodigies fall on their faces after their brilliant early years because "life" gets in the way. At some point in life, EVERYBODY has to face "life" head on and deal with it without running away from oneself. Menuhin, like the rest of us, fits that category. It's kind of hard to focus singlemindedly on practice when you're trying to balance your checkbook and feed your family while doing concerts.

We embrace our violin prodigies the way we embrace our female gymnasts and figure skaters. There are money and reputations to be made from being a "freak" prodigy who's doing things that are supposedly beyond the ability of a "normal" child. However there's more to music than just hitting notes in tune and phrasing in a way that appeals to competition judges. Many truly great musicians are so not because of their mechanical skills, but because they've made their share of life mistakes and lived through them. Only by weathering many frosts do they develop the strong foundations that characterize the healthiest and most successful musical careers.

The deeper one goes into prodigism, the harder it becomes for a person to find his own internal voice.

June 23, 2006 at 12:05 AM · it's very easy to forget that playing the violin is a PHYSICAL activity. young children take to the violin the same way young children take to dance and gymnastics: their bodies are flexible and largely stress-free. it's easier for children to learn the mechanics of the violin for this very reason.


as was pointed out earlier, there is a difference between playing notes on the violin and playing music on it. a lot of today's kids can fly through scales and arpeggios. fewer can bring a laugh or a tear to you with just one note. that level will only ever be reserved for the true masters of the art and will always elude the pyrotechnicians no matter what their age.

June 23, 2006 at 01:32 AM · Thanks all...I like this thread and have also given it a lot of thought. I observe, there are few prodigies every century, and lots and lots of work for everyone else! Many famous players are geniuses (know their passion very young and willing to work for it) vs. true prodigies (almost from the womb completely mature musicians) Prodigies are almost sevants on many levels.

Prodigies aside, yes you are correct, there are some excellent young players. I read somewhere that piano and violin, chess and math, are areas children often are as accomplished as an adult in their execution. Maybe because they make small instruments.

I happen to believe there is a difference between intuitive playing, (memorizing by listening and copying however perfectly) and becoming conscious as an musican-violinist or any other type of artist (acting, painter etc.) That is a very different thing. It really depends on how you decide to measure success.

Looking at music and understanding what you are doing and why you are doing it is quite different than playing extremely well. Music is an artform of a given place in time and it is my sincere belief that our facination with amazing young soloists is a bit strange. How many really young quartet members have you seen? Probably not many. Ensemble playing takes a level of conscious playing and awareness of the given circumstance that many children however technically excellent, just have not matured enough to do or be interested in doing.

As an adult learner, your brain is not wired to absorb like a little kid.

June 23, 2006 at 02:02 AM · Whenever I see a prodigy, I always ask myself "Why are we celebrating this?"

I'm far more impressed with a kid who's happy and polite and doing "kid things" than a kid who's up on stage being a musical automaton. Show me a prodigy and I'll show you parents who don't let their kids be KIDS.

I WAS a prodigy when I was really little and was trotted out on stage for all sorts of occasions. The endless beatings and punishments that went into molding me into a little violin machine nearly destroyed me, and only the intervention of grizzled old violin professionals saved me from a REALLY bad end.

When I studied with Margaret Pardee, she KNEW what I was. She gave me this story in my first lesson: Michael Rabin was pushed to be a little violin machine, and he was never allowed to play with the other little kids. When he was 22, he was finally allowed to go out. So at Meadowmount, Rabin would play jacks and ball with the little kids even though he was a big husky grown man. Now Rabin has passed away.

One does NOT need an early precocious start to have a successful music career, even in classical music.

June 23, 2006 at 02:05 AM · But what should be celebrated are children who play from the heart, as well as children who give it their all, even if they don't play from the heart.

When I say celebrated, I mean acknowledged, supported both physically emotionally and spiritually as applicable, and that means a healthy wholesome childhood.

The rush to be at the "top" too soon, too fast, is a mistake. But those with exceptional talent must be given the tools to achieve--and these simply will not be available without parents who are willing to put in the hours, the dollars, and the emotional support required to foster a future soloist, a future chamber musician, a future orchestral player.

I think the mythical ridiculous overbearing parent is mostly apocryphal with occasional real examples. But for the most part, I think you will find that behind every great young musician is a great set of parents helping him or her along on the journey.

June 23, 2006 at 02:31 AM · I can think of tons of "real examples" of "mystical overbearing parents" in the violin, and a lot of them hit their kids REALLY HARD.

We little musical children, in our efforts to please the parents and/or stop the beatings, often will do ANYTHING to relieve the pressure. Once the parents sense this, they invariably crank up the pressure even more. Just because parents hide that pressure well doesn't mean it isn't there. It would enrage me when people would compliment my parents on how nice they were when they'd turn around and beat me to a pulp because I didn't play well enough in the concert.

I've been beaten nearly to unconsciouness by "mythical overbearing parents", watched several of my violin friends commit suicide, and observed stellar talents drop completely out of music because of the extreme pressure.

"Apocryphal?" That makes me so angry I nearly get violent (not necessarily at bill p, just at folks that think that child suffering is "mystical). Thank God this is only, an Internet forum - one wouldn't want to deal with me in my current state.

Try being 7 years old playing Suzuki wrong and being hit so hard with a yardstick that it breaks. But having a yardstick broken on your butt beats being swatted repeatedly by rattan (which they use on criminals in the Orient) ANYDAY.

June 23, 2006 at 02:44 AM · Kevin,

You are a person who has really survived and still loves music. Parent pressure or not, I respect what you write on these discussions and always read them time permitting. As a parent who fired a teacher who pushed my son to learn and memorize a Vivaldi Concerto in 6-8 weeks and perform it at a recital, I have given this "pushing the kid" agenda a lot of thought. Even though the concerto sounded great, he was very unhappy with his sound and shifts. I was told "he is capable, this is a 6 week song". Imagine my horror Kevin!!!! I often see that when when a kid is a young, strong player it is easy for parents and teachers to get hooked on the fast result and get all excited about how it reflects on their studio or parenting skills.

I felt I had to protect him so he could develop at his own speed. His new teacher is really patient and talks to him like a person not a "reflection on his studio". They have their own rapport, without me inserting myself into everything. This teacher is an real artist-metnor, someone to emulate and look up to, not a "solo maker". Your comments have touched my heart.

June 23, 2006 at 02:44 AM · Kevin,

I appreciate your candor and I in no way intended to belittle your own experiences. If I have done so, it was inadvertent and I sincerely apologize.

Now, when I say apocryphal, I also say occasional real examples...for which the latter applies to your own history. The infamous real exception is so alarming, so outrageous, that it takes on a life of its own. The dynamic is universal across all "activities" or "careers" for children, be it gymnastics, or baseball, or whatever.

I hope that these abusive parents, in the violin world, are indeed the exception rather than the rule. As a parent, rather than a former child prodigy, I see mostly what appear to be "normal" parents--but I am also not travelling in the haut culture circles of the "very best" (though I have some personal contact at that level).

If you are saying that physical as well as emotional abuse is endemic, that would be a shock--even bigger than the shock of the occasional.

