Were it not for checking the online news today, I would have forgotten what had happened five years ago.
Today we remember the devastating tsunami that rocked and shocked South East Asia and the rest of the world. I was spending what-would-have-been a quiet Christmas in a small village in the Netherlands when I read of the disaster. I had felt utterly helpless and useless. Had I been a journalist, I would have exercised the power of the pen. But I was a mere student of composition, just months into the first of four years at conservatory.
Phuket, Thailand. Phi Phi Island. Malaysia. Singapore. Indonesia. That part of South East Asia was an important part of my life when I worked in Singapore in my early twenties.
A tidal wave of emotion swept over me. Was it grief? Over whom? There was no one I knew that was a victim directly or indirectly. Was it guilt? I was safe in Holland, far away from the scene of the disaster. Or was it a need to express myself somehow?
I reached out in a way I didn’t expect I could.
In the course of three months, I wrote a demanding piano solo called “Toccata on an Elegy Theme.” I asked my fellow classmate, a talented young pianist from Indonesia to premiere it at Utrecht Conservatory (also known as Utrecht Conservatorium). Elwin Hendrijanto (also spelled Hendrianto) communicated that sense of urgency and helplessness. I was grateful. Later I told him I planned to put it on my Hollandia CD of compositions written between 2004 and 2008. That project is still in the pipeline, and my promise still unfulfilled.