What it takes to be a professional pianist
Well-known Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo spills the beans on her life as an award-winning musician. (Photo: Singapore Symphony Orchestra)

What it takes to be a professional pianist

Renowned Malaysian pianist Mei Yi Foo, 41, has made a name for herself because of her flair for the piano.

As a prolific concert pianist who is inspired by high intelligence and creators who push boundaries across all disciplines, her concert programmes often include contemporary piano pieces. Her debut album Musical Toys even won her the 2013 BBC Music Magazine’s Best Newcomer award.

She is also a teacher at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, Wales, where she sees herself continuing her work as a musician by “educating others who are musically inclined, for them to realise their full potential and achieve their dreams just as I have.”

She will be sharing about her life as a musician on 2 Jun via an online talk organised by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.

Here, she tells The A List about her life-long affair with the piano and music:

What was your first brush with the piano like?

I was three, I had a toy Casio keyboard, and according to my mother, I played the tune of Shanghai Tang after watching the sitcom with my grandmother every day. My mother thought music classes might be a good idea. By the time I was a teenager, my folks had to peel me away from the piano, especially when the neighbours complained. That was when I knew I could do music for the long run. So, I left for the UK to study music when I was 15.   

What is a challenge you have faced as a musician?

The emotional ups and downs. One moment, you are cheered by thousands. The next moment, you are ordering room service for one. 

Do you have any pre-performance rituals? 

I did, such as having a pre-concert nap, eating a specific food, and restricting caffeine intake. However, after starting a family, life becomes more realistic, and you are just relieved to have prepped the milk bottles, blankets and toys to ensure your child sleeps at night and you can walk on stage not feeling like a zombie.

What made you want to be a music teacher?

What use is it to keep something as beautiful as music a secret? Passing the beacon on is the only way forward, the natural way for creativity to flourish, and to share my love for the art form.

How has being an artist shaped your experiences in life?

I think it may be the other way round – every moment, every encounter and every experience I have in life has shaped me as an artist. Art is a representation of life.

Having received many accolades in your career as a pianist, what do you hope to achieve next?

At this point, I don’t aim to achieve much; maybe I have aged! In the last three decades, I have been setting goals and achieving them. I don’t regret doing this, but I now realise it is a tiring affair. After a year of “COVID-hiatus”, I hope the artistic landscape will allow for sharing instead of conquering. Art belongs to everybody and nobody.    

 Replies were edited and condensed for clarity.

Learn more about In Conversation With Mei Yi Foo here.

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