Again, I am sorry if I offended and I truly appreciate your willingness to speak on this issue.

June 23, 2006 at 03:18 AM · There was a book on prodigies a few years ago. I can't remember the title or author. It was about the difficult lives of many of them.

It appears that these kids do not arrive at their abilities by analysis. Their "intelligence" is highly imitative. When they get older, things change. I think it was Janos Starker who said something like "when a prodigy begins to think about what he is doing, he tends to get in trouble."

Menuhin really is a case in point. He played his best in his teens and got progressively worse. He couldn't solve his own problems. Others have fallen even more quickly. Back in the 70s, there was a girl that got an amazing amount of press including being on the cover of the NY Times Magazine, appearing several times on network TV, and being written up in Time (along with Dylana Jenson, who, in a case of Murphey's Law, had the misfortune to be photographed with her brand new braces). I've never again seen a child get such attention. Yet, by age 20, the girl wasn't even playing!

Incidentally, the pianist Leopod Godowski maintained that anyone could develop a virtuoso technique (he was talking about the piano but I think it could apply to any instrument).


June 23, 2006 at 03:53 AM · No offense taken whatsoever, bill p. I knew that you weren't trying to belittle me, and that's why I said that when I was mad I wasn't mad at YOU - just the tons of people that have belittled my experience in real life.

If anything bill p, it's parents like you and Karen King that have softened my inner rage over the years. I spent many years rightfully angry at a system that was totally stacked against me, and I fought and lost many a war in my "prodigy" days with no support. I still fight and lose such wars, but the tide is turning mainly because I've learned to trust people like you guys. Parents like you are inspirational not just to your own children, but hardened and battered warriors like myself.

I have traveled in those circles of the "very best" to see enough real abuse physical and otherwise taking place. Because I lived, ate, worked, and played with those kids, I saw more of it than those kids even dared admit to themselves. It's easy to see the kids that did make it but much harder to see the kids that DIDN'T.

Most of the best prodigies on today's stage are well taken care of, but people need to understand that they're the vast minority. For every James Ehnes (who I went to school with and knew on an acquaintance basis), I could name 10 kids in that same generation who had been pushed out of violin by physically or emotionally abusive parents. My own brother fits that category, as he's a Juilliard trained violinist who quit because of the emotional trauma.

I AM one of the abused and fallen, so I know them when I see them. And I tip my hat in respect to those that managed to make good lives in spite of that, just as I tip my hats to the Hilary Hahns that have grown up to be fine adults and wonderful professionals.

Oh yeah. No prodigy or professional soloist I know could memorize that Vivaldi concerto for the stage in a mere 6-8 weeks from scratch, not without butchering the feel of the music! You did your kid right Karen King.

Never forget that the goal of music is to provide joy, not to squash it with megalomaniac expectations.

June 23, 2006 at 05:40 AM · Getting a little more back on track...

Violin is one of the few instruments you could technically master at a young age. I have never seen a fractional sized piano or french horn or quality guitar. I would think wind and brass instruments usually require a full set of adult teeth to perfect tone. Most ADULTS couldn't make the stretches required in the major piano concertos. Children can play a fractional size violin from the age of two or three and they almost physically grow into it. They can play octaves, 10th, 12ths and so on because the stretch is proportional to their hand. Also it is like a language, where the words are learned better at a younger age and how to express them comes with time.

Sharelle, I believe you answered your own question about whether it is a difficult instrument when you asked "why can't I do it?"

Obviously it is a most difficult instrument if not THE most difficult instrument. Why don't we hear about clarinet prodogies and trumpet prodogies and so on? Maybe because it's not that impressive. Kreisler and Heifetz both could have become accomplished pianists (they actually were quite good), or a virtouso on any instrument, if they so desired.

As for raising a prodigy, I think instilling a love for music and requiring and rewarding practice time is the obvious way to do it. If they don't become a prodigy this way then they aren't going to be one anyways. A little push is always required, and I wish my parents pushed me as hard on my instruments as they did in my school work.

June 23, 2006 at 08:56 AM · I have been giving some thought to this; when someone asked my advice regarding instruments for their kids.

Violin seems so difficult because there are its 4 strings, fingerbaord and a bow, and make what you can of it i.e. there is no real physical guide as to where to place your fingers etc.

A clarinet (one of the other instruments in the house), is difficult in the beginning just for the strength required to blow, but then seems easier for a while becuase if you learn to place your fingers correctly and blow properly, you get the right notes. You are not "feeling around" for them as in a violin. The piano seems even easier in this sense in the beginning.

But later on,the violinist seems to be able to do so much better because the instrument fits to size .

The clarinet student at say at 10 or 11 etc is trying to deal with an instrument designed for the lung power and face power of an adult. So there comes a time when it seems difficult to get any better, or to make the sounds less mechanical.

And the piano seems to give you a head start but then it seems so hard to be able to make a mark (to make your playing different from others).

I guess than it comes around to the old Spanish saying "a scabies desired does not itch" ..rather crude, but to the point!!

This always comes to mind when I saw a young friend of my kids bent upon choosing the bassoon despite the horror stricken faces of her parents (she was 8 at the time and 4 years later is in the Conservatory).

June 23, 2006 at 02:31 PM · The notion that anyone can become a virtuoso on any instrument is totally wrong.

I have labored over the guitar for decades, the violin for years and have had young students play circles around me. I have worked hard to develop speed and facility and it simply has not happened. I have continue to improve, albeit dreadfully slowly.

I also do not believe that simply anyone can excel at running, weight lifting, etc. We are not created equal in that respect.

Bottom line: the pianist quoted apparently thought that because something came to him it would come to anybody. It just doesn't work that way.

June 23, 2006 at 02:43 PM · kevin, i think i'm understating the issue when i say parental ambition is one of the cruelest things in the world.

June 23, 2006 at 06:14 PM · I ponder the initiating question as well. Thanks everyone for great responses which are all on the mark [yes, "Life in General" is the right place for this thread]. I think that what's really hard is---- being human. There's so much we can do, and only so much we can do, and any accomplishment can mean missing out on something else. We do have different opportunities and obstacles, strengths and weaknesses. Violin is hard and easy, and so is shooting pool, parenting, praying, cooking, house painting, breathing. Depends how and how well you want to do it. Balance and health are good. I wish us all good work and good luck in these endeavors. I'm glad I struggle with violin instead of getting a "nice" "good" paycheck designing chemical weapons, which might be my other talent. I try to be a decent human. (why am I crying now?)

June 23, 2006 at 07:22 PM · > I've been beaten nearly to unconsciouness by "mythical overbearing parents", watched

> several of my violin friends commit suicide, and observed stellar talents drop completely

> out of music because of the extreme pressure.


June 23, 2006 at 10:31 PM · I agree with Mike, he makes a real good point.

June 23, 2006 at 11:17 PM · Gee, this thread really went places. Not always very comfortable places.

Something I had never considered was the influence of instrument size.

Nor was I aware of the difficulties some of the known child "music imitators" had faced as they developed physically and cognitively. That really is interesting, that a skill which would appear to be so integrated, so complete, could become so ...average. It must be horrifying for those kids who experience it. But surely, if they continue, then their analytical capacity improves on that enhanced background of multisensory memory and they continue to play well or weller than the rest of us?

