I remember the first day I set my eyes on the Berklee College Of Music in Boston. It had been a dream of mine for some time already and to finally be walking towards the music college of my dreams was certainly a surreal experience.
The picture above kind of depicts the first ‘scene’ that greeted me when I walked up to the college entrance.
It was towards the early part of Fall, so the weather outside was nice and cool. Students were ‘hangin’ along the corridors, presumably between classes. Some of them looked like genuine rock stars and some others looked like real jazz fraternity, complete with all the right swagger, attitude and lingo. Being a typical Malaysian I was quickly rather intimidated by all these ‘musicians’. I was thinking, “Man, they must be really good!” despite myself having raked up about 5 years as a working musician already.
The one thing I learnt from that experience? Turns out most of the characters I saw on that day were never the cream of the Berklee crop. Na, the good ones were inside, quietly practicing and honing their craft. They didn’t even wear the ‘correct’ clothes. ☺ But some of them were already amazing musicians.
Here’s another story that happened later on in my Berklee years.
I was selected to be part of the annual Singers’ Showcase concert. During that time, this was a showcase of the best singers and musicians that Berklee had to offer. And I was hand-picked to be the piano player! So on the first day of rehearsal I excitedly walked into the rehearsal studio only to find I was a little early, and there was only an African-American guy already sitting by the piano. As I walk towards the piano and start putting my things down, this was how the conversation went:
Me: “Hey, Wassup?!”
Other dude: “All good. (Pause, and then in a condescending tone) YOU the piano player?”
Other dude: “Can you play??”
Now, how many of you know how to answer that calmly without getting intimidated? BTW, turns out he was one of the better singers that year! Rude as hell, but good nonetheless!
My point is this. As polite Malaysians we are often bowled over by ‘foreign acts’. Yes I’ll be first to admit there are amazing, more talented artistes and musicians from abroad; and we should really grab the chance to learn from them and get better ourselves. I myself am so thankful that I got a chance to learn from the best over the last one year. However, I have also seen the ugly side of Malaysians who have put some of the ‘less talented’ foreigners on a pedestal only because they come from the ‘other side’ of the world without even checking out the work these people have (or rather, have not) done. Sadly, from what I understand, this is not confined to only the music industry. What does that say about us?
Anyway, lest anybody start the ‘sour grapes’ chant, let me be clear. This is NOT about protecting the ‘rice bowl’. This is NOT about protecting local rights. If you suck, you suck! Too bad! Strive to get better. This is certainly NOT about jealousy or ‘dengki*’. I write this only to remind ourselves, to always try to look at one’s talent & ability first and not be too easily swayed by skin color, or even the charismatic jargon that some use to hide their inabilities. The ones who have put in their dues and are good at what they do, and they are the ones who deserve respect.
So why not hire the ones that CAN, because only then would you be getting your money’s worth.
Here’s to keeping the music REAL!
* dengki: envy, jealousy, spiteful