After picking up the violin at the age of six, Lynnette Seah displayed such an aptitude for the instrument that it was not long before she began bagging various scholarships, awards and accolades — including the Outstanding Young Musicians Award in 1970 for being the youngest member of the World Youth Orchestra. “I could have gone to other countries to further my career,” admits the co-concertmaster of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. “But I just wanted to keep the flag flying and keep the momentum going, focusing on giving my all at every concert and performance,” she says. This International Women’s Day, the orchestra’s last founding member shares more about her journey as a musician over the decades and her other passion in life: Cooking.
When did you realise music was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
When I was 16 and studying at the Hannover Hochschule for Music in Germany. I was homesick during the winter and started questioning what was I doing there, alone, at such a young age. Then I realised that it was because I really loved playing the violin. That was my turning point.
In your opinion, what sets a musician apart from others?
I think a lot of people in the normal stream of vocational life don’t understand where we musicians come from. We have been training from a young age to bring out our emotions for every note that we play, then link it up to the next. I think that kind of training makes us different in the sense that we are more sensitive and perfectionistic. I am a real perfectionist when it comes to playing and I hate it when I miss a single note. So I strive to be perfect; to be better each time. It’s a learning curve that doesn’t end. That makes us different from normal people. People might think musicians are eccentric or overly sensitive or emotional but if we weren’t, we probably wouldn’t be musicians.
Sounds like a great deal of discipline is required to be a musician.
Yes it takes a lot of mental discipline. It’s like training for a marathon. You have to take care of your health because if you are not fit, it is hard to perform. So I exercise regularly, eat right and get eight hours of sleep every night. You sacrifice a lot of things in life as well. I don’t keep late nights. I also don’t go to loud places so as to preserve my hearing. In fact, when I had my hearing checked recently, the ENT specialist was so shocked. He said my hearing is still like a child’s, even after all these years in the orchestra.
Besides your mastery of the violin, you are also known for your prowess in the kitchen. When did this love affair with food start?
When I was young, my mother used to tell me that I wouldn’t get dinner if I didn’t practise. While I was locked in the room practising the violin for two hours every day, I would smell all these aromas coming from the kitchen and be looking forward to dinner. Food was like my reward at the end of the day, after school work and practising the violin. And so food became important to me. These days, I enjoy cooking for my friends and creating new flavours as a means to destress.
Is that why you decided to start private dining service Lynnette’s Kitchen in 2014?
That’s right. It’s been a really joyful experience so far because I have made new friends through this venture — friends who have brought their family and friends to dine at my house. When people thank me again the next day and show me the pictures of the food, I get quite excited. It makes me happy to watch people enjoy the fruits of my labour. I am a giver a nurturer by nature and now that my sons are grown up, why don’t I nurture other people through food?
So which is more nerve-wracking: Waiting to see whether critics enjoyed your performance or if diners enjoyed your meal?
So far, I have not had anyone complain about my food. As for music critics, I don’t really care what they say because I get my own satisfaction and my own happiness from it. I’m a very positive person so no matter the negative, I focus on the positive. And I think that’s very important for women because we have a lot of negativity in our life coming from all directions — at work and at home — so we should always try to focus on the positive things; the blessings that we have. I am always happy at the end of the day. That is how I live my life.
Read more about Lynnette Seah in the March 2016 issue.