Written by: Justine Wildöer
Talking with Yvonne Liew-On (50), music composer
My job means that I’m an active LinkedIn-user, which is where I came across Yvonne’s profile. A composer that’s worked at a circus and protests the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), of which the Dutch branch decided to close its auditions for the public and select established names instead. Not what Yvonne signed up for, that’s as much as I can tell. Her picture shows a young, happy, shiny face so I figure: why the hell not?
Two days later, I stand in front of her door to discuss her life and ideas.
Yvonne is one of the most special people I’ve ever met, in the best possible way. One of her street-bordering windows displays a huge poster, saying she’ll vote on Partij voor de Dieren (“the Party for Animals”, run by people, not actual animals) and while I try to induce our little chat, she interrupts me to offer me Russian chocolates. Though warning me that they aren’t your typical sweets, they are delicious and I realize it’s a conversation; not a staccato I-ask-you-answer-I-write-interrogation. All is well and I spend the next hour and forty minutes there.
Without having ever known her father, Yvonne and her mom come to the Netherlands when she is only two years old. For four years, they travel around before settling in a southern province and her mother’s ambition has her practice the piano for ten intensive years. For this reason, the conservatory in Tilburg really is the only right option to Yvonne. It sadly doesn’t work out however, so she takes a job in Rotterdam at an office. Lacking a degree and title and struggling to develop professionally but also facing related stigma, she goes to study law. It is at this time when her boyfriend terribly abuses her, eventually demanding all of her strength and even a religious epiphany for her to break Rotterdam ties and move to Amsterdam. She realizes she’s moved away from music for too long and she needs to own up to her passion.
Logically, she finds a room in her forties, loses it after three months, roams the street for about nine weeks and finally finds her current place. Sidestepping into vegetarian cheffing, she eventually wins a contest and is sponsored a computed audio system, allocating her all the tools needed to finally compose music. She is forty-seven, but only starts her life now.
Today, she is a vivid woman that’s lived through all the darkest shadows of humanity, but her optimism equals that of someone who’s only just starting, and this is exactly the case. She is pursuing her dreams, works together with a talented singer (Deci) and has even found one of those “bigger causes” that you sometimes hear about: she wants the auditions of the ESC opened back up to the public. And I hear her! I’m not much of a radical, but isn’t it frustrating that one snobby artist (Anouk) once demanded for the Dutch ESC to exclude the thousands of talented musicians residing in this tiny country, and they did? And let’s be honest – coming from a non-radical untalented individual, hasn’t the Dutch performance mainly been disappointing the past couple of years? Clearly, I can’t stress enough that when I start to sing, birds actually do start falling down the rooftops (click to get my joke) so maybe it’s not up to me to act all entitled, but why aren’t more people annoyed by this? Why are we never annoyed with anything anymore?!
So here I go, my own (not really even my own but Yvonne’s) Manifesto: let’s all be hugely annoyed and, even better, if you see Yvonne any time soon, handing out flyers or filming people in the streets when she asks them these exact questions, admit this! Imagine going back to a situation where you can hand in your music and you’ll be granted the chance to rocket-launch this into Greater-Europe (contemporarily also including Israel and Australia). That’d be great, right?