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走旁人少走的路 小提琴手易彤
The Path Less Travelled
By Amanda Yun • 刘素芬
Photos courtesy of Ms Dawn Yah
Published: EduNation, Issue 1, Jan-Feb 2013
EduNation interviews local violin protégé, Helena Dawn Yah (age 17) to find out the differences in educational emphasis between music schools in Singapore and the United Kingdom (UK).

In 2009, Helena Dawn Yah, then 14 and a student at the School of the Arts (Sota), made a solo flight to the UK in the hopes of gaining entry into the Yehudi Menuhin School. All the places in the school were filled at the time of her audition, but she decided to go for it anyway.

She left such a deep impression on the panel that the school decided to seek funding to take in an additional student. The appeal for extra funding failed, but as fate would have it, a student withdrew from the school - opening a spot that was quickly offered to the ecstatic teen.

The rest, as they say, is history.

When asked if she would encourage other aspiring musicians to chase their dreams the way she did, Dawn laughed: "If this [an in-depth study of music] is what they want then I'd say go for it - I mean the worst answer that you'd get is a no."

Learning Music at Yehudi Menuhin

Lessons at Yehudi Menuhin were tougher than she had ever imagined, said Dawn, who has been there for three years and trains under Russian violin Professor Natalia Boyarsky. Professor Boyarsky's exacting standards took some getting used to at first but that eventually spurred Dawn to work hard.

"Basically if you're playing a piece, and she asks you to change something - to play something like a small little phrase differently for example - a really small little tiny thing - and you can't do it by your third try she will bang the table and shout something like 'Why are you so stupid!' or 'If you don't want to play this well, you can just leave'," said Dawn, laughing.

Despite this, Dawn said she is grateful for what Mrs Boyarsky has taught her. "Though she shouts things like that, she's a really nice person and is really kind - in fact, she's like a grandmother to me - she's just the kind that will do anything to make you work. It's like the Chinese proverb - 'Strict teachers produce excellent students'; her intentions are good, and she wants to get straight to the point while making you reflect and work hard on perfecting your playing. I really appreciate what she has taught me."

Musing upon Mrs Boyarsky's teaching methods, Dawn said that being able to accept criticism was important for musicians though it doesn't help everybody, she admitted. "Because once you have the mentality of 'I'm just going to keep on getting shouted at,' you can easily develop an inferiority complex."

But the fact that Mrs Boyarsky covers both musicality and technique makes her a "very good teacher" because many teachers focus on only one or the other.

"She believes that 'If you play with a lot of technique and no musicality, you might as well not play the violin.' She expects to see us perform at a very high standard. So when she actually says 'Well done!' you feel extremely satisfied, and like you have finally made some significant achievement," said Dawn.

Differing Emphases at the Schools

Life is different at Yehudi Menuhin from when she was a Sota student, and one big difference is the amount of time Dawn spends on music. She estimates that she spent half her time on music at Sota. At Yehudi Menuhin, it is about 70 per cent.

"The environment in Singapore is too study-based," said the 17-year-old violinist. "I think it's mostly because of parents' decisions, and also because of the government - how we want what's safe - and music is treated more like some bonus ability in the margin of their child's résumé. I think that parents are not flexible enough to let go of academics and focus on the music -they're not wrong; it's just a tough decision. And for educational institutes, we only have the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (NUS) and Sota, but no proper institute that would just help you focus from young to do full time music. I think that's the biggest challenge; there's no environment for music."

Sota is Singapore's first independent pre-tertiary school to provide specialised education for young people talented in the arts. Its vision is to groom the next generation of artists and creative professionals.

Dawn had expected there to be more emphasis on nurturing professional musicians.

"I thought that because they advertised themselves as an Arts school, they were aspiring to produce students who could become professional musicians, dancers, etc. After attending the school for some time, my mother and I gave some feedback to the School. We felt that there was too much focus on mainstream academia for a student to become a soloist or performer. That's when they told us, 'Oh, we expect our students to graduate - not to become performers or dancers - but to be able to have jobs like an MEP [Music Elective Programme] teacher - that kind of thing - but definitely not a soloist or a performer.' And we were like, 'Ah, I see… hmm...' - it was then that we realised that Sota wasn't the kind of music school I was looking for."

