Play Your Part, Stay Apart

One of the best memories of my youth was Friday night rehearsals with the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra. Once I joined the orchestra, music was suddenly no longer a lonely pursuit. It was still rigorous but it didn’t feel mundane anymore. It became fun and interesting; it recaptured my initial feeling of rapture. The excitement of belonging to a musical group was as exhilarating as owning my first musical instrument a few years earlier. I was no longer bored with running the same passages over and over again on the finger-board. The foreign-sounding music was vastly different from the Cantonese folk songs and Chinese pop songs that were drummed into me during the years in my Pa’s dry-cleaning shop. My violin teacher was the conductor. Mr Woon didn’t introduce me to the orchestra. He just told me where to sit. Right at the back row where I could hide. When he tapped his baton against something metal on the podium, the whole orchestra hushed and everyone sat up and looked at him attentively. Before he swung his baton, I could feel the whole orchestra hold its collective breath. And then it happened – that moment was simply magical. With his first downward beat, the whole orchestra came alive. Well, actually Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake came alive as we played our parts together. That was the first great classical work that I heard live. The great music surrounded me, it engulfed me. It was a great thrill for me – to be a part of a group of amateur musicians bringing alive musical notes written almost a hundred years before. Black tadpole-like notes with wriggly tails that waited silently to be played. In an orchestra, the players have to play their parts together strictly in accordance with the music score at the behest of the conductor or the whole creation collapses and is aborted. I found I was not alone, the others had difficulty too playing rest bars. There are four sections that make up an orchestra – the strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. Everyone has to play their part for the music to sound as what the composer wanted. I was in the fourth or fifth row of the First Violins when I first joined the orchestra. The advantage of being in the rear was that I could play softly when unsure of my part. I can finally freely admit that at times I only pretended to play certain bars that were beyond my ability. May I hasten to add that it was only because of a lack of practice and not due to a lack of talent. I knew from an early age that we only have to look right if we can’t sound right. Right elbow up, bow straight. Bow hair off the strings!

The other love of mine during my youth was footie. Both on the field and off. I can’t remember how I was able to afford the occasional Scorcher comic. I must insist I did not steal from the till, although my mother once did interrogate me when she couldn’t balance her takings. I imagined Pa was as uncomfortable, pleading his innocence when tortured by the Japanese during the war. Ma suspected I bought the Nasi Kandar I had for lunch that day with the missing money. But, lunch was steamed rice with one curry and half a hard-boiled egg, the day’s discrepancy would have bought ten such lunches. But, this has made me wonder how I managed to buy those Scorcher comics. Surely, Ma would have asked where I got the money from – nothing escaped her. Maybe a friend lent them to me. Yes, that must have been it. The story of Billy’s Boots was my favourite. Billy was an extremely poor boy who found a pair of old football boots in his grandma’s attic. The boots transformed Billy into a fantastic football player and granted him the intuition to be at the right time and place to score goals. The goals he scored still rate the best I have ever seen. On the field, I wore the number 4 jersey for my class team. The solitary goal I scored from just outside the 18-yard box still fills me with pride. It was a goal that Billy would have appreciated, that I am sure. Unlike Billy, I did not have any old boots to transform me into a great player. Today, none of my classmates remember I was in their team. No one can recall that special goal I scored either. Never mind, I played my part in defence solidly and was at times heroic as a barefoot player. A team player, I never stood out as most valuable player but just as importantly, I did not stand apart from the team either.

In my business, I often extol the importance of teamwork. We need to play our part and work together as a team. The picker and packer is as important as the salesperson on the phone. Sure, the latter may be the face and voice of the company, but without the packer, not a single customer order gets shipped. Without a cog, the wheel does not move forward as easily. In staff meetings, teamwork is a principle that is often a focal point. If we do not play our part, the team comes apart.

Yet, in today’s life and death crisis, there are too many reports of people wilfully ignoring expert advice to stay at home. There are many variations, the idea is to stay apart. The full lockdown, the Dutch Intelligent lockdown, the Malaysian movement control order, the Aussie partial lockdown, self-isolation, quarantine, social distancing. Be apart, save lives. A simple message, yet many flaunt it. We cannot sit still. There is the urge to leave our homes. A relative went out yesterday and bought a “tonne” of food for his household of two people. The Mrs insisted on going to the grocers to pick up discarded greens for her chooks. We must eat, and so must they! The Tablighs attended a gathering of over 16,000 in Malaysia – they had to praise Allah together. The Malaysian authorities bent their rules just once – it was suggested they needed to win the Muslim votes. Yesterday, the New South Wales health authorities are still defending their foolish decision to allow 2,700 passengers off the Ruby Princess into the community before COVID-19 test results were released – even as news are reporting more than 600 cases and 10 deaths have come from that ship. In Australia, Whilst the PM was imposing tougher rules restricting public gatherings to be no more than two people, we saw mass turnouts in Bondi Beach, Manly Beach and the Gold Coast. Market-goers ignored social-distancing rules and packed into a popular outdoor farmers’ market yesterday. Roof tops have proven popular for backpackers as they sun themselves openly and for Muslims in Penang who congregated to pray together. Malaysian social media have gone viral showing young people being locked-up as they flouted lockdown and social distancing rules. Meanwhile, Louisiana pastor Tony Spell will continue to hold Easter services after he was charged with disregarding state and local pubic health orders. He said “We’re defying the (stay at home) rules because the commandment of God is to spread the Gospel” That surely will spell more deaths in Louisiana. If they are serious, he should be charged with wilful manslaughter or murder, don’t you think? Urghhlings, it is really simple to save lives. Play our part, stay apart.

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