"Rasist" post )))

September 16, 2018, 11:19 AM · Recently, two major violin competitions were very well reported here with interesting comments and a lot of details. Both happened in two different semi-spheres. And in both Asian surnames dominated. They come from different countries, some time they already have "western" names but the majority of surnames is Asian.
Do Asian have a "violin" genes?

It is not enough to have a perfect pitch, work a lot, have a good teacher. To be at that level of competitions, one should LOVE violin. Do Asian love it more (more often), than other nations?

I never though from this point of view, before looking through the list of participants. And i never could understand where from my son has his desire for violin. His "love" does not come from family, for sure. It is a pure in-born love from the first time he had been exposed to the violin music.
But now, I know: My son, who just loves violin and use youtube video with violin performances and master classes instead of cartoons, has a Korean farther. So my son just has the "Asian violin" gene ))))


I am joking )))


Replies (82)

September 16, 2018, 12:07 PM · Not racist, but cultural. 50-100 years ago it was the East European Jews that seemed to have a genetic advantage. It has a lot to do with the family- the parents persuading the students to put in those extra hours of daily practice that make the difference between expert and ordinary. What I consider curious is how many Asians are enamored with the Western classical music-supposedly an alien culture for them.
Edited: September 16, 2018, 12:38 PM · Every time this topic comes around, it starts a shitstorm...
My wife is Vietnamese. I have 8 nephews and nieces. 5 Asian, 3 western (Hispanic). My environment of friends is similar to my profile: mixed couples with kids sometimes 100% Asian, sometimes 100% Western and many mixed...
From all those kids I have seen that the Asians develop control of small muscles (pencils, tools) sooner than the westerners. They are also able to stay focus sooner. However, any difference I've seen seems to be temporary and as they grow, around 10-12, skills and talents are unrelated to ethnicity.
I suppose that in violin the early control gives a head start so for children competitions you may find more Asians... As you raise the age of competitors, the origins of the talented ones get dispersed.
Kids grow and develop at different speeds and there are genetic factors in that speed... But as we age we are more nurture than nature...
September 16, 2018, 12:48 PM · Asia counts for 60% of the world population. (4.4 billion Asians vs 1.3 billion European + Americans) I think it's a numbers game, not a genetic or cultural one. More people= more violinists = more Asian violinists entering competitions.
September 16, 2018, 1:00 PM · Yes, genes matter zero. "Human biodiversity," as spoused by many white nationalist agenda-driven individuals and pseudo-scientists is nothing but a farce to perpetuate ignorance and ethnic divisions, based on fear of the "lesser" minorities and an unknown future for "their kind". One could likely have similar musically great results with one of the many coined "not as smart" ethnicities if they and their families grew in a similar environment.

(Not all is roses with that "successful" environment, however. It's hard to find the right balance, but I feel it's important to try to minimize the cons vs the pros, without losing much of these pros.)

There are many classical music lovers of all ethnicities-some really just don't have the same tools or helpful background in which to thrive. I know many of these that are not supposed to be "as good", and they are clearly not any less musicians, despite a generally "disadvantaged" culture (unless lucky and raised in a different environment than what is usually the norm-and no, I am not saying their general upbringing must be "inferior" for lacking certain background elements.)

All in all, we are all different, but not inferior to each other. Let us ignore this was even an issue once-and also manifest open disgust for those who still think it's a "genetic problem".

(For the record, I am not saying K Ch is spousing these horrid views.)

Edited: September 16, 2018, 1:46 PM · To the original poster: the correct spelling is ‘racist.’

I’m part Asian and a 1/4 Russian. I don’t personally think race has anything to do with it. I just see it as a greater level of commitment from an early age in certain cultures. Kids over in Japan and Korea start playing at 4 or 5 and have serious training from that age. They understand that starting early is essential to becoming a high level musician. I’ll just say, I’ve still yet to hear the great Russian-Jewish violinists that studied with Leopold Auer at the turn of the 20th century topped both technically and musically. They have had an unrivaled dominance to this day in violin playing much like the Italians had with instrument making.

Many of these great Jewish violinists, like Heifetz, were influenced by cantorial singers at the temple and made the violin a secondary instrument to the human voice. Sure we hear many great players that can do fingered octaves to perfection, but can they turn a phrase like Mischa Elman at his peak, play with the vibrancy of a Seidel, or the charm of a Kreisler?

September 16, 2018, 1:33 PM · I read something about this re the maths myth in a book on cognitive dissonance once. You need to take into account that different countries and continents can have very different work ethics.
September 16, 2018, 1:41 PM · I think pretty clearly it has a lot to do with early exposure. My (white) father loved music and played the violin, so I grew up loving classical music and wanted to play. I wasn't blessed with great natural talent, but had I been, my father exposing me to it would have allowed talent to flourish. Other kids might have great natural talent but without parental exposure, how can it manifest? My own nieces grew up in a home with no music and are not musical. Fewer people do seem to expose their kids to music--and that is made worse by cell phones, as a lot if people listen to whatever they DO listen to on ear buds so the kids can't hear it.

If US parents went back to playing classical music throughout the house, as my dad did, more kids would be exposed.

September 16, 2018, 2:14 PM · If we favour Nuture over Nature we will avoid making unfounded assumptions which are likely to unconsciously affect out pedagogy.
Edited: September 16, 2018, 3:10 PM · At least in the US, I think Asian-American kids are much more likely to start at very early ages.

I don't think it's a matter of parents being overly ambitious. In my experience growing up Asian-American, I notice that parenting advice travels fast and spreads widely among the relatively small Asian-American community, whether said advice is good or dubious. The belief that you have to start music early or not at all seems to be widespread among Asian-Americans in particular, much more so than among Asians in Asia. At least in my parents' circles, everyone seemed to believe that children would lose the ability to learn a musical instrument if they didn't start by 7 or 8. (That's why I started piano at 5; I was extremely unusual as a late starter on strings. Not only did teachers reject me, my parents' Asian friends also questioned why they were wasting time looking for a teacher for me.)

It's well worth noting that, in most of the US, Asian-American violists and bassists are rare, as are Asian-American wind and brass players. A common pattern in youth orchestras, school orchestras, and college orchestras I've seen is that Asian-Americans are the majority of the violinists, but outside of the violins, there are no more than two or three in the entire orchestra, and those are mostly cellists. My guess is that this is the result of Asian-Americans gravitating toward the instruments that one can start playing at an early age: piano and violin, with some perhaps picking cello because of Yo-Yo Ma.

