Amazing Grace’ with Violinist Kam Ning Photo

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Epoch Times, Singapore Edition (Issue 500, 21 November – 4 December 2014)

By Li Yen
Epoch Times Staff

An artistic director and conductor of the Het Kamerorkest orchestra in Brugge, Belgium, world-renowned violinist Kam Ning was honoured by the National Arts Council of Singapore with the Young Artist Award at age 25, and was described by the Straits Times to be “Singapore’s most exciting violinist”.

Born into a musical family, Kam started learning the violin at age six from her father, Kam Kee Yong, who is a Cultural Medallion recipient and composer.

“I still remember my father… rehearsing his orchestra in our living room and the constant sound of strings must have infected me before I knew it,” exclaims the London-based violinist.

A mother of a one-year-old baby, Kam enrolled in the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School in Britain at the age of 11, and studied at the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, in 1993. She then received her Master of Music Degree and an Artist Diploma from the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Kam was a First Prize winner at the Folkestone Menuhin International Violin Competition in 1991, a prizewinner at the Third International Pablo Sarasate Violin Competition in 1995, and a finalist in the 2000 Henryk Szeryng Career Awards. She gained international fame after winning Second Prize at the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Belgium in 2001.

“When someone likes doing something, that person naturally gets rather good at that thing,” shares the petite lady.

Kam’s first CD released in 1997 features the works of Enesco, Sarasate, and her father, Kam Kee Yong. “Music certainly is a way of telling stories and when we use it to tell good stories, encouraging stories… there has never been a more desperate chapter in the history of mankind where we need to hear such stories through music,” says the 39 year-old, who has been the Ambassador for International China Concern since April 2012.

When did your love for music start? Why did you choose the violin, and when did you realise you want to be a violinist?
I was born into a musical family and was surrounded by music from the womb. I still remember my father, Kam Kee Yong, rehearsing his orchestra in our living room (a very large living room!) and the constant sound of strings must have infected me before I knew it.

My father decided to let me have a go at the violin when I was about six and found in me someone who wanted to sound good immediately and got rather frustrated when I didn’t! Everyone who has ever played the violin will know that all those jokes about sounding like a swung cat in the beginning are true.

Anyway, he persevered in teaching me and I loved it (not necessarily the practising part but certainly the playing part!). I think it normally follows that when someone likes doing something, that person naturally gets rather good at that thing, don’t you think?

In your opinion, why do you think music is important for mankind?

I think that music is such an incredible thing in that it can be used to change a person. It is like a language that can be used for good or evil. I think that the number of people involved in, say, music therapy says it all.

Music is a gift from God and it is such an avenue in which God can be glorified. Music certainly is a way of telling stories and when we use it to tell good stories, encouraging stories, God-stories, well, there has never been a more desperate chapter in the history of mankind where we need to hear such stories through music.

You are an artistic director and conductor of the Het Kamerorkest
orchestra in Brugge, Belgium. Tell us about it.
I’m just about to begin my 4th season with Het Kamerorkest Brugge and I have thoroughly enjoyed this extremely challenging role. Violinists have the special privilege not only of being soloists with orchestras and playing in smaller groups as chamber musicians, but we can also lead and direct an orchestra from the lead violin position without a conductor. In all my different musician roles, I find this to be, by far, the most challenging and ultimately rewarding thing I have ever done.

As a director of an orchestra, one has to play and “conduct” from the violin, like in a string quartet in some respect, except now the string quartet has been multiplied many times over. This role also means that I direct the entire rehearsal as a conductor would and I have the responsibility of shaping each piece on the programme. And in any role where one is a leader, I have to also learn how to be the best psychiatrist I can be to a group of people who are supposed to take directions from me! Now, THAT is the biggest challenge of all.

One has to be tough and extremely demanding, while being encouraging at the same time. One has to get people to believe that they can play better than they’ve ever dreamed of. Take that. It certainly builds character!

Tell us more about your own arrangement of John Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace’.
My arrangement of Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace’ is probably my favourite encore to play at any given concert. I can say that because it is such a recognisable tune and people seem to enjoy it!

This arrangement [had] gone through a couple of transformations before I actually put it all down on paper and published it. I was first asked back in 2005 or so to play something at my parents’ church in Canada. After some thought, I decided to do a theme and variations on something that I knew every church member would know. I then started to play that arrangement outside of church and it is the final version that I performed at the President’s Command Performance in 2009 that made it to publication.

I know that this particular piece brings the presence of God to a listener which is such a fantastic thing when it happens.

Many Singaporeans feel that there is no future in doing classical music. Do you think this is true?
Obviously I don’t! It’s all up to what you’re gifted in and what you are passionate about. I believe that if God gives you a talent, then He can give you the career for it. The real question in any vocation is whether you are gifted for it and how determined and passionate you are about seeing it through. I know that many young Singaporeans learn an instrument from a young age (much to my delight!), which is terrific. There is no better way to discover that you have a talent for something than having a good go at it. After all, that’s how I started!

Since April 2012, you are the Ambassador for International China Concern, a Christian charity that cares for the abandoned and disabled in China. Tell us what it means to you to participate in this charity.
In this day and age, it is so easy to do charity work. There is such a sea of misery in this world that you can close your eyes, point in any direction and find a whole generation of people in dire need of your help! Many of us have much more than we need.

This interview was conducted via email. This Is Singapore is a fortnightly feature that delves into the life of an inspiring and talented individual in Singapore. Read all our interviews here: http://bit.do/thisissingapore

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