Sherwin Lee is a freelancer music performer and educator in Singapore who has performed in Singapore, the USA and Austria. Locally, he has performed in the Victoria Concert Hall, The Esplanade Recital Studio, and the SMU Arts and Culture Centre. His music mentors include Tedd Joselson, Soon Liok Kee, and Tan Chan Boon. He performed his inaugural piano recital at the Alliance Francaise in 2005 and launched a solo piano album “Revolutionary” concurrently. He was also an active performer in the SMU Piano Ensemble, and had organised many music events and festivals which featured renowned local pianists. In addition to performing and teaching classical music, Sherwin is also the Music Director and Conductor for the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Music Ensemble, and accompanist for the choirs in his church. He also regularly accompanies other musicians and enjoys the collaborative energy of working in a team.
1) Who inspired you to try out music, and who mentored you in your music journey?
One person who was instrumental in my journey was Tedd Joselson, as he taught me the art of piano performance, and helped me understand the world of classical music, far beyond the music examinations I normally took. It was under his tutelage where I decided to pursue a career in music and to use my craft to engage and inspire people.
(2) How would you describe the music that you typically create?
The lives and stories of people inspire my music. While I perform mostly classical works, I always seek to find the story behind the music, how it connects to me, and deliver a convincing interpretation of the piece. In addition, I also frequently arrange music that is functionally adapted to the resources I have available; one example is arranging music for the music ensemble in my church. As the musicians in the ensemble are changing and have varying skill levels, I have to write music that can bring all the instruments together, while being able to fit in well with the flow of worship during church service.
(3) What is your creative process like?
In performing, I will seek to understand the background of the piece, together with how it relates to the composer at a given point in time. Next, it is also important for me to study a piece thoroughly to understand its technicalities and nuances, so as to be fully engaged when I work on the piece and perform it. Nevertheless, much work happens in the subconscious sphere, and there will be times where taking time away from the piece generates new ideas!
In terms of teaching, the students themselves give me ideas on how to engage them. Because of every individual’s unique personality and learning styles, I have to continually generate creative ways to teach and impart skills to them; this certainly takes much deliberate and thoughtful planning. In the process, I also learn to teach myself, and grow as a performer too!
(4) What are some of the challenges you face as a freelance musician and music teacher?
As an educator, one challenge I face is helping my students to appreciate classical music beyond the music exam syllabus. While there are merits in taking examinations (as they serve as an excellent platform for them to improve their skills), the classical music repertoire is very vast and filled with so many interesting pieces! Another challenge that I face teaching children and youths is the importance of persevering; sometimes when the pieces are difficult, they may give up (even though they are interested in learning them). As such, I will always take the time to diagnose the issue and equip them with skills and confidence to overcome these challenges.
Sometimes, classical music may be viewed as a tad too “high brow” or “inaccessible” to people. This serves as an opportunity for me to understand their point of view, and introduce interesting aspects of classical music to them.
(5) You studied Accountancy in SMU and worked as an auditor in the corporate world, before stepping out to the music industry. Were there times when you felt like giving up and returning to your corporate job? If so, what made you press on?
Not at all! I always wanted to have a career in the music industry! It wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when” I will go into it. Nonetheless, there were many skills I learnt in the corporate world that have played a big part in my growth as an artiste.
(6) How was your experience in creating your solo piano album “Revolutionary”?
It was an extremely rewarding experience, as it grew me tremendously as a musician. It was certainly a very tiring experience, as I was preparing for my A Levels and solo recital while recording my album. It was during this time I also grew as a person, such as managing one’s schedule well, prioritising goals and targets, discipline in waking up early and focusing on tasks at hand, and the tenacity to persevere even when things do not go your way. Most importantly, I also grew in my journey as a Christian. It was through the hardships that I grew much deeper in my personal understanding of my faith, and this had a very profound and strong impact on my music. Since then, I have never dissociated my craft and faith; in fact, my faith shapes a big part of what I do.
(7) If you could change anything about the music industry in Singapore, what would it be?
One aspect would be the importance of equipping musicians with the practical skills of assessing any potential artistic venture’s financial viability. Of course, it is not possible to always ascribe a financial tangible value to arts, but I believe having the acumen to assess the long-term sustainability of potential artistic ventures is an important skill. This would provide musicians with the ability to make wiser decisions on what projects to pursue, whilst prioritising their time and resources.
(8) Do you think that natural talent plays a larger part in success when it's weighed against hard work? Why or why not?
Both are important, but I believe it is crucial for one to understand him/herself well before embarking on anything. This comes not only through one’s reflection on his/her own life but also from reliable and trustworthy counsel from a close community of friends and family who know you well. In addition, acumen and having the wisdom to persevere are also important to success. Life may not necessarily go the way we expect it to be (even though things seem to be going very smoothly), so having the ability to persevere despite the odds and make sound decisions are just as important.
(9) What are your morning and evening routines?
As I’m quite a fitness junkie (I run frequently and do rock-climbing), I wake up early in the morning for a run and do some weight exercises. Thereafter, I’ll spend the time reading my Bible and having some time on my own, before commencing on practising on my repertoire. Afternoons would mostly be spent teaching, while I take some time off during the evenings to rest or engage in some light administrative work. I am a firm believer in resting and will try to disconnect from technology at night whilst doing some light reading.
(10) What would you be doing right now if you were not a musician?
Nothing else, to be honest!