Friday, October 8, 2010

Justified Jingoism

In his September Diary, John Derbyshire shares a quote from the American music critic James Huneker regarding Chopin's Etude Op. 25 No. 11: "Small-souled men, no matter how agile their fingers, should not attempt it." Derb kindly linked a video of a performance of this piece by young Korean pianist, Yeol Um Son, who made quite an impression on him. Me, too. Here's the video:

I had an interesting thought on watching this. I emailed Derb about it; I'll just share what I wrote him:

Reading your follow-up today I was struck by something you didn't explicitly address: Ms. Yeol is Korean, and yet she's devoted her life to studying and sharing music written by a bunch of dead white Europeans. How many Westerners have taken the time and effort necessary to become virtuosos of another culture's classical music? I would guess the answer is in the dozens. I say this not to tut-tut the West, but rather as a bit of unashamed cultural jingoism. Our culture produced this, and its surpassing worth is so universally evident that millions of students in east Asia -- confident and economically-successful cultures all -- choose to study it rather than the products of their own well-developed cultures. We're happy to share it, of course. Makes me awfully proud of my heritage, and also a bit guilty that I haven't studied it better, at least in this particular realm. I think Ms. Yeol has inspired me to fix that.

And she has. Also to get back to practicing piano.

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