John OlsonJOHN OLSON DISCUSSED TEACHING ACROSS CULTURAL LINES
Long-time MTNA member and professor of piano at Eastern New Mexico University, Dr. John Olsen, headlined the Conference workshop with his presentation, “Teaching the Chinese Student Piano.” Reprising his talk from the 2011 PMTNM conference in Portales, Olsen highlighted several types of factors that have an impact on success, or lack thereof, in the piano studio with Chinese students.
Chief among the challenges Western music teachers face in teaching Chinese piano students is the obvious language obstacle. Within this obstacle a more complex underlying issue is the component of “tones” in the Chinese language—subtle nuances that change the enunciation almost imperceptibly to the Western ear. However, these inflections can significantly alter the meaning of the word.
Another challenge involves values and attitudes about accomplishment and achievement:
*Chinese culture is not individual-centered as ours is. Chinese people want to conform and fit in, to “do it right.”
*Chinese are very competitive, so the idea of a workshop to share ideas shocks them.
Finally, a third set of challenges involves repertoire and expression in music making.
*Chinese emphasize drama and volume of sound. Thus, the repertoire they teach tends to focus on Liszt, Rachmaninov and Chopin.
*Western piano teachers have to work hard to nurture expressiveness in playing. Olsen described requiring students to listen to singers such as Caballe and Corelli to understand the concept of “singing line” in performing piano literature. He also recommended using Haydn’s sonatas as a means to teach short phrases.
Olsen praised the work ethic of the Chinese students as well as the fact that Chinese students are respectful, polite, and gentle.
Bringing it all together, Olsen offered the characteristics required to be a great pianist: 1) talent, 2) interest, 3) persistence & 4) personality.

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