Taiwanese-born Angel Lee has been on the panel of music examiners for Trinity College London since 2012.
At the age of 14, Angel entered the Malaysian Institute of Art (MIA) as a special entrant majoring in violin and piano, she then went on to achieve a number of performance diplomas (FTCL, LTCL, LRSM, LGSMD, LMusA) before furthering her music studies as a scholar at the University of Melbourne. Returning to Malaysia, Angel dedicated her time towards developing music education, particularly the cultivation of young musical talents, and has held teaching positions at University Malaya, MIA, and the National Arts Academy of Malaysia. She is also the violinist of the Sutera Ensemble, a piano quartet that has performed across Malaysia and in Cambodia.
Over the past decade, Angel has successfully organised and performed in concerts, and through these efforts, she has also raised funds for several charitable organisations and was involved in the performance and release of two music CDs for charity: Piano Weaving Love (1997) and My Cellistic Journey (2009).
Angel is the founder of the Euroasia Association of Performing Arts, an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the arts throughout the country through concerts, festivals, and workshops. The association has established ties with international organisations and currently organises two of Malaysia’s largest competitions – the Euroasia Strings Competition and the Malaysian Piano Competition – with its top winners gaining further knowledge in music festivals in Europe and in performing as soloists with a professional orchestra.
Angel was bestowed with the Setiawan Tuanku Muhriz (STM) medal by the Royal Family of Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia in 2014.
What inspired you to enter the field of classical music?
My aunt was a professional harpist – when I was a young child, she used to teach me the piano and growing up, she would take me to a variety of concerts to expose me to the different types of music.
What do you think are skills or characteristics needed to succeed in your career as a musician, music examiner or a teacher?
Patience, discipline and humility. As a musician, the word you use the most, and the thing you do the most is PRACTICE, and we need to practice patiently. You can’t learn things right away, nor do things get fixed right away – you need to be disciplined and patient, to allow your mind and muscles to work together correctly. There is no end to what you can learn – music is something so personal and subjective, by having an open mind, you can learn so much from listening to others.
As an examiner – one of the skills is to be able to write really fast!
What do you get from your occupation that you can’t get from any other line of work?
The sense of satisfaction and pride – knowing you have contributed somewhat to a person’s musical journey.
There is the old-school concept about how as a musician, you can’t possibly make a comfortable living. Both of those assumptions are highly incorrect.
What do you think is a misperception that the general public has about your job, or an aspect of being a musician that many people aren’t aware of?
I remember how some of my relatives (and acquantainces) reacted when they heard I was doing music – it almost always starts with a sense of “pity”, the assumption that I probably did so badly in school that I had no choice. The conversation will start with something like “Oh, Music ah – ya, that’s an easier one, no need to study very much, just play only.”
Then there is the old-school concept about how as a musician, you can’t possibly make a comfortable living. Both of those assumptions are highly incorrect.
Tell us about your experience working as a music examiner of the Trinity College London or your experience as a concert violinist.
As an examiner, we are expected to be very adaptive. Very often, we get on a plane and get sent to places we have never been, or know nothing about. On the tour, we meet new people, and get introduced to new cultures, new culinary delights – it is all very exciting. Each day is a new adventure, as you won’t ever know who the next person to walk through the door is, or how he/she is going to perform.
I play the violin in a piano quartet (won’t call myself a concert violinist though!) – personally, I enjoy the rehearsals more than the actual performances. The rehearsals are when we exchange ideas, try out different interpretations, and then find one that feels the most right to all of us – though sometimes we actually fight it out before deciding – but it’s still a process that helps us learn so much about each other and the different things we can do together as a team. During the performance – the adrenaline rush is there, your senses are heightened and, in a way, you feel that all your mistakes are amplified! I don’t think I’ve ever felt that the performance went better than how we have rehearsed it.
Could you describe your path towards becoming a music examiner and a violinist?
The earliest part of my music career was teaching violin and piano privately, shortly after returning from Melbourne, I was offered teaching positions at several tertiary institutions, and was part of the exam panel as well. Apart from teaching, I also played in orchestras and ensembles.
For about a decade, I focused a lot on cultivating and training young children and building ensemble. We had a strings group that was playing at a very high level with each of the individual ensemble members being equally competent.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
As a teacher – seeing my students develop, and garnering recognition to be invited to perform internationally. In 2014, we were invited to perform a 3-city tour in Italy, and our ensemble comprising of young musicians, aged between 10-16, came in second prize at the Princess Galyana Vadhana International Ensemble Competition in Thailand, competing against University and Post-Graduate students.
As a music teacher, what’s the best gift you’ve received?
To see my students, both past and present, progress and excel in what they do.
Instead of bringing our kids to Europe, why not bring the artistes here instead? It would make it much more accessible and more people could benefit from the experience. And that’s what we did.
As one of the founding members of Euroasia Association of Performing Arts, can you tell us more about the association? (What is it? How and why it was founded? And where do you see the association in ten years?)
Euroasia was founded in 2013 – just as a music festival at that time. I took several students to France for two weeks to attend a music festival a year before that and I was amazed by the kind of improvement they made in that short time. It was costly, and I know that it is not something easily affordable in general so I thought, instead of bringing our kids to Europe, why not bring the artistes here instead? It would make it much more accessible and more people could benefit from the experience. And that’s what we did. And that was how the name Euroasia came about, bringing Europe to Asia, and vice versa.
We registered as a non-profit organisation in 2014, and we aim to educate and promote the development of performing arts in Malaysia by providing intercultural and internationally collaborative programmes.
Over the years we have organised workshops, concerts, masterclasses and competitions. Seeing that most musical related events are often only held in Kuala Lumpur, we thought that in order for us to reach more people in Malaysia, we should bring the events to them instead – it will also make it much more affordable and accessible for people in the region to participate instead of having to travel to KL. With that in mind, our competition took the form of a nationwide tour from 2015 onwards, having preliminary rounds in 6 different states of Malaysia, concluding with the final event in Kuala Lumpur or my hometown of Negeri Sembilan.
In ten years, I hope that we would have extended our reach to all parts of Malaysia, and will be able to look back proudly and see that we have made a positive impact in the music industry!
You have many different roles. How do you balance them? How do you balance your professional and personal life?
I don’t! I guess most people will go with the set aside certain time, and not think about work, but this doesn’t work for me. Sometimes I feel in order to be able to do everything that I want to do, within a given time – I just have to go on a “what-do-I-feel-like” basis. It is very unorganised, and it drives my family crazy, because I’ll be doing one thing this minute, like timetabling for our competition, and the next minute I’ll be in the kitchen getting my toddler to feed the turtles and trying find the ingredients to bake a cake at the same time. It’s very bizarre, but it keeps me happy in a way, and so I don’t feel the work pressure. Doesn’t make sense at all, I know.