In most countries, children choose to learn an instrument because they’re drawn to the sound it makes, or because their parents gently nudge them toward the most practical or accessible option. But in one Chinese grade school, children as young as 8 years old are being pre-selected to learn specific instruments based on their physical attributes.
Didi Kirsten Tatlow, a New York Times contributor whose daughter is currently enrolled in a Beijing public elementary school, likens the policy to a kind of eugenics for music. At a parent-teacher meeting, her daughter’s teacher elaborated on the unsettling policy. “For the best band, we’ve chosen the best students and the best teachers,” he said matter-of-factly. “Your kids were chosen not because they want to play this or that instrument, but because they have long arms, or the right lips, or are the right height, say for the trumpet, or the drums.”
Tatlow (whose daughter was chosen to play the drums and reportedly loves it) and some of the other parents were understandably troubled by the notion that their children were being treated like “they were horses in the market.” The idea is to produce the best-possible band to travel overseas and dazzle audiences, but one has to wonder about the lesson that’s being taught when a kid is turned down for the cello simply because her arms aren’t long enough. The policy also begs another question: How far do physical attributes — especially the still-developing attributes of 8-year-olds — go in determining musicianship?
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