Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Music and Dance

on October 31, 2013


Conservatoire de Paris

Conservatoire de Paris


My parents knew that Paris was the capital of the arts. So they made sure we would learn piano and dance.

My mother took me to a ballet teacher. I only went once but still remember the sweet smell of the powder used for the pointe shoes.  My sister Saadia had taken ballet for a while then, and I saw her prettily crossing her two hands over her upper chest, fingers lightly touching the shoulders, in a pink tutu and tights. But when my mother tried to take me to the dance floor, I hung on for dear life! This was another tug-of-war, just like those that took place every morning at the maternelle. So, just like that, I avoided ballet lessons.

Later in life, my sister was found to have flat feet, and my mother blamed the ballet classes and pointe shoes. Well, I don’t want to defend anyone, but surely, there are plenty of dancers out there without flat feet, so …

They found soon enough through word of mouth a Chinese piano teacher by the name of M. Huang.

To this day, I remember my first piano book. All the notes had colors. Do was black, Re was yellow, Mi was red, Fa was orange (nifty way to show the half-tone), Sol was green, La was brown and Si (not Ti) was violet. We did not use C, D, E, F G, A, B, but the solfege instead. We had to sing the notes we played.

I don’t know whether this was Teacher Huang’s own method or some well-known French method. But I am a living proof of the success of that method. Very quickly, I was able to read notes and play the piano, and sing along as well. This method enabled me to also pick out on the piano immediately any tune I could sing. Indeed, we took this skill for granted. So much so that later, in other countries, I was very surprised to find that not everyone could do that.

Then, one day, Teacher Huang entered us in the first level piano exam of the Conservatoire de Musique. Or was it some kind of audition? We went to a concert hall filled with parents and students. The  judges occupied a few seats in the first row. The hall was dark and the only lighting was on the stage with its piano, just like a real concert. When my turn came, Teacher Huang accompanied me on stage, sat next to me, and turned my pages when needed.

I remember having to play three pieces. And I clearly remember making exactly three mistakes. I was shattered. I made mistakes! That was it. We then went home. I never was told the results of the tests, and never would have known if I hadn’t been a nosy little thing. Years later, in Taipei, at the age of 13, I was browsing through my dry father (godfather)’s shelves, when I suddenly found two French-looking notebooks.

My mother had been shipping back to my dry father all superfluous baggage every time we moved to a different country. So my dry father’s apartment was a treasure trove of old mementos. I opened the first notebook and found comments from the piano judges back in the Paris Music Conservatory. This one was my sister’s performance. They all said how well she played, and what a good performer she was. Ah, well, the story of my life, I thought, Saadia is always good at everything!

Then I opened the next notebook: It was my performance comments. I read, “What a genius this child is! What amazing expression!”  and similar comments for a few lines. I was stunned. I could not believe it. Here were experts in the field telling my parents that I was a piano prodigy at the age of five or six, and my parents smiled and shelved it! And never told me!

Asian parents. Scientific fields are the only jobs worthy of a career.



One Response to “Music and Dance”

  1. sm22281 says:

    Well, we don’t know everything about that time in our parents life and why they made certain decisions. Papa & Mama were very young and attended performances like ice skating exhibitions, they were young and gay and wanted the best for us. I do know that Mama made an effort to take lessons in French for a while and she shepherded Fawzia and I to various classes, of which I frankly don’t remember anything. Fawzia recalls these early childhood memories with amazing clarity! I do know that Fawzia and I both developed childhood illnesses, maybe chicken pox? and Mama had to nurse us and it was one of the events which derailed our extracurricular education. Then there came our Aunt Lily and her marriage to Uncle Lung Chang, and the subsequent arrival of our brother, etc. Mama became very busy with child rearing duties then.

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