Vanessa Mae: inspiring the future of my work

Every now and then you come across a fellow human being who reminds you the magic of the Universe (the non-hippie version: the incredible strength of human beings). Sometimes it seems like they get stuck in my head until I write about them. On this blog I have written about Barack Obama, Denise Ho, Michael Jackson, Steve Jobs.

For the past few days I have been particularly enamoured by Vanessa Mae – I was a fan of her when she was really popular in the late 90s, but I somehow forgot about her existence until a colleague started playing some classical music and somehow it sparked off a conversation about music and talent. I tried to search for some youtube videos to show my colleague and stumbled upon this video of Vanessa Mae playing “Red Hot” with the Bratislava Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Watching that video made my spine tingle and I felt this indescribable feeling which is a mix of awe, inspiration, passion and something else I cannot put my finger upon. The feeling of being incredibly blessed to be able to witness such a moment in my life (thanks, youtube!) + the feeling of being reminded of how much joy it is to see a fellow human being at the top of her craft. The energy, confidence and charm exuded because she knows she is capable of enthralling those who watch her. In that performance she was carrying a very visible light within her.

I was amazed that she wrote “Red Hot” when she was 14 and also she managed to make it sound so awesome with a Symphony Orchestra. She was 18 in that video. (Disclaimer: I have no classical music knowledge whatsoever.)

I was curious whether she still performed with the same exuberance now at the age of 33. It is one thing to be energetic and enthusiastic at 18 and an entirely different to do the same when you reach your 30s (I can attest to that). Watching her perform the Toccata & Fugue in D Minor in 2009, Storm (2009) and Sabre Dance (2011) only increased my level of awe. If she was young and attractive before, she is now elegant and beautiful. There is more intensity in her play now and she seems to prefer using her acoustic violin instead of the white electric violin so famously associated with her. I don’t know much about violins and classical music in general but it seems amazing to me that she’s able to make Storm sound even more awesome on an acoustic violin.

Other personal favourites include: Storm at the Classical Brit Awards 2000Storm at the Paralympics 2002 (with her translucent electric violin). By the way, each time she plays Storm there is almost always a variation in the arrangement and play.

The price of success

There is always a price to pay for success and all of us have to learn to make tradeoffs in exchange for what we want. I was remarking to my colleague that she must have had a tiger mom to reach that level of polish when she was so young. I was hoping to be proven wrong, but a quick search on google revealed that till this day, both mother and daughter are still not on talking terms. I got drawn to watch the BBC documentary, “The Making of Me” where Vanessa Mae sought to understand whether her success was nature vs nurture.

Her mother came up as a constant theme throughout the documentary, with Vanessa revealing that her mom often made it clear to her as a young child that her love came attached with conditions. While making the documentary, BBC reached out to her mother in hope that she could shed some light on Vanessa’s childhood and perhaps be a starting point for their reconciliation. Unfortunately her mother declined through an email, stating that “My daughter is nearly 30. That part of my life is well and truly over.”, this broke my heart because even though Vanessa was smiling throughout and she made it sound like she expected this – but I somehow feel her heart was broken into a thousand pieces when she received that email.

She obviously credits her mom for her success knowing very well she would never have made it without her mom’s strict discipline but I empathise with her perfectly when she said she did not want her mom as a manager, she simply wanted her mom to be a mother – something she felt her mother never seemed to be satisfied with.

I have had a difficult relationship with my own mother for the first 2.5 decades of my life but I have been blessed with the opportunities to understand why it was that way – thus inadvertently healing my wounds inflicted when growing up. Though I must say, even though my wounds are sufficiently healed, I have never forgotten how they had felt like on my young mind and heart as a child. I wanted so much for my family to love me for me, not because I was a straight A student as a kid or that I could become a lawyer or a doctor. It took me a long while to build my self-esteem all over again, to slowly let go of the baggage I have carried with me throughout my life. (Eventually I also understood that was their way of loving me. To my mom, if you’re reading this, just know that I love you, but it is important for me to be able to write about this.)

However, now I use them to propel me in the right direction as my main source of motivation – I work really hard now for the hope that one day I can use this empathy and experience to help kids who go into depression or despair because they were not allowed to be themselves. There is this general perception within the youth in Singapore (and probably everywhere else to a certain extent) that they cannot pursue what they love because it is wrong or hopeless. I hope to be able to change this perception, even if it is a tiny bit.

I sincerely wish they will reconcile one day, for I remain in hope that Vanessa’s mother will come to realise the bond between mother and daughter is so much deeper than her daughter’s success as a violin player.

Using Vanessa Mae as my inspiration

Watching her play is a joy and a blessing. If I can have my way I will do anything to catch her live the next time she has a tour. It seems I have to wait for quite a while because now her goal is to qualify as a skier for the 2014 Olympics. No I am not kidding. She doesn’t seem to have any tour plans for this year or next until the Olympics.

I see her concentration, focus and intensity when she plays and I think to myself – I want to be able to have those qualities when I work. I see her joy with her music, band and audience and I think to myself, I want to feel that way when I do my work. I see her energy and enthusiasm being so contagious and I think to myself, that is how I want people to feel if they see me work.

I want my work, my writing, my life to share a common thread of joy. I don’t know how but I am going to try. Joy is a new concept to me, to be honest. I want to be able to infect people with my burning desire to change the world, to be the change I want. I want them to look into my eyes and see nothing but love and joy for my existence, my work and my dreams.

I do not want my life to be motivated by a fear of missing out. This is my lesson learnt from Vanessa Mae, all of these feelings inspired by watching her play. That was probably not her intention, but seeing her play I understood her enthusiasm and joy when playing was not due to her fear of her mother or her desire for success, but it is obvious to me she genuinely loved her music. She wanted to do all these tours even till now, record the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky violin concertos at the age of 13, because she wanted to do it for herself and her love for music.

‘The violin is my voice.. The violin is the way I communicate with people.’

‘the most i have to say is not through speaking but through music, and obviously the violin is my voice.’ – Vanessa Mae

I find her intense passion and dedication to her music very inspiring and I am slowly beginning to realise the greatest inspiration and motivation for my work do not come from my own industry, instead it comes sources almost completely unrelated like watching the youtube video of Vanessa Mae playing.

I think the fact that I have discovered a greater sense of purpose and an external source of inspiration outside my industry is significant in keeping me focused and sane during those times I was the most fatigued.

Before writing this entry I went through the comments I have gotten from the readers of this blog for the past few years. I haven’t read them for quite a while and I was glad to do so once again. They re-enforced my belief and validated my decision to keep my writing personal and authentic. I struggle at times to keep a balance between my profession and my personal self, but I am discovering gradually that they’re intrinsically entwined –  that the more I can cohesively marry the two, the greater progress I make in both my work and my life.

I would like to conclude in this entry by expressing the gratitude for those people who have been faithfully reading my long-winded writing for years and to those of you who have sent me comments and emails – I am reminded time and time again that there are plenty of things in this world that have intangible value, sometimes these things may seem to have no value from a common perspective but they are in truth, priceless in the long run.

There are just some things money or success cannot buy, and one of these is the ability and capacity to move another human being’s heart.