I think i am reaching some understanding though as to why children appear to develop to a certain level so easily, compared to adults.

Maybe as we develop, and as pointed out, the complexity of our lives increases, we are concurrently developing analysis and initiative, as we are losing (or lessening the need for) imitation. So commencing this instrument at 43 just can't be compared with commencing it at 3. Our milestones/progression may not look anything alike, and I guess to my casual observation, I thought that the youngsters had a faster progression. But is that progression maybe more linear, because it is so much imitation with a narrower field of practise, so it appears 'faster', where as adults maybe have more ..(opposite of linear) progression, so at any one time we appear to be slower, but at some point in the future, we have progressed further because we have added essential knowledge and experience.

You still have to admire a beautiful bow arm on a five year old or great intonation and a lovely vibrato in a five year old. I'd love to rely on parroting to get such a result.

June 24, 2006 at 12:32 AM · I think good teaching helps a student learn to play as if playing is easy-not difficult. The whole point of teaching is to make the difficult easier, isn't it? After all, I've found that the truest expression in anyone's performance happens when they use themselves properly and efficiently within the correct mental/spiritual paradigm. This seems to happen only when there is a search for ease...not labor in the playing. Technically, overcoming resistance is the goal.

Case in point: I remember Leila Josefowitz playing with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blosson one summer when she was very young. Her teacher, Robert Lipsett approached me dying of laughter because a lady had just stopped him in the aisle to say: "You are her TEACHER?---You sure can't teach talent like THAT!" haha Obviously, his teaching made it "easier" and that was the whole point.

BTW< his remark to me was: "That's the best compliment I've ever gotten!" haha

June 24, 2006 at 01:52 PM · Why did this thread die? Did I kill it? Is there hope it can be revived?

... feeling guilty

June 24, 2006 at 05:36 PM · Hello,

Mr. Russell - your comment sums it up so well, that I feel that if I added anything else, it would defeat the purpose.


June 24, 2006 at 05:48 PM · don't feel guilty. many people have killed threads around here with less profound things than you've contributed. you made some great points btw.

June 24, 2006 at 05:49 PM · leila josefowicz is a great violinist! it's incredible to see how far she's gone in the classical world without major patronage simply on the basis of her talent.

June 24, 2006 at 05:49 PM · > The whole point of teaching is to make the difficult easier, isn't it?

I'd say the whole point of teaching is to share knowledge and abilities. Of course having this knowledge and these abilities, some difficult things become easier.

June 25, 2006 at 04:01 AM · ALL good teaching is "parroting" to no small extent, sharelle taylor.

Something I've observed is that a violin teacher who's used to teaching small kids great can't necessarily teach adults great because adults and kids learn differently. It goes the other way too.

I have a dear friend who is as natural to the violin as anybody I've ever seen of any age - and she's 53! The problem is that this friend of mine suffered an extremely abusive childhood and had a mother that kept telling her that if she "couldn't play the piano, she was no good at music". Hence my friend believed for over 40 of the years that her childhood yearning to play the violin was just a pipe dream. Even now, with my endless yammering and positive reinforcement, the psychologic damage is SO DEEP that it's hard for this person to believe that she's anything other than a music failure even when her head is telling her brain that she can succeed. I've got a similar thing going with medicine - my parents did so much damage to me that I couldn't emotionally finish medical school despite having a brain smart enough to do it. I'd easily have become either an all-purpose family doctor or neurosurgeon had my parents not tried to "fix" me.

So many times, adults talk themselves or have been talked into believing they can't do something well.

June 25, 2006 at 01:30 PM · No less a person than Johann Sebastian Bach once said that "playing a musical instrument is easy. All you have to do is touch the right key at the right time, and the instrument will play itself."

Of course, he was primarily an organist and harpsichordist. But the point is not lost. Let's not overcomplicate things, because the task of playing a violin is complicated enough already without adding real (or imagined) additional complications.


June 25, 2006 at 05:59 PM · There is a difference, I suggest, between being difficult, and being complicated.

June 26, 2006 at 02:11 PM · Kevin...You have to forget about the past and think about the future...I do not know what you mean about being a prodigy? In my opinion, this qualitative applies to very few violinists, pianists or composers...We all know about Mozart. We know for sure about Heifetz, Menuhin, Hassid. Georges Enesco and Carl Flesh testified about Ginette Neveu's playing and maturity at such a young age as 11.

Milstein said in an interview that he was very gifted, but not a prodigy...Same for David Oistrach and Kreisler...

In my very humble opinion, Midori and Chang for instance were certainly exceptionally gifted, but in my book, they were not infant prodigies...Prodigism on the violin or the piano goes way beyond the technical pirouettes of Paganini concerti or Caprices...Recently, I would qualify Hahn's recordings of Bach and Beethoven at 15 as comparable to the Menuhin phenomenon...Such events are ephemere and rare and should be kept that way...I desagree with Delay's views or some others on that subject-matter and that obsession to propulse on stage or on recordings young gifted violinists that are just exceptionnaly gifted...


June 26, 2006 at 03:46 PM · Kevin--

I had almost the opposite set of parents--they didn't push--my father asked my teac her if I could be another Heifetz and being told no he said, "Then I won't let him do it." That despite the fact that I could probably have become a major concert master--but that wasn't good enough. Forty years later when my dad heard me sing the Falkenszene from Die Frau he admitted that I could have made it had he let me. Another side of the Rubik Cube.


June 26, 2006 at 04:15 PM · The world is populated by broken spirits, and the spirits that could not be broken.

June 26, 2006 at 07:37 PM · As far as I'm concerned, if you're being trotted out on the stage at a young age and being praised for playing music precociously, you're a "prodigy".

Now as far as "prodigy" from your concert critic's standpoint goes, I definitely did not fit that category. That's a whole different definition, one that I am aware of and do not apply to myself. But since the dictionary does not define "prodigy" in that sense, I went by my former definition just because I didn't know what else to call a precociously capable child. Give me another vocabulary option to use if "prodigy" isn't suitable, Marc.

One cannot and SHOULDN'T forget the past, Marc. That's how one repeats the mistakes of the previous generation. In fact, the more into the past you look the better prepared you'll be for the future.

jay, I sympathize with you. However there is a kernel of truth in the fact that only "Heifetz" can be "Heifetz". On the other hand, there's no doubting your musical talent.

June 26, 2006 at 07:43 PM · Marc - I agree that one should think about the future, but it is impossible to simply "forget" that one was abused during one's formative years. What happens to us in childhood shapes us for years to come, for better or for worse.

June 26, 2006 at 07:41 PM · Kevin,

I gave my first public concert as a soloist at 12 years old with the Quebec symphonie orchestra...At 14, I played Sibelius and Paganini concerti with Pierre Dervaux, the french conductor...I played Tzigane for Spivakov at 15 and he immediately urge my parents to send me in Russia to study with Yankelevith...I do not consider myself as being a former prodigy, not at all...And I performed a lot starting from 10 years old...Now,I do not play anymore...

