*Inspired by the book by the great Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, "The Malay Dilemma".*
Whether one likes it or not, music is present in virtually every aspect of our lives. From the television, to the radio, to nursery rhymes or children chants to pick out the next "it" or "jadi" when playing group games, the fact is that we are never truly out of touch with music even if we wanted to; it is an essential part of human life. It is also interesting to note that when quizzed with the question, "What is music?", many people - some of which study music and work in the industry - are unable to give a definitive answer. Music is emotion, music is passion, music is creativity, music is art and so on and so forth. While all answers are correct to a certain degree, they are not strong enough to define the meaning of music in its entirety. Hence, let's all agree on a methodical definition of music (author is still a scientist and engineer at heart.)
Music is basically made of sound and silence. A neverending wave of continuous sound would be nothing more than noise; absolute silence on the other hand would also be a blank sheet of nothingness. We will therefore define music as form of art; an art form consisting of structured sound and silence, a pattern, a sketch. Within this different parameters be applied, known as harmony, rhythm, pitch, timbre, tempo and volume. Everything else pertaining to music can be placed under these parameters (chords, styles and genres, arrangement, dynamics, instrumentation, etc.) It's interesting if you look at it from a different angle; all noise is not music, but all music is noise - so think twice about the definition of the words "tone deaf" and "musically inclined"! If one can tell apart the sound of a car horn and the sound of water running, there's no reason to say that one cannot appreciate music, or even play music for that matter.
That said, as a musician and entrepreneur in the music industry, over the period of time working in the industry - as short as it may seem - the author has become aware of an unsettling gap between music, its perception and its education in our beloved Malaysia and other neighboring countries. Why is the music industry as such in this country despite our quality of life? Malaysia has an average education rate in the sense that almost everyone has gone to school (finishing it is another unrelated topic). Nobody ever starves to death, neither do terrible famines occur yearly, and we are blessed enough to never experience natural disasters, weekly riots and/or acts or senseless terror. Malaysia's actually quite a good place to live, mind you!
As a developed (some say developing - some say third-world depending on where you live) country one would expect that the artistic and creative side would develop as well. Sadly this is not the case. There is little support for the fine arts industry of any kind, be it film-making, painting, architecture and yes, music. When was the last time you saw a musician, one who can properly play an instrument given recognition? Can you name more than local 3 film directors? How many a time have our local architects won international awards for their buildings, yet nobody knows - and cares?
One would wonder why we are in this situation. We only have to look at our own local music student orchestra - if we were to put a comparison between us and a student orchestra from Thailand or Indonesia, it is almost pitiful to see our university orchestras struggle to compete with a secondary school band. Why is this so? Do we not put enough effort? Are we truly talentless, forever banished as second-rate artists? Before you get your pitchforks and torches ready hang on a second; Malaysia actually has some immensely talented individuals out there. Not many people know that a lot of the musicians on tour with superstar artists like Jackie Cheung, A-Mei and Alan Tam are actually Malaysians. Few know that back in the 80s we set the standard for production and created a new wave of fresh music that swept across the whole SEA region. Fewer know that we have top-level musicians of the highest caliber, playing in orchestras and conservatoires around the world, and even fewer have seen them play.
Back to the question - why is this so? Being human we naturally try to look for the culprit - and being Malaysian we naturally look for them to blame. We blame the government for not putting enough support. We blame the education system for not being up to standard, and teachers who are unqualified. We blame the media for not publicizing this, blame that, blame those and so on and so forth. Let's be frank, nobody's safe from this sort of responsibility, including the author himself. Everyone has their own part and a job to do. But allow him to share a story with you; there is this one student who has been playing the violin for almost two years. The violin has far outgrown her skill, and she definitely has some form of musical inclination that would show with a bit of hard work and dedication. So we recommend an upgrade, from a student model violin (around RM450) to an intermediate level violin (around RM2500) that would greatly increase her technique and sound production. This was met by the parents' reluctance that it was "too expensive" and the usual "not sure whether she'll continue to be interested in it" talk despite her natural ability. A week afterwards we learn that the parents bought a new BMW X6 SUV for the price of almost RM650,000! As parents who want their child to have a proper music education, they toss it aside like a second-rate subject. And then they raise the questions of "why doesn't this sound good", "why does the workmanship on this instrument look bad", why this, why that - geez, did you ask these same questions when you compared a cheap car with your BMW? The answer should be obvious!
Now this is not implying that the parents were terrible and had no vision and that anyone is to blame for this (they're actually really nice folks) but what suffers from all these silly issues is the music education industry, the musical instrument industry and the music industry as a whole. There is no definite answer who is truly at fault here, it's more complicated than just pointing fingers at different parties but one thing is for sure; if we do not correct this issue towards appreciation for the fine arts, we will never reach the next level of civilization that we dream of and yearn for - and regardless of any head start we have had in the past, the next generation of musicians will be outnumbered, outplayed, and outlasted by others before we even see it coming.
Just a thought...