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Interview with Pianist & Composer Siu Tin Chi

Pianist and composer with a strong passion for music and a multi-cultural background.

Siu Tin Chi is a pianist and composer born and raised in Hong Kong and Macau. Siu holds her Master’s degree in Music in Piano Performance from Manhattan School of Music, and Bachelor Degree of Arts in Music (Hons.) from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. She received early music education from Macao Conservatory and won numerous prizes in Macao Youth Music Competition. During her study in Hong Kong, she won the first prize of the Chinese Pieces Group in the 1st Toyama Asian Youth Music competition. She has performed in different countries, including Mainland China, Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, New York, the Netherlands, etc. In 2014, Siu was invited to perform at the Carnegie Hall with a group of Chinese singers. In 2016, Siu has received a full scholarship from Instituto Cultural do Governo da R.A.E. de Macau to study Jazz Piano and Composition at Rotterdam Conservatory (Codarts). Siu was a piano and theory instructor in Macao Conservatory and piano accompanist in Hong Kong Academy of Performing Art (dance school degree program). Siu is currently a member of the local A cappella group -The Gay Singers. In 2018, she formed The CHI quartet in the Netherlands focusing on her original compositions.

This interview appeared first on Planet China Vol 11, Celebrating Women who push boundaries.

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What inspired you to pursue a career in music and what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career? Have you always wanted to be a musician?

Thank you so much for your attention to my music! To me, it happened very naturally. I seldom thought about going for another career besides music. I am the youngest child of three. My parents ran a good business, but they had very little time for us. I grew up basically with myself and a maid at home. As a child, I was very quiet, and I didn’t comminute well with other people, or even myself. I always felt extremely lonely and even a bit scared, but when I heard some nice music played on the TV, I immediately forgot everything and fell completely in love with it. Music was a great comfort to me.

In 2018, Siu has formed a jazz duo In Harmonies with guitarist Vincent Lau. The Duo is committed to explore colorful sonority that offer a symmetrical and intimate tone. The group gave concerts in various places and also collaborate with other musicians and singers frequently

How old were you when you started playing music? What are your fondest memories of training to become a musician?

When I was around 4 or 5, my mother realized I could figure out a melody on the piano by myself. Around the age of 8, my mom sent me to a music store from my neighborhood to have piano lessons. I would say the most important musical influence to me was when I got into the junior piano program at the Macao Conservatory when I was around 14 under the instruction of Mr. Leung Hio Ming. It was an absolutely life-changing experience for me to learn from him- such a kind, dedicated, strict teacher and musician. The journey of training to be a musician was very tough, the fondest memories only come when I look back from now. However, at that moment it was very hard. I would say my fondest training memories were the company and teaching of Mr. Leung before every piano competition of mine. I would wake up at 5 am in the morning, practice for an hour, and then be at the conservatory at 6:45 am, and of course, Mr. Leung was already there sitting in the piano classroom. The lessons last until 7:45 am, and then I went to regular school. We did this for a long period of time. It was very tough, but then I never meet any teacher who cares about his students as much as him.

What are some sacrifices you’ve faced pursuing your passion for music? What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I never feel that I need to sacrifice anything in order to peruse music. It has always been my own choice, something that I enjoy doing. My greatest challenges of being a musician are always the continued mental struggle. For a long period of time, I had a constant struggle of wanting to be better too much, and too impatient towards myself. In the past, I would spend 10 hours a day practicing or listening to music, completely isolated myself from anyone. This could lead to a chaotic mind, losing in the sea of information and creating insecurity. For now, I am still working hard, but rather with another perspective, and trust the journey will bring me to the place that I am meant to be. To have peace with myself, and enjoy the process every day. Music is such great art, and there is no ending to learning it. For sure, we need all the basic techniques and theories to support us in making the craft. After that, the greatest thing about music is that we can always make our own choices; which is always the most interesting part and at the same time the hardest part- knowing and also having the courage to be completely honest to ourselves, and truly embrace who we are.

