Follow Your Dreams
by Kenneth Lyen
Yesterday I was having lunch with a friend who is planning to be a concert pianist.
He was carrying a compact disc of Li Yundi from China who won the 14th Warsaw International Chopin Competition in 2000 when he was only 18 years old. Yundi is a true prodigy. It is said that at the age of three years, he was so enamoured by a performer playing the accordion in a shopping centre that he refused to leave. At the age of seven, he asked his parents for piano lessons, and from then onwards he just blossomed. I have listened to his playing, and confirm that he is the real virtuoso... and I am not someone who is easily impressed. Since his win at the Chopin Competition, his popularity has shot up, and he is now a pop icon in the classical piano world. He is one of the lucky ones to make it in this highly competitive world.
In Asia, to succeed as a full-time solo performer in classical music is extraordinarily tough. Most who chose to remain in this part of the world are forced to joining an orchestra, or to teach. Western classical music is still largely alien to most Asian ears. Visiting performers and orchestras only attract a relatively small elite audience.
Nevertheless, there are some Asians who, despite all the odds, have succeeded in the international arena. Among my favourites are the Korean violinist CHUNG Kyung-Wha, the American born Chinese cellist MA Yo-Yo. Singapore has produced a few internationally-renowned pianists including SEOW Yit-Kin and Melvin TAN. International Singapore violinists include SIOW Lee-Chin and LEE Min. The violin equivalent of LI Yundi is Vanessa-Mae. She was born in Singapore and spent the first few years of her life here. She too has become a pop icon in the violin world, breaking through the boundaries separating classical and pop music.
As for me, my parents dissuaded me from taking up taking up music as a profession. They suggested that I should regard music as a hobby. I do not think they were wrong with this advice. I would be the first to admit that I dont have the talent to make it to the very top. And there is a world of difference between playing music for ones main course rather than for dessert.
Times and circumstances are never the same for each individual. What was right for me may not be right for someone else. I was therefore very careful not to advise my friend either way. I hope he follows his dreams. But I will empathise with him if he finds the journey extremely rough. I just wished him the best of luck.