I Pray Before I Play

Our monthly music column

By FLORENCE SOON-KIN WONG, Concert Pianist, Singapore and London

It was at a music festival in England that I started the habit of bowing my head for just a moment in silent prayer before beginning each concert. It was during my first year at the Royal Academy of Music in London that I impulsively sent in my application form for an open pianoforte competition. When I ar­rived at the hall where the competition was to be held, my anxiety increased with the realiza­tion that the competitors representing the Royal Academy, the finest music institution in the British Empire, were all students already in their third to fifth years, besides many other experienced pianists.

As we competitors waited at the back stage for our names to be called to come forward to play, I uttered a word of prayer for perfect composure, and that I might present a per­formance that would do credit to all the hours of practice I had put into those pieces. Some confusion resulted when Mr. Soon-kin Wong was announced, and only the diminutive figure of a girl came onto the platform. That did not help to take away my nervousness, and I was no better when the judges nodded for me to begin. So right there I bowed my head in prayer, and said, "Dear Father, please guide me, I've done my part. Now I leave it to Thee to inspire my playing." After that it seemed so easy to play. It must have been God's will for me to come out first, for I was given 90 percent credit by the judges, and there was a big difference of 10 per cent between the win­ner and the runners-up. After that the per­centages ran very close.

One of the points on which the judges com­mended me was my ability to create an atmosphere for my audience before and during my playing. Had they Observed closely, they would have realized that I did not do that myself, but it was the work of the Master Musician, who heard my plea.

Besides the spiritual benefits I receive when I bow in prayer before my concert, it has a significant effect on my audience. The momentary silence helps to create an atmosphere that is conducive to a more receptive mood for the program to follow, after the general confusion of applause upon the first appearance of the artist. In this case silence is attention's best friend.

Only an artist can understand the many fears he foresees. His concert may be fraught with great danger, for anything can happen. He may suddenly, for no accountable reason, ex­perience a lapse of memory. He is usually very sensitive about external things. It may be a word or a look, encountered just before Mount-mg the platform, that may entirely destroy the right mood for his performance of a certain piece. The communication cord between artist and audience is so thin that it could be snapped by a cough, a latecomer, or a crying child. But after a prayer God has control over the Mad­vertant forces, and the artist can settle down to work on the platform with perfect assurance and confidence.

From childhood I have been carefully trained by devout parents to recognize the guidance of my Creator in my art. Therefore, it has been, and still is, my habit to begin each day's prac­tice with a little hymn of my own composition or of another's. That is my prayer for wisdom and more talent in my day's work. I feel I can work better and accomplish more when I know that God is my great teacher. How often have I been thankful for the fact that the Source of music, beauty, and truth is also my Father, who cares for me with such infinite compassion and love. He knows and can help me in my prob­lems, in my art, and in the wild searchings for beauty and truth in my music. Above all, with His guidance He can give me the soul of music —call it genius or inspiration, if you please—which can raise mere human efforts toward recreation to the border of the sublimity of divine music.

In conclusion, it is my earnest prayer that nothing in this world will distract me from God. I want to be His child, simple and true. I want Him to perfect my character, so that my soul may be able to conceive and compre­hend my art in its perfect form. Thus, through my music I may lift the curtains of eternity, and enable my listeners not only to catch a fleeting glimpse of beauty and truth beyond but also to cultivate a desire to know the Source of both. So, dear Lord, make not only my music but also my life a sermon to others to the glory of Thy name.

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By FLORENCE SOON-KIN WONG, Concert Pianist, Singapore and London

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