Seeing how far music can fly

Ben Lim is passionate about the violin.
Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ

Ben Lim is passionate about the violin.

Benjamin Lim doesn't just see what's in front of him. He looks to the past, he looks to the future and his view is so broad, it encompasses the whole world. He introduces himself as a musician for life and a pilot by profession and when he talks of community he means it in a global sense. Ben Lim has huge dreams.

Lim is 27, but already he has completed all his ABRSM graded exams in Violin and Music Theory, he is currently studying towards a Diploma in Music, he holds an Aviation Bachelor's Degree from Massey University, is a commercial pilot and was previously a Republic of Singapore Air Force pilot trainee. He also holds an Engineering Diploma from Singapore Polytechnic, has an engineering undergraduate degree and in between all of that he decided to take the violin to as big an audience as he could.

"I had an idea 10 years ago. I wanted to create a massive library of music, especially on the violin. The violin can be a little disconnected ... it has become an instrument of the elitist society. I want to try to create a more conducive environment for everyone, a more accessible platform."

Teaching the violin is Ben Lim's way of spreading his love for the instrument.
Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ

Teaching the violin is Ben Lim's way of spreading his love for the instrument.

Lim has set up the Violin Music Academy, an international brand, an online database and resource site for anybody interested in the instrument. He has a broad network with secondary locations in Hong Kong and Russia and in Palmerston North Lim is teaching at the Soundworks Music Academy. His ultimate goal would be to offer supplemented music lessons to encourage more children, from all walks of life to learn. 

"I think it will be a lifetime of work. I would like to somehow fund underprivileged students. Many hundreds of years ago the violin was just meant for the noble and the rich and that is history that boils down to today. I want to try to bridge the gap and enable everyday people to be able to have access to the violin."

Lim was born in Singapore to a family that he says has no musical background, and he likes to tell people that if he could do it, anyone can.

And he could, but not straight away. At age 7 Lim didn't particularly like playing the violin, he wasn't necessarily good and he was made to practise. 

"My parents asked me to choose piano or violin and I chose the violin because all my cousins were doing the piano. There were nine of us and I wanted to be different. My parents enforced it on me and there were times when I wanted to give up."

Lim says there are differences in the way Eastern and Western cultures approach music education. He learnt through discipline applied through his parents and he credits them now for his success. "If they hadn't have done that, I wouldn't be here now.

"I'm not trying to break cultures, I'm trying to use the good things from different cultures. I've been in New Zealand for four years now and I have infused myself and become more Kiwi. So I see the goods and bads from both sides and I want to bridge the gaps. Music is a way to do that."

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At age 13 Lim started with a new teacher, Dilora Yakubova, and suddenly his perspective on learning the violin changed.

"She was just so fantastic, she played so well. She played a piece one day in a concert for my music school. It was a Paganini piece that is played with only one string of the violin. Paganini was a very brilliant violinist who was thrown into jail, because people thought he was the devil. They thought he was possessed because he played so well. So they threw him in jail with his violin, but he only had one string. So he composed a concerto with that one string. My teacher played Paganini and I was amazed and I thought maybe one day I could do that."

Lim was inspired and at 16 he took on his first student and discovered another passion, teaching children.

"They are like a blank piece of paper, a very innocent being who just falls in love with music so much and you can see it in their eyes. I knew then that I wanted to spread music education around the world."

When Lim was 17 and studying at the Singapore Polytechnic he got a call from the school asking if he would play in its string ensemble. It would appear there was a shortage of violin players. He said yes and pretty swiftly became the chairman.

"I had no knowledge of anything, so I was thrown in the deep end. I was the youngest chairperson ever and I was suddenly managing about 100 people. I had to learn pretty quick."

Lim says it was a blessing and helped him learn about how to form orchestras, ensembles and symphonies. The next three years of his life he learnt how to conduct, he learnt the viola and double bass and how to bring in brass players to his ensemble to form a band.

Lim never just scratches the surface and he went on to pursue another dream, a career in aviation. His ultimate goal is to be an airline pilot and he is working as a simulator pilot. Lim also teaches at Soundworks Music School in Palmerston North.

"I love to teach. It not only nourishes myself but it helps other people as well. In a way, it changes the world. I'm here in Palmerston North, so for now I would like to grow the violin here. People have been very kind to me. There is so much potential to grow. I believe if we can grow just one instrument, the city will grow and it will spread through the whole country as well. Music helps us to live better."

Lim takes big-picture thinking to another level and sometimes the best way for him to communicate is to pick up his violin. It is valuable to him, not in its monetary value, but for the sentiment it carries.

"This was my first full-size violin and my dad bought it for me in the year 2000. I treasure this so much, I carried it with me all the way from Singapore to New Zealand. It's not worth a lot, but in my heart it is worth tens of thousands. It has a sound that is truly mine, it has my sweat and my tears. It has gone everywhere with me."

When he plays, everything comes together. He chooses Bach for the diversity of feeling the music brings and some impromptu jazz for the fun of it. Held within the notes is the discipline learnt from his parents, the heart at the centre and the raw joy of creating a world from only four strings. 

The Violin Music Academy's website is violinmusicacademy.com.

 - Stuff

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