The realisation was what prompted the young violinist to seek her education elsewhere.

At Yehudi Menuhin she only needs to do music and one other subject for her A levels. But, not unlike a typical Singaporean, Dawn added, "I want to play it safe, so I'm reading Music, Chinese, and Mathematics. I'm also studying German - but not as an A level subject; it's for a certificate you need to have if you want to study in Germany or Austria."

The School's subject requirements are minimal - just enough to allow students to enter universities to study music should they wish to. Even though it wants its students to have an understanding of art, literature and science, Yehudi Menuhin has a limited range of available subjects as students spend less than half their school day on academic studies.

When asked about the School's attitude to the taking up of more than the minimum subject requirement, Dawn said it is actively encouraged. "My violin teacher says - and Lord Menuhin used to say - that if you want to do well in music, you have to do other things as well; of course, you need to put emphasis on just one thing, but you can't only put all your thoughts and all your focus on that one thing every day - if you do, you won't be able to improve, and you will never succeed; you need a holistic education."

Teachers and Mentors

At Yehudi Menuhin there are about 50 academic and music staff - which means that there are almost as many teachers as there are students.

For her music alone Dawn has ten different teachers: two for violin, one each for piano, harmony, composition, improvisation, aural, quartet, orchestra, as well as a choral director.

"So many. It's very different from what I had in Singapore, where classes are big, and you don't really get as much attention. It's not that they [in Singapore] don't focus on you; it's just more about the majority, and what the majority want. But over here, all the teachers know each student well, so they can concentrate properly on what each individual student needs to work on."

In addition to smaller class sizes, all of Yehudi Menuhin's music staff are qualified experts in their field. Every teacher has a minimum of a diploma in their area of specialisation.

"I feel so lucky to have so many masters giving their attention to me," said Dawn.

Most significant of all is Mrs Boyarsky, whom Dawn describes with a smile as, "Really, really hardworking. All the teachers are hardworking, but in my eyes, she's the most hardworking."

She recalled that once when she needed help getting ready for a concert, Mrs Boyarsky came in on a Sunday, "just to listen to me - one person, alone. And before our semester assessment, she comes on Sundays to listen to each and every one of us for the whole afternoon - even if it extends into the night."

On another occasion, when Mrs Boyarsky had to take her husband to hospital, she did so and then rushed back to the School. "She felt that she had to come 'no matter what, because these are my students, I can't just throw them aside.' So I think she's really good like that; she actually cares so much about us," said Dawn.

"On the one hand, she inspires me to become a teacher, but at the same time - because she's so amazing - she makes me wonder if I could actually do something like that. Because you not only have to teach your students, you have to love them as well, and it leaves me thinking, 'Wow, so hard!'"

An Educational Head Start in Singapore

Having studied for seven and a half years in Singapore before she went to the United Kingdom, Dawn said she had a head start when it came to the mainstream subjects.

"In England, they don't really push us as hard in academics -mostly because Menuhin's a music school and not a mainstream, academic school - so I think I'm really lucky to have started my foundation in Singapore, especially in mathematics," reflected Dawn.

But it was the opposite when it came to music.

"When I first joined the School, there was a big gap between my peers and me; they had started specialising in music from a young age and had done so much more than I had in Singapore. I can't really quantify how behind I was in terms of years - because everyone joins at a different time and everyone has different experiences - but if I have to estimate, I would say one to two. I think I took one whole year to adjust to the programme because I had to get used to every single thing - even the violin lessons were so much harder than those I had previously experienced."

"For instance, we have to learn one study each lesson, and then show the teacher what we've learnt by the next lesson. There's just so much to memorise, and I had never done that in Singapore."

Her Daily Routine

Lessons start at 8 am and end at 8 pm. Music and violin lessons are incorporated within the day. There is an hour of extra practice from 8 pm to 9 pm.

"Everyone works really hard here, so I can't say I put in double the effort of my peers. There isn't really time to do more than your peers," she said.

