Violinist Denise Santos Huang
Violinist Denise Santos Huang

Happy New Year! Our first featured artist for 2022 is violinist Denise Santos Huang.

Denise is an educator and a producer. She has been teaching for the past 20 years with students from pre-school to college. She is also the Strings Division Chair for the National Music Competition for Young Artists (NAMCYA).

Denise has played several solo concerts with orchestra as well as chamber music engagements throughout the Philippines, the USA, Asia and Egypt. She was part of several orchestras such as the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO); Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and FilharmoniKA.

She engaged in the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Managing the Arts Program in 2003 and as an arts organizer enjoys performing and producing charity concerts, hosting foreign artists in master classes and fundraising events for the benefit of educational causes.

We will feature her in our classical radio program Culture Carousel, which airs every Saturday from 12noon to 1 p.m. at 98.7DZFE-FM, the Master's Touch. Here are some excerpts.

How has your role as an educator, shaped you as a performer?

Actually, they both go hand-in-hand, because my being an educator shapes my being a performer and vice-versa. I would always tell my students, you should always know what event you're performing for, you need to plan for it. What is your program? What is your audience like, stuff like that. You have to at least listen to three recordings of the pieces — yes three — so you can get ideas on how it was performed before. You pick-up on these ideas, and eventually you will get your own concept of how to perform it and make the performance your own. Before you perform it, you have to formulate the concept of that performance in your mind, and after all those planning, you have to execute.

In general, you just have to be very detailed. Whatever you do, just do it! Put your heart and soul into everything that you are doing.

What are your observations regarding trends in the development of out string players?

It all started in 2019, I was encouraged by Caroline Cheng, who was the president of the Suzuki Association now, to study and train how to be a teacher of young kids.

My violin studio before was composed of either college students or intermediate students, but I rarely took on young kids. I thought it would be challenging and something new to learn and just to expand my knowledge. So I started to take classes under Dr. Lan Ku Chen of Taiwan. My biggest take home from that, would be learning how to break the lessons to the smallest components, and how you can make it easy for the child to learn. Because it's easy to understand like all those bite-size pieces of knowledge, it fosters in them a lot of hope, it motivates them to practice more, and it inspires them because they feel good from learning something that seems to be so easy. Then, build up all those little techniques and they become good.

Personally, I think, violin is relatively more challenging instrument to learn. You have to learn how to be ambidextrous pretty much. The left hand is doing this, and the right hand is doing that — it's totally different actions, it's basically multi-tasking. To teach that proficiency to a five-year-old can be quite interesting. How do you get into their mind, and how can you sustain the interest? How do you express what you want them to do in their language?

What do you think, are two of the greatest needs of our string players or our young classical musicians?

You know it would really be great if we had a society that recognizes Filipino classical musicians, just like it recognizes pop music, wouldn't that be cool?

Although I think, a lot of young people are getting into classical music so, maybe in the next decade, who knows.

Access to really good music halls, that's a big thing for me. I remember when our Piano Trio went to visit this school in Xiamen. We went to look at the university and we saw this part where they have these practice rooms. They had five floors of practice rooms, these rooms are fully furnished, beautiful, just wonderful places to learn and hone your craft. And not only that, it's right by the beach. When you cross one hallway, you're right into the concert hall, that's attached to the school, and the sound in that hall is really nice. And there was a time I was hosting the pianist of the Formosan Duo, Eugene Young, she was telling me that in her school, all the pianos, even in the practice rooms and concert halls are Steinway's.

Can you imagine if all the violinists, violists, cellists and double bassists here, have excellent instruments to play on? That is my dream.