Violinist Emma Chang joins us on Close-Up Culture to talk about her music background, bringing classical music to younger audiences, creating fun content, and much more.
Hi Emma, welcome to Close-Up Culture. Can you tell us about your background and how you got into music?
Hi James, lovely to talk to you! My name is Emma Chang and I am the violinist behind The Sea Strings. I live in Sydney, Australia, but I have the pleasure of inspiring thousands of people across the world to appreciate classical music! I began learning when I was six years old and have been taught by some of Australia’s best violin teachers, Janet Davies and Professor Shixiang Zhang. I am now 20, so I have been learning for most of my life.
I created @theseastrings Instagram last September to promote the concerts and gigs my sisters and I perform. The name for The Sea Strings came as an acronym combined from the first letters of our names: Sarah, Emma and Amy. Before one concert, I recorded and uploaded a video of myself playing Mozart’s ‘Eine KleineNachtmusik’. The video gained popularity, and from that I realised I could make so much more of an impact with my violin playing. I’m truly grateful for the support I’ve received as a result of starting The Sea Strings.
I understand you didn’t study music at uni. Can you tell us about your development and the path you’ve gone down?
Currently, I am on an academic scholarship at Macquarie University in Sydney, studying Business Analytics and Criminology. People always ask me why I didn’t choose music as a degree – upon entering university, I realised I wanted to pursue my other interests, since music was already such a predominant part of my childhood. I wanted playing to be an activity I did for enjoyment.
In secondary school, I was enrolled in a special music program at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, for dedicated and future professional musicians. Whilst incredibly rewarding, I got a taste of how competitive the classical world is. I felt a lot of pressure and often felt like I wasn’t good enough to ‘make it’ in the industry – so that is also why I wanted to deviate from this side of music.
Although it was stressful at times, I cherish the musical opportunities I had growing up. I was surrounded by some of the best musicians and teachers in Australia, who motivated me to become a better musician. Without them, music would not be as major of a factor in my life as it is today. I currently teach and have set up a quartet with my friends where we’ve performed at major venues across NSW.
You are one of the musicians online – similar to Esther Abrami – who is making classical music accessible and ‘cool’ to younger audiences. What is your view of classical music in the modern age?
First off, I absolutely love Esther Abrami and the impact she has made on classical music. She is an inspiration especially for female musicians and composers.
Now, regarding your question –
I’ve heard many times the phrase that ‘classical is a dying’ genre. For it to stay ‘alive’, I think it is especially important for young people to have access to classical music, but more importantly, for them to hold the perception that playing and listening to it is ‘cool’. I try and convey this through social media and inspire others to pick up/listen to classical because it is also a ‘fun’ thing to do.
The other phrase I commonly hear is that classical is fundamentally ‘boring’ to listen to. As much as I hate to admit, I understand this perspective (classical is also not the predominant genre I listen to). In some of my social media posts, I showcase pieces that I feel like would challenge this perception. However, I believe that major change could come from the real-life performance experience and the additive benefits of watching or listening to the ‘product’ (i.e. the musician’s performance). Candlelight Concerts are a good example of this now – they enhance the listening experience with an iconic candlelight setup.
I’ve heard that classical musicians shouldn’t really treat classical music as a business. However, realistically, for classical musicians to make a better living or for there to be more jobs available for classical musicians, we need to think about increasing the demand for it (not necessarily by playing the most popular pieces, but also changing the way we present classical music to an audience).
What do you love most about being a musician?
To me, ‘musician’ has the connotation of someone who is a professional, whereas violin is something I do for fun (I wouldn’t personally classify myself as a ‘musician’ haha)! I love to play violin because it is one of those activities that instantly makes me happy. It takes my mind off any negativity I may be feeling that day. There’s also nothing more satisfying than instantly jamming to a song with friends because we all know it.
Playing an instrument also provides anyone with a way to make lifelong friends. I took my friend to visit the Sydney Conservatorium one day, and her first impression was that the violinists seemed like ‘such a cult’. There is just something about playing an instrument, violin especially, that instantly connects you to another person who plays the same instrument as you. It’s such a small world and everyone knows each other, somehow.
And what do you love most about being a content creator?
I’m amazed at how much of an impact I can have on people across the world. I think of my followers as if they are my friends, and I love interacting with them. Hearing that I’ve made someone’s day, inspired one person to buy their first violin or get back into learning, makes me motivated to continue what I do. I also love receiving funny comments or messages because it challenges the stereotype of musicians being so ‘serious.’ The fact that I’ve interacted with famous musicians online (whom I’ve looked up to all my life) is pretty cool too – I’m not any ‘Chloe Chua’ or ‘Christian Li’, so I feel like I’ve cheated the system a bit.
What do you like to get up to away from the violin?
I am passionate about creating a difference for women in business. I am the Senior Events Director for my university’s ‘Women Entering Business’ (WEB) society, which was named the ‘most outstanding student group’ at my university. As part of this role, I overlook the planning of our professional and social events.
Aside from this, I am quite active. I enjoy tennis, rock climbing – and also planning my next travel adventures.
What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
I want to do so much more for classical music than I am already. Ultimately, I would love for classical to enjoyed by more young people, and for people to perceive playing an instrument or listening to classical as ‘cool’. I would also love to create an online music hub where people (non-musicians, students, teachers) can go to for anything classical music related.