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Why make music? Musicians share how it changes their lives

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Why is music so important? We sit down with musicians who follow their passion while juggling full-time jobs to find out how music has changed their lives for the better. 

“Music brings colours to my life,” says Susanna Leung, a school administrator by day and a chorus singer by night. “I was a shy person, so I had quite a hard time during my first opera production with the Opera Society of Hong Kong back in 2014. But then I realised how much I enjoyed singing on stage.” It was this joy of performing that pushed Leung to keep taking part in different productions despite her shyness. As her singing skills and experience grew, so did her confidence. “Over the years I’ve performed at prominent venues such as the Hong Kong Cultural Centre’s Grand Theatre. Through these performances I understand where my talent lies. When I sing, I feel happy and accomplished. It makes me more confident,” she shares.
Confidence isn’t the only gift Leung has gained from singing. As a member of Opera Hong Kong, Hong Kong Youth Choir, Bel Canto Ensemble and Cantabile, she’s made a lot of friends through her musical journey. “We come from all walks of life, but we all share the same love for making good music,” she says.  

Also brought together by music is Cracklebox, an indie rock and pop band of five musicians from four different countries and industries. It was serendipity that they met one another, as bassist and backing vocalist Clark Cahill recalls, “Essentially myself, Tom Cowan (guitar), and Diego Caro (keyboard and synths) had played in other bands together, and our most recent band had disbanded. We knew of Nico Oudin (drums) from friends of friends, but we were still bereft of a lead singer.” That was when Tim Ash came in. He says, “Although I’d been playing and singing for years, I wasn’t that proactive in finding outlets for it. A friend’s wife put me in touch with the group.” Their first rehearsal was a blast, with Ash feeling “blown away” by the great songs and talents of his new bandmates.

Since then they have been meeting weekly, and have “gotten a lot tighter as a band and more in tune with each other,” says Cowan. They have also participated in numerous gigs and events such as Taikoo Place’s Project After 6, which Caro describes as a fun experience that helped them reach many new people. “Performing is the main goal for any musician,” he says. “It gives you the amazing chance to share the music you’ve been working on for months. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a big or small audience, as long as there are people interested in our music, we always enjoy performing. It also encourages us to try new things and to improve our sound.”

Sharing this sentiment is Max Cheung, a pianist/violinist/songwriter/biomedical equipment technician. “That feeling, the connection with the audience, is incredible,” he says. Cheung started learning the piano after graduating from secondary school. “Having finished all the public exams, I finally had time to do something I like. I remembered I’d been so moved by a beautiful piano performance at a wedding when I was a kid, so I finally decided to pick up the piano. I want to move people with my music, too.”

Over the past 12 years, Cheung has played pop, folk and classical music; in music rooms, restaurants and malls; as soloist and in a band. “Regardless of the occasion, I want to touch people’s hearts with peace, love and joy,” he continues. “To achieve that, I must be humble and learn to be mindful of others’ feelings. So in a way, music has taught me how to be a good human being.”

For Cheung, music is also an emotional outlet. He explains, “Stress is an inevitable part of life, but I can release any negative emotions through music.” His view is echoed by others, with Leung saying she likes to sing aloud to let off steam, while members of Cracklebox agree that music can massively influence mood.

When asked whether they’d like to pursue music full time, all admit they have fantasised about it, but opt to keep it as a hobby. “The music business is notoriously difficult. And if something becomes your work, there is a risk of losing the pleasure you derive from it,” says Ash. Cheung concurs, adding that the pressure of making a living as a musician may prevent him from producing good music. “Having a 9-5 actually supports my music career by giving me a stable income and thus creative freedom,” he says. “At the same time, music helps me maintain a work-life balance.”

Oudin, Cracklebox’s drummer agrees, “Playing an instrument makes you more creative, improves patience and memory, which are knock-on benefits for your working life. Besides, it’s a total antidote to the work we all do in our day jobs, so it’s hugely important for balance.”  

Do you have a musical talent too? Stay tuned for the event details of PROJECT AFTER 6: THE PITCH music competition, recruiting from 14 May to 6 June.

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