- March 31, 2010 at 10:56 am #253658
Aubrey ConnellyParticipantHello,I think my situation is unusual but not unique and I am hoping to find other choir directors with experience teaching mostly Asian students (specifically Chinese students) who are studying in America. My school is an international boarding school with over 50 percent of the students from China. My select choir of 15 is 100% Chinese students. The students represent an average mix of musical training from very low to very high but they are not accostumed to singing with passion or joy. They treat everything academically. In general, these students want to know what the pay-off will be, when is the test, how much homework will there be and how do I get an A?!? The idea of singing for fun is quite unusual to them. I have been working since August to get this group to crack a smile on stage or at least not look like they are going to a war or a funeral. Yesterday, I finally had a sit down with them where I just asked the students to tell me their feelings about the class and what their expectations are. There unanimous answer was that they can not change. Their parents expect them to get perfect grades, learn perfect English and go to the best college. Singing is an enjoyable diversion but it is not important to their parents and so it can not be important to them.Oprah says that “When someone tells you who they are, believe them!” However, I am a big old dreamer / optomist who LOVES singing and I refuse to believe that these kids can’t get some positive experience from being in choir. Up until now I have tried injecting some pop tunes, bringing in guest conductors, having the students help decorate the rehearsal space, choosing some spirituals, showing videos of Glee! in class, adding some “choralography” to get hem moving, adding some authentic Chinese music…all why trying to maintain what I think are good choral techniquesThis is the third or fourth question I have placed on this site and I always feel like I am whining. And, I could really use some help. I have been at this school for 6 years but the population change just occured this year. Previously, my choirs were a mix of students from 32 different countries. If you have experience with working with a majority of Chinese music students in America, I would love to hear from you!!!March 31, 2010 at 5:27 pm #253693
Kentaro (Ken-P) SatoParticipantI think you should forget about music/singing for a while, and find out what each student really passionate about, his/her dreams and etc… And find out about how they think about their future, parents, education systems, and entrance exams to university (or good schools), and difference between China and US etc…I think until you do that, you have no chance of reaching them.Because we all love singing and choral music here, it is sometime difficult for us to throw away our own assumptions. Sometime, it helps to nutralize the confusion by changeing the subject to something else…Like…———————I am a big old dreamer / opttimist who Loves doing calculation and I refuse to belive that these kids can’t get some positive experience from being in math class. Up untill now I have tried injecting some cool charts, bringing in famous mathmatician, having the student help designing new calculator, choosing some graphs, showing videos of Math Olympics! in class, adding some authentic Chinese old math techniques… All why trying to maintain what I think are good math skills.———————March 31, 2010 at 11:00 pm #253700
John HowellParticipantHi, Aubrey. My situation is considerably different from yours, so I don’t know whether it will be of any help. I’m at the college level, and I have a good number of Asian students in my music history class (a course for non-music majors that has a lot of engineering students in it). At the college level they still have the kind of one-track focus you describe, and the need for high grades which creates a terrible temptation to cheat, and I’ve occasionally had to deal with that. It isn’t any fun, for either me or for them, and part of the problem is learning what the expectations are in North American schools and univisities.And that seems to be the crux of your problem. When they enter North American schools, the MUST adapt! They may tell you that they can’t but that’s simply because they’ve never been asked to and they’ve never tried. I suspect that you can work with them to a larger extent than you may think–or than THEY may think!What I’ve also found is that the Asian students who are in our ensembles have the same highly-developed desire to do their best and to be the best that they have in their academic work, but in that case it works FOR you rather than against you. It’s a fact that Asian musicians learn Western music, learn it well, perform it well, and WANT to be seen to perform it well. So perhaps your approach should be to give them only the best music and challenge them to be outstanding performers in order to bring great pride to their families, rather than (a) worrying about making the music relevant to their exam-obsessed goals or (b) trying to reach them through pop music as you might American-born students. (And I say that as someone who truly believes that our choral students should have opportunities to experience ALL musical genres, including pop!)
I find that with our engineering and science students, music is often their safety valve and allows them to relax for at least a few hours a week, SO THAT THEY CAN THEN TURN TO THEIR “IMPORTANT” STUDIES REFRESHED! Perhaps that might give you a handle that they would understand.
When I was in the Air Force Band, they reminded us all the time, “When you get off this aircraft, YOU are the foreigner!” Well, your Asian students are the foreigners whose families have chosen to enroll them in American schools rather than in Asian schools. That, too, might be a handle, perhaps based on the fact that when they DO make it into the prestigious colleges they want to, it is they who must adapt because the American colleges will NOT.
For what it’s worth,
JohnApril 1, 2010 at 6:15 am #253707
This IS scary! And to think that these very people and their
ilk will someday be leaders in a nation that will constantly be
challenging our North American way of life very seriously makes me
shudder, because the only way we will be able to ‘cope’ with them
will be to ‘be’ like them. That appears to be the choice, doesn’t
it? But IS that the only choice possible?
I believe Kentaro Sato is totally on top of it when he suggests
a ‘diversion’. I understand that traditionally, when Orientals do
business, tea is first drunk, and possibly quite a lot of tea when
doing business with Occidentals! This gives both ‘sides’ an
opportunity to learn a lot about each other without getting into
business. It can go on for a long time, until both sides are
relaxed and ready. THEN they do what they came to do!
