SINGAPORE – How many of us can play a piece of music just by hearing it once? For 8-year-old Singaporean Lee Mikkel Myer, it comes as second nature.
An aspiring pianist, Mikkel’s parents chanced upon his talent two years ago, and he has since clinched awards after awards. Yahoo Lifestyle SEA talks to Mikkel’s mother, Felina Seah, to know more about Mikkel’s perfect pitch discovery, performing at the Carnegie Hall twice, and how he is coping with cancelled performances.
Back in late 2018, Mikkel had to stay away from kindergarten as many in his school were down with hand-foot-and-mouth disease. His parents decided to buy a second-hand piano to keep him entertained during his time at home, and that unknowingly kickstarted Mikkel’s journey as a pianist.
“We were playing with him and asked if he could play the keys he heard. It was meant to be a game, but we were surprised he could play at least four keys mixed on each hand, no matter if it were the white or black keys,” Seah shared.
Surprised as no one in the family has a background in music, Mikkel’s parents turned to Google to check if it was a common occurrence. It turns out that the ability to identify a note is called a perfect pitch, and this occurrence can be extremely rare.
“For Mikkel, he thinks his perfect pitch is like a game. He loves to play blindfold games and let us test him on which keys we played. Because of this, as long as he likes a piece, he can play it from listening.”
Initially, Mikkel was reluctant to take lessons. Mikkel’s parents respected his wishes and allowed him to explore his style and abilities at home, playing back music played from classical CDs.
“At the end of December 2018, we met a teacher who took him as a protege, who saw his perfect pitch and thought he was extraordinary,” Seah shared.
Despite so, his parents do not intend to send him for grading or examinations. “We want to support him in whatever and wherever his music passion leads him. We feel that enjoying music and expressing himself is more important at this juncture.”
Just three months after his first lesson, Mikkel took part in the International Greece Piano Competition as the youngest contestant representing Singapore, coming in third. A couple of months later, Mikkel went on to clinch the First Prize in the Grand Virtuoso Amsterdam, the Salzburg Piano Competition, and Golden Classical Award Competition in the USA, competing alongside many international pianists who had been playing for a much more extended period.
Mikkel was invited to perform at the Carnegie Hall for the third time in April this year; unfortunately, the event was postponed to June 2021 due to COVID-19.
With the Circuit Breaker in place, Mikkel took to playing online recitals for his grandparents when he was unable to visit them due to the restrictions. The 8-year-old also recorded pieces for his aunt, who is a frontline worker, his teachers and friends. Before the pandemic, Mikkel also played at St Luke’s Eldercare to spread love and positivity in the community.
Described as a self-motivated child, Seah shared that Mikkel will make sure that he finishes his homework before playing the piano. Regardless if he were playing for pleasure or practising new pieces, Mikkel would try to fit six to nine hours a day on his piano.
“Mikkel plays the piano all the time. He moves his fingers in the air; sometimes when he is eating or even when doing his schoolwork, which is hilarious to us.”
A fan of Richard Clayderman’s pieces, Mikkel fell in love with his version of Marriage D Amour, originally by Paul de Senneville. Since then, the pianist is passionate about another piece: the Chopin Nocturne Op 9 No. 2 in E Flat Major.
“He had finished learning the whole piece except for one small part at the end. This piece is usually for older children or adults, and his hands are still not able to reach the Octaves. He is stretching his fingers every day and hoping they grow just a little longer soon,” Seah added.
As an artistic child, Mikkel had also been spending his time painting and sending them to his friends in Australia. “His teachers told me he has artistic talents and can blend and choose colours instinctively. We bought canvases of different sizes and paints and kept them around the house for him to use freely and dabble around anytime he wants to,” Seah shared.
With restrictions on house visiting lifted, for now, instead of travelling overseas for performance, Mikkel is playing at home for cousins who visit their family on weekends.
“Physical (overseas) performances have been cancelled for now, but he has performances at home.”