Musical prodigy See Ning Hui

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A child prodigy is someone at an early age, who shows one or more skills at an outstanding level far beyond what is normal for children of their age. We talk to the mother of 16-year-old See Ning Hui, one of Singapore's upcoming talents in classical music and find out what's it like to raise a prodigy.

From left to right: Mr. Albert Tiu (Ning Hui’s teacher), Tan Poh Yan (Ning Hui’s mother), See Ning Hui

See Ning Hui, is just 16 years old and is already showing great promise in the field of classical music. She represented Singapore in the 1st SouthEast Asia Steinway Regional Finals Singapore 2012 on July 28th. Prior to that appearance, she also performed at the Singapore Steinway Youth Piano Competition in June, where she emerged as the winner, and then represented Singapore at the 1st Southeast Asia Steinway Regional Finals in July 2012, both sponsored by Bank Julius Baer.

A child prodigy and a genuine talent, Ning Hui began to learn the piano since she was five and is now under the tutelage of Mr. Albert Tiu, Associate Professor at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. She has won various award,s including the Platinum Award at the 3rd Singapore Performer’s Festival and a Royal College of Music Scholarship for 2012 entrance into BMus (Hons) Programme.

What are the key characteristics that make Ning Hui a child prodigy? Find out here as we interview Ning Huis’s mother, Tan Poh Yan, to discover how Ning Hui was nurtured to be a musical genius:

1. When and why did Ning Hui start playing?

Tan Poh Yan (TPY) : Ning Hui started playing the piano when she was almost five years old, after being inspired by her brother, who was taking lessons at home at that time. She expressed a deep interest in the piano, so we signed her up for lessons.

2. Does she have a practice routine and could you describe it?

TPY: She practices after dinner as she usually gets home quite late. She practices for about one to two hours, after which she does her homework, or any projects the school assigns. But as she has many commitments in school and she cares about her studies as well, she practices only five out of seven days in a week, making up for lack of practice time during weekdays with more time on Sundays. When she has upcoming performances, she extends practice time slightly, and during holidays, she plays the piano for about three to four hours daily.

See Ning Hui, at a young age, with her mother, Tan Poh Yan

3. What was the first tune(s) she learnt? 

TPY: I can’t quite remember the first tune(s) she learnt, but they all came from the same book by John Thompson that taught techniques such as slurring (drop-and-roll action). After a while she started on Mozart’s minuets – one of them being the popular Minuet in G.

4. Does your family love music?

TPY: Yes, though my husband is less enthusiastic compared to the rest of us. My son, Yi Sian, also enjoys listening to classical music, especially classical symphonies and concertos. As for me, I frequent concerts and regularly buy CDs to listen to.

5. Which two famous musicians (living or deceased) does Ning Hui admire? Why?

TPY: Ning Hui admires Benjamin Grosvenor, an accomplished young British pianist, as he displays a maturity beyond his age in performance and interpretation, and is versatile in his repertoire, with an ability to move audiences with this musical expression. She also loves Chopin as a composer, especially the lyricism in his music.

6. How does Ning Hui prepare for a performance?

TPY: She would extend her practice hours if her schedule allows her to, and place aside less time for homework so she can focus on the music. Even if she is too busy to do so, she will be more rigorous during her practice sessions to refine the little details in her performance. She also makes it a point to sleep earlier the night before a performance, so that she will be refreshed the next day, as concerts are typically in the evening. However, last-minute work is never sufficient, so in her daily practice sessions, she ensures that her repertoire is always performance-ready, in the sense that she keeps it up to standard and explores different possibilities of interpretation of the scores to keep the learning process interesting.

Finally, we asked Tan Poh Yan for her advice to parents and she recommends that children are allowed to follow their choices:

7. What advice would you give to parents of children who are interested in pursuing music?
I would say the essential step to take is to show enthusiastic support for their talent development and to encourage them to explore other options as well, without imposing your own aspirations on them. Let them make choices for themselves as to how far they want to take their musical talent to.