I could not agree more with Dan Aubrey’s point of view on the offer made by Chinese authorities to purchase Westminster Choir College (U.S. 1, January 30). It is a brilliant institution and hopefully can remain in Princeton, where it brings the continuing pleasures of classical music to so many in Princeton and surrounding communities.
Having lived and worked in Vietnam for a decade until returning to Princeton some years ago, I know how much Asians admire, perhaps even revere, western classical music. In the beautiful Ho Chi Minh City opera house, where I regularly attended classical music programs and exceptional ballets, the house was always packed with people, particularly youthful audiences.
From my experience, Vietnamese know little of other kinds of western music. When I tried to introduce some of my students to American jazz, they were dismayed and told me they “just didn’t understand that kind of music.”
One exception was a jazz musician, Tran Manh Tuan, who garnered large audiences of Vietnamese when he played American jazz, which he had studied on scholarship in America.
Aubrey mentions in his article Professor Hao Huang, who pointed out in another article that the Chinese interest in classical music and training is related to the culture’s tradition and the connection between classical music and the Confucian value of self-discipline.
This is true in Vietnam and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. While I was still in Vietnam, in 2011, attempts by the government to promote Confucian values of respect for authority, manners, education, and cooperation with others were evident. I believe this effort was a way of countering what authorities and many adult Vietnamese believed were some of the unacceptable western influences pouring into the country after Vietnam’s acceptance into the World Trade Organization.
The Confucian value of self-discipline, as a traditional medicine doctor once told me, “is in the mother’s milk.” He was implying that thousands of years of Confucian philosophy have had a profound impact on Asian cultures because its values have worked for the people.
Self-discipline is a value we are only now beginning to address on social media in our country. Too much freedom is as damaging as too much discipline. I think Google and Facebook are now searching for the happy medium.
Let’s give Aubrey’s words weight by reviewing his article and the possibilities it offers to keep Westminster Choir College in Princeton. That may require setting aside unwarranted biases and considering a different culture’s values and its love of an extraordinary music form that we also share.
— Libby Zinman Schwartz, Princeton