What Happens when the Arts is Paused

When Tommy Chin Hong Wei chose to learn the er hu at 12, he was drawn to how similar it sounded to a singing voice. One may say that having to skillfully manoeuvre the bow between two strings makes it difficult to master, but Tommy relishes a challenge.

Perhaps it was that very tenacity that kept him going when his vocation was rudely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was really, really tough times,” he says pausing contemplatively. “But I have a motorcycle so I used it to do food delivery.”

With music classes being halted and live performances not possible, being chosen to perform at MITEC PPV under Hasanah’s Arts For All Seasons (ArtsFAS) was a welcomed opportunity.

Arts and Public Spaces impact area Lead, Zainariah Johari, mooted the idea after being inspired by seeing world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma performing at a subway.

For some artistes, this was their first paid gig since the pandemic began.

Recalling the unique experience of performing at a PPV, Tommy says many were curious about the Chinese traditional musical instrument. Indirectly, it generated public awareness on what Zainariah considers priceless assets that we as a multiracial country should celebrate.

Last month, Tommy resumed teaching classes at his old music school.

“I was surprised to see how tall some of my students have grown and some have since progressed from primary to secondary school!” he exclaims, thrilled to be back doing what he loves.

In a beautiful way, the variety of tunes of the er hu — ranging from chirpy to sorrowful — represents the ups and downs of Tommy’s journey as a musician thus far and he will continue to dance to his own tune.