by Bernice Koch
It can be lonely growing up in a one-child family. It was especially so for Claire, even though she grew up in China—with almost 1.5 billion people, the most populous country in the world. But modern technology can become a good substitute for human company.
Claire turned to listening to ‘all music, and of course, modern pop’ to counter her feelings of loneliness. By the time she was fourteen the music was going in and out of her consciousness without leaving any real impression. She ‘listened today, but tomorrow there was nothing left’. Tomorrow was another day when she could switch to another tune. It never left a lasting impression because ‘there was always new music coming’.
‘It was overwhelming; I was blown away. Previously, the music was nice, but there was no connection’
Claire selected music as her elective at secondary school. Her teacher liked baroque music, attracted to its structure. Many students were in the lecture hall when Claire heard the opening chorale of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion for the first time.
‘It was overwhelming; I was blown away. Previously, the music was nice, but there was no connection’, she explained to me. Now her emotions were affected so deeply by Bach’s music that she had to go home. Claire listened to the music again and again. ‘My mind went blank. I never knew music could evoke such strong emotion. It was something greater than yourself. You gave yourself to it. You yielded to it. It was greater than any earthly being. Words are useless; it was so grand. It was really deep stuff. I had listened to Mozart and Tchaikovsky before, but I couldn’t relate to it’, she said.
Claire began to explore, using YouTube as her guide. She gradually learnt about JS Bach—as a Lutheran, as a German and as a composer. As Claire kept coming back to Bach’s motets, her knowledge of and love for the German language grew and developed. Claire had been studying English too—now her love for and appreciation of English literature also increased. She found it difficult to describe in Chinese Mandarin these new emotions filling her soul but found it easier to express them in English.
The beginnings of Christian belief further isolated Claire from her parents. Their aim for their daughter was for her to be successful in her studies. Chinese culture and her school environment did not encourage Claire’s emotional expression. Claire experienced feelings of isolation and detachment from the world around her. When she did try to explain her thoughts about the music to her teacher, it only resulted in anger. ‘I still wanted to be accepted, even though I felt so different and my thinking had changed from the others. It was a formative age,” she said.
Claire began to read about the different branches of Christianity and