Piano players from across the country traveled to Shanghai for the finals of the 13th Shanghai International Youth Piano Competition which took place from Aug 27 to 29.
While more than 760 amateur and professional pianists took part, it was a drop of about 400 from last year, Lu Haijun, director of the organizing committee of the competition, says. Lu adds that the response can still be considered overwhelming given the current circumstances.
In fact, the first round of the competition in July attracted even more participants than last year.
"This clearly shows that music is something that many hold dear, even during these unique times. When people were isolated at home, they resorted to playing music. When we were allowed to gather once more, many have responded to the call," Lu says.
This was the case for Gong Shengzhe, a 15-year-old from Wuhan, Hubei province, who came to Shanghai with her parents for the competition. Shengzhe has been playing the piano since she was 5.
Shengzhe "witnessed fear and uncertainty among the people of Wuhan", and she remembers how the empty streets were in stark contrast to the hospitals that were brimming with patients.
"Thankfully, music was always by my side," Shengzhe says. "While many people were anxious about the impact caused by the epidemic, practicing the piano helped me calm down when dealing with the string of changes in school schedules and life."
"Practicing the piano is not just about learning music. It is also about the cultivation of qualities needed to handle challenges," says Tang Xin, a doctor with the general surgery department at Tongji Hospital Affiliated to Tongji Medical College, the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan.
While accompanying her twins who were participating in the competition, Tang recalls that her 7-year-old daughters often cried when learning a new piece, but the distress soon gave way to courage and confidence.
"Such courage will grow and become part of their personality through daily practice," Tang explains, adding that it is such courage that has helped them face difficulties, such as the health crisis.
Music also served as a source of courage for Tang herself, when she was toiling at front line of the battle against the pandemic. "It was an extremely tough time for all frontline medical workers, and music was something that supported me at a time when I needed to be physically and mentally strong," she says.
Ding Quan, a judge in the competition and the founder of Shanghai Canyin, a chain of piano schools, says that he believes people who continue practicing music in times of adversity will inherently develop strength of character.
"Practicing the piano, which requires dedication and diligence, not only hones the skills to play a piece but also shapes personality development, allowing people to become calmer, more sophisticated and thoughtful about their life and future," Ding says.
An Tianxu, who is currently an undergraduate student majoring in piano at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia in the United States, says that music has always been intrinsically linked to major challenges faced by society, pointing out that tragedies have very often fueled the creation of masterpieces that have influenced generations of people.
An himself was affected by the pandemic. A concert tour of 15 Chinese cities that he was due to participate in was canceled because of the pandemic outbreak.
But An, who won the 2010 competition, has chosen to focus on the positive amid the gloom.
"From another perspective, recent months have provided professional piano players with more time to practice. For anyone who wants to forge a career as a professional pianist, it's important to grow and hone their repertoire," he says.
Zhou Xiaowei, 45, who started learning the instrument seven years ago while accompanying her daughter for piano lessons, agrees with this sentiment.
Zhou says: "The past several months of home isolation have provided me with the rare opportunity to practice the instrument for hours every day. I can feel that this has helped to improve my character.
"I used to be easily irritated by trivial matters, but this is no longer the case.
"Learning the piano has also taught me that there are endless possibilities to life even though I'm already middle-aged. The sense of spiritual gratification that I get from playing the piano is just incomparable."