Self-taught pianist aspires to 'bring back jazz'

ST VIDEO: RAYNOLD TOH
In 2015, Ou Wen formed a band called Order Of The Sixes with like-minded friends and played at his school's lunchtime concerts. He is also giving some of his peers free guitar lessons.
In 2015, Ou Wen formed a band called Order Of The Sixes with like-minded friends and played at his school's lunchtime concerts. He is also giving some of his peers free guitar lessons.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Student has also picked up guitar, ukelele, drums by observing others

Most people pick up musical instruments by attending formal lessons, but not Chong Boon Secondary School student Tan Ou Wen.

As a Primary 6 pupil in Mayflower Primary, he would memorise the movement of his teacher's fingers during music classes and practise on the school piano. Using this method, he has also picked up the acoustic guitar, ukelele and drums.

This method of learning has surprised many, including Mr Xie Zhizhong, Ou Wen's Sec 2 music teacher, who he cites as his inspiration. Mr Xie said Ou Wen's ability to play by ear was "a great skill that even some classical musicians don't have".

Ou Wen's aptitude is even more surprising, given that his family members are not musically inclined. His five siblings do not play any instrument, and his parents, a technician and a housewife, have never sent him for piano classes, because of the expense.

However, 17-year-old Ou Wen has made up for his lack of grounding with his dedication. Before his mother paid over $1,000 for a musical keyboard in 2014, he would play weekly on the piano in the school hall after school.

Today, Ou Wen's hard work has paid off, earning him praise and fame among his schoolmates.

In 2015, he formed a band called Order Of The Sixes with like-minded friends and played at the school's monthly lunchtime concerts.

Grooving to the tunes of Canadian rock band Simple Plan and American singer Taylor Swift, the band serenaded the lunchtime audience. Ou Wen added that his band had just two rehearsals prior to their first performance.

"It was a bit stressful, but once you get engrossed in playing, the stress disappears," he said.

The school has also been supportive of the budding talent, encouraging him and his band to play during other school events, such as Teachers' Day celebrations.

Though he still cannot read a score, Ou Wen's biggest aspiration is to produce his own music. And like Sebastian - actor Ryan Gosling's character in the Academy Award-winning musical La La Land - Ou Wen wants to "bring back jazz" by incorporating it into his music.

Last Thursday, when The Straits Times visited Ou Wen at his school, he treated reporters to his own rendition of Taiwanese singer Hebe Tian's Xiao Xing Yun on the piano, infused with jazz elements.

He plans to pursue a diploma in sonic arts at Republic Polytechnic after his O-level exams this year.

"I want to be a music teacher in future," said the Sec 5 student, who is already giving some of his peers free guitar lessons.

Mr Xie said: "I hope he maintains his interest and development, despite how music is perceived as a hobby rather than a career in our society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2017, with the headline 'Self-taught pianist aspires to 'bring back jazz''. Print Edition | Subscribe