Korean pianist promotes a pedagogy of joy

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Korean pianist promotes a pedagogy of joy


Chang Hae-won was one of Korea’s first pianists. She recently published a new piano lesson book for instructors through the Piano Society of Korea, where she serves as chairwoman, to promote her vision of piano driven by joy. [KIM HYE-JUN]

Most Koreans remember a time from their childhood when they were forced to sit at a piano and plunk out melodies from a lesson book.

But while this way of learning may improve technique, it doesn’t teach people to derive joy from their playing, according to Chang Hae-won, a professor emeritus at the College of Music at Ewha Womans University.

She is one of Korea’s first professional pianists, and has spent the last 30 years helping others advance their careers.

Chang has a long list of accomplishments in addition to serving as the dean of Ewha’s College of Music.

In 1990, she founded the Piano Society of Korea to support professional Korean pianists who want to get the lessons they would need to perform on the international stage.

In 1998, she founded the Ewon Cultural Center to provide professional pianists with cultural opportunities, including lectures by Korea’s most renowned literary figures like Pak Kyong-ni and Ko Un.

And in February, she published her own piano lesson book for instructors that shows a way of teaching that emphasizes joy over rote memorization.

The JoongAng Daily sat down with Chang to discuss how Korean piano education can be improved and how her book, developed with the Piano Society of Korea, provide a new path into the future.

Q. What is the current state of piano education in Korea?

A. For those who are going to be professional musicians, one-on-one lessons are necessary. But for most Korean children and adults who learn the instrument as a hobby, group lessons that allow them to learn ensemble pieces are necessary to improve their creativity. However, the very first piano education system in Korea simply copied that of Japan about a hundred years ago and the tradition still persists even nowadays.

Parents seem to have an obsession with their kids going through many piano books. When a piano institution tries to teach them in some other way, they refuse to take their children to the academy because it doesn’t use books that are written by Czerny, for example.

But even though they have been trained by completing many books, they cannot provide accompaniment to other songs. I think that is because Korean piano educators lack a system in which they can teach students effectively, such as group lessons.


Many Korean children learn Piano from books written by Carl Czerny(1792-1857), left, and Ferdinand Beyer(1803-1863), right. [SEKWANG ART]

You stress the importance of devising an effective piano book. What do you think are its most important elements?

Piano books should make students enjoy music. I tried to maintain several rules with our researchers as we devised a new book. First, I wanted to make the book very fun and entertaining, using familiar songs such as famous classical pieces and national folk songs that are widely known to people worldwide. For example, there are two Chinese songs, two Japanese songs and four Vietnamese songs, as well as melodies from the Philippines, Mongolia and Thailand.

Second, we tried to make students learn music theory and technique naturally while they are enjoying music. In addition, it instructs piano teachers to learn how to carry out ensemble lessons as the book gives special music scores to support elementary-level students.

You have been involved in piano education for three decades. What makes you keep on going, and what is your final objective?

These days, many Korean pianists go abroad to get advanced musical education. But those in the 1980s and ’90s rarely had the opportunity to do so. I wanted to help professional pianists, so I asked maestros to come to Korea to teach them, such as Lazar Berman, Badura Scoda, David Burge and many others after I set up Piano Pedagogy Seminar. I thought it is one way I can contribute to my country.

Now, I want to let people in other parts of the world enjoy the piano. Fortunately, our book is going to be published in Vietnam as well. I also plan to send professional pianists from our piano society abroad to countries in need of piano education, where they will teach piano instructors. This way, the joy of piano can be disseminated around the world. We have already initiated the project in Korea by going to Cheonan once a week. I believe Korea can influence others not only by providing instruments, but with our own software, including piano books and professional teachers.


BY KIM HYE-JUN [kim.hyejun@joongang.co.kr]
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