You’ll know the classroom exercise — it’s almost a given in primary or secondary school (and in some of the more ambitious preschools, so I'm told)...
Describe who you want to be when you grow up.
For most of us, our careers come nowhere close to those early childish scribblings. Not only did Evelyn Hii hit the bullseye, however; her arrow of determination ricocheted, grazing multiple targets. Concert pianist, prophesied Hii in a composition titled 'My Ambition.’
“It was for English class and I was 10,” says the markswoman. But even she could not have anticipated initiating Kuala Lumpur’s longest running music institution. “Listening to my late father play records at home, starting piano lessons at seven, winning a state-wide piano competition organized by Yamaha Music School in my teens, touring with one of Sarawak’s leading choral groups in the role of accompanist, and pursuing classical piano performance studies in the USA...” she halts for a breath. “These experiences are what led to my creating an alternative platform, a ‘salon,’ if you will, for classical music outside of the conventional concert hall experience.”
Thus was born No Black Tie in 1998.
Passion For Perfection
On the evening of our photo shoot and interview, Hii is unable to sit still. Likewise, one of her hairs has decided to go rogue. Sticking out from her jet black power bob, it resists all efforts by her private stylist to be tamed. Misinterpreting Hii’s energy for nerves, I make the mistake of telling her “to chill.”
“I am chill,” she says breathily. “I’m always like this.”
An architect friend of Hii’s who is present for moral and stylistic support looks at me. “She is,” he shrugs.
“Nana, can you adjust my collar to expose my necklace?” says Hii, beckoning to her stylist. “I mean to show a melange of the indigenous with the modern.” Depicted on her décolletage is a yellow beaded necklace from Miri, her birthtown.
Notoriously hard to get ahold of, Hii had agreed to be interviewed for one reason only: to shine the spotlight on No Black Tie and Borneo Jazz Festival, of which she is the head curator and co-organiser. Slated for July 19th through the 21st, the 14th edition of the music festival will involve interns, volunteers, ground staff, technicians, lighting designers, locals, tourists, and artists of all walks of life, whom Hii deems her kith and kin.