So have a ‘tea party!’ Maybe you can invite an equal number of
non-Chinese students. Maybe you will get around to discussing
music, maybe not. Maybe another tea party will be needed at a later
date. Maybe have a choir from another school (or your own?) give a
short performance and then join the party – without pushing music.
Choral singing is arguably the number one pastime in North America
when you consider all the choirs there are- school, university,
community, religious, prison, barbershop and so on. Show those less
fortunate people (and they really are) by real example what music
means to much of our nation. Let them see just how much pleasure,
satisfaction and such like that music can bring. If there really IS
something there, hopefully it will start to rub off. But don’t try
to ‘teach’ it. Change has to begin slowly.
Just out of interest – how did you manage to get a ‘select’
choir of 15 Chinese students out of 50 percent of the school
population? What happened to the other 50%? Maybe a more diverse
‘mix’ next time? Nothing like sitting beside a singer who really
Good luck – this is a real challenge, but I’m sure you’re up to
it as you’re not afraid to ask questions!April 1, 2010 at 8:57 am #253714
Aubrey ConnellyParticipantThanks for the posts so far. All good thoughts to consider. My group is Juniors and Seniors and I do not know why it is all Chinese. My concert choir is mixed nationalities as well as my piano, history and appreciation classes. But when it came time for select choir auditions, only Chinese students came out. Of course it is the closest thing to an “honors class” I teach other than AP Music Theory, which is also ALL Chinese students. hmmmmm, I guess there is a pattern.As for Korean students, I find them to be much more emotion in general. And, according to the students, Korea is significantly more westernized than China. My Korean students may start quite reserved but they relax over time.I look forward to hearing more ideas from other musicians!April 1, 2010 at 9:21 am #253716
Susan NaceParticipantHi, Aubrey,I too work with a predominantly Asian demographic in my school. The gems from previous posters are:
- Find out what each student is really (secretly, perhaps) passionate about
- give them only the best music and challenge them to be outstanding performers in order to bring great pride to their families
- music is often their safety valve and allows them to relax for at least a few hours a week, SO THAT THEY CAN THEN TURN TO THEIR STUDIES REFRESHED
You are dealing with cultural differences. You are asking them to change. How do you need to change?Wishing you wonderful music making with the students you have,Susan NaceThe Harker SchoolSan Jose, CAApril 1, 2010 at 10:56 am #253725
- Ask them to share their favorite music with you.
- Accept who they are, what their families and their culture are.
- Do some investigation into their culture and their family stories. Have them ask their parents of songs they sang as children. That will give you a lot of insight.
- Even Europeans say that Americans smile too much. One of my French students says when he is told to “Smile,” it drives him crazy. He refuses to smile under duress. 🙂
- Put yourself mentally in their shoes, or yourself in the Chinese culture where someone is asking you to be different than who you are.
- Chinese speakers (speakers of tonal languages) are more apt to have perfect pitch!
- Do not assume that they aren’t feeling the music and they aren’t getting a positive experience from being in choir because they are! They only show it in different ways.
- See your class as a refuge from the incredible stresses they are under to be perfect.
R. Daniel EarlParticipantI would add: get “Choral Charisma” by Tom Carter and “inhale it”. Get Tom to come and do a few days of workshops with you. Find DVDs of outstanding Chinese musicians – of all styles, and share them with your students – go into your community meet leaders of the Chinese community – maybe 2nd and 3rd generation. Ask them for advice. While it may not be easy, all peoples (nations) have great emotions and passions and you need to have them tap into these emotions and bring them to the music. And finally you must have and show great passion yourself – you must be willing to be vulnerable to them, to show them how important it is to show and express their feelings…………….even if it is only in your class and only with your choir. “Yes you can!” should be your mantra to them! Blessings.April 1, 2010 at 4:07 pm #253743
Jane BecktelParticipantWhen I was a small child, I found a recording of a Chinese pianist born in 1934 in Shanghai. His name is Fou Ts’ong and his playing of Chopin was so beautiful that I decided that I too, wanted to play like him. Many people tend to think that people from China cannot possibly comprehend Western music and it’s deeply emotive qualities. This is not true. I think your students need “permission” to think that it’s ok to enjoy music. They need to see examples of people from their own country playing western music with a passion.You may need to explain the concept of interpretation – that is – in western music it’s not just the dots on the page that count, it’s making decisions about the many different ways that it can be played which is important. They can’t get an A in choral singing if they just sing the dots on the page. If their singing leaves everyone feeling dead, there is no point. Their singing is worth an F. Your students probably need this actually said to them.I would require them all to watch this very short video of Fou Ts’ong (and part 2) where he is coaching Chen Sa, and happily singing his way through the music.What Fou Ts’ong is doing in this video is trying to get the best out of those little notes on the page, and your singers need to get their heads around this concept of transforming the music on the page to the real music which touches peoples’ souls. Be demanding and passionate that they understand this, and they will.April 6, 2010 at 9:55 am #254003
Interkultur GermanyParticipantHi Aubrey,Maybe you should try to give them an understanding of choral music. This video could be helpful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SCgVTMx0qg. You could also try to take part in a competition or in a kind of choir festival with your choir. They could meet other choir singers, be part of the worldwide choral community etc. This video shows some impressions of one of those choir competitions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JxqN34jyhic.It’s just an idea but maybe it could be helpful.Good luck!
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