Monday, September 3, 2012

Heidi Mak - the magic galore

Story and interview by Chris Koppers/images courtesy of Heidi Mak

It should not surprise you, but the space for Heidi's coverage about her multi-talents and her incredible music is insufficient on crankbox-music. It would take days to portrait her full spectrum. Heidi is a lady with visions and her fuel is named energy. This energy is omnipresent. 

Heidi got her heart on the right spot and it is always a pleasure to experience her art of music.

--- Interview ---

Your music is impeccable. How did it all start?

Thank you, Chris. That is very kind of you. I suppose being my father's daughter helped me get started. My father was an opera tenor and performed on Italian and German opera stages when I was a newborn. He put me on the piano knowing it would be a huge advantage for any given musician. I have had an emotional upbringing and my own set of problems -- so lucky for me, piano became an incredible outlet. When I was a young girl, I competed in piano competitions, it was my musicality that gave me the edge. I stood out because my personality and expressions came through, for better or worse.

In terms of my voice music - that was another chapter. Despite my father's career path, my family never encouraged me to sing. He did manage to give me singing lessons as his means to pass down his skills. My parents preferred the idea of a pianist-daughter. We're still essentially a Chinese family unit, and it was more proper and appropriate for a girl to sit at the piano than to sing in front of an audience. It's the "geisha" mentality -- to watch a woman "sell" her art, or entertain men with her charms. I've always been the black sheep, and had always been "brave" to do things... but to sing - it was a huge step. I never thought of singing was anything near prostitution, but I couldn't risk that. So the thought had remained a fantasy.

Then my father died unexpectedly, exactly ten years ago -- I thought my entire world had collapsed around me. I was in shock. I couldn't stop crying. I pacified myself by singing quietly to myself, along with my piano. I wrote a few songs and recorded it really quickly within the week... It was something I had to do or I'll implode with grief. My father and I clearly had a profound bond through music, but we didn't see eye-to-eye on certain elements like styles and genres. After he died, I fell into depression for a few years. I was really confused because black-and-white isn't black-and-white anymore.

I finally pulled myself together with help of my friends, new and old. Then I started singing for me, for the joy of it. I didn't care what other people might think. It was cathartic.

Next thing I know, people started noticing, and I worked with more composers, directors, and writers. Then more recording assignments come along, the more experience I have working in a studio. Singing live on stage is so different from singing in the studio. My dad taught me to sing like a tenor, so I belted a lot. Took a while to adjust with a recording stage, and it became a unique juggling act of techniques, emotional connections, song choices, and how I dress up the songs my way.

Who is your supportive person behind your music?

That's a tough one to determine. It'll be so much simpler if there's that one person I can thank, but my journey has been long and winding. Everyone who had touched me in my life shaped who I am and paved my way. It's not a Chinese thing to do, being a musician - not from a middle-class family anyway. After my bit of success, my family finally gave up, and accepted my decision to go pro.

I have to say, I do not take my friendships lightly - I've met so many people along the way who had helped me through the big and small changes of me. Few of these people I still keep in touch with became an eclectic garden of amazing friendships from Toronto, NYC, Hong Kong (!!), and L.A. **You know who you are!!** 

I write and perform - which is two very different (almost contradictory) art forms. When I write, I often get very neurotic. I'd be so wrapped up with my own thoughts, I cannot function or show my face in public. I can't even hold a conversation with another human being without spacing out. For me, writing is meticulously mindful - it's an amazing feat, there's nothing like pouring your heart and mind onto the paper. My friends keep me sane. They understand, support and nurture me without judgments or agendas. They know it's a process that I go through. There are a lot of moments when I'm not even aware I'm blind-sided --- it's life-saving to have friends who are sharp, up-to-date and care to spot me. They're my heroes.

What is your current project?

I'm currently in California, and talking some groups in recording and producing original materials I've drafted over the years. I've got several private events and functions coming up in Asia in the next few months. I just confirmed that I'll be performing at the World Youth Jazz Festival 2013 in Malaysia next May. I love music festivals.

Where is your favorite spot to perform your music?

I owe a great deal to the live venues especially the Hong Kong Fringe Theatre Fringe Club ( where I've performed numerous shows of different genres, different formats, musicals, and even different languages in showcasing multi-culturalism. My first cabaret which I handpicked the songs, wrote the story, and produced was premiered there. Each show I hold dear to my heart. Also, I love the staff at the Fringe. They're there for the arts.

What do you do when you have some left between your gigs?