I've met well over a hundred violists in the time I've played in ensembles, mostly in California where the Asian-American population is relatively high. I've only ever met two other violists of fully Asian descent; that's lower than the percentage of Asian-Americans in the general US population, and far below the percentage in the general California population.

September 16, 2018, 3:56 PM ·
It may have nothing to do with race, but more about language. Mandarin is a tonal language and may inadvertently increase one's ability to enjoy music and learn quickly. Pitch and inner voice are not in one part of the mind, they are completely separated. A tonal language will help strengthen pitch memory and this strength will be passed down from one generation to the next.

September 16, 2018, 4:20 PM · )))))
I think i need to repeat my joke.
I did not mean to discuss the ability to play violin, i was discussing the love to it.
I know a lot of people who never would choose violin concertos as a prime choice of the classical music.
Viola concerts more popular among non-musicians, better cello. Piano or guitar.
But there are some who does like violin sound by itself. Really just like.
And among those, people with asian background is over-represented even in white-white Scandinavia, where i am.

In my son's class from 15 international children, only my son fell in love with violin after a single tune played by the music teacher. None got interested in it.

And only once i saw the family name in the list of the finalists, i noticed that my son is also partly asian, he just does not look like, but he is. )))))

September 16, 2018, 4:22 PM · Charles, all human languages are tonal. English also uses tonality to express meaning. Your's is the kind of assumption Adrian is talking about.
Edited: September 16, 2018, 4:54 PM · And again, it's not that the parents see their children as potential child prodigies -- it's more that the parents want their kids to have a chance to learn music, and, often not being musicians themselves, are under the belief that the door will close forever at age 7-8.

As for the preference for violin, it would be strange for someone who loves violin to not also love other string instruments, and yet, at least in the places I've lived in the US, Asian-Americans are about the same percentage of cellists as in the general population, and the percentage of Asian-Americans among violists is far below the general population. The other extremely common instrument among Asian-Americans is piano, whose sound and playing technique have virtually nothing in common with violin. The best explanation is simply a strong preference for instruments that children can start at an early age.

September 16, 2018, 5:24 PM · Obviously a lot of Asian parents are insistent on their kids working hard. For better or worse, it makes great violinists.

I've heard theories about finger flexibility in certain races but have never found anything conclusive and really don't care enough to look into it further.

September 16, 2018, 5:43 PM · Julie wrote, "I think it's a numbers game, not a genetic or cultural one. More people= more violinists = more Asian violinists entering competitions."

While population does play a role, there must be other factors at work (be it genetic or cultural) because there seem to be much fewer Asians playing other instruments, in and out of the string class, in competitions or at top level.

I find Carlos' hypothesis interesting, that people of Asian descent develop control of small muscles sooner than the westerners". It could well be one (of the factors) that explain this.

Edited: September 16, 2018, 6:13 PM · There is one proven genetic characteristic that unambiguously favors people of East Asian descent: hand shape. On average, people of East Asian descent have the longest fingers of any human population, which favors playing string instruments as well as piano. (But this also makes the small number of Asian-American violists especially striking.)

Of course it doesn't mean all people of East Asian descent have that advantage, it's just a population average. For example, despite being near the average height for American men, I have the shortest fingers of any adult I know, the exact opposite of the East Asian tendency.

September 16, 2018, 6:35 PM · Well, congrats, this descended into uninformed racist stereotype pretty quickly. Yay?
Edited: September 16, 2018, 6:49 PM · Andrew, can you cite your source about Asians having the ideal hand shape for violin and longest fingers of any population? I have Chinese ancestry and can do a three octave stretch on the violin. Some of my wonderful colleagues of Asian heritage don’t have very large fingers but they do just fine. I don’t think finger size really matters.
September 16, 2018, 6:59 PM · In my experience, it's been the Europeans who ve had quite long fingers, especially in the Netherlands!

Anyway, I would also like to add that it's a cultural and political thing. In a lot of east Asian countries, there's a lot of support classical music, and therefore there's a vibrant scene there which then attracts high level performers/teachers, and they influence their students who then influence their students and so on. Then Asian parents that emigrate to other countries bring that mindset with them.

Edited: September 16, 2018, 7:19 PM · I was interested in Nate's comments about the violinists of the Auer school. Without question theirs was a wave of greatness, and I believe these things come in waves. One or two spectacular practitioners of a particular skill can inspire an entire population and nucleate a wave that can last generations, especially if there are supporting cultural, economic, or political factors. Chess in Russia, for example. The Auer school had a decided advantage, though: By being the wave at the onset of recording technology their sound became a household standard. I'll bet Heifetz's vibrato really sizzled on the Victrola.
Edited: September 16, 2018, 7:17 PM · I made no claims about "ideal hand shape" but simply assume longer fingers are helpful for playing string instruments.

The website belongs to a palm-reader who draws some pseudoscientific conclusions from it, but the sources for the finger measurements are cited.

http://www.handresearch.com/diagnostics/finger-length-around-the-world-international-populations.htm

I stumbled upon it when looking for data on how my own finger length compares to the general population, and was more than a little surprised by the numbers. I assumed (based on my own hand shape) that East Asians would have among the shortest fingers and the statistics show the exact opposite.

Incidentally, the chart shows the Dutch having the longest fingers of the Western countries shown.

I would consider this to be at most a very minor factor. Culture and environment are far more important than physical measurements because the variation within a population is far greater than the difference between populations. My own hand measurements are in "short fingers" territory and close to "very short fingers"; my maximum stretch on a piano is an octave with my thumb and pinky in a straight line.

September 16, 2018, 7:20 PM · Re hand shape, finger length: peer reviewed articles or nothing.
September 16, 2018, 7:23 PM · The chart is a compilation of data from peer reviewed articles and government reports.
Edited: September 16, 2018, 7:54 PM · We cannot, in the words of another poster "simply assume" anything. Jews of Eastern European descent are no more talented musically than the rest of the population. Further, they don't have a cultural edge because they went to synagogue. Milstein himself dismissed this as racist when asked in an interview. Publicists and agents knew that that 'type' was what their audience wanted and they developed and sold those violinists that fit.

