In 2008 Dr. Sophie Van Aerde arrived in Sabah from France. Two weeks later, I arrived in Sabah from England. We soon formed a violin-piano duo called Klasik Elastik. Here, Sophie talks about the French education programme which helped her musical talent flourish in the most natural way.
[Excerpt from: Funk, Joanna. SabahSongs: Contemporary Music in Sabah. Kota Kinabalu: Opus Publications, 2013. 176-179. Print.]
SOPHIE VAN AERDE – DOCTOR, VIOLINIST
I learnt music at the age when I learnt how to read and write French.Sophie Van Aerde
Sophie Van Aerde is my violin partner. She’s also a medical doctor, and Director of UMS Poliklinik in Kota Kinabalu.
Sophie is French and grew up in the northern town of Douai. Her talents were nurtured at a young age when her parents enrolled her in a government programme of accelerated learning. In Douai, the programme concentrated on music, basketball and swimming.
“My class was just under 30 students. So at six years old, I started to learn music at the same time I started to read and write French. There was a special programme in my town, I went to normal school in the morning, and in the afternoon I went to the Conservatory of Music in Douai.
“It started very naturally, and I just followed and was very interested. We did Solfège, it’s a French word; you learn to read the notes – Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Si in every key, not like a, b, c. We learnt theory like the scales, minor, major, melodic, harmonic, pentatonic, and also music history, which was very interesting because you learnt why a lot of things are the way they are.”
“For the first three years, we all learnt how to play the recorder. It was compulsory for everybody. It’s an easy instrument, at home we can practise, learn how to play notes. We also learnt the xylophone and we sang, which was very nice.
“Initially it was like playing games; we created songs, we made shows every year, we had fantastic teachers.”
At nine years old, examinations began along with instrument choice.
“This was when you chose what instrument you wanted to start learning. I continued recorder, because now we were learning about Baroque music and things like that which I loved.
“I also chose violin. This was a fantastic time for me! It was like I was having holidays all the time! I never found it painful to learn music. I even liked learning music history. I never liked normal French history, but music history – I loved it.”
“By the time you are nine years old, you learn how to be independent, because you have to move from one place to another alone. In the morning you have your classmates in school, in the afternoon you could be on your own schedule or in a class with lots of children of different ages.
“We learnt about orchestral music, sight reading and composition. I learnt how to write the different forms of classical music, and I finished solfège very fast, which means I also finished the programme very fast.”
“After 15, I went to normal school all day, but continued the Conservatory of Music in the evening, so it was a crazy long day. I had finished all the levels for recorder, and should have gone to Paris to continue, but I was young and too shy to go.”
Sophie comes from a family of dentists, but she wanted to study Medicine. Remaining in Northern France, she chose to study in Lille, since the city had its own Music Conservatory.
“I went there so that I could continue violin lessons and orchestra. But the first year of medical school is very competitive, there are 2000 first year students, but only around 200 are allowed to pass through to the next year. I missed by five places, and had to repeat the year. So I had to drop violin for about three years to concentrate on my studies.”
Sophie said the way she had learned music was as natural as reading, writing and speaking. Stopping for three years took its toll.
“So when I picked up the violin again, it was like I was speaking with a bad accent and not able to make proper sentences. It was horrible, I had to learn again, it was not automatic anymore.”
Later Sophie took violin lessons with the first violinist of the orchestra of Lille – Fernand Iaciu.
“During the summer holidays my parents offered to send me to a music workshop. You live one week with other kids, and play all sorts of music like folk, Baroque, orchestra with many different teachers. It is very intensive music, and the motivation is a lot more. I was very lucky.”
Sophie eventually became an GP. She worked in France for several years before coming to KK in 2008 to marry her Malaysian husband, who is an obstetrician working here. I arrived in KK two weeks after Sophie (to marry my Malaysian husband!)
By chance we met, played together and formed our duo Klasik Elastik. This is because we play mostly classical or European folk music, and we change the tempo as we like. You could call this rubato, or just elastic.
Recently Sophie became a mother. Between running the Poliklinik and being a new mum, we have been playing less. Sophie plays solo violin occasionally, for example for the attending dignataries at UMS functions, or for French VIPs visiting Sabah.
My life is infinitely richer and changed forever for knowing Sophie.
[This story was first published in my blog SabahSongs before the blog became a book.]