I have a "buddy-career" as an instructor for piano and voice. I consider it a parallel career because so far, one affects the other. While the performing takes up my evenings and weekend times (rehearsals, writing, arrangements, PR, media, etc.), the teaching pretty much takes up my daytime. I often tell people that my teaching is my "bread-and-butter", while my performing career is my "champagne-and-caviar".

I push myself pretty hard, working like a student. In turn, I teach my students to manage themselves because you won't improve if you accept mediocrity. I've asked my students what's acceptable for them? 60%? 80%? 90%? If they say 80%, then you know how far they're willing to push. If you want something - you'll have to work for it. Competition is fierce, and you have to outdo yourself to qualify for the next level.

Also, my teaching influence my public persona, and I'm quite mindful of setting an example for my students, whom I consider them my "kids". I feel it's my duty to at least have a clear boundary to how far I would go in terms of my image and message(s).

On the other hand, because I perform, it embodies my preference of learning by practice, and try try again. That gives my students time line and set goals when facing grueling long hours, minute details, and weeks and months of preparation leading up to that one perfect execution. It's part of the best training I can provide before these kids go off to university -- because a lot of things are a matter of building habits and attitudes.

Outside of music and music, I try to travel as much as I can. I love exploring new neighborhoods, especially ones that are green with eclectic landscape and architecture. I like to think I'm a good cook. I'm always the one who drag my friends to go to art shows and exhibitions with me. I love movies - I have a small movie club to watch indie movies with friends. We also attend film festivals together - it's a lot of fun. Wish I have more time for yoga. I need to build a stronger body and learn to swim faster...

Please pick one and tell us why.
My music is...
a) my life.
b) my way to express my thoughts and feelings
c) my infinite adventure.

All of the above. I'm not kidding when I say Music is the only thing I'm good at. You're talking to someone who can never fill out a form on her first try.

Where will you see yourself in 2015?

THREE years from now? That's too far ahead. I might finally build my own music school. Or in America living it large, being famous and paranoid. Or disappear from the internet and live in somewhere peaceful and quiet and hide from the world. Who knows? I like to plan, but I can only execute solid planning one year at a time - with enough room to improvise when the situation calls for it. A career in music performance and show business is very fickle - no one really knows anything... And anything goes.

What was your sweetest moment in your music career?

Blowing a full house audience away, and feel the audience bringing the house down!! 
They make everything WORTHWHILE.

I was guest-performing a number in a club, and doing an easy Alicia Keyes' coversinging and playing on the piano, just having fun on the stage with a sizzling Latin drummer, the house bassist, and house guitarist. The band and I were so in sync, the crowd went WILD. Their cheers were deafening, and the whole place was shaking with excitement. 

Another occasion, I was performing as Marcy Park for Hong Kong production of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee". For my one scene-stealing song "I Speak Six Languages", I sang, did gymnastic splits, and jumped on the piano playing a segment of my song in its original score which the composer intended. I was singing and playing on the piano when I see the awe in the crowd and people nudging each other realizing I was playing the piano, for real. I jumped off the piano (the pianist/music director and I got this switch DOWN during rehearsals. We love wowing the crowd with the switch) without skipping a beat, the pianist would jump in, as I continue to dance and sing. When we finished - the crowd would go CRAZY, unanimously. They scream and clap so loud and unanimously that shakes the whole building. It's humbling and exhilarating. Even the not-so-enthusiastic ones were carried away. And reasonably so, I was Marcy Park - I expected nothing less.

Also, it was a privilege to be able to interpret "Adon Olam" in which people were in awe. Everytime I perform that piece, people would come up to me and say, "I got shivers."

How would you define success?

In my opinion, if someone do what they love, and they're good at it, then they are successful. But what do I know? Ask me that again when I'm 80 years old. =)

Do you have a specific music artist you would love to collaborate with?

I have lofty ambitions. I fantasize about working with big name electronic producers like Mark Ronson, Nellee Hooper, Neptune... They're just [censored] brilliant.

Thank you for taking your time, Heidi.

Heidi's webpage:

Heidi's teaching website:

Her latest toutube video:

Her facebook page:


Pete L. said...


Great music and thanks for sharing.

Keep on rocking crankbox!


Holly T. said...

Yeah. Beautiful music.

Great blogzine.


Beth G. said...

Her story is heart-touching.

Thank you so much for publishing the interview.


Anonymous said...

Sweet like candy. I already love your blog.

Heidi's music is awesome.


Alex F. said...

Great post.

Can't wait to see more.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for introducing Heidi. She is a gem!


Anonymous said...

Brilliant :)


Anonymous said...

Love it.