We demonstrably (see above posts for proof) perpetuate this stereotype today. Long fingers or 'tonal' languages don't give you anymore understanding of music or pitch. In fact, from a linguistic point of view, the concept of tonal languages is an arbitrary distinction- all languages are tonal. If I said, "Only Germans can play Beethoven properly because his music replicates German speech patterns (which is true, btw- the part about replicating German speech patterns), that would be absurd. Yet I have read multiple posts on this thread with the same racial and cultural bias.

The only thing I will agree with 100% is argument that the beast you feed is the beast that grows. Cultures that fund classical performances and classical musical education in schools are the cultures that have vibrant classical musical scenes.

September 16, 2018, 8:03 PM · in my opinion, aside from spatial and temporal contiguity which forms the basis of continuous traditions (and i think that this is not the case since so called western classical music is relatively new in east asian countries and communities)the reason would be in the junction between the cultural-social and the economic within a postcolonial world. And for the european jewish communities, within the contradictory setting of a jewish intellectual enlightenment within a belligerent antisemitic europe.

No genetics, no inherent superior dexterity, no psedo science. And by cultural, i mean cultural values that priviledge one thing over the other, which is tied yet again to the socioeconomic...not pseudo-anthropology.

I was reading this and wondered what people thought of it :
http://stringvisions.ovationpress.com/2012/02/why-asians-shouldnt-be-the-messiah-of-classical-music/

Edited: September 16, 2018, 8:29 PM · It is a scientific fact based on language Julie, not a gross bias uneducated generalization based on race.

"For example, 60 percent of Beijing students who had begun studying music between the ages of four and five years old passed a test for absolute pitch, whereas only 14 percent of the American students did(that started at the same age)." --

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/speaking-tonal-languages/


English is not a tonal language. Mandarine is the most common tonal language or most common language with 1.2 billion native speakers compared to English with only 350 million native speakers and 1.5 billion 2nd language speakers.
Japanese isn't a tonal language and they would likely score the same as English speaking Americans.

Edited: September 16, 2018, 8:32 PM · Well, then I guess those 12 hours of linguistics class I took as both an undergraduate and graduate student were a complete waste of time and don't stand up to your Google Phd.

Edited to add: The way we process language and music and the way we denote language is more nuanced than a Scientific American magazine article.

Edited: September 16, 2018, 9:32 PM · https://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/20149/16227/

A great interview with Jinjoo Cho who BTW is a really lovely person.

September 16, 2018, 9:32 PM · I remember research from a few years ago that compared the amount of time the average American student stuck with a math problem before giving up to that of Asian students.

The American students gave up earlier than the Asian students.

Maybe Asian kids try harder?

September 16, 2018, 10:18 PM · I think what makes the gene pool of successful violin players around the world would make for a fascinating basis for a social study. I think it varied over time (someone mentioned the dominance of jews in world's renowned past and present soloists), and geography. One can't fail to notice a higher than average percentage of attractive figures amongst successful players for instance, or the high percentage of Asians etc. I would love to read such study.
September 16, 2018, 10:24 PM · Hi Charles,

Absolute pitch doesn't really have much bearing with one's success as a performer. It can be useful or extremely debilitating, but it really doesn't mean anything.

I speak a language/dialect with nine tones, but I don't think that has helped me with my performance...

September 16, 2018, 11:44 PM · Scott, it is not "Asians" who try harder, it is immigrants--because they have to.
September 17, 2018, 10:08 PM · I agree with Nate's post and I think the idea of a cantorial influence on the great Russian masters is fascinating. I am not Jewish and was amazed to hear a cantor recently at a bat mitvah reciting prayers - I thought it sounded just like a run on a violin! Nothing racist about such an observation and it's silly to think there aren't cultural norms influencing groups of people. Did growing up hearing gospel music in church influence Aretha Franklin?
September 18, 2018, 12:26 AM · Personally I don't see racism in a respectful discussion of the demographic or geographic distribution of good violinists.

If it was, we might just consider anthropology, ethnology, ethnography, cultural geography and international studies to be (borderline) racist as I think we will find something in each of these subjects that make us offended.

Even the concept of diversity itself may be offensive too, as it too implies races to be different...

Edited: September 18, 2018, 7:33 AM · Julie, maybe there are different definitions of what a tonal language is, but for me the only language where inflection of the word can completely change its meaning is Chinese. Merriam Webster dictionary defines a tone language as 'a language (such as Chinese or Zulu) in which variations in tone distinguish words or phrases of different meaning that otherwise would sound alike.'

What I mean is, sometimes you hear robots speak English in monotone, and you can understand the content 100%. As far as I know, it's the same in almost every language. But with Chinese if you speak with a monotone, one might only be able to understand around 85% of what was said. A beginner in Chinese would probably understand 50%.

This is made furthermore evident in writing. We can read English books perfectly fine and there are no tones to guide us. But if we were to read a Chinese book using romanised sounds (pinyin) and without tones, it would be extremely difficult and almost impossible to translate perfectly. Tones enhance English, but tones are an actual necessity for even basic Chinese. Take for example the sentence 'wo yao ma'. Wo yao means I want, and the 'ma' could mean so many different things such as: horse, to scream, mother, dragonfly, hemp etc depending on the tones used on the word ma, whereas in English we could simply use these phonetically different words to accurately describe things without tones.

To be honest, I personally think being fluent in both English and Chinese is worth more that 12 hours of linguistics class, when it comes to understanding how tones affect function in language. Also making fun of Charles by saying he has a 'google phd'? You need to show some more respect here for other people on v.com

Edited: September 20, 2018, 4:25 AM · Yep, the word 'tonal' has different meanings, as does the word 'aspiration'.
The oldest Greeks probably pronounced a theta as in "pot-hook", not as in "thing". Theta was an aspirated Tau. But we get modern Classists who know that English-speakers aspirate a T in a way that the Cantonese don't. So you get English Classicists idiotically trying to pronounce unaspirated tau in Greek as a Cantonese person would!

Ancient Greek (probably)
English
Swedish
Mandarin
Cantonese
all tonal, but all in different ways. (some tonal languages have total correlation of tone and stress, which is why we tend to ignore the distinction there, e.g. in ancient Greek - its accents, even if tonal, became stress accents in modern Greek with near 100% correlation)

There's a book on Swedish that says some Swedish words are only tonal in the way that the word "father" in English is tonal (it has a descending tone).
But it's not tonal in the sense that a tonal mispronunciation would change its meaning.