"Even the eight-year-olds work hard. They have school until at least 5.30 pm every day, after which they have some free time until 9 o'clock. And even then, what they do during their free time isn't what normal eight-year olds in Singapore do," said Dawn. As opposed to the Singapore model of immersion and exchange programmes for students, Yehudi Menuhin's extra-curricular student development programmes centre largely on performances and arranging master classes with famous musicians.

There are solo, quartet or orchestra performances at places like the National Gallery, Windsor Castle and The Royal Ballet School. And every two years there is a performance in Gstaad, Switzerland, where everyone performs together at the Church of Saanen.

"I think these experiences are really good because they allow us a taste of what it's like to be a performer in varying situations," said Dawn. "Regardless of whether you are tired or not, you perform. You may not have everything you need, or you're uncomfortable, or you're with your friends but you can't really do what you want - experiencing situations like these really helps us a lot."

Apart from public performances, the School also has a programme of lunch-time concerts every Tuesday and Thursday. "These are basically platforms for students to give a kind of preview performance of their pieces before a big concert or an audition. Sometimes teachers also sign us up for them just for practice," she said.

"Strangely, these concerts are the scariest ones to play for - scarier than any other concert. This is because you're playing in front of your friends, and they're also when your teacher is most critical."

"But all in all, I think that performing in lunch-time concerts has been helpful. They help me to get a feel of playing the piece on stage, and in getting over the fear and nervousness of performing something new," she concluded.

Experience and Worldview

When asked if studying abroad has affected her outlook, behaviour or beliefs, Dawn said matter-of-factly, "Everyone changes in some way after going to the School whether it's in our habits, or even in our music.

"Because we come from everywhere - from different cultures and backgrounds, and with different styles - when we come together, we create a whole new environment, and everyone gets affected." For a start, her mindset has changed.

"I'm now 'freer' and I think the credit for that goes to my friends who, though Asian, grew up in places like England or America. Their thinking and the way they present themselves is more 'westernised'. For example - in Asian culture, when someone praises you, you're supposed to go, 'Oh no, it's not like that, oh no!' and you never just say, 'Thank you'. But in England, if someone praises you, you just say 'Oh, thank you very much!'"

This change has probably affected her music, said Dawn. "My teachers believe that you have to allow your emotions to surface in order to play well. In a way, this open mindset has really helped me - and not just in stage confidence. It has helped me become more specific in every single emotion I want to portray when I play, and being "bigger" about them - because when you play, you can't just play for yourself."

Higher Expectations for Performances

Three years on, her experience has impacted her performances in Singapore.

"Since I've been overseas they tend to expect more. But it's also different from playing somewhere in Europe; in Europe, performance comes more in the traditional style. When performing in Asia - even if it's in Singapore - the audience is more inclined to expect both good music and a show in which the performer moves a lot. Even the violin teachers who have been performers agree with that opinion. That made me think a lot about how I should play," she said.

Still, nothing beats performing with her friends again when she is back home. "When I perform with my friends, the feeling is a lot warmer. It's the sense of being able to get back together again to play music. That helps me a lot in my performance."

We asked Dawn if the pressures of performance or negative criticism have ever emotionally affected her.

She laughed and said, "I've never cried after a bad concert - I've only cried because a performance was too good."

"I used to be very emotional; now I've learnt that it's really bad to stress yourself so much over any one thing, because that's really going to ruin your whole life. There's no point worrying so much about something. If you think too much about some things, you're just going to be gloomy all day - you might even cry for a whole day. So now I just try to put what I can aside, try to concentrate on what's important, and try to be tougher - because the real world after graduation is going to be really tough."

How It All Began

Dawn started playing the violin at the age of two under the guidance of her aunt, Ms Yah Wan Har. She gave her first public performance when she was three, and passed the Grade 8 Violin exam at age nine. At age 11 she attained the ATCL (Diploma in Violin Recital) and gave her first solo performance at the Comunedi Porto San Giorgio in Italy.

What followed was a string of achievements, including the Remember Enescu Violin Competition in 2006 where she won multiple prizes.

In 2007 she took part in the 6th Asian Youth Music Competition and was awarded 2nd Prize as well as a Distinction Award. In March 2009, she debuted with the National University of Singapore Symphony Orchestra at the opening of the 4th National University of Singapore Arts Festival.

