Kailin Yong picked up the nickname Fiddler For Peace while living in the U.S.. That was what his friends and colleagues used to call him, and for good reasons. For even as kid, he wanted nothing more than to bring more peace and love to the world. And he wants to do it through music.
Kailin was born in the thriving, multi-cultural, tropical metropolis of Singapore and grew up in a world where people of various creeds and cultures coexisted in harmony. It was in this almost utopic environment where he was handed the violin as a 6-year old and learned to play under the firm and benevolent tutelage of Kang Choon Sim, who he still regards as his most influential mentor.
After winning the National Music Competition in 1985, his 13-year old mind was set firmly on a musical path. But it wasn’t till 1994 that Kailin was finally able to embark on that journey, after having to first fulfill 6 more years of basic education as requested by his parents, followed by another 2 and 1/2 years of mandatory military service.
It basically took a dramatic gesture of ripping up his admission letter to a renowned technological university to convince his parents that he was single-hearted and steadfast about his musical dreams.
On a wintery night at the end of December of 93, Kailin landed at the Vienna International Airport. As he made his first sets of footprints on the snow-covered cobblestone street, he had no inkling whatsoever where this journey was going to lead him in the years to come. But in his heart he felt a quiet excitement, as he realized that for the first time in his life, he is free.
Kailin enrolled in the Musikhochschule Wien and immersed himself for the next 5 years in the cultural richness of the musical capitol of the world, a city torn apart by the two polar extremes of traditionalism and modernism.
While in Vienna, he did as the Viennese do; drank melange, went to the opera, ate schnitzel and took long walks in the Wienerwald. He was often complimented by many for his impeccable and tasteful interpretations of Mozart, though his own professor once said to him that he will never be able to “play Bach and Brahms and other germanic music right” unless he forgoes his “diet in rice and vegetables in favor of a more substantial Deutsche diet of big slabs of meat and potato”.
Kailin left Europe in 1999 for New York following an invitation to join a string quartet. After 6 months of hard work in rehearsals and work applications, the group landed a job in San Francisco at the state university. It seemed to be all falling in place for Kailin and his pals, especially as Kailin’s visitor’s visa was about to expire. The foursome relocated promptly San Francisco in the summer of 2000, only to find out that the college that hired them decided to withdraw their employment even before they started, citing “complex immigration issues” as the main reason for the termination of the contract.
Heartbroken, desperate and broke, Kailin started his residency at the Powell St Bart Station as a street musician to try to survive. This is also when he started improvising, making up tunes on the fly to entertain, to tell his stories and to express his feelings. In the summer of 2001, Kailin and his friend received an invitation from the Takacs Quartet to come under their mentorship in Colorado. But his time spent playing in the subterranean concert hall for almost a year, up to 5 hours a day still remains one of the most heart-expanding, illuminating, liberating, growth and courage-inspiring experience of his life. It helped him in his gradual understanding of how music and the arts can be used as a conduit for change; it also set him on a path towards his own awakening, empowering him to continue to follow his bliss and to “do his own thing”.
The Rocky Mountains was the backdrop for Kailin’s musical journey from 2001-2012. Aside for the phenomenal guidance that he received from working with the Takacs, he subsequently also made some amazing musical friends and teachers, and often they were both.
Boulder is a quaint little college town at the foot of the Rockies; despite its size and its land-locked location, it’s a surprising melting pot for a melange of cultures and belief systems. It was in this picturesque surroundings that Kailin began his education in world music. After the string quartet broke up shortly after 9/11, Kailin started to immerse himself in the exploration of the “sonic, expressive and cultural range” of his main instrument. He became friends with a bunch of wonderful musicians who have origins in or are drawn to different sub-cultures. From the nostalgic microtonality of middle eastern music, to the pulsating and passionate rhythms of argentine tango, from the gamakas and ragas of indian music to the driving bluesy sound of bluegrass, Kailin soaked everything up like a sponge.
While in the Bay Area, Kailin had looked up Darol Anger–free-style crossover fiddle wizard of Turtle Island String Quartet and David Grisman Quintet fame–for a couple of lessons in jazz. Now in Boulder, he was interested to continue with that exploration. His search for a teacher led him to Art Lande. Unbeknownst to Kailin, Art is somewhat of a legend in the international jazz arena, famous for his highly creative and eccentric interpretations of jazz standards, but also for his deep spirituality that he brings to his original music. During his first lessons, Art would request for them to “play free”. After one of these free-flowing and free-falling musical conversations that sometimes lasted for 20 minutes, Art turned to Kailin and asked a pivotal question: Why do you want to study jazz?
Art heard in Kailin’s free-play something special, something directly from his soul, from his unique journey and was interested in hearing more. Kailin received yet another sign to start developing his own musical identity.
Kailin lived in Colorado for more than 12 years; in that period, he grew exponentially in his breadth and depth as a musician due to his constant curiosity in different styles of music and in his collaborations with musicians from different genres but also with artists from other disciplines like dance, art and film. He toured America for 5 years with Boulder Acoustic Society, the first band he started since his string quartet days. Later on he also founded the Kailin Yong Peace Project and NuMundo, both pan-cultural ensembles. When he left Boulder Acoustic Society in 2010, he was eager to get back to his calling of a more altruistic purpose in music.
He was awarded the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin back in 2004 for his efforts in building cultural bridges through music. In that same year, he released his debut album “Bowing With The Flow” that contained his first set of original compositions based on his exploration of various styles of global folk music since his arrival in Boulder. 6 years later, he turned his attention inwards. Kailin started to understand that in order for his art to be able to promote peace around the world, he had to first find it within himself. He had to know what peace actually feels like.
Kailin set out to unveil the many faces of peace and spirituality within the Boulder and Denver area by starting to play for church services, yoga classes, kirtans, buddhist celebrations, anti-war demonstrations, labyrinth walks etc. He even started a music meditation session at the Boulder Public Library to welcome and gather people from all walks of life and belief systems to come share a meditative space that Kailin and some his dearest and most talented friends created with their divinely beautiful improvised music. In fact, this music meditation is kept going by his friends years after his departure from America.
About 6 months before Kailin was set to return to his native Singapore, the universe dealt him an interesting card. After a long day of moving house, Kailin had to go play a gig with the trunk of his car still stuffed with household items. When the gig was over, he loaded up his backseat with all of his instruments and gear and drove to a neighborhood bar for a little drink before the night was over. When he came out an hour later, he found the backseat window of his car smashed in and everything that he had used for his livelihood, every single tool of his trade was lifted out of his car in that one singular act of blatant larceny. Many of his friends came together and helped replace some of his stolen gear, but the bulk of it which included his main violin that’s been with him for over 20 years and a custom bow, a custom ukulele and his computer with all his compositions written over 10 years were never recovered.
Kailin landed in Changi International Airport on exactly the same day he left for Vienna 20 years ago to pursue a musical path.
To be continued…