September 18, 2018, 6:40 AM · I think lots of Asian languages are tonal: Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese to name a few. They are, however, non-inflectional in that words don't change their forms to reflect tenses.

Don't really know how the fact that a language is tonal enters the discussion :))

Let me make a bold comparison that playing the violin is, in some ways, similar to making handicrafts (embroidery, ceramics, sculpture, etc.) in that it requires some skills and coordination of the fingers and arms. I'm not at all surprised that Asians are good at violins, since they are very good at arts and crafts.

Smaller and slimmer body frame may also give Asian people an advantage too.

September 18, 2018, 8:13 AM · Asians are good at arts and crafts?
Hold on, let me go tell my family that. I'll get back to you once they're done dying of laughter.
September 18, 2018, 8:36 AM · You should compare how many Asian students are involved in violin playing and how many westerners do so nowadays.

I am mixed with European and Asian ancestry, lots of my relatives are professional musicians with violinists included, but I do not play any instrument. One truth is Asians develop muscle control ability earlier (I've been told so), so I agree with Carlos D'Agulleiro.

Edited: September 18, 2018, 4:26 PM · @Irene I can say the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans are rich in craftsmanship, and ‘good’ Asian violinists seem to only overwhelmingly come from these three Asian countries.
September 18, 2018, 8:59 AM · "One truth is Asians develop muscle control ability earlier (I've been told so)"

What are you sources?

Yeah, I don't think so...

Edited: September 18, 2018, 9:23 AM · I have another question to raise. I can distinguish two Asian groups: Jews and Chinese, effortlessly, but I can't distinguish Jews from average French, Italian and Greek, they look like close to each other. Most Jewish violinists look overwhelmingly like modern Europeans. So are Jews shared the same Asian gene with Chinese people?
Edited: September 18, 2018, 12:51 PM · "Scott, it is not "Asians" who try harder, it is immigrants--because they have to."

Albrecht, if I remember correctly (I'll try to cite the source), the study didn't compare immigrant kids to American kids in America. It compared American kids in America to Asian kids IN ASIA, so they weren't immigrants.

"So are Jews shared the same Asian gene with Chinese people?"
Guillaume, I think one of those home DNA tests would really reveal the ancestry of individual Jews, and it is likely to be a mishmash of influences. Remember that there are two basic ethnic groups among Jews: the Ashkenazic, who lived in Eastern Europe, and the Sephardic, from the middle East and Levant. Many Ashkenazim have the gene for red hair. Does this mean a Celtic or Gallic influence? Who knows?

If you go far enough back, then we all share genes with the Chinese. Exactly which is another question, and I doubt they are ones for playing the violin.

September 18, 2018, 2:38 PM · I see the OP lives in whitest white Norway, like I do.

My stepdaughter is genetically Asian, culturally Norwegian. Having travelled around the world with her I have noticed one thing all promising young violinists have in common, and it is neither race nor language: Tiger moms.
Without a tiger mom to push her through the boring bits she would very likely have quit at some point before she got to the point where she niw plays violin as easily as I sing.

By the way, Norwegian is a tonal language too, but I don’t think that makes any difference. What MIGHT make a difference is starting with music early enough to learn it just like any other language. We can learn new languages as adults, but not as well as if it is learned in childhood.

September 18, 2018, 3:15 PM · Seems like no one has read the book ‘Outliers’ by Malcom Galdwell here. A reference in this subject.

Persistence and grit are in the Asian culture, especially in countries like China or Japan. Historically it comes from the culture of rice. Growing rice is an extremely hard and demanding activity, and the persistence and grit you had to have to be succesful in it became part of the culture.

So the reason Asians dominate, in Math or Music, is not because of genetics or environment (even though the latter certainly plays an important role), but because they keep going even when the going gets tough and hard.

Westerners in comparison, are overall much lazier, entitled, and don’t work as hard or smart (or both), hence the apparent Asian ‘domination’.

September 18, 2018, 4:17 PM · I have been a regular poster on this site for a long time and I very much enjoy the expert advice, opinions, and explanations you all provide. I do not post on subjects I have only a dilettante's understanding of because I don't want to dilute the quality of the posts by people who know more than me. I have a cat, and can describe her features and behavior to my vet, but that doesn't mean I have the specialized knowledge that a veterinarian has. I do not go onto cat message boards and diagnose cat diseases or explain cat behavior based articles I read in Cat Fancy Magazine. I worked hard in school to acquire the knowledge I have, and will not accept the false equivalency between that knowledge and lay opinion.

I absolutely will not apologize for aggressively confronting those who would use pseudo-science to generalize the behaviors of entire continents of people. If you find yourself saying "x people do y," regardless of whether you're being complimentary or derogatory, then you are making inappropriate generalizations.

I will apologize to Charles, although he didn't ask for it- my Google PhD jab was meant in the spirit of a 'your mama' joke, but was mean and intellectually lazy. What I should have said is "I think this type of research belongs in the field of linguistics, not psychology, and science magazines are notorious for garbling conclusions of academic papers. They should be taken with a grain of salt. I'm not even sure what one element has to do with musicianship anyway, given that there are so many other elements to playing music besides pitch."

Without getting too down the rabbit hole of linguistic theory, all languages have elements of tonality to them to varying degrees and in varying linguistic expression. For example, the meaning of the English word 'oh' changes with pitch. English speakers change pitch in phrases to change meaning. English speakers display subtle pitch variations among homophones, and this varies with regional accents but is consistent in populations.

Scott- I was volunteering in my nieces class last year and noticed that the teacher used a timer- the kids had 3 minutes to do the problems, then they went over the answers. I asked a teacher friend and she said this is a common practice. I wonder if American educators don't give students enough time to figure things out before rushing them to the next thing. I wonder if Asian students are encouraged to work until they get a solution rather than work until the buzzer dings?

On a final note: I fell in love with the violin the moment I heard it. I think all of us here did.

September 18, 2018, 7:43 PM ·

When you judge a group's musical success rate or love of music base on language, that's the opposite of racism.
If you're in an 'INTERACTIVE', it must be interactive, musical environment at a very early age YOU will have an easier time learning all aspects of music, than without.

