Russian composer Dmitry Kabalevsky’s Thirty Children’s Pieces for Piano, Op 27 (1937-38) is a set of simple but affecting melodic compositions aimed at aspiring young pianists. Multidisciplinary artist Samson Young Kar-fai, who specialises in sound art, explains how it changed his life. I came across Thirty Children’s Pieces for Piano when I was in high school and was probably 13 or 14. My piano teacher introduced me to the set, and I remember falling in love with it immediately after she played it to me. I picked “Novelette” [No 4 in the series] for my grade exam. How a Susan Sontag novel changed the life of M+ museum curator Still, I ended up learning a few more from the set and over the years played through the entire book. I also performed “Novelette with Sonatina” [No 18 in the series] as a pair in a student piano competition – the first music competition I’d taken part in. Before I heard the series, I had mostly been learning “student” pieces that were either didactic, drill-like pieces that were not very musical, or “children’s” pieces that felt emotionally simplistic and even patronising. Part of it had to do with the fact that I started learning the piano quite late and my skill level at the time meant that I was stuck with playing music written for younger children. Kabalevsky’s set, although also composed for children, was laden with real and complex musical intent – intense melancholy, a deep sense of irony and contradictory emotions at every turn, all coming together in these technically simple compositions. I remember the pleasure of finally being able to make some real music instead of waiting until I could master the gems of the canon that young pianists are typically set on a path to learn in sequence. The music resonated with me because I was rather philosophical and reflective as a child, so my own emotional experience of childhood connected more with Kabalevsky’s set than, say, Schumann’s Kinderszenen . By the last year of high school I was doing better in visual art than in music. But I knew there was music in me and I knew that I enjoyed making music; it was just that my technique hadn’t caught up with my imagination yet. So I just walked into all these admission interviews kind of fearlessly, and competed with all these technically perfect kids who had been doing it since they were toddlers. I don’t think I would have done that if I hadn’t cut my teeth on the 30 pieces. The take-home for me is that the accumulation of technique and craft is a lifelong project, but the imagination doesn’t have to wait. The pieces set me on the path I am still on in terms of my relationship to art-making – craftsmanship serves expression and the imagination, and is not an end in itself. For youngsters, flaws in technique are really no cause for alarm – it is signs of an impoverished imagination that should be keeping artists up at night.