Dawn was a second-year student at Sota before she left for Yehudi Menuhin and was in the Artistically Gifted Program (AGP) under the tutelage of Mr Lim Soon Lee, the Associate Principal of String Performance in Sota. As a student there, she topped her cohort in music, and was presented the Excellence Award (Music) and the Most Improved Student Award. She was also presented with an Outstanding Performance Award in Chamber Music.

In 2009 she played to a full house at the Jubilee Hall before she left for her studies in England.

In 2011 Dawn performed solo with the M'ode Orchestra, playing two concertos in a single concert when she was back for the holiday break. And in 2012 she became the winner of the inaugural Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award - an award given to the string player with the most outstanding musicianship and performance.

Admission and Student Demographics at Yehudi Mehuhin

The Yehudi Menuhin School was founded in 1963, in Surrey, England, by acclaimed violinist, Yehudi Menuhin. During his many years of travel, he noticed the difficulty child-musicians faced trying to polish their craft while maintaining attendance in normal schools. He therefore saw the need for an educational environment adequately suited for the holistic development of musically-gifted children.

Yehudi Menuhin's student cohort ranges from the age of 8 through 19. Prospective students aged 8 to 16 may apply - but no older - "so that the student can study in the School for two to three years - because it's pointless to attend for only one year," said Dawn.

Students are grouped based on their age and ability. This means that the quota for each annual intake varies, depending on the number of graduating students as well as the instrumental demographic of the existing cohort. Yehudi Menuhin has a current enrolment of around 70 students.

"The students come from everywhere actually. About 40 per cent are British locals and the rest are from all over the world," Dawn explains. "And Yehudi Menuhin is a strings school, so we can't have too many pianists. At the same time, it's not good for us to have too many violinists and not enough pianists, so they do try to find a balance."

Student selection is done through stringent auditions to assess a candidate's musical ability and potential. An invitation to a full audition at the School itself is only extended after a preliminary assessment by the Director of Music. A full audition consists of the playing of two contrasting pieces of the candidate's choice (from different stylistic periods), sight-reading tests, and aural or oral tests.

Not for Everyone

Despite being a music school, and the amount of help and attention each student has access to, not every Yehudi Menuhin alumnus continues with their music at college or professional level.

"Being in the School for so many years, it kind of gives you a gauge whether you are good enough to be an international performer, and whether you can take the stress," explained Dawn, "So some people decide to switch. It really depends. But most want to go on to become musicians." Adding after a pause, "Actually, most of the people who switch aren't bad in music either - they're really quite good."

Dawn feels that becoming successful in the music industry demands more than an outstanding talent in music, "To be a successful musician - let alone a soloist - you don't just need to be good, you have to have a good manager, and so on. It is hard; even if you're good, you may not be successful. And so because they are also good at academics some of them decide to switch."

Behind Every Successful Person

Family support is absolutely essential to Dawn's achievements today.

"It's very important and I'm not talking about just my parents, but also my relatives," said Dawn. "Everyone takes care of me so much; they Skype me all the time. And everyone's been supportive in helping me to choose colleges - and all that kind of stuff. If I didn't have a family who pushed me forward so much, I wouldn't have aimed for something or tried my best. But because everyone gives their whole support, it makes me want to do better - even though it's a bit stressful in a way."

"At first my parents said, 'We never knew that you'd actually want to decide to go to England yourself, but just continue doing that, because it's good for you.' So I just try to do my best, and when I do my best, they are happy for me."

Future Plans

Dawn has not decided on her plans for the future, and is considering the United States and Europe, among other places.

When asked if she would consider furthering her music studies in Asia, Dawn said, "Classical Western music originated from those places, so I think it's a much better decision to go to those places."

When asked if things would have been different if she had stayed on in Sota, Dawn said it would be tough to gauge since she left the School three years ago.

"I think if I was still there, I'd just be going to NUS, because Sota focuses so much on the IB, so even if I applied for a music college with the IB from Sota, it wouldn't be a really good college, because I wouldn't have done as much as all the other people out there who are also applying for music colleges."

In retrospect, Dawn believes that Sota's hands are tied.

