Fresh from an unforgettable humanitarian trip to China as International China Concern’s newest ambassador, violinist Kam Ning talks to City News about the experience, how she came back to God and life as a traveling soloist.
By Yong Yung Shin
Most of us are familiar with the stirring melodies of “Amazing Grace” but when violinist Kam Ning took to the stage as a guest performer at City Harvest Church’s weekend service on May 27 with her interpretation of the classic hymn, it was unlike anything the congregation had heard before. At the very least, we’re pretty sure it got writer of the hymn, John Newton beaming down from heaven.
In town for a recording that week, the prolific Singapore-born, London-based soloist treated the congregation to a fast-paced, jazzed up version of the song. “It’s much inspired by bluegrass and jazz, particularly that of violinists like Stephane Grappelli and Mark O’Connor. I wanted to make it really fun and virtuosic at the same time!” said Kam of her arrangement.
City News caught up with the violin extraordinaire for a chat.
You were recently commissioned to serve as ambassador for the Christian charity International China Concern, which cares for the abandoned and disabled in China. Tell us about your recent trip to its orphanage there.
About two years ago, one of my friends, a CHC member, told me about a Walk The Wall 10km charity run, which I participated in. I haven’t done a lot of running since then but it planted a seed in my mind. I then did one charity concert for them which went so well they asked me to do, so one thing led to another.
My time in China was a life-changing experience. For those of us who live relatively affluently, we are often unaware of the needs of those in dire circumstances. Just like what John Maxwell had said in his sermon at CHC about the boy with the loaves and fish, he probably didn’t quite understand why everyone else didn’t bring their lunches like he did, and was probably reluctant to give up his own ration.
My husband and I went along with a team of 15 to Heng Yang, China, from June 4 to 16. As prepared as we tried to be to face some new and difficult situations, no one could have been really prepared for what was waiting for us there. The Heng Yang project is divided into two buildings: the government welfare center and the ICC Centre. You may say that the two parts were as different as night and day.
As we were taken on a tour through the project in Heng Yang, I saw disabled kids who were bone-skinny in the government part of the welfare center, who had a paranoid look in their eyes, whose skin looked thin and sallow. All the kids there had issues with food. When mealtime came, they got tense and the fight for getting enough food began.
I’ll never forget one emaciated-looking boy who had his hands tied behind his back because he had a habit of putting his fingers in his mouth and making himself regurgitate his food just so that he could eat it again and make it seem like he was eating more food. He eventually got round this inconvenience by simply regurgitating into his mouth and then swallowing it again. My husband who volunteered at this part of the welfare center along with two other team members during our time there, said that he saw this boy doing this over and over again for half an hour. And he was not the only one with such a habit. One cannot come away from such a sight and be indifferent.
In stark contrast, the children in the ICC Centre looked healthy and active, despite being disabled. At the ICC center, they had much more individual attention as there were many more caregivers to go round. They received therapy for their various disabilities; caregivers would hold them and play with them.
Our work as a visiting team to the Heng Yang project was to play and hold these kids and just to love them. We had the immense blessing to meet our sponsored child, Su Su, who is a beautiful 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. When I first saw her, I completely broke down in tears, but not as much as on the last day when I had to tear myself away from her. Whenever Su Su smiled at me, my heart sang. Nothing compares. I am so glad that my husband and I are able to give our “loaves and fish” to ICC, that God may make this miracle happen, and multiply it.
For more information and a glimpse of the work ICC does, check out this video. At the end of July, as ICC’s newest ambassador, there will be a video of myself working in Heng Yang on the ICC site.
Tell us about your salvation experience.
I was born into a Christian family so I grew up going to church. But as with every home where you automatically go to church from young, you start questioning when you are older—did you really choose it, or did your parents choose it?
While I was at boarding school in London—I was about 22 years old then—I went to a music festival in the States, and met a guy who had backslidden; the funny thing was that I found myself telling him that he had to go back to church. Immediately I thought, who was I to tell others to go to church when I wasn’t going myself?
Through our conversations, he did go back to church and became so on fire, he scared me! Then it was his turn to tell me to go back to church. But he was quite blunt, and so I hung up on him! But it got me thinking … thank God, somebody must have been praying for me because I did go back to church and at my studio, there were other students who invited me to their Bible study groups so it was from there that I started going to church again and getting serious with God.
What’s one memorable performance you’ve had while traveling around the world?
Recently I went to Brunei to perform. As you know, it’s an Islamic country, where every visiting performer has to play for the Islamic censorship board so that they see what you are planning to play and check what you are going to wear.
Our organizer wanted me to play “Amazing Grace”, and as you can imagine, that might pose a problem, so we were trying to find ways to make it work, but then I decided, let God defend Himself, let’s just put it on the program—I’m not going to hide or do any under-the-table thing. I played it, and they said it was great, fantastic!
Then they talked about my clothes and discussed that maybe my sleeves were a bit short but then the one female member on the board reasoned (surmising from her hand gestures as they were conversing in Malay) that I needed to move my arms; anyway it was like a t-shirt so it wasn’t really short. Then we signed the papers and shook hands!
So that was the first time I ever had to play for a censorship board.
What inspires you?
My inspirations come from all sorts of directions—from other musicians (encompassing all kinds of music) as well as from films, books, friends, conversations I’ve had with others. I’m always thinking about how I may paint a picture or say, a multi-layered sense of character with sound whenever I’m practicing. It’s fascinating.