Some professions require intensive training from a very young age in order to hone their abilities.
So, we asked Japanese musicians and an actress about their early arts and music education. Specifically, we wanted to know: what is most important when teaching and training children the arts and music?
Eru Gibson (actress / puppeteer), Takashi Harada (Ondes Martenot player / composer), and Hisano Ishioka (pianist), who all have been performing on stage together for children in Japan, have extensive experience in this field.
A common stereotype regarding the Asian approach to education is that it can be tough and highly regimented, but Eru explained that Japan is actually known for lenient discipline to children.
Let’s ask each of these artists how they feel about art education.
“My late grandfather, Shozo Mikame, was an oil painter. He once taught at a junior high school, but gave every child an “A”. The school principal told him to change his approach to achieve more of a balance, and asked him to choose some children to receive “B” or “A-”. However, my grandfather quit the job. He believed that the children would be traumatized by a negative grade.”
Eru said: “He taught me that all children are great artists.”
At the same time, children who want to become professional artists also need strict guidance.
Hisano Ishioka, one of the most well-known pianists in Japan says: “Music itself is no different for a hobbyist or a professional. However, the amount of time each spends practicing varies greatly.
For example, in the case of classical music, there are differences according to the time period and style, so it is necessary to impart knowledge and insight into what is being written and what the composer is trying to convey, while respecting the work that has been created.
However, in the case of children, even if they lack the requisite knowledge, they have a great deal of sensitivity and a wealth of ideas about how they would like to express themselves, so I think it is necessary to avoid giving them too much knowledge.”
Hisano currently teaches piano to individual students as young as four and offers solfege group lessons to students between the ages of 8 and 15.
She is well known for adjusting her teaching style depending on whether it is a private or group lesson.
She believes that the most important thing for a child’s education is to avoid putting them into categories or make assumptions based on their individual abilities, personalities, or interactions.
“For example, when I ask my students a question and they get quiet or don’t answer right away, instead of concluding that they don’t feel or think anything, I try to consider what each child is thinking but cannot express via words. Perhaps, they are afraid to talk to others. Even if the interaction is not easy, we should not assume that students are not thinking anything or that they don’t care. If I take the time to consider the talents of each individual, what to do next, and how to pitch my lesson, the learning process will come naturally.”
“The only role of the educator is to guide the child so that he or she becomes interested in and enjoys the subject,” explained Takashi Harada, the world’s leading Ondes Martenot player, who performs around the world.
“It is true that there are basic skills and information to be learned and acquired in every field. However, it would be a pity if the child comes to dislike a subject simply because it was hastily forced upon him.
If the child enjoys the subject, he will move on to the next task on his own without being told or forced to do so.
There is no such thing as an early or late start. For the first year or two, just quietly watch over the child and praise him day by day.
It’s not about how fast the pages of the book go by, it’s about how hard he works at it every day.
If the child doesn’t have the love to devote time and effort to the activity without sleep or food and without an adult telling them what to do, that child will not have the power to move an observer’s heart, even if they can make a career out of their artistic pursuit in the future.”
Takashi Harada has been performing as a soloist with an orchestra in more than 20 countries and has enjoyed witnessing children watching classical concerts in Europe.
“When I worked in Teatro alla Scala in Milan, they invited a group of preschoolers to attend the rehearsal. This meant that adults in the audience would not have to worry about the kids potentially misbehaving during the actual performance, while the children would have the opportunity to appreciate music as well. It is very important to get the chance to see and feel arts and music with one’s own heart. In Europe, it is not so odd for children to attend events and rehearsals normally reserved for adults.”
Eru continues by saying: “In the USA, some schools use acting as a means of therapy for children. For example, when they play the role of a bully or the parent of a child who has been bullied, they will learn how they feel about these topics.”
Eru has been entertaining audiences at various children shows in Los Angeles. She also teaches youth group acting and improvisation. “Improvisation can be therapeutic too. It allows children to train their daily communication skills. Plus none of the actors should care too much how the audience perceives them if they are using acting as a form of therapy. If you become a professional performer, you need to consider whether the audience will be touched by your work. This is why it is crucial to experience ‘being an audience’ from an early age. If teachers push too much, children forget how their heart feels. In the worst-case scenario, they may hesitate to even watch certain shows due to the effects of traumatizing training. Teachers have to strike a balance in order for children to love what they are doing for a long time.”
It is important to be exposed to real forms of art from an early age, as this allows children to love the arts with their own heart and become professional artists in the future. We adults can encourage them, but we should not push them too much. Japan is known around the world for its high educational standards and we certainly get some good influences from them.
Thank you all for the interview!