"I can see that the art scene in Singapore has its limitations, and Sota has to take into consideration the work prospects of its graduates. If Sota focused much more on music instead of the academic model, the job market probably wouldn't be able to absorb them all, and nor would our specialist tertiary institutions either. I guess this situation would change if Singapore developed a more vibrant and mature classical art culture in the future. I think for that to happen, the government must first know how to let go of academia a bit. Sota was meant to be the first step towards breaking through, but it hasn't really worked."

Last Reflections

While Singapore's "protective" education environment might have drawn some flak, Dawn said there were some plus points. "In England many students drink, and while it's true that overprotectiveness might prevent us from learning how to cope in the real world, sometimes, lack of it just allows students to go off course."

When asked if she would advise students to choose between learning to love what you do, or doing what you love, Dawn said without hesitation that she would recommend that they go for something they like.

"If you don't like it, you won't do well. I've observed that my friends who don't really like what their parents told them to do, don't really succeed. You may do well, but you will never do as well as someone who really loves doing the same thing," said Dawn.
 


焦点人物 > 走旁人少走的路   小提琴手易彤
走旁人少走的路   小提琴手易彤
文:Amanda Yun • 刘素芬
图:易彤提供
刊载:《新学》, 第1期,2013年1月-2月
2009年秋天,当新加坡艺术学院的同学正忙于应付学科的考试时,14岁的易彤毅然离开炎热的新加坡飞往天气渐冷的英国。她的目的地是坐落在距离伦敦45分钟火车行程的城市萨里(Surrey)的梅纽因音乐学校(Yehudi Menuhin School)。

小提琴大师梅纽因爵士创办的梅纽因音乐学校对易彤来说是很熟悉的学校。她的小提琴老师姑姑,就有学生在梅纽因音乐学校深造。易彤觉得新加坡艺术学院的教学模式较重视学术,学生需要花很多时间应付功课。在这样的情况下,要成为音乐家的愿望较难实现。

她的看法是:"如果不大胆在学术和音乐两者间作取舍,终究是两头不到岸。"矢志成为小提琴演奏家的易彤为了实现梦想,5月从捷克参加音乐比赛回来,决定飞往英国去敲梅纽因音乐学校的门。

当时梅纽因音乐学校的年度收生名额已满,尽管校长听过她的演奏,觉得是可造之材,还为她向市政府多争取一个名额,却不被通过。所幸后来有一名学生退出,校长立刻把她的名字填补进去,易彤才获得珍贵的入学机会,踏上到英国去的音乐之旅。

《新学》新加坡教育双语双月刊趁易彤返新演出,和她畅谈三年来在异乡求学的感受。那天她上午才刚下飞机,下午背着小提琴造型的背包走进来,虽未调整时差,却神采飞扬,有问必答。

难熬严师要求

作为家中独女,原以为她初到英国面临的最大难关是思乡之情。"想家吗?当然啦!但是,很快就不想了。"

忆起当时的情况,易彤说:"要真正兼顾音乐和学术两方面,相当吃力,精神和体能的要求都很高。"她解释:"很多人以为拉小提琴不是体力劳动,轻而易举,事实上拉小提琴需要高度的专注力,是很耗神耗力的。"

易彤两岁半起学习小提琴,但到了英国才惊觉自己的音乐水平落后于同学很多。"新加坡上课以学术为重,音乐上的专业训练无论是深度和广度都不足。梅纽因音乐学校提供的音乐专业课程有完整的训练系统,例如有作曲课、音乐史课、旋律课以及音乐通论等,这些课程我以前只是零零星星地接触过。"

为了适应新要求,她抓紧每个练习机会,整整用了一年时间才跟上学校的要求。 "每天从早上8点上课到傍晚6点多,处理一些杂事就到8点,自己能练琴的时间很少,练习一会儿,又到宿舍规定的就寝时间,必须睡觉了。"

梅纽因音乐学校是卧虎藏龙之地,超过一半的学生来自英国以外的国家,如韩国、日本、中国、欧洲等。新加坡学生连她只有四人。"大家都很用功,即便是年龄最小的八岁欧洲学生,也很认真学习。其中韩国学生最可敬。"易彤对学习丝毫不松懈,当同伴去伦敦逛街玩乐消磨周末时,她是上教堂和练琴,生活简单近乎单调。

