Lang Lang: Playing with Flying Keys

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HE STARTED LEARNING to play the piano when he was three years old in Shenyang, China. Today he is one of the world’s most outstanding pianists. In this engrossing life story, adapted by Michael French, Lang Lang not only recounts the difficult, often thrilling, events of his early days, but also shares his perspective on his rapidly changing homeland. He thoughtfully explores the differences between East and West, especially in the realm of classical music and cultural life. Shining through his rags-to-riches ...

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Overview

HE STARTED LEARNING to play the piano when he was three years old in Shenyang, China. Today he is one of the world’s most outstanding pianists. In this engrossing life story, adapted by Michael French, Lang Lang not only recounts the difficult, often thrilling, events of his early days, but also shares his perspective on his rapidly changing homeland. He thoughtfully explores the differences between East and West, especially in the realm of classical music and cultural life. Shining through his rags-to-riches story of a child prodigy who came of age as a renowned musician, Lang Lang’s positive spirit, his dynamic personality, and his enduring passion for music will inspire readers of all ages. Includes a 16-page photo insert.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
Flamboyant Chinese pianist Lang Lang shares with young readers his story of childhood struggle, his deep love for music, and his father's fanatical determination to make him the greatest pianist in the world. In this adaptation by Michael French of Lang Lang's autobiography for adults, three strands appear, each of which could make a book in itself. One is the story of a young musician's struggle against heavy odds—poverty, an entrenched musical establishment, and the need for complete sacrifice of a normal childhood to reach an almost impossible goal. The second, and very fascinating, is the psychological study of the boy's father Lang Guoren, who, deprived of a musical career himself, was fanatically obsessed with his ambition to make his son "number one" in the world of classical piano. For this he was willing to make any sacrifice, demand any effort from his son and his wife, to forego affection for complete control of his son, and to control his son's career to whatever extent possible,. Does this bring true success for Lang Lang? The third story is the contrast between the Chinese musical world, where technical brilliance and the vanquishing of all other competitors reigns supreme, and the notion in the West that musical success includes individual variation, musicality, and interpretation, without which technical skill is shallow. Since some critics believe that Lang Lang is too much the showman—too focused on his amazing technique and memory—young readers, especially musicians, might ponder these issues and the implications for their own careers. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
Library Journal

This richly descriptive memoir presents the keen thoughts of an intelligent, sensitive, and thoroughly modern young man: Lang Lang, one of the world's greatest pianists. It illustrates his life as a child prodigy, offers intimate details about his unusual family, reveals his musical influences, and discusses his life in China as well as shares insightful observations about the rest of the world. Actor/narrator Feodor Chin adeptly re-creates people of all ages and accents, with Lang Lang and his father being the standouts; their anger, frustration, competitiveness, and love for each other never waver. Public, academic, and special libraries serving music students/lovers must add this outstanding and interesting title to their collections. [Audio clips available through www.booksontape.comand www.randomhouse.com/audio.-Ed.]
—Susan G. Baird

School Library Journal

Gr 6-9

Winning his first piano competition in his native China at age five, Lang Lang had only one thought in mind from the beginning: to be "Number One." While his accolades have been many, his trials have been equally numerous, for he was forced to spend most of his childhood away from his kind and loving mother and under the ever-watchful eye of his strict father. He suffered tremendous homesickness and had to learn to cope with situations far beyond those normal for his chronological age in order to realize his dream of being an internationally known pianist on the classical circuit. This boy wonder explains his life as the pampered only child of parents who placed all of their hopes in him. His father definitely went over the edge, at one point even begging his 10-year-old son to overdose on pills because he had "lost face"-a part of the story that is sure to horrify readers. The book includes a glossary of Western composers with Lang Lang's personal commentary about their strengths and styles. Much like Li Cunxin's Mao's Last Dancer (Walker, 2008), this is the story of a young man determined to make something of himself, not only for his own sake, but also for the sake of his family. However, unlike the former, which places the personal story within the political context of Maoist China, Lang Lang is a totally personal tale. Nevertheless, because of the youthfulness of the author, his autobiography could serve as an additional purchase for libraries building modern-biography and/or Chinese-culture collections.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI

