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Twelve Years of Classical Music

I started learning violin at the beginning of 2008, and switched to viola at the end of 2014. To be honest, if it wasn't for my husband, I would likely have quit years ago. I'm happy to say that I've been playing all the way to 2020, and I've achieved so much more than I would've ever thought I could. Playing to a standard on a classical bowed string instrument is probably the hardest, and most rewarding, thing I will ever do in my life. It is a lifelong undertaking. After twelve years, I'm still very much an amateur, in both the best and worst senses of the word.

Why I prefer viola over violin:
The role of the viola is to fill space. It is the middle voice that you won't hear, but it adds richness to the overall sound. It is usually the supporting character, but there are times for it to shine above the rest. These traits suit my personality perfectly.

Playing music[1] on the viola/violin…

[1]‘Music’ here refers to Western classical music played by reading music notation. The above statements are not meant to be claims for all types and genres of music playing involving these instruments.

[2]Some people just have a natural gift for music. They can do things effortlessly without being taught, that another person who worked harder can't do to the same effect no matter how much they try.

Originally published 2020.04.17

Cerita Confessions № 2

In less than a month from the date of this writing, our eighth music performance event will take place. And for the eighth time, my husband and I are second-guessing our decision to keep this going.

In between events, a number of people will be encouraging us to keep doing what we do, even if all the work of a production team of ten is done by the two of us. These are the people who have known and worked with my husband for any amount of time; long enough to know his talent, diligence, and passion for music.

Yet when the time comes, when we invite people we considered to be our friends, colleagues, and good acquaintances to show a little support and watch our performance, hardly anyone is interested—including those who had been so encouraging before. For some of them, we are not even worth a reply.

Sadly, it is not just the passive performers that shut the door in our faces—for being part of the audience is being part of the performance, too—some of the virtuous music players that we ask to join in our events often play through rehearsals with deaf ears.

With the apparent disinterest from the community and our co-workers all the same, it is a small torture for us every time we endeavour to organise a music event, albeit mentally. So why do we still endure?

I would like to make it clear that it was not my idea. I am the type to quit before the going gets tough. I was the first one to tell my husband to stop doing concerts that no one cares about. But as far as I know, no one else has said anything that unkind to him; their silent and even more hurtful disagreements come in the form of double blue ticks.

In my humble opinion, the problem is that my husband's visions are far greater than anyone has been able to comprehend. A casual observer might see happy musicians playing instruments upon a stage. He sees a thriving musical society in which thousands of practitioners, craftsmen, and educators have jobs for life, whose trades are continuously passed down to the following generations. Where the economy is sustained by the booming supply and demand for music products. Where the spoils of great music spill over into people's lives and enriches them by promoting higher intelligence and awareness of the world around them.

But achieving something big starts by doing something small. If we want to spread the message of music, we first have to play it damn well. My husband has been holding on to a hope that being involved in our events would incite something not only in our audience's hearts and minds, but in the musicians', too.

Over the last four years, he has promised me that this would be the last time, seven times. He knows that I am pained to watch him suffer. His agony even manifests physically on his skin in the form of psoriasis. He gains weight from the stress of being so collectively unappreciated. Again, I would have quit after the first time. But where we differ in emotional disposition, we are exactly similar in interest: we both love music.

We love how hearing this phrase played by the cellos and double basses makes our hearts skip a beat:

Opening of Schubert Symphony No. 8

To quote a friend: “It sounds great when I listen to a recording, but it gave me goosebumps when I heard it live for the first time and I could feel the reverberation from the instruments travel around the room and into my body.”

We love how another friend who claims he cannot hold a tune can sing this melody perfectly from beginning to end:

The cello solo from Four Malay Dances, II. Asli

We empathise with great local musicians who long to play good music, for the love of playing it. We wish we could reimburse the dedication of a violinist who spent hundreds of Ringgit to travel 800 kilometres every weekend in order to rehearse with us.

So, knowing that things are not going to change any time soon, do we keep going, or should we quit while we're ahead?

With the number of double blue ticks increasing each time, my optimistic husband is finally saying he has had enough. Well-meaning people have told us that they admire our noble quest and good luck with that. But as long as no one is interested in helping to spread the message of what we are fighting for, we are going to be stuck in oblivion.

Originally published 2019.08.09

Cerita Confessions

Earlier this year, Mr K joined our orchestra. His playing is so naturally musically perfect, that more often than not, it will make your heart want to cry for reasons unexplainable. It has been at least four months since I first heard his playing, and I have not been able to shake off my envy, no matter how hard I try.

During the concert on the 21st, there was a short viola solo that I had to play. I wanted so badly to sound like Mr K, to receive the same showers of praise that he does. But no matter what I did during rehearsals, I never even got close. I started to feel as though I would let the orchestra down, and disappoint the audience to boot. I wished I didn't have to play that solo at all; only talents as natural as Mr K deserve to do it, right? I nearly reduced myself to tears over a 25-second passage.

Then came a turning point in my thought cycle, telling me that I was looking at it all wrong. After all, the conductor chose me to do it. If he didn't trust me enough, he would have switched me up a long time ago. I must not be as bad as I think I am.

Instead of trying to sound like Mr K, I tried to sound like the best version of myself. No longer did I seek praise or acceptance from others, but I aimed to please only myself. As long as I liked what I played, and it sounds right, that would be enough.

Of course in retrospect I can say I could have played it better, but what matters is that I know I gave it my best, and I felt satisfied even though I received no showers of praise.

Originally published 2016.08.30

Learning Music

Eight years since I picked up violin, and I have learned so much more than just how to play it. Especially so now that I have been married almost six months to my violin tutor and mentor. My husband may not yet have taken me on an exotic honeymoon, but he has brought me miles of insight and understanding in a short span of time.

The most significant change he has brought about in my life, I would say, is that I have come to terms with something that I had unknowingly been struggling with for many years: accepting myself for who I am, for what I can and cannot do. I may not be favoured by the common society, but I am empowered to feel that I am allowed to be how I am.

There is a cliché saying that variably goes, “Music does not lie.” It has different meanings at different angles, I think, and it has been a long time since I thought about what it means to me. In essence, it tells me that when one plays music, it should feel like an ultimate means of expressing oneself. Both the performer and the listener should sense that the music is an honest presentation of feelings—not a crass presentation of flashy techniques, not a tool to bring fame, nor simply to generate income.

Through our mutual respect and fondness for truth, my husband has been able to bring me on to a path of enlightenment. With this acquired awareness, my mind has been opened to perceive all the pretence in this world in new ways, and there is a lot of it in music...

I still learn from my husband, be it actively or passively while he is teaching others, but now when he teaches music, I know that he is teaching life.

Originally published 2016.05.28