Catherine Cheung | 张瑛瑶

Pianist | Composer

Catherine Cheung is a pianist, composer and teacher based in London

Piano-hunting in China

Hello all! I just got back from a two week trip in China. I go there (specifically Guangzhou, or Canton) maybe once or twice a year, and as many of you pianists out there will understand (or other instrumentalists who can't travel with their own instruments due to impracticalities), practising in a foreign country can be a frustrating prospect, but something you need to sort out. There are the following options:


1. You go to a decent music store and hire a practise room. 


2. If you're staying there for a substantial period of time you can rent an instrument. 


3. You buy your instrument.


Now 'option 1' has always been my go-to... but it was pretty frustrating. Not all cities are 'well-equipped' with decent music stores, and even if those music stores are decent enough, it does not mean their practise rooms reflect their good reputation. Countries, like China, that experience hot tropical climates have terrible luck with tuning - pianos can go out of tune very easily, so even good quality pianos in music shops were painful to play on... and listen to! 


After many years of hiring a practise room in a store, I had had enough. Travelling to the music store took up a lot of time, and it wasn't guaranteed that I could go everyday. The visits to Guangzhou were starting to affect my progress over the holiday periods when I usually get most of my work done, so, before my visit this summer, I decided to buy a decent piano.




The thought of trekking around Guangzhou city in the exhausting sticky heat, visiting piano store after piano store felt very daunting. It was, in my opinion, the pianist's equivalent to speed-dating, except the match you're looking for is a piano, not a human-being, so at least the piano you want won't reject you. 


Surprisingly, it didn't take too long for me to find a very good upright piano for my home in China. After only one day, I had found two suitable pianos out of the 30 or so I had tried out. One Yamaha and one Kawai. A few things you should know is, apart from finding a piano you love, you should also consider the customer service of the piano store. I visited around 6 stores, and when I asked them about the aftercare they provided, such as guarantee etc., many of them gave me different prices for tuning, and a lot of their '2-year guarantees' had too many disclaimers, so watch out! I was lucky enough to find the perfect upright for me, that in my opinion belonged to one of the most professional stores in the city. They provided great aftercare, the tuning prices and their tuners were very satisfactory, and their guarantee covered literally everything.



Me with the Yamaha YA131CS I chose

Me with the Yamaha YA131CS I chose

Delivery speeds in China are scarily fast. The piano got delivered to my house the next morning! Also, it was only then that I discovered the Chinese have a solution for the high humidity levels that cause tuning problems for pianos - they install a pipe like device, that emits heat to combat the humidity levels. All you do is place it on the bottom half cover, and you plug it in! Here's a picture below of them installing it.



So that's my story. Of course, the tale of how I found my piano in London is an even better one... maybe I'll tell that another time. If any of you have stories about finding your piano, or have any questions, feel free to comment below!

© Catherine Cheung 2015