Piano Prodigy's Mantra: Practice Makes Perfect Marc Yu, a 9-year-old musical prodigy, began learning the piano at age 2 and was playing Beethoven by 3. He says he practices up to eight hours a day. "You don't want a Beethoven piece to sound like somebody else," he says. "That's disrespectful to the composer."
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Piano Prodigy's Mantra: Practice Makes Perfect

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Piano Prodigy's Mantra: Practice Makes Perfect

Piano Prodigy's Mantra: Practice Makes Perfect

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


I'm Robert Siegel. And now, a young pianist from Pasadena.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: His name is Marc Yu. His parents are from China, and he spends a lot of time there. This week, he went to a Los Angeles studio and he played this Chopin mazurka for us.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: I met Marc Yu at a fundraising event in Washington, DC several weeks ago. It was for victims of the Sichuan earthquake. By coincidence, I was planning to interview his idol this week, the pianist Lang Lang. They're going to play together next month in London, so I thought I'd interview him, too. Here's what's so interesting about Marc Yu. He's nine years old.

Mr. MARC YU (Pianist): My legs are long enough for the pedal, but still, my legs aren't straight. Sometimes, your leg has to be straight for a pedal, but mine's not lented for a pedal. But I sometimes have to sit close to piano or stretch my legs. My left hand can reach an octave - not fast. My right hand - not yet.

SIEGEL: So you can stretch over eight notes with your left hand, but - well, obviously, you'll pretty soon have a longer reach than that. I mean, you're just - it's just a matter of growing into the piano, huh?

Mr. YU: Yeah.

SIEGEL: You know, you're now nine years old. When did you start playing the piano? How old were you when you began?

Mr. YU: I can vaguely remember it. But through all the numerous retelling through my mom, I was two. I was at a friend's party, where there were some children singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb." So I jumped on their piano and just started playing out the tune. But I can remember very well my recital debut when I was three, playing a G major sonatina by Beethoven.

SIEGEL: And when did you decide that you wanted to be a concert pianist?

Mr. YU: When I was three, I asked my mom if I could become a pianist, and then I started taking lessons from my mom, and then lessons from a teacher.

SIEGEL: And how much do you practice in order to be concert pianist?

Mr. YU: Oh, from zero to eight hours per day. It really depends whether if I'm traveling or I'm at home, even if I'm in the mood for it.

SIEGEL: Zero to eight hours. That's a very big spread. So I assume that if you do zero one day, it won't be zero the next day. How many days off can you take from practicing in a row?

Mr. YU: One.

SIEGEL: One. The next day, you'll be practicing again.

Mr. YU: Yeah. Practice makes perfect. You don't want a Beethoven piece to sound like something else. That's disrespectful to the composer.

SIEGEL: And do you also have to do other school work during the day? Are you going to a regular school, or do you have a tutor? How does that work?

Mr. YU: My mom actually homeschools me, and I have a lot of time to play. And I've many friends whom I play with.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. YU: I think other kids are missing out, because they're confined to a school five days a week and seven hours per day.

SIEGEL: Well, I want you to tell me a little bit about what's going to happen in August when you play at the Proms in London, the famous promenade concerts. You're going to play a duet, I gather, with Lang Lang.

Mr. YU: Yes. I'm going to play a four-handed piece with Lang Lang by Schubert.

SIEGEL: Playing with Lang Lang sounds like it's going to be very exciting at the Proms in London.

Mr. YU: Yes. I'm very excited. It's like winning a lottery or, like, dining with muses or other gods. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: He's a hero of yours, Lang Lang is.

Mr. YU: So exciting. Yeah.

SIEGEL: How do you explain to people your gift for this? How - why do you think you have this talent? Where does it come from?

Mr. YU: I have to thank my mom for that, because even though when I was still an embryo inside her tummy, she would play music from famous pianists on a CD, or she herself would sing tunes, nursery rhymes, or play some Beethoven for me.

SIEGEL: Well, when you performed in Washington at the fundraising for victims of the Sichuan earthquake, you chose a piece by Chopin to play. And I'd like you to explain why you played that piece, and then, if you could, play it for us.

Mr. YU: Sure. I will play it. I will tell why I chose that piece, first.


Mr. YU: Because Chopin wrote that piece for the victims of the Polish-Russian War. That's why I played that piece for the Chinese victims in the earthquake tragedy. Yeah.

(Soundbite of music, "Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor")

SIEGEL: Chopin's "Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor," played by nine-year-old pianist Marc Yu. You can hear more of his playing at npr.org.

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