Li Churen faced a tough choice at age 16: follow convention and climb the academic ladder or follow her heart and train as a concert pianist?
The former student of Raffles Girls' School eventually joined the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and earned a Bachelor of Music degree, instead of completing the six-year integrated programme at Raffles Institution (Junior College).
"We've always had a piano at home and my mum would play CDs of classical music when I was young," says Li, now 21 and pursuing her Master of Music at Yale University.
"My parents found out early that I had perfect pitch and a good sense of hearing, so they decided to send me to music classes. I complied by playing random tunes on the piano whenever I could. That's how I began falling in love with my craft."
Her accomplishments include receiving the first prize at the Barlassina Young Talents Competition (2014), and winning third prize at the Aarhus International Piano Competition (2011) in Denmark.
BOOK IT /DICHTERLEBEN: A POET'S LIFE
WHERE: Victoria Concert Hall, 11 Empress Place
WHEN: Aug 21, 7.30pm
ADMISSION: $20 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)
She will perform with Singaporean violinist Yang Shuxiang, 27, in the recital, Dichterleben: A Poet's Life, which reflects on the passage of life via musical pieces inspired by poetry.
What do you love about your craft?
What I try to do as a musician is be a window through which the audience can perceive the world of the composer.
As the window, I am offered a first-hand view into the world of the composer to give my account of the music. So I am constantly discovering something beautiful, new and sublime.
What was your first performance like?
When I was seven, I played my own composition, titled To Mother With Love, at the Esplanade Recital Studio. It was a performance with the Yamaha Music School and a Mother's Day present for my mum.
I feel a great sense of responsibility every time I go on stage because I have to be accountable for the time people are spending to listen to my work. It makes me feel like I have a very special role to play.
How do you overcome your nerves before going on stage?
I have to eat a lot. Most people do not eat before performances, but I have to eat like two McDonald's meals. I also pray because that is how I find my balance.
What is the funniest incident that happened while you were on stage?
It happened during Shuxiang's graduation recital at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. He is a very expressive musician, so he likes to move a lot on stage.
I remember being immersed in the music we were playing.
As I was closing my eyes, I felt something ram into the right side of my head. He was moving so much that the scroll of his violin hit my head.
I blacked out for a few seconds and we both probably missed a note. We could hear snickering from the audience, but we recovered and continued playing.
Was there a time when you felt like giving up on your pursuit of classical music?
Some semblance of self-doubt is essential to a musician because you always have to question yourself and dig deeper into your identity to find out how you relate to the world, to yourself and to the music.
But if you are talking about giving up, I do not think I could do that because music is such an important part of who I am.
When I have self-doubt, I remind myself of small successes I have had and to be positive.