Siu performing in The Duo Spiritual, a long-standing collegiate team since 2003 with marimba soloist Humphrey Leung. The duo explores the musical possibilities across marimba and piano to bring a positive vibe. The group is also deeply involved in crossing over with other performing art media

I read you were born and raised in Macau and Hong Kong, and you studied in the New York Manhattan School of Music and Jazz in Rotterdam Conservatory. Does living and moving in different countries influence your way to see life and be creative?

Definitely. I left Macau when I was 17, it was completely out of curiosity.
Macau was a very simple and lovely place, and it was my original home where I had spent my youth and learned about kindness. Hong Kong, to me, appeared as a very exciting place yet tough, where I learned many survival skills as a human being. New York is definitely the toughest place that I have ever lived in terms of making a living as a musician. However, It was a very eye-opening experience for me to see such a wide cultural diversity and the infinity possibility of many different art forms. Holland is a place where takes my musicianship to another level. I have formed my first quartet and performed my original music here, and my home at this moment. The experience of living in these four completely different cities gave me a lot of inspiration in life as a musician and a human being. My compositions are always based on life experiences or memories. Even people have different cultures; in the end, we are all people from the earth- brothers and sisters.

Siu believes that music is one of the primitive answers for find love and connection since people are united in music

How important are practicing and instrumental techniques for achieving your musical goals? What does improvisation mean to you?

Technical works are like daily bread for any performing artist. Ideally, I would engage myself in a fixed routine. If my schedule doesn’t allow it, at least I will try my best to do some of it. Improvisation is a language. For example, if I want to speak French, I need to learn the basic sound, sentence structure, and grammar rules in order to be able to talk to real French people. After that, what I need is more and more vocabulary. The same thing applies to music. It takes a lot of knowledge, practice, and experience in order to play/speak freely from our hearts. I believe once we get to this point, it will be a truly amazing feeling. I am still working and learning from my musical heroes. I hope one day I can be truly free from all my technical and mental boundaries, and improvise freely on the piano.

Music is a universal language that allows us to travel in the private landscape of our mind

Do you have any good luck charms or rituals before stage play? What do you feel during your performances?

I don’t really have a specific ritual before going on stage. I did experience some rituals when I was working with a musical theatre company. It was more like supporting each other by gathering together and say “Good Show”. It was actually very nice team spirit. To me, I always consider myself a vehicle that delivers sound from the divine spirit. I really love this idea, because it makes me feel less self-conscious and humble. I can focus more on the music itself. In another word, it’s not about me. It’s about art and the moment.

She believes musicians have the purpose to unite people and trigger the power of imagination into their audiences

Which performances are you most proud of? Do you have a favorite event you performed in? Why is your most memorable experience?

The most memorable performance was definitely my first tour with the CHI quartet. It was not only because It is my band, my own original music, my first time leading a band. Of course, all of these first-time experiences were very meaningful, but the thing that makes me most proud of was the friendship with my band members. They put their trust in me as a musician and a person, this makes me very happy and proud. I am thankful to have them.

How much has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your work?

Like a regular musician, many of my live concerts were canceled. Some of them were rescheduled, and some of them I am still waiting for further notice. I did a couple of live streaming concerts, but it felt very different from playing in a live situation with audience participation. It is a truly difficult period for performing art. However, one door closes, another opens. Although the online performing situation is not very ideal, the good side is we can reach way more audiences at one time than a live performance. I guess this is the best we can do during this bizarre period, and keep ourselves in good shape. In this introspective period, I try to compose more music, to keep myself in good shape for the future when the live performances come back, at the same time also explore more music-related job opportunities.

She has been participating as a live piano accompanist in many concerts, musical theatre performances and also workshops

What have musicians learned from lockdown? What do you feel needs to be done to help musicians and audiences enjoy again live musical events?

To be honest, this is a very difficult question for me. I am still figuring out what to do with it. During the lockdown, I see so many musicians, artists they are forced to pick up another job or even change occupation. I cannot represent other musicians, because everyone feels differently. I do see this period as good mental training for myself, I learned to be strong, to be perseverant, to be flexible, to be patient, and to believe in myself more.

Photos courtesy of Siu Tin Chi

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