Why? My parents drank, they were always fighting at home and so what! I made my own life, entered law scholl and the minute I said to myself that I do not need to be bitter about the past,a new life started for me and new opportunities...Of course it was very difficult, and you never forget childhood deceptions, but you have to look forward in a positive manner...You are lucky, you still play, and I am sure, quite well...


June 26, 2006 at 08:13 PM · What a wonderful story, Marc.

For you to have perservered through all that is miraculous. You were, in MY definition, a "prodigy" which is not necessarily a bad thing if done right. And hey, you're here sharing your considerable knowledge here with us on I don't want to belittle your emphasis on moving forward, but it's your violin past that has given you the immense background to share with us here. What a privilege for us that is!

In my case, the past still haunts me today. Because I had the "misfortune" of being born Asian American, I was labeled as a "cold technician student violinist" (Pieter mentions this in another thread) as a kid, and the label still follows me today because I look young for my age. The only reason I've been able to overcome that is because I'm ridiculously combative, and that's how I've survived in the pro world despite my looks and color. Acknowledging the past (in this case, my Asian heritage that I am PROUD OF) has driven me to be the best little Asian violinist I can be. I'm not just going to sit around and let people crap on me just because that's what many of the older generation had to do just to survive. It is the 21st century, after all.

EVERYBODY'S past haunts them, but we all must move on just as Marc did.

June 26, 2006 at 08:17 PM · Mistein, once said that violin does not have anything to do with race...I agree with him and I believe that the Asian are immensively contributive to the highest standards today in music...I am sure that you play with your hart Kevin because you seem to have suffered a lot...These experiences of yours should be mould in a positive manner...Not only as a musician, but also as a human being. It is an important matter that you share your feelings and experience with all of us.

And I would like to thank you Kevin,


June 26, 2006 at 09:13 PM · I never stopped to think about what it would be like to be an Asian or Asian-American violinist. It seems that in my orchestra (and in my youth orchestra as well - the concertmaster was Chinese-American) that people love to pay lip service to the talented Asian players, but when they're out of earshot, the bitter jealousy comes out. I've heard people say things like, "He plays with no passion, only technical ability - just like an Asian." I've also noticed that when our Korean section leader gave a recital, people were much more critical of her than they would have been if she were American. Every mistake she made was rehashed afterwards, as if people were trying to prove to themselves that Asians make just as many mistakes as Americans. I don't think there's a single Asian in my orchestra who hasn't been a target of this jealousy sometime or another. I'm guilty of it as well. I guess I just never realized that Asians feel so much of the effects of this jealousy. It's so easy to assume that they're all perfect.

June 27, 2006 at 02:45 PM · Yup. I STILL deal with that crap Amanda, even on a professional level.

My way of dealing with that is like this: I know I can't change people's thinking or the stereotypes that the media puts out (when's the last time an Asian male who spoke English as a first language appeared as a non-celibate character of significance on screen???) Nor can I stop them from criticizing me because of my color. But I can dare them to get up on stage with me and make me look bad, and that ALWAYS works. Over the years, I have found out that real audiences and good colleagues APPRECIATE my racial combativeness!

I work in the dinner theatre business not because I'm so great, but because the legendary Shoji Tabuchi paved the way for me. I have heard that his violin skills are average at best, but there's no doubting his impact. You're doing something right if your show is doing so well that you have million dollar bathrooms and fly angels in from the ceiling in your Christmas show. Shoji has paved the way for me and at least one other Asian violinist in the Branson-style theatre venue. That's why I love it when people call me "The Next Shoji". Without him, I'd probably not be performing at all due to my color.

Here's the weird thing: I've had a lot of success in the country music business. I'm not the only one either - Shoji got his start there, and we've got a Japanese guy who plays unbelievable country guitar and sings Johnny Cash with a thick Japanese accent ("Reeeng ov Fiya") gigging full time up north! Technically so have I, actually. When you're a racial novelty, that sells. C'mon, how often do we see an Asian guy playing "Orange Blossom Special?"

The most incandescent display of violin virtuosity I've ever seen from ANYBODY live was on the 5th floor halls of Juilliard right outside Lewis Kaplan's violin studio. Every Saturday, the great Scott Yoo would stand outside with a practice mute on and play EVERYTHING. Even though Scott was barely 17, he'd play Paganini Caprices, move on to solo Bach, blow through the Tchaikovsky as if it were "Twinkle", and do the Heifetz glare at me if I was staring too much. Today he's an internationally famous soloist and conductor but not as well-known as people who've been onstage for a fraction of the time he's been there.

The scary thing is that there are "Scott Yoo" level players all over the place at the high school level. We've got one boy like that right here in Phoenix who studies with me on occasion. Even though he's a youth orchestra fixture, NOBODY (including his own teacher) thinks he's any good or promotes him even though he's got "pro" written all over him. Since he's not being given the opportunity to play at the pro level, I seriously doubt that he'll "make it" unless he sidetracks into pop as I did. I remember in Albany, there was this guy "Jonathan Chu" who's on who really could play his butt off and is now a pro in Nashville or something like that. Asian junior high school kids that can play "Le Ronde De Lutins" grow on trees - look at! And unbelievable soloists that can really play, guys like Xiao Dong Wang and Xue Wei and Nai-Yuan Hu, belong in the topmost echelon of pro soloists as far as sheer violin ability goes. But I'll bet very few people on have heard of these guys.

The original thread was about kid violinists who make the violin look easy. Well, I know quite a few Asian boys who nobody has ever heard of that fit that bill. Heck, I MYSELF get intimidated by what these boys can do!

June 27, 2006 at 02:56 PM ·

Last but certainly not least:

And let us not forget Sarah Chang, Midori, Yo Yo Ma, the young pianokid I forget his name (I'm not so big on piano), and the list goes on. Oh, and of course Vanessa Mae. And like a hundred other high-level Asian players who do not seem to be hampered in their exposure. Concertmasters, symphony players, etc. Seems to me there is no discrimination based on sheer numbers. Heck, some of my best friends in my own little high school orchestra were Asian-American.

This is a total FIMS topic and probably aught to just stop right here.

June 27, 2006 at 03:12 PM · NO, IT SHOULDN'T.

Where are the legions of Asian males in the professional worlds that can do everything that the Asian females can do??? What happens to all of those fabulous little Asian male violinists after high school graduation? Why are they not being promoted equally? The ugly but real answer is contained in the book "Who Killed Classical Music?"

The Asian male thing is right on topic here, especially since we're talking about talented kids that can really play. Just because we Asian males are not mainstream in the professional violin world doesn't mean we can't play or should be ignored.

Anybody who thinks racism in classical music doesn't exist should walk a day in MY shoes. Besides, Scott and Xiaodong and Yo Yo and Lang Lang ("the young piano kid", though Lang Lang is NOT a "kid") and most of the famous Asian male violinists today got their starts OVERSEAS. There are tons of Asian guys just as good as Scott or Yo Yo or Lang Lang that never get the chance domestically. I'll be hopefully doing the same in Japan next year.

If I'm louder and brasher than everybody because that what it takes to have any career at all, so be it. I'm the one who has to fight the racial stereotypes every time I step on a stage. And who knows, maybe one day I'll pave the way for another young Asian male violinist just as Shoji paved the way for me.

