Pauline Lee, Piano


BEFORE THIS INTERVIEW, I WAS... Taking a hot shower. No kidding! Right now, I just feel like watching some cat or dog videos and then crash. It's been a long day of teaching plus playing accompaniment in an opera rehearsal. Might sound like I'm complaining, but honestly, I am actually really grateful to be making a living doing the very thing I love.

MUSIC IS NOTHING BUT... Life. Essentially, music seeks to imitate and depict life and all that it contains. May it be a stormy night, the bright full moon, a field of flowers in bloom, pirates on a treasure hunt, two star-crossed lovers, a heartbroken man, an old scholar with his cat in a monastery, a mother's grief or a child's dream...music imaginatively captures and repaints the endless colours and emotions ever possible.

I LOVE... Performing, teaching, eating sashimi, slurping a hot bowl of ramen, playing with kittens, walking in nature, smelling flowers, playing board games with my friends. Actually I love a lot of things!!! Oh dear.

MUSIC BEGAN WHEN... Historically? I have no idea. Probably a really long time ago. As long as humans existed, people were singing already. It's just.. so natural. The human voice is the most expressive instrument in the world, and I believe many instruments were made to imitate the singing voice. But if you're asking about how it began for me, it started long time ago too, when I was about 3. I had a helper at home who was an extremely talented pianist (my parents bought the piano for her I think!). And I grew up listening to her practice. Loved it! She was practising for her grade 7 when I was little and my parents found me imitating the same notes on the piano. So I started piano in quite an experimental fashion. Just messing with the notes, composing my little tunes, etc. As things progressed, I found music learning quite a breeze - learning how to read notes, counting, coordinating my fingers. Not sure why and how but really grateful for that. When my parents realise I could identify notes and play a piece by listening, they said I would definitely become a pianist. For many years, it didn't happen. But true enough, they were right.

MY FAVOURITE GENRE OF MUSIC... Tough question. Can I be greedy and name my top 3? Sacred choral music, Baroque music (especially for strings), and Impressonistic music (especially for piano or orchestra).

THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A PIANIST... Well, it can be quite lonely. Which is why I love playing chamber and accompaniment. Making music is somehow so much more satisfying when engaging and responding to others. Agree? Oh one more thing! We are often misunderstood.. as much as sight-reading is such a joy (it is to me!), we have two lines to read simultaneously plus bloody lot of notes to play! So please don't assume it’s easy to just put a score in front of us and expect to play it like a total pro.

OTHER THAN MUSIC... I am a normal human being, who enjoys quiet moments, an occasional nap, long bus rides, travelling to new places, daydreaming about the future..

MY LAST HOUR ON EARTH WOULD BE LIKE... Mixed feelings. Since I know it’s my last hour, part of me would have slight acceptance of the inevitable, while still harbouring hope. It won't be pleasant. And certainly NOT like Titanic (the string quartet continued playing until the entire ship tipped into the ocean!). If it's within my power and ability, I would spend it with the people I love most, and praying to God.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE LOCAL MUSIC SCENE... Positive vibes! We are still growing and learning as a collective group of musicians, both amateurs and professionals. We NEED more arts patrons. Singapore needs more people, organisations, foundations and companies who would believe in and support the arts. Also, it would be ideal if we also compete less amongst ourselves (may it be individually or in groups), but instead learn to help each other in any way possible so everyone become better. 

WHAT INSPIRES ME... The human spirit. Ahh. The ability to love, hurt, comfort, learn, fight, compromise, care, forgive, respect...etc. So strong yet so weak. So beautiful yet sometimes ugly. So earnest, zealous, devoted and yet at times indifferent, cold, deceitful. Very powerful and unpredictable. Such is the source for many great compositions we have in the last hundreds of years! Isn't it? Of course, I’m also easily inspired by a kind act, or a brilliant performance or helpful teaching by an amazing teacher! Or the mere grandeur of nature! Ah!


*Published 11 April 2014.