MUSIC has come alive again in Malaysia and around the world in more ways than one during this transition to endemicity of Covid-19.
In other words, life is somewhat back to normal for the musically talented.
It does seem like faith for music and its education never died although the industry was muzzled for almost two years, especially live performances, amid movement restrictions.
But generally speaking, are formal music lessons (practical and theory) worth the money, time and effort looking at how the music scene was paralysed during the pandemic?
For some parents and music teachers, the answer is yes.
These people are of the opinion that picking up musical skills is part of providing a holistic education to young ones, as music is able to ignite various aspects of a child’s development.
For lawyer Phoopinder Kaur, 49, music lessons have helped her daughters Gurnemeh Kaur, 17, and Sachnemeh Kaur, 13, improve their social interactions and ability to be team players.
“This is especially important when playing in a band, as it helps the girls build camaraderie with their bandmates.
“Learning musical instruments also taught them coordination, timing and listening skills,” said Phoopinder, who lives in Cheras.
She said each girl was taught patience and perseverance through hours and months of learning instruments and musical pieces.
“This is before they see the real outcome at the highest level by taking part in shows and choirs locally and internationally.
“The poise and confidence they derive on stage in front of an audience can help them with public speaking too,” she added.
Phoopinder said even if her daughters were not going to be professional musicians in future, having musical skills was worth the investment because they built soft skills that would help in their professional lives later.
Gurnemeh developed an interest in the clarinet after attending an orchestral performance in Bangkok, Thailand, and wanted to play the instrument.
Coming from a musically inclined family, Gurnemeh said she was first introduced to music lessons at the age of three.
“Listening to Mozart and Beethoven encouraged me to learn to play the piano when I was seven, though I sang more.
“When I was in Year Six at Kolej Tuanku Jaafar (KTJ), Mantin, I joined the school choir.
“I started taking singing exams when I was 10 and now I am completing Grade 8,” she said.
Outside of school, Gurnemeh and Sachnemeh are members of the Kuala Lumpur Concert Choir.
Both girls participated in the 5th Hong Kong International Festival 2018 and were winners in the secondary school choir category.
In 2020, the sisters were supposed to attend the World Choir Games in Belgium (considered as the Olympics of choir) as part of Kuala Lumpur Concert Choir but it was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sachnemeh started playing the piano at age four and went on to violin at seven years old.
“When I was 12, I decided to take up ukulele lessons, and am still in the process of learning it.
“I had a choice when I was older to quit music, but I opted to continue with the piano and dropped violin lessons,” she said, feeling proud that she can deliver a musical piece.
While Sachnemeh also does not see herself continuing music professionally, she feels it is good as a life-long hobby.
“Once you learn how to read sheet music, you can play any song on your instrument with a bit of practice,” she said.
Shikin Shuriani Shukor, 42, said it was not exactly an easy start for her daughter Tya Orked Mohd Alfian, 13.
Tya Orked was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, which happens when fibrous bands of the amniotic sac (the lining inside the uterus that contains a foetus) get tangled around a developing foetus.
As a result, Tya Orked’s left hand did not fully develop.
That did not stop Shikin from helping her daughter get the tutoring she needed to pursue playing the piano.
“She showed interest in music from as young as six years old, and asked if she could learn the piano,” Shikin recounted.
She said several music schools turned Tya Orked down with the excuse that they did not have teachers with the capacity to teach students like her.
While actively searching online for a private music tutor to conduct lessons at her home in Puchong, Shikin said she found Jocelyn Loo, who had previously taught music in an international school.
“Jocelyn’s ability to coach and nurture Tya’s talent has helped boost her self-confidence, and the weekly routine demands a reasonable amount of commitment and dedication from her.
“From what was once a spark of interest has become a passion. When she was stuck indoors during the pandemic, the piano became Tya’s go-to buddy.
“I have seen instances where she turned to the piano as a means of expressing joy, sadness or sometimes just to unwind after a long day at school,” she said.
Shikin added that investing in Tya Orked’s music education was well worth it because it helped the girl develop resilience, persistence and determination.
Loo said it took a lot of courage and motivation on Tya Orked’s part.
“I put myself in her shoes and taught her to use her non-dominant hand,” she explained.
Tya Orked said she was inspired to learn music after watching a YouTube video of a girl who had no hands, play piano with her feet.
“I feel I can be a source of inspiration for others to pursue anything in life as long as they believe in themselves,” she said, adding that it would be exciting to write and compose her own songs someday.
Music school owner Joanne Wong, who runs two music schools in the Klang Valley, is happy to have survived the pandemic.
“There was some resistance to online classes but we tried to be innovative, especially with the younger children, because the challenge was in correcting them virtually.
“Music class is something that we have one-to-one, with one person at the piano at a time. Students are happy to return to physical classes.
“We even had a spike in enrolment from both children and adults earlier this year, although we had students who dropped out too,” she noted.
Wong said professional adults such as general managers and chief executive officers also wanted to find an alternative way to channel their energy and hone skills.
She added that it was good to see more adults taking up music as a way to broaden their horizons, even in middle age.
Interest and passion pays
In the eyes of younger musicians wanting to pursue their hobby, a love of music has to run deep to want to persevere, said music professionals.
For Jeremy D’ Costa, 29, a mechanical engineer who does logistics and plays the guitar, the pandemic gave him a lot of time to sharpen his skills in his small home studio in Klang.
He said that with passion and lots of hard work, musicians could live a comfortable life.
“If anything, the pandemic taught us to learn how to save (for a rainy day).
“If I play five to six nights a week in a pub, I can make more money than a fresh graduate engineer.
“Yes it can be a viable career if musicians put in the work and hours every day and educate themselves to learn new things,” he advised.
Folk and indie rock singer-songwriter Azmyl Yunor, 45, who is also a senior lecturer and programme leader at Sunway University’s School of Arts, said people tend to forget that the music aspect of being a musician was only one part of what they produced.
“One has to be entrepreneurial to survive the current times and do more than make music only.
“They need to ask themselves if they really want a career in the music industry or the broader creative industry.
“Being a musician is not objectively an ‘essential’ industry; the digital age, the Internet and streaming options have made music-making more accessible than ever, but the conundrum is that it is increasingly over-saturated and devalued because music streaming can be detrimental,” he said.
As a parent to young twins, Azmyl, who lives in Bangi, said he would not recommend music to them as a future profession.
“I will encourage them to pick up music as a hobby if they love it.
“It is not just because of the pandemic but also because people get into music for the wrong reasons, with little understanding of what to expect,” he said.