Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Talent is 99 percent perspiration

I hope it is not premature for me to talk about this, but I need to update my blog.


And urgently.

And I am running out of topics, and ideas. But I certainly hope that I am not tempting fate.

For the past months, a few of my friends have been commenting - and complimenting, on the videos we have been churning out lately - at our Youtube channel and Facebook account. Actually I have been hearing about it for quite sometimes now, especially from strangers. (Funnily, I seldom got it from my own siblings or relatives. I even had a friend who after commenting positively about them, decided to delete it, not realizing that FB has sent that message over to my FB account.) Most of the time I would just dismiss it, without batting an eyelid. Much I like their compliments - make it that I love them, I prefer not to dwell on it too much. You can't bask on glory alone. It won't pay the bills, and there is much work to be done ahead of them. 

I remember the occasion very well, almost like it was yesterday. Like I know the back of my hand, so to speak. It was a profound moment in my life as a father.

The year was 2000. We had just returned from Houston, after my second tour of duty there.

"Abah, Arif nak belajar violin."

I looked up to him with raised eye brows. I had not cajoled him into saying that, nor have I been pestering about it to him. To be honest, until today I have no idea where he got the idea, and desire, to learn the violin. I am quite sure that there was no MPO then, so he could not have been listening to the classical.

I was not listening to dead men's music. I was too young for that then.

Instead of answering him (Arif), I asked his brother Akmal, "What about you? What do you want to play?"

The piano. Akmal's response was swift. There was no two ways about it. Not from him anyway. He knew what he wanted to do even as a six years old.

"OK, I want the both of you to take up piano first. After you have mastered the piano, then you can learn the violin."

To my surprise, I was decisive then. There was no hesitation on my part. I was a willing supporter in their quest. They didn't argue with me, fortunately. They didn't have too many choices; in fact they didn't have any.

The next step was to find a music centre a.k.a. music school for them.

There was a music school near the house in Taman Kosas Ampang. It is not a Yamaha music school; it was just a mom and pop's music school. But then again, Arif was nine and Akmal was even younger ato six; any teacher would be able to teach to these kids with no music background; much more than their musically illiterate dad would be able to offer them.

Akmal playing on the RM600
keyboard in 2007. El cheapo me.
Unlike Bapak who purchased a RM6,000 Yamaha organ when he wanted his daughters to learn music in the early 80s, I decided to minimize my risk, and only bought a RM600 keyboard a couple of months later for them to practice. By then they had gone through many lesson in their school, and they were only able to practice when in school.

Arif and the RM600
keyboard. I can't
tell you enough how
cheap I was then
compared to my
own bapak
I was adamant to not let what happened to Bapak, happen to me.

If Arif and Akmal were serious about it, they would cross any hurdle with determination. If not, their foray into the music world will die a natural death.

I was not too worried about hindering their progress with music. I had no objectives, and thought that as long as they were enjoying it, that's more than good enough a reason to do it. In hindsight, may be they would have been a faster learner had I bought them the real thing early in the beginning of their musical life and had targets set for them.

It was only two years later - in 2002, that I decided that they are serious music students, and bought them a reconditioned piano, at that time costing me RM4,500. Still cheaper than the RM6,000.00 organ that my dad bought, mind you, in the early 80s. 

So how much would RM6000 (in 1982) be worth twenty years later?  A lot more than I had spent, I guess.

I am sure I was earning then multiples of what bapak was earning, and yet he would spent much more for his kids' musical education.

God bless bapak for he loves music so much, despite being a very religious person. I guess he was probably interested in music when he was a kid, and circumstances prevented him from from pursuing it - not much different from my own, I guess. My uncle PC Ya told me recently that bapak has a melodious and soothing voice.

I had never heard him singing, to be honest, but he has for many years when he was in Lenggong been calling for the prayers at the nearby mosque, and I have to admit I love it when he said the azan, especially for the dawn prayer.

Unfortunately, his investment was one without a payback - even if I said so myself, and even then by mere observations, and not to find fault with his decisions 30 years ago. Both his two daughters did it half way, though his untimely death may have some impacts on their progress for sure.

Then again, if they so desired, they could have self-taught themselves beyond their formal education. But they didn't. I guess they weren't really interested, but it was bapak pushing them to do it. 

Sorry but I digress. In my case, I didn't ask Arif and Akmal to learn the piano. They did it on they own accord, and in the end, it shows.

I knew that Arif and Akmal would work hard to succeed. There was no two ways about it. There was no one in the family with musical talent - not that I know of anyway. I know they would have to work hard, but I do know too that I had never put the pressure on them. 

If they were to succeed, Alhamdulillah. If not, well...we were (really) not a musical family, so there was no risk.

In the beginning, Arif was the more prodigious son, and he was much quicker in progressing to the next level. He would pound the cheap plastic keyboard for years, before he got his hand on the real one. He even won the Oustanding Student Award during the year end concert, when he was only 14.  Akmal was much slower, but I can't think of a time I would have to shout at them to get them to practice.

They were diligent students, and I had an easy job as a father.

On the other hand, I didn't put extra pressure by asking them to play this or that songs, other then the classical songs they had learned at school. I totally leave it to them to absorb all those in front of them.

However, since taking up flying, Arif has not be doing much music. Akmal on the other hand has improved by leaps and bounds, and has left me breathless with his musical proficiency. I remember him being the slower learner; I remember him that he would do his practice when I was not around, or after we bought a digital piano, using the headphone, so that I would not be able to hear him practice and hence I would not be able to criticise.

I think all these whiles he has been living under his brother's shadow, and without him around, he was under no pressure for him to excel.

And excel he did, and I must say I am proud of him with the high quality of music that he has been churning out.

It didn't come out naturally at first, and effortlessly on their side. They are skillful, but certainly not gifted. They are good, but certainly they weren't prodigies when they were kids. They put a lot of hours in front of the piano.

On the piano stool, which can't be the most comfortable of chairs, I must say.

The only evidence that we have to show that we do have music in our blood. Well, a little bit I guess.
The girl, second from left, is the great grandmother of Arif & Akmal. Apparently
according to her son - my uncle PC Ya - she played the violin too. 
I am not sure if I had planned for them to become musicians. In some sense, may be I did. Afterall,  I had bought a piano book in 1985, just before I returned from Melbourne, thinking that one day, I would have someone to play it for me. The book is still intact; and now I have two sons who could play them for me.

Note for note.

In reflection, I am not sure if the both of them had any talent. I guess it does not matter. In the end, I know they have put in their heart and soul into learning music for the past 10 years. There was no easy shortcut for them; they put in long hours in their musical pursuit.
The picture is PC Ya with the Kilat band, who beat
Najib Hanif in a singing competition. Taken without
his permission from his FB.

Talent is, after all, ninety nine percent perspiration, if we are to be believe Edison. (Actually I twisted his statement a bit. Genius is 99% perspiration is the actual saying attributed to Edison.)

I am very sure I can't dispute him. Not with him being the most prolific scientist, and engineer.

Obviously Arif and Akmal have a long way ahead of them. They are still nobody in the industry - I am sure that was not the target when they first started. They were supposed to be able to entertain us. But since they are here, no one can say that they should not go far. They have the passion to do it.

Well, enjoy Akmal playing the Beatles. Now after 10 years, it is payback time. How many were able to enjoy live piano music at one's behest and fancy?

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