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Piano in Tune with Chinese Style

The piano, which was still a novelty to most Chinese people half a century ago, has struck a chord with millions of families and become a new fashion symbol much sought after by both young and old.

"You can always hear splendid music in China as long as you open your ears," said French maestro Michel Bourdoncle, "Even some young children can play the piano well."

Indeed, music is frequently heard in China, from big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and further on to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

The popularity of the piano, whose presence in China goes back just 80 years, was first triggered by the enthusiasm of Chinese parents in encouraging their children to have a pastime in the 1980s.

They spent heavily in those years, when a piano cost years of the average salary. But those pioneering parents helped nurture a large pool of musical talent, among whom was China's first international gold medallist Li Yundi.

Li was only 18 when he won the gold medal at the 14th Frederic Chopin International Piano Competition in 2000, the first Chinese national to have that honor, but by no means the only one.

His peers, including Lang Lang and Chen Sa, also showed up as dark horses in international contests.

The piano has helped bridge Chinese culture with the rest of the world. China would become a nation of pianists in the 21st century, some foreign media predicted.

Youngsters are not the only piano players in China. A survey has found that many middle-aged and senior citizens have also taken up piano lessons.

In the northeastern city of Harbin, middle-aged and elderly people account for 30 percent of piano students. White-haired couples are frequently found among teenagers and preschoolers, reading scores and practicing fingering.

The piano craze since the 1980s shows a better quality of life, higher consumption standards and an increasing demand for cultural recreation, said Bao Huiqiao, a renowned pianist.

"It has not just given birth to a group of professionals, but has changed the pattern of cultural life in many Chinese families and eventually nurtured their love of art," said Bao, also a vice-chairwoman of the Chinese Musicians' Association.

The association recently named Gulangyu, a 1.78 square-kilometer island on the southeast coast, as "an island of music." The 16,000 islanders own over 500 pianos, the largest per capita rate in China, and the country's first piano museum.

The island, home to many world-renowned Chinese musicians, hosted an international piano art festival in May.

Artistic edification is an inseparable part of the "all-round education" carried out in China, said Professor Zhou Guangren, a 74-year-old pianist.

"It enables the average person to enjoy classical music -- a splendid cultural heritage of the humanity -- and better understand the beauty of our lives," said Zhou, who became China'sfirst laureate in an international piano contest in 1951.

(People’s Daily June 21, 2002)

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