Chew Kai-Xin started learning the clarinet at the age of 13 in a school band. During her time in Catholic High School, Kai-Xin actively participated in band competitions and festivals in Malaysia under the baton of Eric Lee, such as the National Marching Band Competition and World Marching Band Competition. She also joined the Petaling Jaya Youth Symphonic Band before continuing her musical endeavours in Singapore at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).

Kai-Xin graduated with Best Graduate during her Diploma in Music studies at NAFA in the year 2020, and has recently obtained a Bachelor of Music (Honours) under the Lucien Wang Scholarship. Despite coping with studies and financial struggles, she immersed herself in local ensembles and the music scene, by performing actively in and out of NAFA, such as the Singapore Philharmonic Winds, Orchestra Collective, Singapore Wind Symphony, just to mention a few. Kai-Xin also had the privilege to perform with the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra.

Under the guidance of Joost Flach and Lim Yau, she was also an active member of the NAFA Wind Ensemble, and actively performed with the NAFA Orchestra. In 2019, Kai-Xin was invited to participate as a solo clarinettist in Gillian Tan’s choreography at Third Space (Esplanade), and also performed at the TARI International Dance Festival back in her hometown, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She was also involved in the interdisciplinary team who performed at the National Gallery, Singapore, in April 2019.

Kai-Xin sees herself in a larger musical community and actively volunteers to teach music in different non-profit organisations, such as the Marymount Centre for abused children and women. She also collaborated with Connexions International (CXI) and the Asian Women Welfare Association in a community music project for the elderly in Sep 2019. Taking that a notch further, Kai-Xin even initiated her own projects such as a seven-week Good Shepherd Student Care music programme for the underprivileged children in July 2019 and organised a music workshop for students at Punggol Primary School in March 2020.

Kai-Xin is passionate about spreading the joy of music with the people around her. She also has plans to reach out to other artists in different industries and even indigenous people for collaboration opportunities. To her, music learning is more than just performing and certificates; it is a skill and experience that crosses language, boundaries, and culture.

Hi Kai-Xin! What made you decide to pursue music as a career?

Hello! First off, thank you for having me! Honestly, I really thought pursuing a music career was a just dream, that was never going to come true, especially coming from a generation with adults having a constant discussion about music being just a hobby… I am sure some of us can relate to that. 

Well for me, when I was 16, there was one particular tutor whom I came across at a National Day Parade event who told me I should consider studying music. At that time, I laughed it off, due to my family’s financial background and the stigma that music is only for the rich or the talented… and I decided I was neither rich nor talented. 10 years later, we happened to bump into each other and caught up, and the first question he asked was, “why didn’t you study music?” And for the next one year, he kept encouraging me to go for it. Since I have always loved music, I finally gathered up some courage, took the leap of faith, got recommended to a professional, took some lessons, and went for the audition. It has been such a mind-blowing journey every step of the way, even up till now!

Who are some musicians or composers that have influenced your music journey?

Oh there are many… Pablo Barragan, Jacqueline du Pre, Pablo Casals, András Schiff, Beethoven, Schumann, and Gershwin were among those who inspired and helped me navigate my way around. And definitely, all my Teachers and friends!

What was it like playing in a marching band and representing your school and country in competitions? How different was it compared to playing in orchestras and ensembles now?

I think one thing that stood out was that marching band emphasised a lot on team discipline – “one for all, all for one”, or “when one fails, the whole team fails” etc. It was extremely rigorous training and much was expected from us. However I consider ourselves fortunate since we had a tutor that emphasised a lot on playing with a good tone and having good foundations; on top of learning how to march with instruments, and walking from one point to another in choreography. Though representing our school, state, and country as a team was extremely stressful, it is something quite honourable to every single one of us. Even up till now, a lot of us would revisit those moments during our catch up sessions. 

On the other hand, playing in orchestras and ensembles taught me how to emphasise on individual discipline. In school band or marching band, there will be several people playing the same part, and psychologically, it helps a lot when you have somebody to play the same part together with you as it sort of boosts your confidence. Since the time spent together in orchestras or ensembles is limited, we have to always be on our toes and make sure that we prepare ourselves well before playing with others. There will be nobody to cover for you, and in fact, we rely on each other to make music.

