Violinist Joanne Yeoh, known for her sassy live performances, is back with a second studio album.
AH, the violin. There’s just something about the instrument, its shape, its sound, and the music it makes, that just oozes class, energy, and sensuality. If you’ve ever caught one of Joanne Yeoh’s performances, you’ll know that she ticks all of these boxes, and then some.
A familiar face at many events, clubs and gigs, the 36-year-old violinist’s sassy and energetic live shows have drawn comparisons to well-known pop violinist Vanessa Mae. Yeoh reckons that is a stereotype that is a little outdated, she revealed during our interview at her home in Subang Jaya, Selangor.
“It is common for people to stereotype me as just another Vanessa Mae. But she was popular ten years ago, and she’s not doing anything new anymore!” she said. “These days, there are a lot of violinists doing this, and I think people are realising there are more styles to this kind of music.”
Yeoh recently released her second album, After A Dream, eight years after her first, 2005’s Pulse of the Metropolis. “The first album was more of a chill out album, and out of the 10 songs, nine were originals written by Daniel Veerapen. This time, it’s the other way round!” she said.
After A Dream contains 10 songs, nine of which are cover versions of popular classic hits like Danny Boy and Dixie’s Land, and one original song, Tango, written by Veerapen, who also produced and arranged the album.
“People tend to relate better with songs that they know, especially when it comes to instrumental music. This album is like a crossover of classical and pop, with a bit of jazz, some R&B, and some world-fusion styles,” she said.
Yeoh first picked up the violin at the age of eight, after giving up ballet and the piano in favour of the instrument. However, it was only later that she began to consider music as a viable career. “I think it was around the time I was in Form Four or Form Five, when I had to start thinking about what to do with my life. At that point, I was already doing my Diploma in violin, so I thought, ‘Well, music is easy for me, and it is something that I like’, so I decided to continue with it. It felt like a natural progression for me.”
She later furthered her studies at UCSI University from 1995 to 1997 through a twinning program with the University of Middlesex, eventually obtaining her Degree in Music with First Class honours in 1999. After returning home, she played with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Asian Youth Symphony before landing a job in Universiti Putra Malaysia’s (UPM) Music Department in 2000, which she now heads.
“I really enjoy working in UPM. The environment is very conducive, and the management is very understanding as well. I have so many shows and sometimes I need to go out of the country, and they have been supportive of what I do,” said the violinist, who completed her PhD studies with Britain’s Heriot Watt University, focusing on music and consumer behaviour in 2009, and is also on the panel of examiners for Trinity College London.
Speaking of shows, Yeoh owes this part of her musical career to two major names in showbiz – Vanessa Mae (of course), and Jacky Cheung.
“Vanessa Mae sort of revolutionised
everything (for violinists). Sure, there were others before her, but not as popular, probably because of the marketing,” Yeoh explained. “Because of her, I suggested to my boss in UPM to get an electric violin for the department and he agreed, provided I held a concert with it.”
After that concert, Yeoh started getting offers from agents and event managers to perform. However, it was not until 2002 that this part of her career really started to blossom, thanks to one of the Heavenly Kings of Hong Kong entertainment, Jacky Cheung.
The real breakthrough for Yeoh was joining Cheung’s “Music Odyssey Tour” in 2002/03, which included shows in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, China, Taiwan, Brunei, the United States, Britain and Canada.
“I was the solo violinist (at the tour), and I had some solo parts where I had to go out to the front of the stage and play next to him,” she recalled. “I remember my first show – it was in Australia, and I was super excited. I had new clothes to wear, and I was really geared up for it!”
Besides Cheung’s tour, Yeoh also took part in Taiwanese musician David Tao’s “Soul Power Tour” in 2003, as well as Alan Tam’s Live in Genting concert in 2008.
According to her, each of these stars had a different style and different way of interacting with the musicians. “Jacky is a perfectionist. He comes for every rehearsal, and he would rehearse the same songs and dance moves each time. If he makes a mistake during a concert, he wouldn’t even come down for the after party,” she said.
“David is more of a musician’s musician. One day, he would want a certain style, and the next, something different. He changes it all the time, because he is a true musician and knows exactly what he wants.”
And what about Alan Tam then? “He’s definitely not a perfectionist! Alan is more into getting the ‘feel’ right. It doesn’t matter if you play the wrong note, just get the ‘feel’ right!” she said with a laugh.
More importantly, her involvement with these world-class performers taught her a great deal, including how to be more professional and how to work in a band. “A level of professionalism is expected, and no excuse are tolerated, no matter where you are. It could be so cold that you can’t play, but you still have to do it,” she said. “They also taught me to be humble. Humility is very important – the higher you get, the more humble you ought to be,” she concluded.
> After A Dream is available from Yeoh’s online store http://store.joanneyeoh.com.my.