Off Stage

When the bow slips and falls

Violinist Alan Choo says his performances are never about him, but the music.
Violinist Alan Choo says his performances are never about him, but the music.PHOTO: CHANG ZHI XIANG

Violinist Alan Choo on mishaps during shows and wearing red underwear for his performances

What is home? And what does it mean to belong? Violinist Alan Choo and four other young local musicians - all of whom have studied in the United States - will search for an answer in music this Sunday.

The Journey Back Home at Victoria Concert Hall is presented by Kris Foundation.

Choo, 25, along with fellow violinist Gabriel Lee, violist Jeremy Chiew, cellist Andris Koh and pianist Khoo Hui Ling, will be playing pieces from China's Tan Dun, the Czech Republic's Dvorak, the United States' Samuel Barber and homegrown composer Phang Kok Jun.

Choo holds a bachelor's degree from Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, and two master's degrees from Peabody Conservatory in the US. He is studying at Peabody, where he has one more year until he completes his graduate performance diploma.

Do you remember your first performance?

I was part of the school choir at Nan Hua Primary School. Once, they sang a piece called The Arkansas Traveller that needed someone to play the violin. I was about 10, I think in Primary 4, and that was my first time performing in front of a big audience.

  • BOOK IT/THE JOURNEY BACK HOME

    WHERE: Victoria Concert Hall

    WHEN: Sunday, 7.30pm

    ADMISSION: Free from Sistic (call6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Were you nervous?

It's funny because when I was a kid, I was less nervous. I didn't know anything and I was just playing for fun; not afraid of people judging me and without the pressure of being a professional. So, when I performed in school at events such as Teachers' Day, I was more relaxed.

How do you prepare for a show?

A lot of preparation is mental, so first and foremost, I tell myself that music should always be at the forefront of every performance. The performance is never about me as much as it is about the music.

How do you calm your nerves before you go on stage?

Sometimes, the more you worry about it, the more it will go wrong. After a while, I learnt how to practise systematically so that I'm more reliable on stage. When it comes to a performance, you trust that you've done all the practice that you need and you just give yourself to the music.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?

There's something that's super personal, I don't know if I should even say it (laughs)... but I have this pair of red underwear that I'll wear to every single major performance. I've had it for about a year now and red is supposed to be a lucky colour.

What is the funniest thing that has happened to you on stage?

I was performing in the US four years ago and I was playing this intense piece with a lot of fast bow movements.

At a particularly intense part, the tip of my bow caught under my string and it slipped out of my hand, did a 360-degree somersault and landed on the floor. The pianist stopped playing and I could hear everyone gasp.

When things like that happen, the first thing you need to do is tell yourself to refocus and get on with the music. The audience should understand that we are all human and humans make mistakes.

What do you do after a performance?

Usually, I hang out with whoever came to support me and we party and do relaxing things. I like to sing karaoke. During my Yong Siew Toh days, after a performance, we would just hit a karaoke place.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'When the bow slips and falls'. Print Edition | Subscribe