Kirkus Reviews
This Chinese-born pianist enjoys a worldwide career as a soloist, with performances so exciting and dramatic that staid concertgoers stand up and cheer. He literally owes his fame and achievements to his musician father, who pushed, cajoled, schemed, screamed, threw his toys out the window and otherwise dominated Lang Lang's childhood while leaving his mother as the family breadwinner. The Chinese music world of the 1980s and '90s stressed technical proficiency through competitions; Lang Lang excelled. It was only while studying in Philadelphia that he learned about musicianship. A last-minute substitution for a scheduled performer brought him fame and a career. American readers will be struck by the harshness of his childhood, the petty jealousies of his teachers and his maniacal daily practice schedule. It's a fascinating and engrossing portrait of a different life-and not just for those considering a career in music: It's also food for thought for soccer moms and dads. The author includes a listing of his favorite things and favorite Western composers. Adapted from Lang Lang's autobiography for adults. (Memoir. 12 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385735780
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 7/8/2008
  • Pages: 240
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 900L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Lang Lang is a renowned classical pianist who has performed with major orchestras all over the world. Although he is on tour most of the time, he has homes in Philadelphia, China, and Berlin.

Michael French has adapted Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley and Ron Powers, and is the author of more than 20 books. He lives in Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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Read an Excerpt

Lang Lang: Playing with Flying Keys
By Lang Lang
Delacorte Books for Young Readers Copyright © 2008 Lang Lang
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780385905640


I have many early childhood memories. Like strands in a tapestry, they weave a mixed impression--joy, hardship, hope, sadness, struggle, and success. Some strands stand out in vivid detail.

When I was two years old, a simple barracks apartment on the Shenyang air force base was our home. My father, a thin man of average height, was the silent type. In fact, he was stern and I have no memory of him smiling. He played professionally in the air force orchestra. We had very few luxuries, but they included an upright piano purchased by my parents when my father grew convinced I had a special gift for music. My mother later told me I could read musical notes before I learned the alphabet, and with my unusually large hands and long fingers, I loved gliding my fingertips on the keys. Of course, I couldn't touch the pedals. In fact, I could only touch the keys by placing pillows on my piano bench. But my father said I was creating music, that I knew intuitively when the notes harmonized. Most important to me, I was filling my ear with beautiful sounds that in turn filled my imagination with incredible stories I made up as I played for hours at a time.

In the air force orchestra my father played the erhu--a popular folk instrument with two strings, a cross between a violin and a small bass--but he told my mother from the beginning that I should be taught the piano.

"The piano is the most beloved instrumentin the world," he declared, and she agreed. My father, whose name is Lang Guoren, was my first teacher.

***

Zhou Xiulan also loved music. My mother had grown up listening to Peking opera on the radio with her parents, and when she was a teenager, she developed a lyrical voice. She dreamed of singing in a concert. But as it did to my father, the Cultural Revolution started in the 1960s. My parents' families were either property owners or intellectuals, and middle-class. My parents and their families moved from their homes in the city to distant rice farms, where they worked long hours. My parents lived in the countryside for five years. They did not know each other at that time.
When he was twenty-five years old, before he was married to my mother, my father applied for admission to the Shenyang Conservatory of Music. He was now back home and determined to forge a career for himself. His talent and dedication to the erhu were extraordinary, and among all the applicants that year he placed first on two entrance exams. But at the last moment, on a trumped-up technicality, he was denied admission.

I don't think his soul ever quite healed. I didn't understand any of this until I was older, but almost from the beginning, I felt his frustration and his high expectations for me.

"Practice, Lang Lang. Practice day and night. Do not dream of anything but being the best pianist you can be," he would say to me over and over.

My mother told him he was too strict, and sometimes he was, but his will almost always prevailed. "Don't pamper our son," he declared if he caught my mother reading me a story with my head against her shoulder. "He should be playing the piano, not listening to silly tales. He has a gift, but it means nothing without hard work. You're only spoiling him."

"He's just a little boy," she countered. "All boys need time to play and dream."
"He has his dream. Now go, Lang Lang, and play your lessons until it is time for supper."

I dreamed often the dream my father had for me, to become a great pianist. While I sometimes watched cartoons on a neighbor's television, played with other children on the air force base, and created my own fantasies around the stories my mother read to me, most of my time was occupied by the piano. I knew of other children in Shenyang who practiced long hours. They too dreamed of one day being admitted to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. I had to play longer and better than my competition. My father and I would have it no other way.

By the time I started school at age seven, Lang Guoren had fashioned an unyielding schedule for me:

5:45 a.m.: Get up and practice piano for an hour.
7:00 a.m.: Go to school.
Noon: Come home for a fifteen-minute lunch, then forty-five minutes of piano.
After school: Two hours of practice before dinner and a chance to watch some cartoon shows.
After dinner: Two more hours of practice, then homework.

