Classical pianist inspires through modern software

By Huang Lanlan Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-19 5:03:02

Pianist Kong Xiangdong Photo: Courtesy of Kong Xiangdong


The 20-square-meter room is filled with Apple devices. Scattered randomly on the desks are 20 iPhones, 15 iPads and five laptops, with a total of 280,000 apps installed on them.

This is not an Apple retail shop, but a room in pianist Kong Xiangdong's flat in Shanghai. An enthusiast of Apple applications, he has experimented on more than 300,000 apps since he got his first smart phone in 2008.

Playing the piano and using apps are the two biggest parts of his life now. "To me, using various apps is as important as eating and breathing," he said, showing off a new phone that he bought just days ago. So far, he has installed over 1,000 apps on it.

Early success

Kong, 46, is one of the most well-known pianists in China. He became the youngest prize winner in Moscow's Tchaikovsky International Competition at the age of 17, and later spent some 20 years studying and performing in over 40 countries and regions.

"Each year, I held over 300 performances around the world," he said, adding that sometimes he had to fly to three or four cities in one day. "During those years, my home was nothing more than a place for storing my luggage."

Kong started to establish music schools in 1997, and in the dozen or so years that followed he established more than 20 music schools in cities all over China. In those days, media tended to describe him as a music educator, as he was usually busy giving lectures and writing piano learning books in addition to performing.

The year 2008 became a turning point in Kong's life. That year, he wrote the song "Forever Friends" for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games with Giorgio Moroder, an outstanding Italian songwriter and performer who wrote "Hand in Hand," the official song of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. They spent a great deal of time and energy on the song, whose touching melody made it a sensation at the time.

However, to Kong's disappointment, the song was not made the official theme of the Beijing Olympic Games, which would have meant it was performed at the opening ceremony.

That year, Kong decided to turn his attention to other projects. After the Olympics, Kong faded out of the public eye and no longer put on solo concerts. He described this experience as something of a midlife crisis.

Then Kong got his first smart phone and soon became addicted to all kinds of apps. He could stay home all day long, downloading and using apps, especially those involving the production of music.

In the past six years, Kong has tried almost all the music apps available on Apple's App Store, such as music playing, composing, learning and entertainment apps.

Music by all, for all

Some apps, as Kong explained, can imitate not only the sounds of various musical instruments, but also turn complicated music scores into color lumps shown on the screen. By simply choosing a sound and touching the lumps, people can instantly enjoy the music he has "composed" and "played."

Kong is an enthusiastic advocate for music apps, as they break down barriers between musicians and music lovers, and make the creation of music easily accessible to the public. Even though the general public don't have musical expertise, he believes they can still make beautiful music.

In 1994 Kong met Moroder, co-writer of "Forever Friends," for the first time in the US, and was extremely surprised that Moroder had never received any professional musical training.

"When composing a song he just hummed its melody freely, and his four assistants would help him to write down the music," Kong recalled. That inspired him to advocate his musical concept that anyone can be a musician. Compared with knowledge and skills, musical creativity is more important and valuable, and that's where the music apps come in to empower ordinary people to compose.

For professional musicians like Kong, the new way of producing music on apps is inspiring. Not only has he tried various music apps, he is also an active user of many other multi-media phone applications, including a Chinese photo-sharing app called "Papa" that combines photos and voices allowing users to talk, sing, or record background sounds to accompany their photos.

Kong has shared more than 400 such "Papa" photos online. Each time he took a photo or downloaded a drawing online, he would later improvise a little melody on his piano or music apps based on the picture. One of the last he posted was a photo of snow-covered tree branches, accompanied by a solo piano piece. Kong named the piece "Spring Is Not Far."

Through "Papa" and some other online music-sharing platforms, Kong met a lot of app-music makers and players, only a few of whom were professional musicians.

Liberating children

In 2008, during a piano lecture in Shanghai teaching two 6-year-old children on the stage, Kong asked the kids to give examples of natural sounds instead of teaching them playing skills. "One mentioned birds singing, and the other talked about the sound of water dripping," he recalled. "Their ideas impressed me a lot."

Kong said that he disapproves of children learning to play the piano at a very young age, as "it's cruel to force little kids whose hands are not well-developed to spend hours at the piano."

That was exactly what Kong experienced himself. When he was young he was not allowed to play outside, but had to stay at home and play the piano all day. "Sometimes my mother would prick my fingers with a needle if I didn't play well."

Occasionally, the little boy was so bored and dissatisfied that he secretly "slapped" his music scores, or put the clock forward 10 minutes to end his hours of practice earlier - just as some children do today.

Over the years, he has witnessed a lot of children doing their best to pass China's piano grade exams, practicing a piece of music hundreds of times. "Music can make people happy, but the country's musical education and examination systems have killed that happiness," he said. "No one can get cheerfulness through endless repetition."

While criticizing the current musical education system in China, Kong believes that he has found better ways of helping people learn and enjoy music. In recent years, Kong has gradually closed his dozens of music schools all over China. "I will try something new - recommending useful and fun apps to the public and even creating a music app myself," he said.

Newspaper headline: Mad for music apps

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