In the early morning of March 30, 2019, the heartening news came from the United States that Ding Yidi (English name: Andy Ding), the Chinese 7-year-old child was admitted to the Pre-College Department of the Juilliard School, which is thought of as the ‘Harvard of music schools’ in the music profession. It is reported that Andy will be the youngest student in the Juilliard School after enrolment in September.
The Juilliard School is one of the world’s top music institutes and gaining admission is even more difficult than Harvard University. Since its establishment in 1965, it has cultivated many top performers and achieved several generations of world-class artists. Artists like Miles Davis, the jazz musician; Robin Williams, the film star; James Levine, the director of the Metropolitan Opera House; John Williams, the popular composer in Hollywood; and Yo-Yo Ma, the most famous Chinese musician in classical music, all graduated from the Juilliard School.
Picture 1: The Juilliard School
It is understood that this year, more than 6,000 outstanding candidates applied for the Juilliard School, having sent their own video works. No more than 100 candidates received the interview notification, and the admitted ones were even fewer. Ding Yidi successfully received the interview notice and went to New York for a second-round audition in February this year. With the music flowing from his fingertips, full of life and soul, and integrating body and mind, Andy impressed all the professors and judges receiving unanimous approval.
The jury commented that Ding Yidi had an innate ability to attract people’s attention to his performance. His rare ability is extremely important and valuable for professional pianists.
Ding Yidi was born in Shanghai in August 2011. He received music enlightenment at four and a half. At the age of 5, he began to study piano formally and learned from Professor Zhou Keng, the Director of International Piano Academy of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music; James Brawn, the British pianist and Steinway artist; Professor Liu Nianqu, the famous composer and improviser ; Chen Jie, one of ten young pianists in China; as well as Dr. Shu and Jin Mang of Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Here, Yidi’s parents gratefully acknowledge all his teachers for their attentive cultivation of Ding Yidi.
I am fortunate in having had the opportunity to interview Ding Yidi and his father. I asked, “Andy, were you nervous during the interview? The students taking the audition with you are older brothers and sisters from all over the world, they’ve been playing the piano longer than you, and they’re very capable. When you were competing with them, were you nervous?”
Yidi smiled naively and brilliantly, with childishness and naughtiness, he answered me, “I was not nervous at all. After playing, I saw several judges laughing and giving me the thumbs-up!” Then, he went under the piano and his father added that Yidi had passed the second-round exam with ease, including music theory knowledge, performance audition and English proficiency test.
While listening to his father’s introduction, I was even more curious about how Yidi’s musical ability was cultivated.
Yidi’s father told me that Yidi was a sunny, happy “little warm man” with a brilliant smile on his face. When he sat on the piano bench, he felt calm and affectionate. His piano sounds were as if an adult was playing; however, when he jumped off the piano bench, he was completely a childish boy, showing the lively and naughty side of a 7-year-old person. The most gratifying thing for his parents is that he is very caring, imaginative and full of love for life.
There was a train made of cardboard boxes in his room with 52 woolly dolls in it. In his world, all the dolls were his babies and he was their father. Every day when practicing the piano, Yidi places a few dolls on the side of the piano to let them accept the “music enlightenment”. On the day of the second-round exam in New York, he passed a boutique store, staring at the furry bear in the window and couldn’t walk. He said, “Mom, he’s so lonely. He’s calling me Dad. He’s waiting for me to pick him up. Shall we take him home?” Later, his mother bought the bear, so during his days in New York, he slept with the bear every day and told the bear his stories of Juilliard’s exam.
Picture 2: Ding Yidi and his favorite baby
It is precisely because of this kind of innocence that his imagination is well reflected in music. When playing Liszt’s music, he feels Liszt talking to him; when playing Bach’s music, he feels Bach lying in the music and listening to him. One day when he was playing Bach’s works, he suddenly stopped and said to his mother sitting beside him earnestly, “Mom, you see, I played Bach alive, and he sat up from the music.” His mother was shocked when she heard it, and it took a few minutes for her to recover. At that time, Yidi was only five years old.
Yidi’s father also said that they attach great importance to the all-round development of children’s morality, intelligence and physique, and to the cultivation of his cultural heritage, because studying a subject to a high level must be based on one’s foundation and cultural heritage too. Therefore, in addition to the piano, they usually take Yidi to watch Chinese and foreign classical concerts, rock and roll, drama, dance, children’s chorus, musicals and so on; and take him to visit art exhibitions of painting, creative exhibitions and other beautiful art museums. They will also ask Yidi to make serious efforts in the study of literature, poetry, mathematics, nature, English and other subjects. Before the Juilliard audition, Yidi spent about two hours practicing every day. He needed more time to absorb all kinds of knowledge, enrich his mind and experience everything in the world.
This time, his greatest wish and pleasure was to have a good time in the snow. While others were nervously preparing for the audition and practicing the piano day and night, he was snowballing and fighting in New York’s Central Park, covering all his body with snow. Additionally, Yidi’s English is also good. Juilliard’s examination room does not admit accompanying parents, so Yidi entered alone and completed the examination as required. When he begins at Juilliard, he will quickly adapt to the study there.
Picture 3: Ding Yidi plays in the Netherlands
Yidi’s father is proud that Yidi has learned piano for only two and a half years. He was enlightened by music at the age of four and a half, and formally began to learn piano at the age of five. On his sixth birthday, he passed the eighth grade of piano. Then he won 15 First Prizes at home and abroad in less than a year. For example, the first place in the Finals of 2017 Pearl River Kayserburg International Youth Piano Competition; the first place in the Finals of Kindergarten Group of 2017 Yangtze River The Grand Piano Master Tour; the first place in the Finals of Kindergarten Group and Chinese Music Grade Examination Group of the Eighth (2018) Hong Kong International Piano Invitation Competition; the first place and Special Talent Award in the Finals of Children Group of 2018 Golden Classical Music Awards International Competition (New York). In 2018, he won the first prize in Children Group of Vienna International Music Competition and the Best Children’s Talent Award with a full score of 100 points. In the first Franz Liszt International Youth Piano Competition in 2018, he won the first prize in Children Group of the Netherlands Final, to name just a few!
In March 2018, Ding Yidi’s first personal CD album was published by China Record Group Co., Ltd and he was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in the United States and the Golden Hall of the Musikverein in Vienna, Austria. In June of the same year, Ding Yidi presented a solo recital at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center.
It has taken only two and a half years for Ding Yidi to achieve such success at a young age, which is beyond most ordinary people’s imagination and reach. Now, Ding Yidi has once again given us a big surprise! He has distinguished himself from more than 6,000 candidates all over the world and successfully entered the world’s top music academy at the youngest age, thus achieving a gorgeous turn of events.
God has given him a pair of wings. We sincerely hope that he can soar freely, flying higher and higher in the world of music!