As It Happens

Violinist gives long-distance lessons to teenager in coronavirus lockdown

Kevin Tang was having a hard time cooped up at home in Chengdu, southwest China. His violin teacher, acclaimed violinist Anthea Kreston, assigned him difficult concerto on a tight timeline to take his mind off things.

Anthea Kreston assigned student Kevin Tang a difficult concerto to re-direct his attention

Yunhe Tang has a long-distance violin lesson with his teacher, acclaimed violinist Anthea Kreston. (Submitted by Anthea Kreston)

This story was originally published on February 17, 2020

Update: In a message to As It Happens on February 22, 2021, Anthea Kreston said that Kevin Tang is "doing great." The teacher and student still see each other every week over Zoom, and Kevin has won several competitions — performing alongside students from elite schools such as New York's Juilliard School. 


Anthea Kreston was worried about how her violin student, 14-year-old Kevin Tang, was doing under lockdown for the coronavirus, so she took matters into her own hands.

"I proposed to his dad that … while he's inside that we have a special kind of project," she told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I can give him a specific assignment every day, very difficult technical exercise, and then also a new page of this concerto."

Tang lives in Chengdu, southwest China, one of the dozens of Chinese cities that are effectively under quarantine because of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The proposed concerto, Lalo's "Symphonie Espagnole," would normally take a violinist Tang's age about a year to learn, but Kreston suggested Tang learn it in 20 days. 

Kevin Tang practices

4 years ago
Duration 1:55
Tang sends his teacher Anthea Kreston daily practice logs to show his progress. (Submitted by Anthea Kreston)

"I said that we could do it in a way that's stress free, that it's like a fun project."

Kreston, an acclaimed violinist based out of Corvallis, Oregon, had been giving Tang weekly violin lessons via Skype, but for this special project while Tang was in lockdown, Kreston offered to check in everyday, free of charge. 

"I was really, really worried." 

"Kevin's in a dire situation .. to help him even the slightest bit would be good."

Kreston became concerned about Tang's wellbeing when he came online for their lessons behaving strangely.

"Usually he's extremely well-prepared and he seemed lethargic. He wasn't making jokes. He wasn't interacting."

As a classical musician we're all extremely competitive people, extremely hard working, and when we have a project we fall straight into it.

Tang told Kreston he had not been out to see his friends, attend local violin lessons, or to school. 

"He doesn't have anyone to talk to," said Kreston. 

Tang's mother works at a hospital in Chengdu in its supplies department, so she has to leave their home to source masks and medical safety equipment for hospital workers, Kreston added. 

"It's a stress for them to have her go out, and do that, and also for her to come back." 

General view of empty streets on Feb. 7, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. (Stringer/Getty Images)

Kreston proposed "a coronavirus bootcamp" for Kevin because she knew it could direct his attention away from the desperate situation around him. 

"As a classical musician we're all extremely competitive people, extremely hard working, and when we have a project we fall straight into it."

Tang is now progressing on his concerto very nicely, said Kreston. She has also noticed a difference in his mood. 

"After three or four days, emojis started to appear again in our chat. He was smiling."

"His passion level is is great. He's absorbing this music, not only absorbing, but he has to learn it himself … and he is in good spirits."

Since a New York Times article came out about Tang and Kreston's lockdown lessons, teachers from around the world have expressed interest in volunteering their time to other Chinese violinists.

"My sister has a student. Jason, my husband has a student, and I'm slowly pairing people up." 

"I'm just trying to put some really simple parameters of like the amount of work and how it has to be optimistic. It's more of like a practice buddy." 

This post was written by Sarah Claydon. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong.