Battling Insecurities: Interview With Music Teacher Jeannie Hooi Part 1 (2024)

Many young musicians today often battle with insecurities, as music is a type of art and can receive a lot of judgment. Today we will be looking at how music teacher Ms. Jeannie deals with her own insecurities regarding music.

For Jeannie Hooi, 55, her journey to studying music was not a typical one. Although studying music for 42 years seems like a long time, she didn’t begin taking piano until the age of 12, a late start that led to years of insecurity about her place in the music world.

Ms. Jeannie grew up in a church in Malaysia where her father was the conductor. She struggled with comparing herself to more accomplished young musicians who typically started at age 5. Nonetheless, after high school she continued building onto her music education. She found her strengths and made a career as a music teacher. Currently, Jeannie is teaching music in an international private school, The SMIC Private School Shanghai, with a chamber, a choir, and a life exceeding her expectations.

Note: Because this interview is too long for a single post, it is split into two parts: Part one talks about Ms. Jeannie’s overall journey in music, and part two specifically talks about her experience with insecurity. None of pictures below appeals to Ms. Jeannie’s actual life.


Battling Insecurities: Interview With Music Teacher Jeannie Hooi Part 1 (1)

How did you first come into contact with music?

My father is a church conductor, but I did not get involved with music until I was 12 years old. I didn’t start piano classes when I was five [like everyone else], because I didn’t come from a very rich family. Playing piano back then was a niche; you had to have a certain income. At the time, my older sister was learning the organ. When she dropped out, I told my mom I wanted to learn music [in her place], but I didn’t want to learn organ. I wanted to learn the piano. My mom said, “Okay, but because we’re not that rich, you have to make sure you finish all the piano examination grades.” Finishing the entire piano examination indicates the need to practice a lot, but I never thought about that. I agreed, and from then she bought a piano and a tutor for me.

Before my mother bought me the piano, however, my dad would fetch me to the church about once or twice a week for me to practice first. They made sure I’m truly interested in playing the piano before buying a brand new one for me. So I went to church at night and practiced. I even remember my John Thompson book, fingering “1, 3, 4, 1, 3, 4”. After that, my mom decided to buy me a piano.

Battling Insecurities: Interview With Music Teacher Jeannie Hooi Part 1 (2)

My father would tell me, “Okay, you’re 12 years old. You cannot compare yourself with four-year-old piano students. So you have to work extra hard. If people practice one hour, you have to practice two hours to match up with the skill and technique.”

It was pretty difficult, right? Because of your old age and all that.

Yes, but there are pros and cons. Because I started older, I know clearly what I want. Some kids start at four years old, but later they drop out because they don’t know what they really want. It might be their parents’ wish.

After you started studying music, what is the educational route you took?

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In Malaysia, we have a different educational system. We have the option to take music part-time and achieve the highest part-time degree doing a London degree so we have time to do other things. So after high school, I did not go to university. In fact, I went to teach part-time as a substitute teacher in a public school while taking the part time degree and teaching piano privately.

At one point, I had to decide whether I want to be a full time, private piano teacher at Yamaha music school or a music teacher in a public school. I have come to a crossroad to decide what I want. I wanted to teach in a public school because I get to see more people. If I teach piano one to one, life is quite boring. So, I applied to become a music teacher in a teacher’s college to be able to teach in a public school. If you want to be a public school teacher, they have different subjects at the school that you can apply to, and I applied to be an elementary music teacher, and studied there for about three years.

So that is my route. I became a primary school music teacher. After I graduated from college, the government sent me to a school to teach music as a subject.

However, not every school has a music curriculum. I was sent to a public school and sometimes taught art and life skills. I taught subjects other than music. I taught in public schools for about 10 years before I went to university majoring in music.

Battling Insecurities: Interview With Music Teacher Jeannie Hooi Part 1 (4)

That is much later in my life. That’s after I gave birth to two children when I was 30 something. I went to a university of Malay. The bachelor degree is called Performing Arts. I majored in piano and minored in vocals. It was a hard road; I never stopped teaching piano privately. After I finished my degree, I continued teaching in public school because I was guaranteed a job there.

Ultimately, how did you decide you want music to be your actual career?

When you come to a certain point in your life, you want to do something fun and while having a job. It’s definitely music for me, because it’s something I find interesting.

Battling Insecurities: Interview With Music Teacher Jeannie Hooi Part 1 (5)

I think you will laugh at me, but after high school, I don’t want to learn anything else. I don’t want to be anything. I just wanted to learn music and instruments. Any musical instrument, I will go and learn. After high school, I was teaching but I picked up the flute anyways. I learned the organ and I became a church organist. In church I learned guitar. I love it. You see, I wanted to pick up the cello, but I had no time. So this is me, all right. I’m not very academic, but I love learning musical instruments. Once you learn the piano, everything else is easier. You can pick them up quickly.

It’s not that I want to be famous or what, I just love it. Learning music and all.

Battling Insecurities: Interview With Music Teacher Jeannie Hooi Part 1 (6)

When you first started learning music, did you have any expectation of what you’re gonna become?

No, no, no, no. I’m not a person with such high ambition [laughs]. My dream, my prayer section is that I can play a song, that’s it. I also want to serve in a church and just be a church pianist. That’s it. It’s very easy. It’s not like I want to be a performer in a world class school. No, no, that’s not me.

You would say the job you have right now is about what you expected when you first started studying music?

No. Back when I taught in Malaysia, I was trained and expected to be a music teacher for elementary children, but when I ended up also teaching art, English, and other subjects, which was a surprise.

But as of now, SMIC is way beyond my dream and expectations. In public schools, the kids come from different social economies. Some are poor, some are rich. To learn music, your background’s got to be rich in a way, so a lot of these kids struggle with music. In SMIC, children are all fairly wealthy and amazing at music. I’ve never thought that I’m going to have my own orchestra and choir in school. These kids are good, and they helped me achieve beyond my expectations.

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How do you feel about your current job?

I enjoy it, that’s true. The kids are good, motivated, and talented. Thanks to their wealth, the kids don’t have to worry about money and part-time jobs. The school is also supportive of me. They have all the materials and teaching supplies that allow me to do my job smoothly. So I really enjoy teaching currently.

Is your current job position competitive?

Yes. I came to Shanghai in 2004 and I submitted my resume to SMIC. There’s no response until 2006, only because there was a music teacher that planned to leave. Do you think it’s competitive? I think so. A school doesn’t need many music teachers. Well, and now I’m in, that’s for 15 years. Nobody can stop me and enter their resume [laugh].

What do you think was the most difficult process in studying music?

Battling Insecurities: Interview With Music Teacher Jeannie Hooi Part 1 (8)

Time. You need time to practice. You must have time. That’s number one. Number two, I think the process requires focus. Sometimes when you practice music, you cannot focus. You think of something else. Number three, it’s difficult to understand the intent of the composer or the way your audience likes. I remember I had an exam, and I failed because the examiner thought that I played too slow, but my piano teacher thought that it was okay. Number four is about finding the correct technique. Because we don’t live in a baroque or classical world, we don’t know what we want. For example, when encountering trills, you have to figure out how many notes are needed.

Although a song looks simple, many different pianists will tell you, “No, you don’t play it like that. You’re supposed to play this way.” For me, this is a very difficult process.

Part 2 coming up in two weeks! 🙂

Battling Insecurities: Interview With Music Teacher Jeannie Hooi Part 1 (2024)
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