June 27, 2006 at 03:02 PM · Seems to me that everyone, regardless of race, fights an uphill battle against "discrimination" in the violin world--if you allow destructive racial thoughts to infect your psyche. Disriminating ears are picky. There is never a lot of room at the top. Only a few highly talented players will break through. If you think in racial ways, you will always see stereotypes. If you are Asian boy, you see more asian girls getting the work, if you are white boy, you see more asians getting the work, if you are black, you see very few blacks in the symphony and say "where are they?" I am merely hypothesizing what I see as false logic--what someone of any of these "races" *might* be thinking.

But the truth of the matter is that there is no systematic discrimination--there are too many different ways to travel in music, too many different programs, teachers, mentors etc and too many examples of "cross-culturalization" at the *highest* level. I just don't buy the discrimination thing.

June 27, 2006 at 03:10 PM · ...and how many coloured people are making a career in classical music...What about the latin people...How come such pianists like Nelson Freire and Sergio Tiempo ( now we talk about the Horowitz level) are not that famous in America???????????

June 27, 2006 at 03:13 PM · Totally INCORRECT, bill.

I've been TOLD TO MY FACE that Asian male violinists don't belong in the professional classical violin world. By more than one person, no less.

Debate that all you want, but you ain't yellow like me. You don't have to deal with people telling you that you'll never work for so-and-so because you're the wrong color. You don't have to watch players who can barely play correctly bypass you in every audition you go to and then have somebody associated with the group say "I told you so" afterwards. You haven't been told to your face that "you're cold" even though you're sweating because you just played your guts out on some elegy. You also haven't been told "Oh, you're an Asian guy? Let's cast you as a VILLAIN". You also haven't been told by teachers in elementary school "You're just a little Chinese conceited smarty pants" in front of other kids.

The glass ceiling is there, and it's THICK. Here on, I'm wielding my HAMMER.

June 27, 2006 at 03:18 PM · The last famous pianist in America was Liberace. Horowitz is a long-since-forgotten memory. Only occasional "novelties" attract attention anymore.

Classical piano is dead. It is dreadful most of the time.

Piano in other "genres" such as jazz, blues and parts of "popular" is another matter entirely.

June 27, 2006 at 03:21 PM · Sorry Bill, but you have to listen to Freire, Argerich, Tiempo, Lechner and a new world of sound will be opened to you...Liberace with all due respect was only an entertainer...As a pianist, he was really poor and his playing, of the utmost bad taste....

June 27, 2006 at 03:36 PM · Yes...that is the whole point...about Liberace...that that is the only Piano that had any success here since Horowitz.

As for Freire, Argerich, Tiempo, Lechner, bring them on!

June 27, 2006 at 10:15 PM · As for the lack of asian male soloists, can it have something to do with what seems to be the prevalent view, in the US anyway, that asian males -- since we're speaking in generalities here -- aren't sexy?

Classical music soloists are investments, and investments require bankable attributes, and the number one bankable attribute is sex appeal. Talent is not so unique, but talent plus sexy good looks is a bit more so.

The classical music world has more in common with MTV values than we'd like to think.

June 28, 2006 at 08:22 AM · Peter, I never heard of a stereotype like that, except know. But Yo Yo Ma is sexy. In spite of the name even. Put 'em in a Ferrari or braid in some dreds. Good enough.

June 28, 2006 at 12:47 AM · Only gay men care about a man looking sexy. To women, a man with money and power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

So pay that (insert here) enough and he'll be sexy.

June 28, 2006 at 06:02 AM · > I know I can't change people's thinking or the stereotypes that the media puts out

> (when's the last time an Asian male who spoke English as a first language appeared as a non-celibate

> character of significance on screen???)

You know, i was thinking about this when i watched the movie they made about Doom lately (ok-ish movie btw) One of the soldiers is japanese, he looks cool, has attitude, badass like the other soldiers, etc..... but he's hardly a few minutes total on screen, and he gets killed after 10 seconds into action. I was wondering why they gave the -least- significant role to one of the characters who had the potential of being the most interesting.

On a related note, one thing that really disturbed me in the past few days is when i learned the origin of the expression "zipper head" .... (esp. since my girlfriend is cambodian)

June 28, 2006 at 07:42 AM · To be fair, there is a very distinctive Asian style. And I also think that we female players also have a fairly distinctive tone -- and, I personally don't feel that the Asian sound works with a masculine tone -- it becomes too automaton. In general, though, violin really is not a particularly difficult or easy instrument to learn -- learning an instrument is a very intuitive process and some instruments are more natural for some people and less natural for others. I, for example, was a very poor hornist in my youth.

June 28, 2006 at 08:14 AM · Holy smoke.

June 28, 2006 at 09:26 AM · Anne-Sophie, what a great honour to have you join in the discussion. You bring up an issue that I've been thinking of for a while now - the distinction between "female" and "male" violin tone. I'd be interested to learn your view if these antagonistic tones really depend on the sex (or maybe even sexual orientation, as bill implied) of the interpreter, or if it is something less tangible, more ephemereal - a kind of reflection of the musician's soul persona, which may be either "smooth-feminine", therefore sending back luminous reflections to the listener, or "rugged-virile" - absorbing the outside energy and heating up from the inside.

It would be great to have your opinion on this.

June 28, 2006 at 10:40 AM · I do not believe that tone, or interpretation more generally, is determined by gender or ethnicity, or by one's "soul", for that matter. I think it is more a case of cultural and social influences. The culture in which one is raised has an enormous impact on how one understands and interprets art. In this sense, being a woman is a unique social experience. If interpretation was merely a function of gender or ethnicity, all women, men, Asians, Germans, Russians, etc. would all sound the same. This is clearly not the case. And if it were a matter of "soul" -- a performer's innate expressive nature -- no one's sound would ever change or evolve. People of similar backgrounds often sound similar because they share experience, but I believe self-awareness of one's own narrative is needed to produce a sensitive and personal interpretation.

June 28, 2006 at 10:57 AM · But in your first post you said "I also think that we female players also have a fairly distinctive tone" and in your second post you said "I do not believe that tone, or interpretation more generally, is determined by gender." ...not that there's anything wrong with that, Ms. Mutter.

June 28, 2006 at 11:08 AM · bill _

I think you might be wrong...

And I think my contention that Americans generally don't view asian men as sexy -- Bruce Lee being the notable exception -- will change with the increasing number of major league baseball players from Asia. As long as they're good-looking. And by default, they're rich. So there you go. Asian male violinists will have Ichiro to thank.

June 28, 2006 at 11:10 AM · Wellity, wellity, wellity. At first I was going to rouse on Kevin for hijacking the thread. A nice rap over the knuckes. But, struth, you brought Anne-Sophie Mutter into the discussion. So..uh..thanks for that.

June 28, 2006 at 12:49 PM · People don't say "a function of" unless they went to engineering school. That's Bill-Sophie Mutter.

