A Musical Tour De Force

A Musical Tour De Force

No building is stronger than its foundation; that holds true for any kind of study and especially for music. Many believe that music is a gift that one is either born with or without, but musicianship requires more than just talent: it takes methodical training and practice. All musicians have studied under the instruction of their leading contemporaries – a rite of passage to hone one’s skills and techniques. 

As Malaysia’s leading private music school at tertiary level, UCSI University’s Institute of Music (IMus) has been consistently raising the bar when it comes to teaching standards. Its distinguished faculty includes internationally renowned and award-winning soloists, chamber, and orchestral musicians who work closely with their students. Compounded with a challenging curriculum and numerous opportunities to perform, students at UCSI enjoy a learning experience like no other. 

“A music school is only as good as its faculty and I’m proud to say that ours is of the highest calibre in this country,” said Professor Dr P’ng Tean Hwa, Director of IMus. “Our teachers represent the highest standards in scholarship, performance and teaching, and they sustain a culture of excellence that places students at the very centre of all they do.” 

Joining the illustrious line-up at the faculty is Associate Professor Dr Goh Chia-Chien, who has the distinction of being the youngest founding member of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) at a mere 21 years old. An award-winning violinist, he has performed on many international stages including Carnegie Hall as a soloist as well as a concert master for several orchestras. 

Assoc Prof Goh’s first major teaching venture came a year after he joined MPO when he founded Kampung Strings, a critically successful string orchestra for young local musicians. Under his tutelage, most of the members went on to occupy principle positions in the MPO and to win international music competitions. 

Assoc Prof Goh himself accepted several teaching stints at universities and music schools in the US as well as in Malaysia, and many of his students have charted successful careers in the music industry. Notable mentions include first violin in the internationally acclaimed Sirius String Quartet, concert master for the Illinois Valley Symphony Orchestra, and finalist of the Grammy-nominated Turtle Island String Quartet’s auditions. 

“No one learns the same the way so I tailor my teaching approach to each student,” he said. “The environment here at UCSI is such that we are free to teach how we want to teach, and because of that freedom we are able to offer our students the very best.” 

Some of the University’s alumni have even returned to the faculty to assume teaching positions, like accomplished pianist Carolyn Lo May Yeeng who read her Bachelor’s degree in music at UCSI before leaving to pursue her postgraduate studies in the US. In 2015, she became the first and only Malaysian to be awarded the Fellowship diploma in Piano Performance (FRSM) from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) in London, achieving distinction on her first attempt – a very rare feat. 

“UCSI is unique because it caters for each student’s needs and provides every opportunity for an all-rounded learning experience,” said Lo. “It is an honour for me to be a part of that very culture that had helped me realise my potential as a musician.” 

Like Assoc Prof Goh, Lo believes that an educator needs to have a flexible teaching style so that each student is given the best guidance to develop their musical talents. 

“My aim as a teacher is to enhance my students’ learning experience so that they will reach a greater understanding and appreciation for music,” said Lo. “This includes addressing their strengths and weaknesses individually so that they may reach their personal musical goals.” 

And watching her students flourish is amongst Lo’s proudest moments. “It brings me tremendous satisfaction to hear how they have improved and matured throughout their years of study,” she said. “To hear them performing confidently and beautifully is incredibly rewarding.” 

“There are few greater satisfactions than witnessing students make breakthroughs,” agreed fellow lecturer Tan Chee Shen, a classical vocalist who has sung many times under the baton of Maestro Joshua Greene of the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera. 

He recalled a student who had a beautiful voice but had difficulty coming out of her shell. Tan had to try many different approaches to help her find her voice before he finally succeeded. “Malaysian students tend to be more reserved and demure when it comes to emoting,” he said. “It is not always easy to put yourself out there and that’s why I strive to create a safe environment where students can feel free to express themselves.” 

Apart from its full-time faculty, UCSI also collaborates with many leading local and international artist-musicians. The University has hosted visiting professionals and academics like Malaysian jazz pianist Michael Veerapan, Grammy-nominated chamber music trio The Orfeo Trio, and British saxophonist Greg Lyons. This March, UCSI will welcome visiting professor Dr André de Quadros from Boston University. All these opportunities serve to further enhance learning and teaching outcomes. 

“As teachers, we are responsible for creating platforms for our students to explore their passion and grow,” said Prof P’ng. “We make sure that they keep their fire burning. It takes a lot of hard work to get to where you want to be but like all things that are truly important to you, it will be worth it.” 

Founded in 1990, IMus has established itself as Malaysia’s foremost music force in both the classical and contemporary fields. It has opened doors for some of the most prominent figures in the Malaysian music industry like performing artists Dr Joanne Yeoh and Dennis Lau, acclaimed composer and music director Onn San, jazz pianist Melvin Goh, as well as award-winning vocalist Nurul Aina Abdul Ghani. 

Its defining Bachelor of Classical Music (Hons) programme first put the University on the map and the institute has since expanded its offerings to include the Bachelor of Contemporary Music (Hons) and Master of Music (Performance Studies). 

With UCSI expanding its Kuala Lumpur campus to encompass two new academic blocks, IMus will continue to train future musicians in dedicated teaching studios, practice rooms and a 500-seat recital hall.