最让易彤难熬的是如何达到俄罗斯导师娜塔莎的要求,"娜塔莎老师很严格,她要我革除已经根深蒂固的技巧上的陋习,务求做到完美无瑕疵。在她的调教下,我几乎是从头开始学习小提琴。"

娜塔莎老师会当众斥责学生,甚至大发雷霆到拍桌子。"她的要求既完美又细腻,会严厉针对一些看起来很细微的小失误。最可怕的是当我拉了好几遍还达不到她的要求,比如说拉了三遍还不行后,她就会开口大骂,甚至还会抛出'你怎么那么笨'或'还拉不好的话,就离开这里吧!'之类让人很沮丧的话,没有同学没有被她骂过。"

易彤明白老师的教诲出自善意,"她无所不用其极,就是要确保学生都能掌握最好的技巧。"问她是否可以承受这种爱之深、责之切的"火爆"教学方式,易彤笑着说:"很多同学都受不了她打击式的教法,因而失去信心。比起其他同学,我算是很坚强了。这几年被老师责骂而哭泣的次数,其实屈指可数。老实说,我觉得老师这种严厉的教学方式很好,可以驱使我不敢疏懒,真的进步很多。"

这个让学生敬而生畏的老师,是易彤最喜欢和最尊敬的。她形容这位严师:"老师经验丰富,跟着她学习三年多,得益匪浅。她教会了我不仅注重技巧,也要重视音乐感。她曾说过,拉奏技巧高超却无音乐感,还不如不拉。

我相信严师出高徒!演奏会完结后,只要听到老师说一声:'很好!',我就很有成就感!"

她眼中这位像奶奶般的67岁祖母级老师总把学生放在首位,有时还牺牲假日督促学生练习到深夜。"老师看来很凶,但人很好。记得有一次演奏前,我准备不足,老师为此在星期天特地回到学校,给我进行一对一的指导。另有一次,明明家里有急事,她送了丈夫进医院后,为了学

生的演奏练习,马上又赶回学校给我们指导。" 娜塔莎老师点点滴滴付出的心血,易彤铭记于心。

70%时间上音乐科目

梅纽因音乐学校只有60至70名学生,指导的教师却不少。每项科目都至少有一名专任教师。全校四名小提琴老师外另加四名助教。师生比例高,教师可以照顾到每个学生的要求。易彤主修的小提琴科有一名专任老师以及一名助教,副修科的钢琴科有一名导师。"老师和学生的人数几乎相等。能得到这么多专业老师的教导,他们都把焦点放在学生身上,我觉得很幸运!"

感受最深的是师生间互动关系良好:"在新加坡学生人数多,老师没办法深入了解每个学生的背景,不能顾及学生的个人想法和发展。在梅纽因学校,每个学生都有机会和校长坐下来聊天。学生评估也是全体老师针对个别学生进行讨论,老师都清楚掌握每个学生的进展和他们面对的问题。"

学校丰富的资源让易彤遨游在多姿多彩的音乐天地里,这几年她上过各类型的音乐课程,如音乐听力训练、歌唱训练、即兴表演以及掌握肢体感觉的亚历山大技巧课,有趣极了。

"歌唱训练很重要,乐器老师常说,如果没有办法演奏出来,就唱出来吧!当然不是每个人都有歌唱天分,但至少我们必须学会把旋律唱出来。"歌唱训练外,还有让她更灵活掌握音乐旋律的的即兴表演课程。"从前我在新加坡的教堂,常会遇到即兴表演的临场要求,我总是不太会应对,每次都接不上即时转变的旋律。上了这门课后,我的音乐感加强了,对即兴表演也能收放自如了。"

梅纽因音乐学校的制度是音乐课程占70%课时,学术科目占30%课时。"尽管对学术要求不像对音乐科那么严谨,但学校强调全面教育,绝不让我们轻视学术科目。学校创办人梅纽因爵士以及娜塔莎严师常说,要成为音乐家,不能眼中只有音乐而不管其他。每天的生活只是光练琴,那是绝对不行的,生活还有其他有趣的事物。"

