Living her dream
The Star Newspaper, Tuesday September 19, 2006 by Elizabeth Tai
JOYCE HO’S LIFELONG DREAM is to master the piano. This ambition seems very appropriate, as pianos are her family’s business. Ho’s family is the founder of Wagner Piano Sdn Bhd and Vienna Music Sdn Bhd, a chain of shops selling pianos and offering music classes. “We are the ‘piano family’,” Ho said humorously.
Ho knew that she wanted to be a musician from a very young age. Perhaps it was spurred from the “mini performances” she gave her father’s customers at the piano shop when she was younger.
I’m very satisfied that
I’ve achieved what I’ve wanted to do.
She started taking piano lessons when she was three years old, and by age 13, she was already taking part in piano competitions like the Czechoslovakia International Piano competition , where she was a finalist.
Performing is like telling someone about the music, explained Joyce.
“It’s like a language,” she said.
Ho never considered another career while growing up. It was always music for her, and when she won a scholarship to study music at Wells Cathedral School, one of Britain’s five specialist music schools, she didn’t think twice about it. She was 15 then.
However, her parents felt that she was too young to make a career decision and told her not to go. “I was very disappointed, as I was already planning to go to England. And then I thought, ‘Oh no, the whole school knows that I’m going to England.’ So it was very embarrassing,” she said, laughing.
Dutifully, Ho stayed back, and perhaps it was a fortunate thing, as later Malaysian international concert pianist Dennis Lee recommended that she study music in Germany instead as the standards are high there. (Ho actually turned down a music scholarship from a music school in Australia to pursue her studies in Germany.)
“IN GERMANY, there’s very, very tough competition to get a place to study there. It’s not like in countries like America where you just pay your fees and you get in. In Germany, education is free. And every major city in Germany has only one music school,” she said.
These schools will hold auditions once a year to select potential students.
“There will be 170 students auditioning
for five places,” she said.
THEREFORE, IN 2001, Ho began her adventure in Germany. However, she didn’t manage to get in the first year she was there. Still, she did not give up. She decided to spend her time learning German and took piano private lessons from a tutor, Prof Franz Massinger from Hochschule Für Musik und Theater, Munchen.
The next year, Ho told herself that she had to get into a music school no matter what.
“My Mum told me that if I don’t pass I have to return to Malaysia,” she said.
She practised about eight hours a day to ensure that she could make the grade. Besides that, she had to improve her fluency in German as that is also tested as well.
THE HARD WORK PAID OFF. Ho finally got into one of the top music schools in Germany – Hochshule Fur Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Frankfurt – in 2002. She was 21 when she got in. Although she only practises six hours a day on the piano now, being a music student is still hard work.
For one, Ho wakes up at 5.20am every day and makes her way to the university so that she can be there before 7am to play in one of the rooms there. “I am there before the doors are open to make sure that I get to choose the grand piano that I want to practise on as there aren’t enough rooms to practise in,” she explained.
I used to rent a piano at my place, but my neighbours kept complaining because I practised on the piano eight hours a day. I got a lot of letters. One day, I received a warning letter from a neighbour. He said that if I didn’t stop they will call the police!” she said with a laugh.
In the end, she found it easier to just use the university’s soundproofed piano rooms, even if she had to play musical chairs with the rooms – the rooms can only be used for two hours per session. The lessons at the university are tough.
One of my teachers – Prof Herbert Seidel – is very strict. He does not allow me to go to class with a piano book. Once, I did go to class with a piano book and he asked me why, and I told him: ‘I’m not familiar with the song.’ He then told me that the only reason I was not familiar with the piece is because I’ve not practised enough.
“One has to understand and analyse the piece, not just play the notes,” she explained.
Ho is determined to return to Malaysia to start teaching music in a university when she graduates in March next year.
Classical music is coming up, but they still need more teachers and I hope I can contribute.
“I don’t want to be a full-time performer. It’s too stressful. I want to do other things also. You have to practise so much – from eight to 10 hours every day,” she said. Also, if a performer commits just one mistake in one concert it could ruin his career, she said.
Besides, Ho loves teaching as she considers learning an art. “You can learn from your students, too.”
ALTHOUGH CLASSICAL MUSIC is gaining better acceptance in Malaysia, she acknowledges that the genre isn’t exactly highly appreciated here nor do many people know about the classical composers.
“I asked someone to go for a classical concert once, and she said: ‘I don’t know if I should go. I’m afraid I will fall asleep.’ If you say such a thing in Germany, people will laugh because they’ve never heard such a thing,” she said.
In Germany, every body listens to classical music, she said.
She confided that she knows of Malaysian music graduates who hope to change “the concept of classical music” in Malaysia by educating Malaysians about it when they return. She felt that teachers should encourage and motivate their students to study music like how her piano teacher Eric Leong did for her. (He also encouraged her to participate in piano competitions.)
SHE HAS THIS ADVICE FOR ASPIRING PROFESSIONAL PIANISTS: “Participating in piano competitions is very good. It makes you strive for something: you have a goal. Even if you don’t win. Listen to very good pianists and go for their concerts to encourage and motivate yourself,” she said.
Right now, Ho is one very satisfied lady.
“I’m still a student! I’ve not graduated yet, but it’s almost at the end. I’m very satisfied that I’ve achieved what I’ve wanted to do,” she said with a smile.