Edited: September 18, 2018, 8:14 PM · I still don't see why a tonal language would lead to better musicianship, why rice production in China would lead to more industrious musicians , why handling chopsticks or whatever other tool-at a young age would give one an advantage in developing superior finger dexterity on the violin fingerboard, why jewish cantorial chanting tends more to the violinistic than the greek orthodox. It just seems like we're painting reality in any whimsical way we want to here. Anyway, we're all allowed to have an opinion...
Edited: September 18, 2018, 8:39 PM ·

Variation strengthens the mind


Edited: September 19, 2018, 11:33 AM · The large majority of professional violinists in orchestras in the US and Europe are non-Asian, as are the most famous soloists. They are very much successful, and yet they are evaluated as individuals and their physical traits are not being generalized across all people of their European ethnicities.

I notice that no one is expounding on the physical attributes of Russians, Finns, Romanians, and Germans. These are also groups that have produced disproportionate numbers of good musicians too. Why is no one commenting on Russians' body types or rice harvesting/embroidery skills? Instead, the commentary seems to focus on these countries' educational systems, cultural traditions, and governmental support of the arts.

So why is there this tendency to treat exceptional "Asian" violinists as biologically and genetically advantaged as a group, and people of European descent as being successful due to their individual upbringings and social circumstances with no mention of their body types or ancestral agricultural practices?

There's nothing wrong with comparing different educational systems and different cultural values. However, making gross generalizations about body types and genes of billions of people based on the few highly selected violinists that you observe in the media is ignorant at best.

The logic is akin to looking at the attributes of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team and fallaciously concluding that the entire black and white population in the world must be under 5 feet tall, underweight, and extremely flexible. Apply this flawed logic with the NBA or NFL and you get a very different conclusion.

September 18, 2018, 9:09 PM · Agreed. There is nothing complementary about being objectified, having your person, your family and your culture being defined willy nilly to serve personal imagination.
Edited: September 18, 2018, 9:16 PM · I think the overwhelmingly low height of gymnastic athletes (not just in the US) is just one example proving people with certain physical traits tend to excel in certain physical activities, which in turn supports the argument for the Asian advantage in violin playing.

Sports have numerous other examples. Obvious ones are running, sprinting and swimming events in the Olympics which are dominated by, or devoid of, certain geographic groups of people.

September 18, 2018, 9:43 PM · I find this topic interesting. Some things I don't agree with, some things others don't agree with, but some thought provoking points from different angles. I would respond to some more of those points but I think Carlos said it best when he predicted a sh#tstorm.
Edited: September 19, 2018, 12:21 AM · Yes, it happens every time :-)

Just to add my informed opinion (living here, married with an Asian and speaking Vietnamese and Japanese, among other languages).

When I came to Asia I thought that tonal languages would give the speakers a finer, more developed pitch, and sound capacities. It doesn't. As a proof you can see that it is very, very difficult for natives of these languages to learn others... Asian accents are attrocious. That doesn't make sense if one would think of the tonal language as a wider palette for the speaker, to replicate any sound easier. It doesn't work like that. I don't know why.

I also don't think that there's anything in the Asian culture or society that promotes musicality. Violin and piano are just small samples of music and musicality. Otherwise, you would find a bigger diversity of instruments, and there really isn't. For example, you can easily see that the typical love of teenagers for guitar and electric guitar or drums, is not here. Now I am imagining a forum of guitar players in China, debating about the genetic predisposition of westerners to electric guitar and bass :-P

September 19, 2018, 1:21 AM · We need ignore poster(s) function, please.
September 19, 2018, 7:39 AM · Look, it's pretty simple. As I said earlier, if you have parents who expose you to classical music and who get you started early and encourage you to keep at it, you will be more likely to succeed with it (assuming some degree of natural talent). That is pretty obvious. Some cultures tend to do that more than other cultures. Cultures that ignore classical music and raise their kids to be dilletantes are less likely to have lots of musicians.
Edited: September 19, 2018, 10:29 AM · I must agree with the thought that it's no fun to categorize people by ethnicity, putting them in ridiculous boxes. Individuals transcend generalizations. I don't fit into my own ethnic stereotypes myself, and oppose people doing it to me AND others.

Positive bias doesn't help either. There are plenty of violinists of asian descent that I like, but it has little to do with their "predisposed genes", and more with their artistry. They were not "born for the violin" but happened to have a wonderful set of attributes and circumstances, combined with diligent work and a keen ear for music detail. Saying they are good "because they are Asian" is a double-insult: not only to those who aren't asian, but also to any asians themselves who "fail" to meet these "high standards" of "violinistic proficiency." Not to mention the artists themselves would likely feel amused or disgusted by the idea that they are "good" because of their ascentry-I'd believe they would prefer you value the music they worked hard to make instead of concentrating on their genes.

So again, I would urge against the idea of "favorable genetics", for it does bring an unnecessary burden to those asian-descent beings that merely want to be themselves, and not a caricature of "excellence" in academics and/or music. I have seem the suffering of some of these individuals, and it's not right that we keep perpetuating these mere observations-as "pervasive" as they may appear to be-as immutable facts of genetic "science".

(Equally wrong is the generalization of certain ethnicities as being innately "less musical" than others, regardless technical proficiency. Hoping for a world where all this ignorance ends.)

You are welcome to disagree as usual, but I won't engage in endless debate, so feel free to ignore my post if that's for the best.

Happy music making to all.

September 19, 2018, 10:40 AM · Rice cultivation is dominant in Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia, South Asia and southern China, in northern China, covered by one half Chinese population, people cultivate wheat as it is in Europe and West Asia.

The most typical rice cultivation culture in Asia is Bangladesh, its fertile land produces tons of rice and sustains a very densed population structure.

September 19, 2018, 11:17 AM · Guillaume, this correlates with the fact that most good Asian violinsts are either of Japanese, Korean or Chinese descent.
September 19, 2018, 11:41 AM · I wonder why rice cultivation Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and India have no good Asian violinists.

Many Chinese violinists and pianists are from wheat cultivation North, like Siqing Lv, Tianwa Yang, Chuanyun Li, Dan Zhu. Pianists Yuja Wang and Lang Lang all from northern China, not from rice cultivation South.

September 19, 2018, 12:25 PM · Mr. R,

There should be good violinists out there among all nations and ethnicities.

But to answer your question, in my likely "controversial" opinion, the reason the better known ones are not from those regions is that it doesn't matter, nurture and circumstance being the ultimate factors. I like rice, but it has nothing to do with violin mastery (no offense meant to those that believe it does.)

