Mei Wei Lim is an internationally trained and highly skilled pianist living here on the Coffs Coast. She is heavily involved with the Helfgott Scholarships and regularly performs with the North Coast Performing Arts Association. Mei tells us more about her love of music.
When and where did you learn to play the piano?
I started piano lessons at the age of 7 in Singapore. My family moved back to my birthplace, London, when I was 11, and I was fortunate to then begin piano lessons with a Royal Academy of Music piano professor, Valerie Pardon. Valerie was a huge influence on my musical life – she encouraged me to audition as a Junior Exhibitioner for the Royal Academy of Music, entered me for scholarships, helped me gain a place at a prestigious and musical grammar school and advised me to take up a second instrument (the flute).
I chose to continue my studies as a Senior Exhibitioner at the Academy (though I was also offered a place at the Royal College of Music in London). I graduated from the Academy with a GRSM Honours (Graduate of the Royal Schools of Music), having majored in piano and piano accompaniment.
> What is your forté in piano playing?
Years later, I now appreciate how well Valerie paced me when I was her student – I was always ready for every piano exam – my scales were faultless, my pieces were note-perfect and musical, I was confident with my aural tests and I loved the challenge of sightreading!
(Sightreading means being able to play written music on sight without having practiced, heard or seen it before.) I used to swiftly learn all the pieces Valerie set me, and spend the rest of my practice time reading and playing through other music – anything I could lay my hands on. I used to practice for hours each day and I never found it boring – even scales were fun for me, as I enjoyed the sensation of finger control and technique.
Even so-called naturally musical players need to work on the technical aspects of playing their instrument – nobody can just sit at a piano and magically play difficult things like consecutive octaves or double thirds! All that practice has paid off – I now play the piano with ease, and I can now sightread almost anything! The downside of my particular childhood is that I am a nerd! I was once told off by my parents for practising at 5am on a Sunday morning!
I am as relaxed playing Classical music as I am reading chord charts and playing Jazz or contemporary music. The secret to performing well is to have confidence – you need to have solid technique first and then be convinced how you want to play it, and enjoy it.
Only then will your audience relax and allow you to take over their emotions when you are playing to them.
> What do you love about the piano?
I love the versatility of the piano – it has a huge range of notes (over 7 octaves), it has great dynamic range (very soft to very loud), it can produce lots of tone colour, and is one of the more ergonomic instruments to play! As a student jokingly said to me the other night after a mammoth concert, “What are you complaining about, Mei? All you did was sit all night!”
Seriously though, I love the sound of a piano – especially when it’s played well. It is a great solo instrument, and it accompanies. All types of music sound good when played on a piano. I also like the visual aspect of the instrument – the keyboard is beautiful with its black and white keys; I like seeing the notes I am playing.
It is a fascinating and complex instrument. The only drawback is that it is not very portable! I do have a full-size digital piano which I gig with, but it takes two people to lift and is very cumbersome in its hefty keyboard case.
> How did you come to live in Australia?
My partner and I were travelling to New Zealand from The Netherlands and stopped over in Tasmania to visit family. We fell in love with Hobart and all those lovely sandstone buildings … and ended up staying for 8 years!
We missed the city life and moved to Sydney for a couple of years, before tiring of the city life! Time for yet another sea change; we remembered Coffs Harbour from a previous trip along the east coast of NSW and Queensland. We also remembered there were snooker tables in several local clubs (snooker is another of my passions!), so here we are!
> What was your most recent musical project?
I was recently involved with the 2010 Helfgott Scholarships, where I accompanied 6 of the 7 finalists (the 7th finalist was a pianist and therefore needed no accompaniment!). The David Helfgott scholarship for instrumentalists and the Gillian Helfgott scholarship for vocalists are held biannually and are administrated by the Coffs Harbour Regional Conservatorium. The concert was a huge success, and the judges were very impressed by the performance standard of the young musicians. The spokesman for the panel of judges told the audience that this was the best thing he had heard all year!
> What are your upcoming musical performances?
I will be performing a movement of Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D minor at the North Coast Performing Arts Association (NCPAA) Baroque concerts on 20 and 21 November. I will be holding a recital with 2010 David Helfgott finalist, clarinet / trombone player, Robert Sherrington at 3pm on Sunday 5 December at the Bellingen Memorial Hall. I will also be holding a recital with 2010 Gillian Helfgott finalist, singer Luke Wright, at 2pm on Sunday 12 December at the John Paul College Theatre.
> What is your connection with the North Coast Performing Arts Association?
Upon discovering that I had moved into the area, President of the North Coast Performing Arts Association, Ellie Hallett, excitedly contacted me last year and insisted that I take on the role of choral director. Accompanied by the NCPAA orchestra under the direction of Dale Condon, the choir has since performed Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana and the Fauré Requiem. Both choir and orchestra are currently working on a program of Baroque music, for our concerts on Saturday 20 (Bellingen Memorial Hall) and Sunday 21 November (Coffs Ex-Services Club). The music will include well-known choruses from the Baroque era, including Zadok the Priest and Handel’s famous Hallelujah Chorus. We are inviting singers to come along to one single rehearsal (10am, Saturday 13 November at Bishop Druitt College music block) so that they can join us for those two choruses at the concerts. There’s nothing like a ‘big sing’ to get those spirits uplifted … especially with such great music!
> How can people keep abreast of your musical activities and events?
I have a comprehensive ‘friends of music’ email list which anyone is welcome to join upon request. Another way to keep informed about my musical activities is to visit my website: www.meiweilim.com where I keep my Calendar of Events regularly updated.
> Thank you Mei.
Mei Wei Lim will be performing at the North Coast Performing Arts Association Baroque concerts on 20 and 21 November. For more information on the Association, please visit the website: www.ncpaa.info