Thu, Jan 28, 2010
The Straits Times
Strings attached

Most musical talents his age dabble in the piano or, increasingly, the violin. But at the tender age of five, Lee Yun Chai, 13, found aural inspiration in a less-practised string instrument - the ethereal-sounding harp.

'Although it's very tedious to play, it has a different kind of texture from other instruments. The timbre, the pieces, the pitches... everything,' says the well-spoken Year 1 music student who attended Keming Primary School.

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Yun Chai has his father, a keen lover of classic harp pieces, to thank for his early initiation into music.

In 2004, English tutor Lee Yue Yee, 57, spotted an advertisement calling for students to study under acclaimed Singaporean harpist Kathrina Tan and decided to take his son for a try-out.

'I remember him plucking a few strings and liking it,' says Mr Lee, whose wife is also a private tutor.

The rest came naturally to Yun Chai. When he was nine, his parents took him to a nursing home to visit a sick grandaunt. The whole ward, nurses and patients alike, fell silent when the boy started playing his instrument.

Now at a Grade 8 level of proficiency, Yun Chai counts overseas competitions and recitals - the most recent one being the ChildAid concert at Resorts World Sentosa - as part of his music practice.

Like a seasoned pro, the boy, one of three harpists at Sota, also shrugs off the blisters on his hands as par for the course.

Sota came into the picture because Mr Lee was unsure if a music elective programme in a mainstream school - usually geared towards more popular instruments - would be suitable for his son. Another bonus of enrolling in Sota was that Yun Chai's harp teacher had also signed on to be an adjunct faculty member there.

For the teenager, a musical career seems written in the score. He hopes to perform and teach. But he adds modestly: 'If I'm good enough.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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