I love puppies and kitties (all aninals, really) but humans themselves are different in that they are not "bred" for specific purposes. They can be whatever they strive towards to, within the more obvious limitations (I likely wouldn't have been able to do NBA basketball, for instance.)

Edited: September 19, 2018, 1:38 PM · I'm not sure why. I have always seen Asians as really good at math with Spock personality types. Not as outgoing as Americans.Hard workers.

I watched a televised wrestling match recently live from an Asian country. Not really my thing normally. I was skipping through the channels. I noticed the audience barely moved much less cheered for their team. The were stoic. This is in sharp contrast to Americans who would be cheering, clapping. They seem much more conformist to me. More uptight, very guarded.

This is my limited exposure to them as an American living in the northeast. I'm pretty certain I am guilty of stereotyping. I haven't known any Asians. I read history and gather a lot about their culture, how they react to different situations. I think in some Asian countries opportunities are limited compared to some western areas of the world. If they see winning a competition as one of the only opportunities they will ever have to become great in the eyes of the world, I can see why this would motivate them as compared to someone who has multiple opportunities for success.

Everything plays a part in the outcome of any individual. Culture, temperament, physical makeup, family dynamics. Not all Asians are good musicians. In fact the percentage might be quite small. Doesn't matter how much you encourage something to a child from the outside. In the end it's up to them to decide their own fate.

Physical makeup can complicate or abet progress. I have especially taken note of many smaller framed people who are good at violin. Long fingers, small arms. Less mass to move about is an advantage. Many petite women are violinists. Many Asians are petite. Also a few small framed men. I'm not saying they are exclusive, I'm only saying I think it is an advantage.

@Adalberto Valle-Rivera, I wish I could agree with you that people are not being bred for certain purposes. Some are. While I see man as so much more than an animal, he is also like an animal and his characteristics can be bred just like we breed dogs. I'm one of those upper body guys. I would make a terrible long distance runner with my short legs, but I have a strong upper body. So it could be said my advantage is in lifting over running.

Edited: September 19, 2018, 2:44 PM · For all the stereotypes of Asians being "conformist" or collectivist, my experience in Asian-American culture is the opposite: there's a huge emphasis on individual accomplishment.

When I was growing up, I was much more of an athlete than a musician. I competed in two sports: soccer and swimming. My passion was for soccer. My parents, though, kept trying to steer me to focus on swimming. Their rationale: there wasn't enough opportunity for individual glory in soccer. I was a center forward, the position that gets more attention than any other, but it wasn't enough for my parents, who thought it was still too dependent on other people.

It's worth noting that East Asian countries also greatly prefer individual sports over team sports, not only in participation numbers but also in TV viewing.

Which might be why we don't see a lot of Asian violists -- I think the article linked earlier that observes Asians gravitating toward featured solo instruments makes a good point. Because of this thread and the conspicuous lack of other Asian violists in my musical circles, I took a look at orchestra rosters in my area (using recent concert programs if the roster was not available online). Even though all the professional orchestras, community orchestras, and major youth orchestras in the area have numerous violinists with East Asian surnames, I did not see a single violist with an East Asian surname other than myself. At least in this area, Asians are only slightly more likely than the general population to play an orchestral instrument, but of those who do play an orchestral instrument, 80-90% play violin.

This suggests to me that the main factor at work is a concentration of musical talent in a single instrument, rather than a greater likelihood of playing classical music.

Whether this is pursuing individual glory (linked blogger's idea, which I think has merit) or focusing on instruments that one can start at an early age in order to avoid losing the opportunity to learn music (my hypothesis), the result seems to be concentration of musicians in piano and violin.

September 19, 2018, 2:40 PM · Mr. Smith,

Thanks for your most respectful tone.

I just also believe that, by thinking some ethnicities are "naturally better" for the violin, we may subconsciously accept the status quo of relative mediocrity, by accepting our "natural limitations" (vs asians, jewish, you name it.) While I admit there are *general* physical differences, there are also huge framed asians, etc. I believe the theoretical, perfect "petite asian" you mention doesn't necessarily possess any advantages over a bigger person (some players with petite hands can have relative discomfort with some violin techniques.)

In the end, if there was such a thing as "the perfect body and mind for the violin" (which I disagree with) it matters little if it's not properly nurtured towards violin mastery. It just so happens that the current cultural background of many asian families lends itself towards general success, though of course, not every asian violinist is guaranteed to be good, much less have a successful career.

I like Mr. Hsieh's ideas on this thread, for he mostly seems to believe all of this is a phenomena of the current general attitudes towards music by many asian families, regardless genes.

Ironically, IMHO, violin may be more "forgiving" than many hardcore athletic activities out there. The training is intense, but not physically grueling (or at least, it *shouldn't be*)-it's another set of skills altogether, more mental than muscular, even though one's fingers, hands, arms, and shoulders should be healthy enough.

Best wishes, and as always, no offense was ever meant.

September 19, 2018, 7:57 PM · It is certainly interesting to see opinions from the vantage point of Asians Andrew and Aldalberto. I would most certainly defer to anyone who is Asian and has lived in that culture.

I think we all stereotype people. I'm no different. I think some of my bias in favor of collectivism has much more to do with the place of origin. Asian-Americans are Americans in my eyes. They have been raised in this country. OTOH Asians in strongly communist countries such as China are led into a very conformist life from earl on. In order to survive in a place like North Korea or China one must either conform or pay the price. The more they conform the more they are rewarded. If they have counter views they must keep them to themselves. Spies are everywhere in a communist system.You might find yourself in a prison camp somewhere if you don't comply. Some may say, why have my own ideas? there is really no point in it. I don't see this as an Asian thing so much as the culture and government they are in.

Another factor might be population. In cities that are jammed with too many residents, people need to adopt more tolerance of one another. These groups of people are often forced to live in small accommodations. As a result, I think they develop a better community. This is a necessity to keep your sanity. Yes Caucasian whites also live in big cities but Asians seem to have a different way of coping in especially crowded areas.

I hope I don't come off here as offended. I never was. In all of this my opinion is secondary to those with more experience in the culture.I have the best grasp on it I am capable of at this time.I'm on the outside looking in.

I still have a difficult time believing that smaller hands and arms aren't any kind of an advantage on an instrument with close spaced strings and close steps between notes.

