A Thousand Miles

I’m drawn to this guy. He’s extravagantly expressive, has a flair for the dramatic and tend to overemphasize his emotions through the white and black keys. Yes, he is definitely a fellow emo.

Lang Lang is an outlier. Born with immense talent and placed into extraordinary circumstances, where his father had put everything on the line so that his son will live and breathe music. Lang’s father invested half of his year’s salary in order to provide his son with a piano which costs $300. The relationship between the two is an interesting case study on parenting, where on one hand you have a parent who have this extraordinary, unrelenting belief and will to ensure his son becomes Number 1 and on the other, a young kid being pushed to the brink by the immense pressure placed on him. Perhaps like a typical Asian parent, Lang Guoren understood the importance of hard work as compared to having sheer talent and could only drill this truth into Lang Lang’s psyche through ways that he knew. It could be precisely what a kid of Lang Lang’s calibre needs.

Excerpt from his autobiography:

That night I practiced the piece according to my new directions. I knew I had no choice, but I also knew that I was dealing with a teacher who wouldn’t be happy with me no matter what I did. When I returned to her studio a week later and played the Beethoven with more force, she shook her head.

“Something is still missing,” she said.

“What?” I wanted to know.

She didn’t have an answer for me.

“You’re not listening to me!” she shouted.

“I’m trying,” I said helplessly.

“Don’t talk back to the professor!” my father screamed.

I fought back tears, and because I was so upset, I made several mistakes when I played the piece again.

My father was furious. That night he threw a hard leather shoe at me. The anger behind his action hurt even more than the blow.

“You are letting us all down,” he said. “You are letting down your mother, you are letting me down, you are letting down yourself! You are bringing shame on your family!”

His accusations against me got wilder. He had never talked to me this way before. He’d had no need to. I was a star pupil in Shenyang, but in Beijing I had lost my shine, and the more Professor Angry criticized me, the crazier my father became. Deep down, he may have detected the inconsistency of her critiques, but because he was a man who respected authority implicitly, he wasn’t prepared to challenge her. I felt hopeless and filled with despair.

Things have to get better, I thought to myself. But they only got worse.

A journey of a thousand miles indeed. I can’t imagine going through that kind of a childhood. There is a price for fame and fortune. But I’m glad at least Lang Lang loves what he does best – hitting keys with scintillating virtuosity and uninhibited emotions.

But those disruptive episodes seem to have left few noticeable aftereffects, and in talking with students – something he likes to do often – Lang makes sure to come off as approachable and nonjudgmental. One young piano student, he said, confessed her embarrassment about not being able to tackle the more technically difficult pieces her peers were working on.

“I told her, this doesn’t mean you’re not a good pianist, it just means you should find pieces you can play well and not be embarrassed.

After what you have gone through, I applaud you Lang Lang.


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