Alumni Profile - Joanne Yeoh

 Joanne Yeoh
PhD in Applied Psychology (2009)
Violinist, Examiner and Academic

Heriot-Watt alumnus proves the power of music in theory and practice

Multi-talented, virtuoso Malaysian violinist, Joanne Yeoh has dedicated herself to mastering her instrument since childhood and has gone on to achieve globetrotting star status. But, while others might be content to rest on their hard won laurels, Joanne – performer, examiner and academic - has other strings to her bow and defies cliché.

Seeking a deeper understanding of the power of music to move and influence us, she chose to take a sabbatical from touring for quiet study at Heriot-Watt University. “Both my first and second degrees were music performance based, and hence, when I started my degree at Heriot-Watt, I wanted a different experience,” Joanne says. “Studying at Heriot-Watt allowed me the opportunity to explore other aspects of music, in particular music psychology.”

Joanne’s PhD in Applied Psychology (2009) analysed the effects music has on consumers’ decision making. It concluded that while music can indeed influence listeners in a commercial setting, its affects are limited. Perhaps, Joanne – who has experienced first-hand how her own music can move an audience to tears – was looking for irrefutable academic proof that, when it comes to music, the heart will always rule the head. Her Heriot-Watt research has led to an academic career in Malaysia, in parallel with her performing, and further exploration of the power of music.

“Earning a PhD from Heriot-Watt allowed me to understand exactly what research meant, how it ought to be conducted, and how to publish excellent academic papers in journals,” she says. “This was crucial knowledge, as my current workplace - Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) - demands a research background. Studying at Heriot-Watt allowed me to become a more well-rounded musician in an academic setting.”

“It was pretty much a joy to study at Heriot-Watt,” says Joanne. “It was a very smooth transition for me, as an international part-time student, to study there. I found very little bureaucracy and red tape and this really helped me as a student concentrate on my studies. There were plenty of resources as well for PhD students.”

With a ferocious work ethic, Joanne now combines ongoing academic research with performance as well as other music-related duties: “I currently wear three major hats,” she explains, “lecturing at the local university, examining music students for Trinity College London, and performing. I started working at UPM seventeen years ago, and it is my first and only full time employment upon graduating with a Masters degree. I will always be grateful to UPM for believing in me and allowing me to extend my wings to experiment and to explore new grounds. I am also part of the panel of examiners with Trinity College of Music, London, having examined music students since 2005 in countries such as South Africa, Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and the Asian continent.”

Despite these commitments, classically trained Joanne still finds time for shows and recitals: “I do perform regularly at corporate events and functions on my electric violin, playing a more contemporary genre. I also play for church and charity events. And occasionally, I get to indulge in playing serious art music with my piano trio.”

While studying in the UK – first at the Universities of Middlesex and Leeds before returning for her PhD at Heriot-Watt – Joanne participated in several seminars and masterclasses held by prominent musicians and performed at the Edinburgh Festival. Since returning to Malaysia, Joanne has recorded two albums and toured worldwide. International corporations including Sony, Panasonic, Omega, Tag Heuer, Microsoft, Ferrari, Volkswagen and Apple among others have invited her to perform. And her electric performances have made her a cultural ambassador between Asia and the rest of the world.

Joanne’s success derives from an unteachable natural gift combined with years of hard graft: “I first started off on the piano at the age of 4, and violin at the age of 8. Then there were the grudging teenage years when I had to do hours of practice on both instruments. I only truly understood that music was going to be my career when I turned 18. While at college, my love affair with playing the violin began to blossom, and I would not mind putting in long hours of practise. Now that I am working full time in the music industry, my biggest wish is to have more time for practice!”

Living proof of the transformative power of music in theory and practice, Doctor of Philosophy, Joanne Yeoh’s advice to new students is worth listening to: “Step up, step out and immerse yourself in both study and play,” she says.

28 February 2017