When it comes to Asian Americans maybe the surnames aren't as important if the father is American. Not sure. Andrew, your analysis is telling even so. My mothers maiden name is extremely odd. Not Asian, likely Scandinavian.

Edited: September 19, 2018, 8:35 PM · "Spies are everywhere in a communist country"

Right, because in your capitalist country (assuming you're in the US...but really you could be nearly anywhere else and it'll still apply), you're not being spied upon by NSA, Facebook, Google, etc to the degree that no one else has been spied upon in history.

Communists _and anarchists_ are amongst the most non-conformist people I know. And China is not really a communist country presently. And if North Korea is to be frowned upon, it is because it's run by a dictatorship. But at least they haven't nuked cities and invaded others ... which, ummm, the US has done.

More stereotypes please. Asians, Communists, what else?

September 19, 2018, 11:37 PM · Tammuz, "But at least they haven't nuked cities or invaded others"?...
Vietnam never invaded Cambodia?
North Korea never invaded the South with Soviet and Chinese support?
Communist China never invaded Tibet and forced them as well as many others to live under their supposedly non-Communist rule?
Granted the US has nuked Japan, as a result of their unprovoked aggression...but then again, I guess you believe Japan never killed thousands at Pearl Harbor they because knew that would have been very rude.
Your blatantly divisive post has been the most racist thing I've seen on this site. Smh
Edited: September 20, 2018, 12:19 AM · I was born into an East Asian country, and migrated to a Western society. From my experience, I agree that Asian societies, at least the ones I have had contact with, are conformist (should we use the word 'disciplined' instead?). I also believe that Timothy said it without the intention to offend.

A great body of literature on geo-cultural studies also tends to support the claim that, compared to Western societies, Asian ones are more conformist than rebellious, collectivist than individualist, hierarchical than egalitarian, risk-averse than risk-seeking, and conservative than liberal.

In Vietnam and China, there has been growing resistance to government's censorship of free speech and social media, and there have been numerous intellectual debates on how to promote younger generations' independent thinking rather than following others' footsteps without question. Overseas studying and immigration have become a remarkable trend among wealthy families in many Asian countries, AFAIK.

I also humbly think we can have a great insightful discussion without escalating or politicizing the matter.

Edited: September 20, 2018, 3:04 AM · Bob Hoebart, you've rendered the qualification racist devoid of meaning in your post. We also clearly have different perspectives on history vs US propaganda, but this is another topic. I was responding to Timothy Smith's addition of yet another stereotype to the list and how he contradicts himself in his 'reasoning', much of which is done to suit ones prejudices.
Again, in my opinion, people are better understood when seen from a dynamic and complex historical,social and economic point of view, not from atemporal essentialist ethnocentric stereotypes (Edited:I'll put aside politically/propoganda conceived stereotypes for the sake of the continuity of the topic).
Edited: September 20, 2018, 2:58 AM · Says the person who defends the people who defined themselves as imperialists ;) It's easy to hate. It's hard to do it logically....Oh and the the only prejudice here seems to be yours for those of America. Jealousy is a nasty creature. :)
Edited: September 20, 2018, 6:17 AM · I remember my father telling my first piano teacher, there was no-one else musical in the family, and her saying to my father "maybe one of your ancestors was a mediaeval minstrel or something." But my father was hiding his light under a bushel. I remember him soulfully playing the chromatic harmonica in the Sixties (until the instrument turned to rust, fell apart and was binned), and he was in a harmonica quartet in the Fifties. But he did tell us for the first time about 5 years ago that he was in the Salvation Army as a teen, and he tried the cornet but gave it up because it was too difficult.

Maybe if I'd gone to music college and practised 4 hours daily for 3 years, I'd have got a job in an orchestra and I'd be poorer now than I am, but luckily I was too lazy.

Thread drift? This thread deserves to drift, if any does.

Edited: September 20, 2018, 7:00 AM · Matt Lawrence "A great body of literature on geo-cultural studies also tends to support the claim that, compared to Western societies, Asian ones are more conformist than rebellious, collectivist than individualist, hierarchical than egalitarian, risk-averse than risk-seeking, and conservative than liberal."

How can one not see that the Chinese revolution was a revolution and that one cannot get more revolutionary than Mao Tse Tung and that Vietnamese resistance took no risk or was conformist? In contrast, I can make equally willy nilly, pick and choose, generalisations about youth culture/s in Western countries, where I live and have lived, how conformist they are now, how little risk they take in improving the economic and political status quo that increasingly priviledge the very few?
But again even then, this does not really portray and fix an ahistorical cultural or ethnic identity expanded to become a generalisation.

September 20, 2018, 7:33 AM · That an abundance of young Asian violinists in competitions and media channels is an interesting observation that does not deserve such escalation, in a completely non-political forum.

tammuz, if you find the term 'conformist' offensive, think about its antonym. I, for one, cannot work out whether 'non-conformist' is worse or otherwise.

Yours and Bob's most recent reply present a typical example of how quickly and easily a civilized discussion can escalate, where people race to the bottom behind the anonymity of their keyboards.

September 20, 2018, 7:54 AM · I think that is uncalled for Matt. I presented my point of view without resort to ad hominem or personal attacks. Nothing I said is to do with your person or that of Timothy or Bob's. You're confusing direct disagreement with something else. It has nothing to do with anonymity or whatnot. As for escalation, I think the escalation started when a joke (OP's) was picked by others as a serious belief in ethnocentric and cultural generalisations.
Edited: September 20, 2018, 8:27 AM · Well, having done jazz masterclasses in many countries around the world, I do notice certain traits in general. These traits have nothging to do with race but with upbringing/culture.

There are and will be , of course, always exceptions but I suppose it’s not a good idea to share my observations hahaha

BTW , if you read the book on Dorothy Delay ( I forget the name ), she goes on about the difference between Jewish and Asian students, and the workshops I have done seem to corroborate what she said.

These traits have nothing to do with race as I mentioned but with upbringing and culture. My family is originally from Taiwan, where the majority of people are ethnically Chinese, but the culture is completely different from that of China’s. I myserlf was born in Canada. I performed in Malaysia recently with Roby Lakatos, and the festival promoter (Chinese) said that I wasn’t a typical “:Chinese” person, because I was very outspoken. She loved me for that... However, at the end of the festival, she hated me because I was too outspoken when I confronted her about her staff’s lack of ethics hahahahah

Edited: September 20, 2018, 11:17 AM · The topic of this thread is inherently "political." The title? A thread where people have been freely throwing around racial stereotypes is political.