When I finished any homework and crawled into bed, it was late at night.
On occasion, when my father wasn't around, I would take a break from the piano and hang around my mother, helping her in the kitchen or listen to her wonderful stories. I knew how much she loved me by the way she doted on my smile and never tired of my tireless questions.

I wanted to know everything about my mother's and father's families and how my parents had met and fallen in love. At first her father had not approved of Lang Guoren because he failed to win admission to the conservatory and he had no job prospects. But my father was persistent in all things, and when he was selected for the air force orchestra, my grandfather finally accepted his daughter's stubborn young suitor into the family.

My parents were married in April 1980, and a little more than two years later, on June 14, 1982, I came into this world by the skin of my teeth. My mother told me that the umbilical cord was wrapped so tightly around my neck that my face was green. The doctor had to work quickly.

"You mean I almost died," I answered, terrified by the thought, whenever she told this story.

"No, my child. You didn't die because you had work to do. You had music to bring into the world."

I would be my parents' first and only child, because in order to preserve its resources for a swelling population, the government began a one-child-per-family policy only in the city. This meant both my parents lavished an incredible amount of attention on me. While my mother's natural inclination was to nurture and indulge me, my father expected near perfection from his piano prodigy. After I turned three, every night he asked how many hours I had practiced that day. If my answer didn't please him, I would abandon whatever I was doing and go back to the piano. It was as if he thought a clock alone could determine my future. Because of the one-child policy, many children born in the 1980s were pushed and pressured by their parents. My experience of being pressed to the limit by my father was not the exception. Parents who had not achieved their own dreams put all their unrealized hopes onto their one and only child. This was especially true for future musicians, but it applied in the areas of sports and science as well.

What he didn't understand, and I was too young to explain, was the relationship between watching television or having my mother read to me and becoming a great pianist.


From the Hardcover edition.

Continues...

Excerpted from Lang Lang: Playing with Flying Keys by Lang Lang Copyright © 2008 by Lang Lang. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    Great

    This is the best book for young (or old) pianists. It gives us a life lesson abouthow hard it is in china. Almost the same as BATTLE HYM OF THE TIGER MOTHER. Almost. Great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 8, 2011

    Must Read!

    This book was made as a children's version of his other book, Journey of a Thousand Miles.

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  • Posted March 3, 2011

    Egomania

    Weird, he has two autobiographies out already, and both cover the same materials. The other one is unavailable in e-format. This one is easy to read on the nookcolor. The problem is he really hates his father and most of his teachers in China, while constantly kissing up to his Jewish teachers and mentors whom he met after he came to the U.S. Disgusting fellow.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 2, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Jaglvr for TeensReadToo.com

    The name Lang Lang should be a household word by now. Performing in the Bird's Nest for the Opening Ceremony at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, over 34.9 million viewers in the U.S. alone tuned in to watch. For many, this was their first introduction to the musical phenomena from China. At only 26 years of age, Lang Lang has accomplished more than many twice his age. <BR/><BR/>Starting at a young age, when most of us aren't even out of diapers yet, Lang Lang showed an affinity for the piano. Not being able to reach the pedals, and needing pillows under him to reach the keys, Lang Lang was a prodigy. <BR/><BR/>Coming from a humble background from the city of Shenyang, located northeast of Beijing, the only chance of any future in classical piano for Lang Lang would come if he could gain acceptance to the conservatory in Beijing. But he would have to place in the top eight to win one of the precious scholarships. Lang Lang's family could ill afford for him to attend without the scholarship. His family had sacrificed everything for him to get this far. His father left his job in Shenyang to travel to Beijing to be with Lang Lang. Lang Lang's mother remained in Shenyang to be the breadwinner of the family and support both Lang Lang and his father. <BR/><BR/>Spurred by his father's demand to be the best and Number 1, Lang Lang enters piano competitions, aspiring to be the best in China, then Europe, and ultimately the world. After winning the prestigious Tchaikovsky prize in Japan, he is admitted to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. While there, he continues his training, awaiting his lucky break into the world of classical piano. <BR/><BR/>LANG LANG: PLAYING WITH FLYING KEYS is a truly inspiring story. It tells of one young man's struggles to overcome poverty and his country's disdain to become one of the world's most renowned classical pianists. Through trials and triumphs, Lang Lang always retains his love for the piano. He shares his love of music with the reader. The writing style flows easily for younger readers to enjoy. The story is truly inspirational and one that celebrates the spirit of music.

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    Posted May 22, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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