P.S. Rachel. People who call a race of people "automatons" don't have any cosmic answers for you:)

June 28, 2006 at 02:26 PM · Kevin - There are plenty of male asian violinists who are successful. Some are soloists - Dong Suk Kang and Jimmy Lin to name a few, but to say that asian males are looked down upon, I have to disagree. Look in the major symphonies - David Kim. concertmaster of Philly, my old teacher CJ Chang who was a violinist is now is principal viola of Philly; there are scores of others, many are assistant concertmasters of major symphonies; Atlanta, Pittsburgh to name a few. Yes, some people are threatened by asians but there are times we are also celebrated, just like anyone else. Oh yeah, the actor John Cho is becoming more popular.

June 28, 2006 at 06:16 PM · Can one really determine the race of a performer simply by listening blind? I'm not quite convinced that there is really a correlation to sound and race.

For instance, to me Mutters playing is recognizable for it's robustness and distinctive vibrato, whereas Chang's playing, though equally robust is recognizable for different reasons. But to me I don't hear a correclation between Mutters playing and other western Europeans, or between Changs playing and other players of Asian decent. James Ehnes does not sound "Canadian". Gitlis, a Russian born in Israel sounds only like Gitlis, not like Markov or Perlaman. Ricci didn't sound like Rabin, etc. etc.

Just ponderings.


P.S. Is that really ASM? If so, I adore how you play the last movement of the Beethoven Vln. Concerto.

June 28, 2006 at 03:16 PM · BSM

June 28, 2006 at 03:09 PM · > being a woman is a unique social experience.

I thought about 50% of people were woman, but i might be wrong =)

Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "finding THE one" ..... ! (ok, i just scared myself enough for one day)

June 28, 2006 at 04:23 PM · Dong Suk Kang and Cho-Liang (Jimmy) Lin got their starts OVERSEAS, Kevin Jang.

That's how they built up enough credentials with orchestras and competitions to be taken seriously when they got here. Abilitywise, I know plenty of Asian-American boys just as good as them who NEVER get the chance even on a local level. That's why I'm planning a short inconsequential trip to Japan next year - to build up my credentials so that people stop assuming that I'm an unproven green little violin nerd. Since Asian males born and raised in this country often can't even get on a big enough stage to show their stuff, going overseas always jumpstarts one's career.

Don't get me wrong. I'm VERY PLEASED to see that people are starting to take Asian males more seriously. Things still are rough, but it has gotten a lot better in the last 5-10 years as the current crop of Asian guys born in the 1970s comes of age. That's because the Civil Rights movement and Bruce Lee movies have allowed us to join the mainstream to no small extent. However, more progress still needs to be made.

When a person is saying "Asian", one must differentiate between "born and raised and trained in Asia" (Dong Suk Kang and Cho-Liang Lin fit this category) or "born in the USA" (like myself). The training, the culture, the language, and the opportunities are completely different. If anything, I'm MORE Western trained than a lot of the people who "beat me" in every audition. But no amount of training will change your skin color or the way people think.

The way Asian males are perceived in America differs greatly from the way Asians are perceived in other countries. I've been outside of America, so I know how different one is treated. Generally speaking, Asian males tend to be more respected outside of America than in it. That's because we don't have stupid movies like "Rambo" or "The Last Samurai" or "Kill Bill" or "The Karate Kid" or "South Pacific" in which tough hardened Asian males are stomped or humiliated or made to look bad by prejudiced American directors and scriptwriters. If the movies were true, Tom Cruise could beat MY battle hardened yellow butt in a swordfight. YEAH RIGHT!!!

I complain on about the Asian male thing not to promote my own career, especially since I'm NOT a professional classical musician in the traditional sense. I'm doing it only to open eyes so that the generation ahead of me doesn't have to face the same racial prejudice that STILL blocks me today.

June 28, 2006 at 04:28 PM · Gitlis definitely sounds only like Gitlis. :-)

If *anybody* knows when / where he is apt to play for the public (or even not the public) I am eager to know. I will fly 5 hours just to hear him play live!

June 28, 2006 at 04:52 PM · Excerpts from Kevin Huang's Harangue:

Civil Rights movement and Bruce Lee

"Rambo" or "The Last Samurai" or "Kill Bill" or "The Karate Kid" or "South Pacific"

Tom Cruise could beat MY battle hardened yellow butt in a swordfight. YEAH RIGHT!>>

(End excerpts).

What about violin? I don't know how you play. I only know what you are saying.

Sweating hard while playing is not proof of playing with "emotion."

What you think are your reasons for failure and what are the reasons for failure are not neccessarily the same.

Successful people learn from failure. (I think you already know that).

Americans love/hate Germans just as much as they love/hate Japs etc. WWII had a strong influence. Except that there are very few

Japanese-Americans and so yes, there is less "awareness" of "Asian-in-America.

Everyone has to fight stereotypes, not just the asians. Even "silver-spoon in hand" is a stereotype which is *not* conducive to success.

From the standpoint of education, Asian-Americans are clearly not discriminated against--rather they are discriminated for. Franky, overall, I see the same thing in symphony orchestras. There are far more than "par" levels of Asian-Americans playing in classical music.

Frankly, the competition among Asian-Americans is stiffer than it is for the others. We might not even *have* a classical music industry if it were not for the grass-roots interest in classical among Asian-Americans. OK OK this is exaggerating but I think you must agree that not every "subculture" or "ethnicity" has the same dmographics of interest---black boys are more interested in basketball than white boys for instance---it is a fact---and girls by and large find marine engineering boring but flock to architecture and fashion design and television broadcasting majors. The same variation goes in with respect to music.

So Kevin, maybe you are really good--but you are facing stiff competition from your peers.

Frankly, I really don't care whether you are Asian or not.

June 28, 2006 at 04:30 PM · It's amazing how often I've heard cries of "politics!" or "discrimination!" at competitions and elsewhere where the vociferous accuser is a poor player. It's amazing how rarely - even from people who have truly suffered from prejudice and gaunt rolodexes - I have heard the same laments when the person in question is a superb player.

As a Jew, I look back at my own history and find the level of persecution to have been not perceived and subjective but life-threatening and objective. In spite of that (or maybe because of that?) Jewish culture and values have survived and thrived to the point where this tiny percentage of humanity is seen as being a cultural, political, and financial overdog. Why is that? Could it be because while acknowledging discrimination and even hatred, Jewish familial culture encouraged success in whatever field REGARDLESS of discrimination? Basically, because instead of trying to change Torquemada's world-view, we tried to either succeed on his rigged terms or - when evicted from Spain, for instance - we went to other lands, just as fixed, and applied the same self-focused philosophy there.

And maybe because of this, the following little joke applies more to the Huangs of the world than to the original butt of the joke:

A Jewish man in Moscow, circa 1970, goes to apply for a job as a radio announcer. He reports back to his friends - " S-s-s-s-o I w-w-w-went to the r-r-r-adi-di-di-o st-st-st-station and applied for the j-j-j-j-ob. They had m-m-m-m-e read a s-s-s-cript a-a-a-a-nd th-th-th-th-th-th-th-th-en they t-t-t-t-t-t-urned m-m-m-m-e d-d-d-d-d-d-d-down. Can you b--b-b-b-elieve them? F-F-F-F-F-F-reaking a-a-a-a-a-nti-semites!"

