In 1970s, my dad was working for Bank of America which had its foothold in Singapore at that time. No he was not a big time banker or officer. He was given a job at the warehouse which they called a godown and he was a storekeeper. It sounded like a humble position for a man who had served in the British Army based in Singapore post World War 2 (WWII). In the army he was a Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) and had a colorful career which included being a champion batam weight boxer in the region’s army.
Let’s take a step further back and you will see my dad as an errand boy for the Japanese soldiers occupying Singapore during WWII. Those were really cruel and hard times in Singapore where people of my parents era (born in the 1920s and 1930s) were dealt a cruel blow in life. In order to survive, my dad was made to do errands like cooking, cleaning and playing the piano for the Japanese officers at their residence.
Yes, you heard it, play the piano and my dad had no formal training on piano or any musical instrument as he was around 12 to 14 years old and was not able to continue school due to the war. The Japanese seemed desperate to hear their local music or songs and there were pianos around, so they had a Japanese music teacher summoned to teach my dad to play their songs on the piano. I cannot fully imagine what my dad went through then but the little he shared with me, I was stumped. He was asked to look at how the teacher played and then follow his fingering over the piano and the tune that he played. It was not a single handed kind of piano playing but what I heard and saw my dad’s playing the piano while I was growing up, it was no different from the professionals. He mentioned that the teacher would turn off the lights and asked him to play the tune. If he faltered, he would be hit on the hands with what I believe was their kendo stick (a kind of wooden sword).
During my childhood days, my dad would play these tunes which were absolutely foreign to all of us but my family and our kampung (village) had the privilege of hearing him play the piano in the evenings when he comes home from work. I believe the tunes were famous Japanese love or classic songs of that time and they were lovely and soothing to our ears. I can imagine how frequent he had to play for that two to three years as the errand boy due to the comfort his piano playing brought to the soldiers. He must have been good to survive that period.
Although he could not read music notes, my dad was able to improvise playing other songs purely by hearing. I think I must have inherited his hearing skills which I will share in future posts 🙂 but more about my superhero to be continued.