How does preparing for a performance look like for you? 

Well, it depends on what performance I am preparing for. It differs from solo performance, ensemble performance to orchestral performance. But for any performances at all, I always try to prepare my state of mind – I make sure that in whatever circumstances I’m open and ready to take on any changes that may come my way.

What was it like returning to your hometown to perform at the TARI International Dance Festival?

It was quite an exhilarating experience, to be honest. For the first time in a very long while, I was taking a plane back home, not to visit my family, but to perform to a huge audience that I have never known. It was not just a local event, but an event that gathered many dancers around the world to showcase their work. I am super honoured to be considered as a collaborator, and not just part of the background music, which they could have easily used. It was my first time collaborating with other faculties and I know, from then, it’ll not be my last!

What has been the most challenging part of your music journey?

The battle with myself. Haha… believe it or not, I’m still always in a constant struggle with myself – my brain, that is! I have a tendency to strive for the best and give my all. It’s either all or nothing. And yet, that may come as a weakness as well. Doing music professionally these 5 years have taught me how to, not just do my best, but also to let things be! As long as you’ve done your best, that itself is something!

Outside of your studies, you played for so many different orchestras and ensembles and even contributed to community projects. What motivates you to continue with what you do when times get tough?

The Grace of God! 🙂 I don’t think I could ever come this far without God. Being able to participate in these projects and making music is a joy and a reward to me. And of course, not to forget, I always have friends, fellow seniors and juniors, lecturers and mentors that always seem to appear at the right time and the right place, to advise and assist me. I don’t think I could have gotten through my tough times without any of them. ✌🏻

Of all your musical endeavours, was there a decision or experience that impacted you the most?

I believe it was when I decided I wanted to perform in every performance opportunity I was given or am going to be given. To put it out there, due to the vulnerable state that I will be placed in, I really don’t favour playing solo. It is one of the more radical decisions that I have gone with – to challenge myself to just put myself out there. And I am proud to say, I have not regretted it thus far. In fact, I realised that in every experience, I could always learn something. 

You have so much experience in contributing to the community through your expertise in music. How did you think of initiating your own projects to help underprivileged students?

Remember I mentioned that I was instilled with the thought, ‘music was for the rich and the talented?’ Well, I didn’t really subscribe to that idea. The more I knew about music, the more I found out music, or rather the Arts, could do wonders! Music can speak on behalf of those who find it hard to express themselves; music can educate; music can heal and many more other elements!

But just because you’re poor you can’t make music? I found out, nope.

I was greatly inspired by those who taught in other parts of the world – they used recycled items, food, things that we normally wouldn’t treasure, and turned them into instruments for the underprivileged to play, and they sounded really good! You can look it up! I think it’s called the Recycled Orchestra! So I thought to myself, could I possibly do that too? I decided to give it a try and, yes, it was quite an experience! If only, we were given more time!

Congratulations on obtaining your Bachelor of Music (Honours) at NAFA! What are you planning on pursuing now that you have graduated?

Thank you! I’m currently undergoing trial with the Malaysia Philharmonic Orchestra. I’m really thrilled since this was another one of my dreams!

You mentioned wanting to reach out to artists in different industries and communities to collaborate, do you already have a project in mind you would like to/are already working on?

Yup, I do have a few in mind! But to start things off, I hope to be able to organise an annual showcase that allows all the artists to improvise on each others’ work. In fact, there were already a few projects organised by NAFA that were held in the National Gallery. I am hoping that we can eventually introduce the concept of teaching the younger generation through the Arts, combining not just ‘Artists’, but also with the knowledge of the ‘Scientists’, instead of the other way round.

Do you have any advice for young clarinettists who are thinking of pursuing music as a career?

I share with you a piece of advice, not by me but by the legendary cellist, Pablo Casals, which I personally use as a reflection and a reminder all the time.

Don’t be vain because you happen to have talent. You are not responsible for that; it was not of your doing. What you do with your talent is what matters. You must cherish this gift. Do not demean or waste what you have been given. Work — work constantly and nourish it.” 

Dayna Wong

Written By Dayna Wong

Writer, The Band Post