June 28, 2006 at 04:58 PM · Jim, I couldn't agree more... and yet your BSM proposal makes me laugh to tears. I had a suspicion but wanted to check how good Bill would be at coming up with some ASM-emulation (now that we've started out to abuse engineering terminology). But this was just between you and me. The ultimate proof of identity is the resilience of one's vanity. Let's hear what (s)he has to say to all the compliments we're pouring out on her, ahm, it.

June 28, 2006 at 05:39 PM · Cho Liang Lin's career as I understand really blossomed after meeting Ms. Delay. People all the time build reps from where the are from and never make it in the west. Asian or not. I'm not sure what Juilliard was like when you went there, but there is at least a 5:1 ratio of girls/guys with violin there. Most of my violin friends from Juilliard, Curtis etc. are girls so it makes sense that the asian males are not represented as much.

BTW, your experiences with being asian seem to be different that mine or others. The stereotype that I had to deal with growing up in Philly is that if you are asian, you are a badass.

David Kim was born in Illinois and don't forget about Soovin Kim or Frank Huang, both very American.

I don't think people watching those movies are like "what a stupid Asian" esp. knowing that the Asians influenced most action movies in the west and if they do believe that, let them be ignorant.

I'm sure there were people as good as Michael Jordan who never made it. Or someone as smart as Stephen Hawking...race is not really the issue...luck is a huge factor!!!

June 28, 2006 at 05:26 PM · Hot Rosin can get you into trouble.

June 28, 2006 at 08:07 PM · I recommend if any of you get a chance, that you watch the movie "Together". It is a Chineese film and related to this thread somewhat. It is all about a boy in rural China and what his peasant father will do to help him realize his dreams and find him the best violin teacher. English subtitles.

As per the prior posts, there is no doubt that various waves of "string" immigrants have come the to US and Europe from smaller countries. It is my belief that if you are 1st or 2nd generation in a country like the US, that your work ethic is a bit different and you see opportunities differently. The US and Europe are big puddles. How many orchestras could there be in really small countries. The audiences are just not there to sustain so many soloists. They have to move with their parents to seek their fortunes. There have been great violinists from Israel, Russia, Poland, Puerto Rico, China, Japan, Korea on and on over the past 50 years, that maybe see the opportunities a bit differently and culturally have a strong will to work hard. The Asia Phenom is just a recent incarnation of the endless immigrant wave. After the cold war, lots of Eastern Europeans appeared on the scene. Prior to that it was the soloist from Israel.

June 28, 2006 at 07:27 PM · Kevin Huang

Thought you might enjoy some light hearted humor about Asian guys and discrimination. It is a bit simplistic but entertaining. I think you will get a kick out of it.



June 28, 2006 at 08:35 PM · Michael Baer, that IS funny! I'm laughing, though I can't quite figure out why I'm doing so with a cocked eyebrow.

Bill, I agree with you that competition is stiff period. I don't disagree with anything you say above (except maybe the symphony part, as that's way too real for me), especially things are getting better by the day. Well said. And THANK YOU for NOT caring that I'm Asian.

I'm not sure how old you are, Kevin Jang, but my guess is that you are in your mid twenties. Life was a lot different in the 80s, when I would walk on the street and people would drive by and curse at me because I was the wrong color. Remember that we were fresh off the Vietnam war and there was a lot of anti-Asian sentiment back then. There was also a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment due to Japan's economic success than, which is why everybody was calling me "jap" even though I'm not Japanese. Things have mellowed greatly with the opening of mainland China, of course. But every now and then, somebody is dumb enough to pick on me because of my color. Just the other day I was in the pizza store and two high school boys were calling me stuff. They backed off when I asked them if they were messing with me.

In my Juilliard days, the Asian ratio of females to males was just about equal when I attended Juilliard. If there indeed are more females now than males, then things HAVE changed.

By the way, Soovin made his big splash by winning the Paganini contest OVERSEAS. Soovin was All NY-State High School concertmaster in 1991 along with myself - there were two orchestras and we were not in the same one. He, like myself, was not well known in his high school days. I don't know Frank Huang's bio as well, but I know he's done a fair share of work in Asia and elsewhere. I'm sure he's a fabulous player like Soovin and "the rest of 'em".

Emil, you should be THE ONE agreeing with me because of your "life-threatening and objective" racial history. Instead, you're using it as a public forum to criticize me and my playing that you've NEVER HEARD (at least in recent days). And you're a professional violinist, no less!!! Like it or not, you have just joined the ranks of racists who've trashed me before even hearing me or meeting me. Emil, thank you for STRENGTHENING my arguments!

The more I read your posts against me, Emil, the more I realize how much we have in common. What a pity - I'd liked to have been your FRIEND in real life. We can still be so if YOU wish it.

June 28, 2006 at 08:39 PM · Kevin, in all fairness Emil's basis for criticizing you is definately not racism. It's kind of hard to be racist against Asians if you're a violin player these days. It's like being a baseball player and hating people with Hispanic last names... it's just not possible/logical.

June 28, 2006 at 08:56 PM · Kevin H. - I am 27 and I had to deal with racial slurs myself. As or yet, racial tension has yet to cease. I was one of the few Koreans in my elementary school and trust me, I got harassed for being asian. I don't think that you are that much older then I am so comparing decades does not really work - I grew up in the 80's and 90's too. Mr. Belvedere anyone?

After high school, Soovin went to CIM and ENCORE and there he was taken in by Mr. Danchenko and the rest is history. Even though he won OVERSEAS, his career began in the states.

BTW, I don't think Emil is racist...chill baby, chill...

June 28, 2006 at 09:13 PM · Kevin, you've suffered all that crap and you just sit back and TAKE IT?

No wonder you think I'm "sensitive". The difference between me and you is that if somebody craps on me because of my color in an audition or on the street, I get pissed off and FIGHT BACK.

Emil has suffered real racial injustice that I wish he didn't have to go through - and he's definitely NOT lying. But then he goes out and trashes me in a public forum when I talk about some of the same things he's likely experienced as a Jew? Emil is basically telling us that it's injustice if a Jew experiences racism but it's nothing if a Chinese man experiences the same thing. That REEKS of racism!

Emil doesn't know me, hasn't heard me, doesn't cross paths with me, and he's been trying his hardest to trash my professional reputation since the day I came onto the forum. Why else other than color should he do that, especially since we have so much in common as violinists? Tell me Pieter and Kevin Jang, why should Emil have the right to kick MY butt and why shouldn't I kick back???

Emil's actions are IDENTICAL to the ones I've gotten used to facing from racists. He's doing the same career destroying stuff that I've faced all my life. I'm not going to just sit meekly and take it like you would, Kevin Jang.

So people know, I play in front of 500+ people every night during the height of my season. If I were truly that lousy a violinist as Emil claim, those people (and it's a DIFFERENT 500+ a night from all over the world, no less) would laugh me off stage. I play recitals, have appeared on TV, played on the radio, and do my share of pro concerts. Yet this internationally famous violinist is trying to tell everybody that I'm a scrub. Anne-Sophie Mutter and everybody else here who plays violin for a living, welcome to HUANG'S WORLD.