音乐和学术成绩兼优

易彤致力于音乐和学术成绩兼优。她强调:"虽然不像在新加坡放那么多时间在学术科目,但我还是尽力保持不错的学术成绩。"她在2010年的O水准会考,除了英文考获B,其余的科目如数学、科学、高级数学、音乐和华文都是A等成绩。

2012年她报考了AS水平考试,音乐和华文都拿了A等,数学试卷有一个A和两个B。"我生病了一个月,必须回新加坡,所以是靠自修应付这场考试。"靠自修来应考,她的数学成绩印证了新加坡教育有扎实的基础。"我庆幸从前在新加坡能打下很好的学术基础,在梅纽因音乐学校,所有学术成绩都是要靠自己拼的。"

易彤今年将面对A水准会考,学校基本上只要求学生报考两科:音乐另加一科。她却报考多一倍的科目,她笑说:"为保险起见,我还是多考一些。我考数学、华文、音乐,还有德文,总共四科。这是新加坡式的'怕输'嘛!"报考科目多,将来申请大学的选择也更广。

她说其他有意转往非音乐科系的同学一般也报考了至少四、五科,但这样做并不容易。"学术科目要求每科每星期至少有五小时的修读时间,加上原有的音乐课,时间根本不够用。我通常上课到晚上8点,剩下的自修时间很少,只能尽力而为。有些科目如华文,学校只安排了每周一小时的课。幸好华文的程度不如新加坡那么高,我还能应付。"

鞭策自己不松懈

三年多来,易彤参加许多大小不同类型的公开演奏。"学校常邀请大师级的音乐家来和我们一起演奏,也时常安排我们出去表演。去年其中一个学期,我就有五、六场校外的公开演奏。"演出场地有英国国家美术馆、芭蕾舞蹈学校,还有温莎堡。另一个全校学生共同参与的重点表演是在瑞士山区胜地格施塔德举行的梅纽因音乐会。这个由梅纽因爵士创办的音乐会吸引许多国际知名音乐家参与,是当地夏天知名的艺术活动。

易彤也常参与校内的午间演奏会。这是学生公开演奏前的热身表演,尽管只是预演,但也须承受来自同学和老师的批评压力。"我觉得同学或许还比一般观众的要求更苛刻。大家都是学生,彼此会暗地里较劲,所以压力很大。"

尽管演奏经验不少,每次公开表演前还是深感压力,出场前特别紧张。易彤对此有一番见解: "上台前紧绷的感觉让人不安,但结束后就如释重负。对我来说这反而可以鞭策自己要尽力做得最好。"易彤也深刻体验到音乐家不为人知的辛苦:"不管舟车劳顿,或硬体设施及环境不尽理想,一旦表演起来,就必须向观众展现自己最美好的一面。"

每年她在新加坡也至少有一场公开演奏,这次回来虽短短几天,她也抽空参与慈善演出。问她出国历练后再回新加坡表演,感觉是否不同? "我喜欢回到新加坡和朋友同学一起同台演出。通过音乐表演'叙旧'的感觉很温馨,演奏起来也很有力量。"她也深深体会到亚洲观众对表演的要求不同。"在欧洲,倾向传统表演。在亚洲,观众会要求多一点视觉感官效果,这让我常常思考要如何演奏才会吸引观众。"

没有家人在旁督导,老师也不紧紧盯着,在青少年生活堪称自由甚至放任的英国,要过怎样的生活全由自己决定。易彤自律甚严,平日除了应付繁重的功课以及日以继夜的练琴,就是偶尔上社交网站"脸书"和亲友保持联系。她连上网看YouTube,也是为了学习专业演奏家的技巧。"每当学习新曲子,我最想观摩大师的表演,所以我看YouTube也是为了学习。"

在舞台上切忌内敛

游走在不同国籍和生活背景的老师和同学间,易彤感觉到明显的文化差异。正面而言,新思维的冲击,开启了她的心扉。"刚到英国的时候,几乎所有的老师都要我学习开放,不要拘谨。他们说演奏是表演,即便私底下是寡言内向的个性,在舞台上也要让情绪奔放,展现活力,切忌内敛。"敞开了内心,天地就更宽阔,易彤现在已经更有信心和能力驾驭自己的演出。

