It is a truth universally acknowledged that every Asian kid studies piano or violin at one point in their life. While there are scientific correlations between music and intelligence, and by this logic, drum lessons are just as helpful as piano classes, no Asian parent will ever enroll their little Christopher or Vivian into Rock ‘N’ Rolling Summer Camp. While jazz music is too conceptual for Asian tastes, and rock/pop/vocal caters to white kids that aren’t serious about studying, classical music remains the epitome of good taste, wealth, and academic sophistication for all Asian parents.
In fact, parents who don’t enroll their kids into classical violin or piano are seen as odd or even improper. While Mrs. Lee might put off violin lessons until Christopher “really wants them,” she will hear Mrs. Chen brag, at every Moms Small Group church social, about Vivian’s latest Gr. 5 Piano Examination High Distinction score. It’s only a matter of months until Mrs. Lee gives into peer pressure and enrolls Christopher into his first Suzuki Violin session.
For Asian children, music lessons are a rite of passage and a cornerstone of good education. Alongside math and one’s home language, music offers a taste of the Humanities that are otherwise forbidden to these children. While creative writing, fine arts, and drama are seen as time-wasting and poverty-inducing, music (the most abstract and “mathematical” art, arguably) becomes the most appropriate way for children to express their hidden traumas and inner neuroses. Music is the one rare venue where they can channel thought into feeling.
In Richmond Hill, instrumental lessons also serve a community purpose in school and church. Many a Christopher and Vivian have grown up at the infamous Euromusic Centre and more recently, Cosmo Music. At Euromusic Centre, you will recieve tutelage from a Russian teacher (who is seen as a little more cultured, but just as strict, as Chinese instructors), and a theory education that consists of photocopied notes and Youtube clips of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Private lessons, starting at age 5, pave the way for students to take instrumental band or orchestra in high school, gain good credits for university, and stay out of street gangs and criminal activity. Band allows Asian students to bond with other Asians (and to eventually find a significant other of the same race). Academically speaking, Asians have more to gain than to lose by taking music. It’s worth noting that every Asian kid knows the bus route to Euromusic, apart from the bus to Finch (the only other route they would ever take).
The other function of music is church. As a means of spiritual and community involvement deemed appropriate by Asian moms, private music lessons allow children to eventually serve as a pianist or violinist on the Worship Team, a feat that moms can eventually brag to one another. In this case, even blues music is accepted, although parents will be puzzled should you do a dominant-7th cover of anything other than Amazing Grace. In this context, music is another means of ensuring that kids grow up right.
In Ontario, we follow the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) accreditation syllabus, which has 10 grades and an additional ARCT (think Gr. 11) level. It’s often expected that children will complete all eleven levels by the end of high school, though Grandma will throw a fit if you decide to become an actual concert violinist.
Note: I did complete my ARCT in Piano right before entering university. I took music in my first year of undergrad.