As for conformity, take a look at the most well-known Asian musicians today. Lang Lang and Yuja Wang are constantly being criticized by European/American audiences for not conforming and for being too outrageous in their personalities. On the cello, Yo-Yo Ma plays in an unusual enough way that there are youtube parody videos of him.

Generalizations like "Asians are small and slim and have an advantage" are misplaced. First, look up the average heights of Koreans from South Korea, who've been doing extremely well in violin and piano. Their heights are are on par with European countries like France and Italy. People from Northern China are about as tall as Koreans, too. These groups, on average, are not small compared to most parts of the world. Scholars who study height across countries have said it's due to improved wealth and nutrition.

Asian heights are converging with European heights, they're also getting heavier, and now there are more violinists from these countries. There sure weren't many in the 1950s when people were shorter and slimmer, and these countries' economies weren't as strong (to put it mildly). Dare I suggest that wealth and social factors are at play more than "biology"?

Second, what does height (or being "small") have to do with playing the violin? People enviously claim that Paganini was able to play like the devil because he was so tall. For the piano, if anything, the bias has been in favor of taller people, which correlates with having big hands.

Slim fingers might be an advantage for playing notes in upper positions of the violin. But slim fingers are a disadvantage for playing double stops like fifths, and maybe producing vibrato (for some people). And what do you make of all the good violinists with thick fingers, like Oistrakh, Zukerman, and Perlman?

September 20, 2018, 9:45 AM · @tammuz kolenyo, I feel no need to defend these statements, only to clarify something you may have misunderstood. Google and myriads of other internet interests are constantly spying on all of us. The difference is Google isn't taking the info to some entity that can use it against us and do us harm. As of this writing the info is mainly used for marketing and other stats. I have no concern with any of that unless Google becomes bedfellows with a fascist regime.

America has made mistakes. I don't live in a utopia.None of us do. I understand that. Like any country we will defend our interests. Good things America has done have been demonized. Less than stellar things we have done have been praised.One of the drawbacks to free speech and a free press is our dirty laundry gets aired to the world on a regular basis, sometimes in a less than accurate way. People don't want to read the good news, they want to read the dirt.

China IS a communist country. No getting around that. They have had a makeover to make them look more appealing to the outside world. The inner function is unchanged. My country has sent missionaries over there who were jailed, tortured and killed. This is happening there right now. Churches meet in secret. Informers are everywhere. If China is a country of free speech this would never happen.So long as you comply with country policy all will be well. If you protest, you will be made an example of.

How does any of this figure in Asian champion violinists? No matter how they approached their goal, they all deserve to be commended for the hard work they have done. Whatever factors led them to this place. They were able to excel in their art. Were they groomed? Most certainly. Is that a negative thing? Not if this was their aspiration IMHO.

September 20, 2018, 9:54 AM · @Frieda Frances, I agree it isn't as much to do with height physically. My main point being that a man with larger arms trying to make fast moves on the violin has more mass and needs to find a constructive way to deal with that as opposed to a person with smaller arms. It's basic physics is it not?
Yes, there are good violinsts with thick fingers. That doesn't disqualify the idea that having thinner fingers can be can advantage. Look at the numbers of good violinists who are of a thinner build, either male or female. Race is only a factor if A- There is an advantage to a petite build and B- There are more people in that race who fit that category.
The only deduction in that case is that more people in that race have an advantage.
Edited: September 20, 2018, 10:44 AM · I am not tall nor petite, but have crazy slim, relatively "skeleton-like", long fingers. All my technique and fingerings have to be adapted to my hand, which makes some things easier, but as mentioned above, my vibrato will never sound as "fleshy" as that of the majority of modern players, even when I play at its most intense. My 4th finger vibrato must be played at an angle to emulate more finger mass. I love my hands, but they were not "made for the violin" (or piano, for that matter-the term "piano hands" is kind of goofy, IMHO.)

Mr. Perlman claims the violin is "harder" for him due to his big, fat hands, but I doubt any of us believe him, because he made his physical tools and "deficiencies" work for him. Likewise (and teachers are-or should be-aware of this), we are all different and must learn to be the best artist-violinist we can be regardless our physique. There are many ways to play our instrument-just find out what wotks for you.

The slender fingered violinist wishes to have fatter fingers-the big hand artist wishes he/she had slimmer fingers. The grass looks greener from the other side. Adapt to your physical tools-you have what it takes, but must find your own way.

Back to this thread, due to the above, in my strong opinion no ethnicity-dare I say, even individual-was "born for the violin". Barring the most terrible of health issues, most can find a way towards solving the unique challenges offered by our instrument-and the many different, great violinists in history are more than good examples of this.

September 21, 2018, 1:05 PM · I’m at the Kreisler Competition right now, and have listened to most contestants in the first round so far.
There is a crystal clear divide between western players and Asian ones (most of them from Japan).

The Asian players are consistently better in terms of technique. 80% of the standout really good players are Asian. The general level among Asians is much higher than that of Westerners in this competition.

Note that this is a completely unbiased and objective observation.

September 21, 2018, 1:26 PM · Doubt it's "unbiased and objective", as even competition judges have such biases.

Indeed, I love the artistry of many asian players, but I don't think their expertise is related to genes, but more discipline and conscientious hard work. While these attributes may be common among "them" (in quotes because generalizations are ultimately absurd), any human being can emulate such an approach towards violin study, given a similar environment.

Not per se related, but have to add that I utterly despise and reject the all-too-common notion that asian violinists play "too homogeneously", and that they can "only" be technically accomplished-that they are somehow innately "musically challenged", according to some prejudiced views.

Without an elevated technique, there's no music. We should admire technical prowess by default, rather than seeing it as a possible "obstacle" towards higher music making.

Enjoy the competition, Mr. Reshetkin.

Edited: September 22, 2018, 11:32 PM · The Kreisler competition might not attract a similar caliber of "Westerners" (Europeans) as it does "Japanese" violinists. Being in Europe, it's possible it's getting a wider pool of European musicians but a more selective pool of Japanese players.

Timothy - there are challenges for everybody when learning how to play the violin. Adalberto explains it well.

By the way, the challenge of having large, adult male arms when first learning the violin is not relevant to these high-level competition violinists. Pretty much all of them started as children, probably by age 6, with fractional instruments available to them.

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