"我不再钻牛角尖,不为小事执着而烦恼整天。我原本是一个很情绪化的人,看《铁达尼号》也会失眠。但我现在明白,为了一件小事而让自己困在烦恼的死胡同,只是白白浪费生命。" 她的性格变得豁然开朗,即便面对最糟糕的事,她也能坦然面对:"演出不好或被观众批评,虽然很懊恼,我现在会告诉自己下一次改进就是了,这绝不会是我最后一次的表演。"

音乐造诣和个人成长有了显著进步,这让她更珍惜在梅纽因音乐学校学习的日子。回首来时路,尽管面对诸多挑战,但她鼓励怀抱音乐理想的朋友,"要追寻梦想,就要大胆走出去、自己敲门找机会,最坏的结果也只是被拒绝而已。"

在新加坡和英国上过学,易彤对两地音乐学校的体制感触颇深。她认为新加坡对音乐和艺术的教育体制和观念有待改变,"家长和政府都还抱着学术至上的传统思维,除了国立大学杨秀桃音乐学院和新加坡艺术学院,新加坡缺乏栽培年轻音乐家的完善系统。"

小学升中学时,她舍南洋女中,选择成为新加坡艺术学院的第一批学生,以为后者能打破传统以学术为重的框框。"进去后才发现在这样的学制下,我很难成为一个专业的音乐演奏家。或许现在有了调整,我毕竟已经离开了三年多,不了解最新情况。"

梅纽因音乐学校一年的学费和生活费高达4万英镑,相当于10万新元。易彤双亲都是教师,每年要负担这笔费用颇感吃力。可喜的是,这几年新加坡给艺术家的支援明显增加。"我十分感激国家艺术理事会以及李氏基金的支持,赞助了我大约75%的开支,申请的过程而且相当顺利。"2012年她参加了以新加坡已故知名小提琴家吴顺畴命名的比赛,获得了4000元的奖金,全用作学费。

家族凝聚力是力量来源

采访完毕前,易彤表示最感恩的是父母全力支持。"小学毕业后,选择到新加坡艺术学院,再到英国梅纽因音乐学校,都是我自己的决定。父母给我很大的自由空间,他们相信我。"

易彤透露虽然从小跟着姑姑学琴,但直到11岁还是不太专心。"父母完全没有逼我,他们只说过不想学琴就好好读书,免得浪费时间。幸好我还是坚持下来。从小习惯练琴,小提琴已经成为我生命的一部分。"

作为家族中最年幼的孩子,她和长辈关系密切。 "姑姑们都很关心我,每次通过网络电话Skype聊天时,她们都会给我很多好意见。如果没有亲人这股强大的推动力,我也不会如此坚定地走下去。"家族强大的凝聚力在背后支撑着,让她走得更踏实、更自在。

易彤今年底将毕业,但现阶段还没有到什么国家升学的决定。她学习德文虽然是为到德国或奥地利升学做准备,但也可能留在英国或转往美国。

"很多人告诉我有机会应该到美国去。美国的音乐文化和重视传统的欧洲不同。美国强调演绎技巧,欧洲强调内在深度。"对于未来,她有许多思量,"美国的表演风格和长期学习的欧陆式风格不同,要成为一名全面的音乐家,应该兼取欧洲和美国之长。假若有机会到美国去体验不同的音乐训练,我乐意一试。"

易彤最大的愿望是成为一名国际级的小提琴演奏家。"我也许会加入管弦乐团或四重奏乐团成为一名演奏家,我将尽可能累积最多的表演经验。有一天,我会回到新加坡教音乐,回馈祖国。"

她明白这条路不容易走,身边有同学放弃音乐而选择到剑桥大学、伦敦大学帝国学院等主流大学去,大家都清楚音乐领域竞争力之激烈。她充分了解成为一名成功音乐家的困难度:"要成为一名可以独当一面的小提琴家,除了本身的条件优秀,还涉及许多外在因素,例如需要一名很好的经理人来协助打造事业。我看到这行有很多才华横溢,却始终郁郁不得志的音乐家。"

要成功踏上国际表演舞台的路还很遥远,凭着坚毅而敢闯的性格,易彤正信心满满地向她的梦想进军。
 

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