10 things about: Chaing YiLing, the hometown girl turned international soprano

Picture by K.E.Ooi
Picture by K.E.Ooi

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GEORGE TOWN, April 19 – A Penang girl who grew up on Armenian Street in the George Town Heritage Zone, Chaing YiLing never imagined that she would become an accomplished soprano when she first took singing lessons for fun.

The 26-year-old had begged her parents to let her take singing lessons at the age of four and today, she has won many awards for her powerful rendition of the classics.

Back in Malaysia after many years abroad studying music and singing, Chaing made her debut recital first in Penang before going on to Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur recently.

The soft-spoken soprano has a strong passion for the classics and despite being told numerous times that she would have become more famous if she had taken the easier route of going into the pop and modern music industry, she stuck to the classics.

Chaing was one of the finalists in the Reginald Vincent Lieder Prize in UK in 2011 and 2013 and she won the Margaret Pascoe Singing Scholarship and Ella Cheshire Award for Soprano when studying in the Birmingham Conservatoire.

Two years ago, she won the Weingarten Competition in UK and went on to continue her postgraduate study in music in Hungary under the Joseph Weingarten Scholarship.

Here, Chaing shares how she embarked on a music career and her take on the music industry in Malaysia.

In her own words:

  • I was singing in a children’s choir from young and I played instruments like violin and piano…  I didn’t think I was confident enough until I auditioned for the Pro Musica International singing workshop when I was 17. That was the first time I met Datuk Seri Lim Chong Keat and my teacher, Loh Siew Tuan. She inspired me to embark on a singing career.
  • I was five when I first started singing. Music speaks something that you can’t express with words. Singing allows me to express my emotions very well. I still remember my first music teacher asking me why I was crying over music when I was only five years old and I told her it is because I was touched by it. I’m very naturally attracted to music. I’m normally a very quiet person, I don’t talk much but when I’m on stage, I’m a different person.
  • The way my parents raised me… I had very good academic results. I got straight As every time but they exposed me to music and told me that academics is not everything but to go after my passion instead. They told me the only way you can achieve success is if you go after your passion.
  • When I was younger, I wanted to become a chemical engineer. Or I wanted to be in a career that had something to do with science. I don’t exactly like science, it’s just because of my good academic results, everyone said I should be in science. I like books, I read crazily every day. I had fun studying actually. I’m very quiet. If I’m free, I’d either play the piano or read the whole day.
  • Basically, Pro Musica has been taking care of me for so many years so for my homecoming trip, they organised this recital to present me. Penang is my hometown so naturally my first recital should be in Penang. I live in the Klang Valley now. I just came back less than half a year ago. My first performance when I came back from overseas was with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra with Datuk Ramli Ibrahim. The first time I worked with such a big orchestra in Malaysia, it was very impressive. I can see that Malaysia has good prospects for music as well.
  • Malaysia has potential, it needs more educational programmes. If I don’t know anything about classical music and you ask me to listen to one and half hours of music without knowing what’s happening, I might not be interested at all. At the moment, a lot of people like to hear classical music but they are not aware of the events that are being held.
  • I was in Europe for six years. My brother is an artist. My parents were dancers when they were young. My parents and teachers encouraged me to go into this.
  • Most classical singers share the same fate as me. The turning point is to learn to knock at the door, if doesn’t open, to knock again. We have to try and try again until the door opens. For the crowd in Malaysia, we have to keep trying. So if we have a concert, and the crowd is not that big, we have to do it again, don’t stop and keep doing. In the process we are also finding out what the Malaysian crowd wants and how can we help them open this door for them to let them in. We’ve been trying a lot of times.
  • “When I was overseas, I’m just nothing. I tried to reach out to the people there, I asked for a chance to perform, I just want to perform, I didn’t mind about the pay. Some people will tell you, you are singing this way, why not just sing pop or why not participate in this Astro singing competition and it will make you famous one day. They will tell me, you can sing well, why don’t you become a jazz singer? Recording artist? Go to Sony or any recording company? They will make you famous. They asked, why I’m trying so hard in classical music and I get nothing in return; people don’t know me. Why don’t you take the faster way? People have advised me like that a few times, but I wish I could do all that. But my passion is still in classical (music). If no one goes for classical, who else will?”
  • I’m now trying to go into the educational sector where I can teach singing most of the time. To my surprise, the crowd I’m teaching in Klang Valley right now, eight to 15, to my surprise they are into classical singing. Most of the young would go for pop but this crowd is special.

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