Career Talk: In Tune With the Job

He was only a toddler when he had his first “encounter” with the piano and it has been a long journey since. Some two decades later the child became a professional pianist and now takes centre stage at concerts all over the world.

“I started my formal piano lessons when I was four. Over the years, I have tried playing a variety of different instruments, but the piano still remains my first love,” says Shuenda Wong, 26.

Wong’s decision to make a career in music was not an overnight one. Having participated in numerous music competitions during his schooling years, the teen took a keener interest in the field after an audition which earned him a scholarship to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Music in Germany.

“I guess coming into this field happened naturally for me. I did not really have a hard time convincing my parents because they knew that the piano was taking me places, and they knew I was really passionate about my music.”

Play on: Wong is most at ease when he plays the piano. Play on: Wong is most at ease when he plays the piano.

Remembering his first performance at a music school when he was just five, Wong says, “I was really nervous at that time, so my mother had to come up on stage to accompany me while I performed!”

Today, Wong has performed in Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, China, Japan, Brunei, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and the United Kingdom and also freelances for various gigs, besides offering piano lessons.

The piano pedagogue says, “I do not believe that one can be put off music just because of a teacher.

In fact, I view such a relationship as that of a mentor-mentee rather than that of a teacher-student, as music is personal, and it is all about finding the right mentor.

Wong: ... you can go far if you develop your skills...

My job involves ...

... a variety of tasks. I am a freelance musician, so people look for me when they want a pianist either as a solo performer or to play background music with others. I also give piano lessons.

My morning starts with ...

... practising the piano. I wake up at about seven each morning, and practise the piano for three hours. I usually teach in the afternoon or evening. As a freelance musician I have the flexibility in deciding what I want to do, and what jobs I want to take on. I make sure that I choose my jobs wisely and manage my time well in juggling all my responsibilities.

To qualify, you need ...

... an associate diploma at least. It will be good to have the qualifications if you plan to teach. If you want to mentor higher level students, having a Bachelor’s degree will make you more ‘marketable’.

It may be a little different for a performer.

Although paper qualifications are important, you will be selected based on the audition. It is also good to have experience, so join as many competitions as possible and have an impressive portfolio.

The best person for the job ...

... is one who is passionate and has a love for music. The technicalities of playing the piano is one thing, the emotional and psychological side of it is another, especially if you want to teach, patience is important.

As a teacher you have to go ‘beneath the surface’ and look beyond that piece of music. It may not always be easy to guide someone to do that. This is where trust and communication comes in. Even as a performer, one must be able to connect well with others on stage, so trust is important.

I love my job because ...

... when I play the piano, I feel like I have been transported to a different world. It is very enjoyable and calming.

The job allows me to meet different people all the time. I also get to travel quite a bit to play in different countries.

It is also very fulfilling to be able to mentor young people who have a love or passion for music especially in playing the piano.

What I dislike most ...

... while I enjoy meeting people, there are times when I come across temperamental people, who can be difficult. However, one is bound to meet difficult people in any line of work and I am always learning to be more understanding of others. We need to see things from other people’s perspective.

Prospects for the future ...

... music is such a subjective field, but you can go far if you develop the skills and have faith and confidence in yourself.