CONVERSATIONS WITH…An Award-winning Violin Prodigy

SmartParents quizzes 11-year-old Chloe Chua, who has just won a major international music award, about what she does offstage.

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You’d think that performing in a high-stakes international music competition would give any 11-year-old plenty of butterflies in her stomach.

Not so, Chloe Chua. Watch a YouTube video of her award-winning recital and you’ll notice the Primary 5 Nanyang Primary School pupil is actually rather chill about playing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons at the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists.

When asked about pitting her violin-playing skills against competitors from countries like the USA, Germany and China, the mini-maestro admits, “I didn’t experience much stress during the competition.”

Chloe, who has been taking part in local and international music contests carefully selected by her mentor, Yin Ke, since she was age 7, adds that her exposure to competitions has been a “gradual process”. Her teacher slowly increased “the level of difficulty and intensity, so that my abilities were stretched and my stamina grew further”.

Indeed, in April, she beat some 20 other competitors under age 16 to win the Junior division of the biennial Menuhin Competition and 10,000 Swiss francs ($13,700). She shares this honour with Australia’s Christian Li, 10 ― the first time in history the judges awarded joint first place prize in this category!

“I believe that we ― parents and teachers ― need to educate the student to be resilient when facing tough competition.”

The only child of businessman Chua Sui Tee, 54, and piano teacher Lim Eng Lee, 51, Chloe started piano lessons when she was 2½ years old. She only began learning the violin at age 4 at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).

Yin, who has more than 20 years’ experience as a music teacher, started teaching the prodigy a year later. Describing his pupil as a “fast learner”, he notes, “Chloe has a very good hand coordination ― she is quick at acquiring violin techniques. She also has good ears and picks up music fast.”

Acknowledging that competition preparation can get “extremely stressful”, no matter their scale or prestige, Yin helps his students manage stress by working closely with both the child and their parents.

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Apart from a “well-balanced practice schedule” to help them manage their stress/nerves, Yin adds, “I believe that we ― parents and teachers ― need to educate the student to be resilient when facing tough competition.”

He stresses, too, that “hard work and perseverance are more crucial than talent” in his students. Interesting fact: Chloe’s gruelling practice sessions last between five and six hours daily.

Advising youths with a passion for music to “work hard and persevere”, Yin points out, “Similar to other professions such as business and medicine, music requires constant learning and practice in order to succeed.”

He also encourages parents who fret that success is hard to achieve in the field of music to support their offspring’s interest. “Even if the child ultimately decides not to pursue music as a career, the character-building experience from learning music will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”

As for Chloe, apart from her strict training schedule, this young violin virtuoso describes her life as “pretty normal”. Indeed, just like any other kid her age who goes to school, she notes, “I have lessons, do homework, practise my violin, watch TV and play handphone games.”

Chloe, whose dream is to be a world-class violinist, gives SmartParents a peek into the personality behind the talent.

Hi Chloe congrats! How do you feel about winning first prize in the Menuhin Competition?
I was very happy and grateful ― it was really a wonderful surprise to me.

How many months did you spend preparing for the Menuhin contest?
Approximately six months.


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Did you speak or hang out with the other winner, Christian Li? Any impressions of him?
Yes, he is a kind friend ― we played handphone games and chit-chatted when we were in Geneva. We still keep in touch.

Your parents and teacher must be very proud! I heard you celebrated by touring Britain with your family?
They are all very proud of me, and I am very grateful for their guidance and support in my journey to become a violinist. We had a wonderful family gathering in UK after the competition ― we stayed with my uncle and his family who live in the south west of London. He organised weekend activities such as camping, visiting some nice towns nearby and so on. I also played video games with my cousin. We had fun together.

Were you in awe of the older and more experienced contestants?
I felt inspired as I knew this was a good learning platform for me. I just tried to stay focused and relaxed while playing on stage.

“The toughest thing would be the persistence required for everyday practice, for at least three to five hours a day, 365 days a year ― without compromise.”

Do you play any other musical instruments?
I used to play the piano.

What’s the toughest thing about playing the violin?
The toughest thing would be the persistence required for everyday practice, for at least three to five hours a day, 365 days a year ― without compromise.

Was there ever a point you felt like quitting?
Never!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Sometime in the future, I plan to go abroad to study music and slowly equip myself to become a professional concert violinist. But at this stage, there is still a lot to be learned in Singapore with Mr Yin.

What is your dream job?
My ambition is to be a world-class violinist.


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As a lot of your time is spent on the violin, do you ever get tired of it?
No, there is so much interesting music to learn.

Do you ever give yourself a break ― what other hobbies do you have?
Jogging, reading and drawing.

Your schedule must be quite packed ― is it difficult for your family to find time to spend quality time together?
Not really, my mum is always with me wherever I go, and my dad.

What do you usually do during family time?
Exercise, chit-chat, watch movies, eat out and go for holiday trips abroad.

You’re an only child ― who do you hang out with?
Despite being an only child, I have a big family. As my cousins are mostly working adults ― I normally hang out with my parents.

“Sometime in the future, I plan to go abroad to study music and slowly equip myself to become a professional concert violinist.”

Any favourite subjects in school?
Science and languages.

Do you enjoy other music genres besides classical music?
I listen to Symphony 92.4 most of the time, and occasionally, some jazz.

Describe your personality in three words?
Happy, humorous and outgoing.

Between both of your parents, is there a ‘cooler’ parent and a stricter one?
My father is stricter and my mum is cooler.

Who designs/makes your concert outfits?
My mum and her church friend.

Please answer the following questions:

* If I could meet or play a duet with a famous violinist, it would be… Gil Shaham [47-year-old American-Israeli violinist].

* My favourite classical piece is…Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for Violin in D Major.

* I am happiest when… I win a competition.

* When I’m feeling down I… Talk to my parents or friends.

* If I could have a superpower, I’d want to be able to… Read people’s minds.

* My favourite composer is Mozart because… He composed many beautiful violin works.

* My favourite book is… The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan.

* My favourite junk food is… Gummy sweets.

* My favourite hawker dish is… All types of noodles.

* My favourite dish that mum cooks is… Chicken porridge.

* My favourite shows are… America’s and Britain’s Got Talent.

* My favourite time of day is… When I am practising because mummy gives funny ideas about the piece I am playing and makes me laugh.

Photos: The Violin Channel, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA)

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