By the way, why isn't anybody here criticizing Emil for degrading a fellow professional full time violinist???? When Gennady did that to Ilya, everybody jumped on his butt. But NO, it's OK for Kevin Huang to be trashed and not OK for him to defend himself.

I've been right all along. Now I really understand how the pro classical violin world works.

June 28, 2006 at 09:24 PM · Wow - Tough guy, huh? You are making a total fool or yourself... what are you going to fight everyone? So you don't win an audition, so you pick a fight with the committee? What nonsense. A mature person sucks it up and kicks ass the next time. You have stop judging people. You don't even know me. ?! If you meet me in person the last word you think of is wimp. Go to my website,

BTW, it might not have to do with race, maybe it's just YOU.

June 28, 2006 at 09:29 PM · kevin huang,

i have read your posts on here about racial discrimination and the troubles you've had as a violinist. my suggestion to you is to see a hypnotherapist and work through those mental blocks. i am not going to come on here and pretend discrimination does not exist. AFTER ALL, I AM BLACK. not only have i been called every name you can think of, i've had people who wouldn't even be in the same room as me and were so disgusted by my existence that they couldn't even look at me. i also have many funny stares from people who can't imagine what *i'm* doing there when i do shows and go to concerts. and if you've ever seen any symphony perform live, you'll easily count 1000 asian males before you see ANY black faces EITHER ON STAGE OR IN THE AUDIENCE. so i understand your views on discrimination and under-representation; i have more than been there and more than done that. btw, i'm not one of those uncle tom negroes who just want everyone to be happy, tralala. i understand reality and face it head on with no rose-coloured glasses for what it is. if anything i tend to be on the grim side.

however, i think you are seriously overstating your case. there are MANY successful asians in classical music today. when you started in the 80s things were very very different than they are today. i personally would be happy if there were even ONE successful black concert violinists as successful and as popular as cho liang lin, midori, uto ughi, sarah chang, kyung wha chung (who i have gone out of my way on here to mention is one of my all time favourite performers), the entire tokyo string quartet, and the shanghai and NHK symphonies, two of the most highly-regarded symphony orchestras in the world. i am from toronto and our first superstar conductor was seiji ozawa, who became a media darling here in north american (NOT OVERSEAS) classical music scene IN THE 60s. this is LONG before the 80s scene you grew up in and was in the height of racial segregation in north america on a level you and i can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

from my pov as it stands right now, black violinists' chances of being in major symphonies are none, none, and none. i challenge you to remember the last time you've seen two black performers on a classical stage either in a professional symphony or any type of professional touring chamber music group. i'll bet you've never seen it in your entire life; i know for a fact i haven't and believe me, i checked. i have only heard of TWO occasions of that happening, with the formation of the new world symphony and a mendelssohn octet put on last year i read about in strings magazine. black competition players go to the phoenix and are basically never seen at other competitions either as participants, jury members, or audiences. as far as international soloists we have regina bell, a jazz player to inspire us but no big-name violinists of international standing. you'll only rarely encounter us in a classical music hall in any capacity and the chances of a black performer being as well-loved on the violin as lang, lin, xue wei, or chang, well let's put it this way, that idea is so ludicrous as to be openly funny. so as hard as you think you have it, we have it even harder.

yet with all of this i understand that these are challenges that many people face and have faced. when i read about the problems the heifetz family put up with in the russian ghettos, i almost feel like i have it easy! like, really, who am i to complain because someone thinks 'my type' isn't fit to play the violin or i should 'stick to rap and basketball?' can i as a black violinist really stand in front of someone who fled the nazi concentration camps and say i have it worse than anyone else because someone didn't like my skin colour? can i really stand in front of someone who escaped china or russia during the communist eras and came to the west and say my life is worse than theirs? can i really do that? can i stand in front of a latin american player who may have had to concertize in latin america amidst riot police, border patrols, and political revolution? maybe i can, but i don't really want to. i'd rather keep plugging away and be part of the change i want to see eventually.

once again kevin, if the burden gets too heavy for your mind to carry, then look into the option of talking to a hypnotherapist. it's not an easy cross to carry but for the sake of others who put up with the same issue before, you have to be one of the few who 'made it.' good luck and i'm about through with this thread. pce.

June 28, 2006 at 09:40 PM · Kevin Jang, you're only proving me more correct with each post you do.

By agreeing with Emil, you sanction his trashing of a fellow professional violinist. You complain about your own racial issues, yet the ones I face do not signify in your brain. And you're an Asian American, no less! So much for the "Asian" part of that. I suspected as much all along about you.

I agree with you 100% about the African American thing, D Wright. I would love to see more African Americans in classical music, and I've watched classical audiences hiss at Bobby McFerrin when he tried to conduct. There are so many African Americans who deserve professional careers and have so much to offer.

However, that does not enhance nor negate the problems I and people like Kevin Jang face as Asians. What would you have me do D Wright, sit idly while Emil and others trash me in public or block me from being treated like a man? If somebody were telling people that you couldn't play because of your color, D Wright, you ought to fight back too. Just because African Americans have it bad doesn't mean that Asians don't experience career threatening racism too. If anything, your observation about the lack of African Americans in classical music is STRENGTHENING my argument that race counts.

This is one time I DON'T like being correct about how the pro violin world works.

June 28, 2006 at 09:57 PM · Get help. Seriously.

I just don't think Emil is racist. And you are the one complaining, not me. I was just gaving a little background. Let it go...let it go... I'm so done here -

June 28, 2006 at 09:55 PM · Yang Liu is a good male Asian violinist.

June 28, 2006 at 10:03 PM · Kevin Huang

you said:Young children can be trained to "parrot" great music - I was one of those.

But to play what comes from the heart - much harder for anybody of any level.

Indeed, I know it to be true. When I was learning Alvaro in Forza and stuggling with the great aria I remember saying to my coach--This was so much easier when I was younger.--He answered me that then I did not know what or why I was singing, now I do. That's much more difficult.

!@#$% and I was such a good parrot, too!

June 28, 2006 at 10:10 PM · D Wright

Tai Murray (and other members of the Ritz Chamber Players), Aaron Dworkin and others -- I imagine you yourself -- are working to change the situation you describe. Keep at it.

June 28, 2006 at 11:53 PM · Ms. Mutter? Posting here? I don't think so.

June 29, 2006 at 12:46 AM · You're more "done" than you know, Kevin Jang.

June 29, 2006 at 12:47 AM · And BTW, it is not Bill_Sophie Mutter, either. You can ask Robert & Laurie---Whoever runs the Anne-Sophie Mutter identity is not me.

June 29, 2006 at 01:07 AM · Can't tell the difference between engineers. You're all automatons.

June 29, 2006 at 03:44 AM · Hi-hi Jim :-)

Something about Hot Rosin and Conspiracy theories though...somehow there is always some sort of "alterior motive" or something dastardly going on underground...which is also how Kevin Huang sees the world.

I think I'll go watch the "Mothman Cometh" again now.

June 29, 2006 at 01:06 AM · Yeah. And what's worse, I was hoping it was her just so I could say I saw the birth of a scandal or two or three:)

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