An avid supporter of the Arts, you’ll see this lady’s beautiful face pop up at many different arts events in Hong Kong, whether performing or spectating! She’s always working on something – an exciting collaboration, a new project, an upcoming performance, she’s super busy and super talented so we’re really pleased we managed to tie her down and get a few answers from her! Ladies and Gentleman the lovely Monica Johnston!!
This is from my first big performance with Western District, “A Tuesday Tango with Western District” at the Wan Chai Arts Centre. Photo credit: Agnes Bun
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi! I’m Monica. I’m a musician in Hong Kong, I play the viola! I grew up riding horses, but I’m a city girl at heart. I’m from South Carolina in the USA. and I love living in Hong Kong.
2. How long have you been in Hong Kong and what do you do?
I’ve been in Hong Kong for nearly 6 years. I teach viola and violin using the Suzuki Method, as well as pre-instrumental Music Play classes at KinderU Suzuki Music Academy in Wan Chai. I also perform around town with various groups—the Early Music Society of Hong Kong
, the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, the SAR Philharmonic Orchestra, and I started my own chamber music ensemble (with my awesome partner Sophia Yan!) Western District
– you can also check our Facebook page.
3. How did you discover your talent/when did you discover your passion?
I wanted to play piano ever since I was a little girl. I had some lessons, but it obviously wasn’t the right choice for me! My older sister started playing the violin, and I decided that I needed to play the viola—and be better than her! I’ve been in orchestra ever since. My mother works in Early Childhood Education, and I’ve always been around her and her teaching. I decided I would also become a teacher, but it wasn’t until I took my first Suzuki training course, Every Child Can!, that I decided I also felt a calling to work with very young children. Now, my pre-instrumental classes start from birth, and our student begin instrumental classes around 3 or 4 years old.
4. What do you love most about what you do?
I love performing and I love teaching! Making music together with others is really an experience like no other…whether it’s a duet in a small, intimate setting or a huge orchestra in a giant hall, music is powerful. I suppose sharing music is what I love most—I share it with my fellow musicians in a performance, I share it with the audience, and I share it with my students. I truly feel like my life would be incomplete if I weren’t able to both teach and perform. I need both to have a proper life balance.
This is a photo of me with one of my students just before a performance. I don’t remember what he said, but it was obviously something that warranted a huge reaction! I love having fun with my students!
5. What/who inspires you to do what you do?
My students inspire me every day. Cheesy answer but it’s true! Seeing the relationships they build with their parents, enjoying their individual progress as well as their progress in groups, and building a musical foundation that will last them a lifetime—I’m so lucky to be doing what I do!
Being the big city that it is, Hong Kong draws in many fantastic international performers. I’m amazed at the sheer number of concerts with top-notch soloists I’ve been able to attend as well as the ones I’ve been able to perform in. I also really appreciate that Hong Kong has many great musicians here—go see a local group perform!
6. What’s been your favourite piece/project that you’ve worked on?
I’ve had so many fantastic experiences around the world, but I have to say my favorite project has been in the past couple of years with Western District. Sophia and I were talking about the challenges that the performing arts (in our case, classical music) face in Hong Kong. After having this conversation yet agin, we thought, “Why don’t we do something about it?” and Western District was born! Our goal is to take a contemporary twist and apply it to classical music. We perform many different styles of classical music, and in various settings where you might not expect to hear classical music. We’ve also collaborated with other artists in projects, from dancing to photography, and are always looking for new opportunities to work with like-minded people.
7. What’s been the most challenging piece/project so far?
This is definitely also Western District. I have to praise anyone working in arts administration, or running their own ensemble or theatre company—it’s a lot of hard work! While I enjoy the freedom that we have to choose our concept and theme, and to pick the music we want to play, and to select the musicians we will collaborate with, there’s so much more that goes into a successful performance! Booking venues, selling tickets, finding rehearsal space, figuring out publicity…the list goes on and on. It has truly been a learning experience for me, and it was worth it every step of the way.
8. Can you take us on a brief journey of how you bring a project together?
As a freelance performer, this really depends on the project, as well as what my role is in said project. Sometimes I’m only brought in as a musician; for this I get my music, learn my part, and then come to the rehearsals. Sometimes I have a small part in the organizing, such as choosing which piece to play or developing the right ensemble to suit the clients’ needs. Other times, such as with Western District, I’m involved in every aspect from the beginning, which sometimes means planning a year’s worth of concerts at once!
9. What’s the next thing you’re working on? been the most challenging piece/project so far?
I’m very excited about my next performance, in collaboration with Aurora Theatre Hong Kong. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
is a hilarious show…I highly recommend that you come see it! I still snort with laughter even after I’ve been in rehearsals for weeks 🙂 I’ll be playing violin in and around the show. It’s going to be great!
Get your tickets on the link above.