Memphis Downtowner November 2013 : Page 24

My 2 Cents MEI-ANN CHEN M USIC D IRECTOR , M EMPHIS S YMPHONY O RCHESTRA interview by Terre Gorham was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in 1973. Like many people living in a condensed city area, my family lived in a high-rise. My home was a third-floor apartment with three rooms. It was big enough for the five of us: my parents, my grandmother, my older sister, and me — and three dogs. I loved dogs — and still do! I took the money my mother gave me for school snacks, and I’d go to a bakery and buy a loaf of bread. After school, as I got close to home, I would whistle. (I am a very good whistler, and I find it interesting that even at that age, I used sound to connect with other parts of the world.) Fifteen dogs would come out, and I would feed them. My best friends were those stray dogs. But my life was a very normal one for an academic kid in Taiwan. If my mother had had the opportunity for any formal music training early on, she would have become an opera singer. She has a wonderful voice and a sense of drama — she’s a natural diva! My parents grew up in the first generation after Japanese occupation of Taiwan had ended, so they were very fortunate to get a college education and became educators, which was viewed very highly when we were growing up. Because my parents both loved music and never had the chance to pursue it, that’s how my sister and I began playing musical instruments at a young age. courtesy MSO I I had to be one stubborn girl who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. I realized I could only learn conducting through observation, so I’d memorize my violin part, and at rehearsal, I just kept my eyes on the conductor. Meanwhile, my parents thought my life’s pursuit would be as a professional musician. Growing up, I was shy, and I began to see music as a way of connecting and communicating with others. I played piano and violin. But the first time I played in our school orchestra at age 10 and saw the conductor connecting with everyone in the room — I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I went home so excited! I told my parents, “I want to be a conductor!” My parents frowned and looked worried. They said, “We don’t know where to find a teacher for that,” and they were absolutely right. In that generation, conducting wasn’t something you could be taught or could major in at college in Taiwan. 24 DOWNTOWNER MAGAZINE | NOVEMBER 2013 My parents wanted me to study violin in Taipei, where many famous teachers taught. I auditioned and was accepted, so everything seemed set … except my parents decided they couldn’t leave their 12-year-old baby girl in a foreign city. They took me back home, but by that time, it was too late to audition for the middle-school music class in Kaohsiung. So they gave up their dreams for me to pursue music, and they enrolled me in academic middle school.

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