Updated: Jan 16, 2021
5 years ago I never thought I would be a cruise ship musician. While both music and travel are my biggest passion in life, performing on cruise ships was not common among Classical musicians. As some of my friends joined the Lincoln Centre Stage and performed on Holland America cruise ships, I started to think about taking the job too. 2019 was a difficult year for me and I desperately needed a change. I made the decision to work on Neiuw Statendam, the flagship of Holland America Line at that time for four months, touring Mediterranean Europe, Central America and the Caribbean. If you are thinking about becoming a cruise ship musician when cruises resume, here are four things I love about being a cruise ship musician.
1. Doing What I love
Not everyone has the privilege to do what he or she loves for income. Being able to perform A LOT (as many as 17 concerts a week and more than 250 concerts in four months) was a blessing. What I love about working on a ship was that most of the audience members came to more than one of our concerts, so you can imagine the deeper bonds we formed compared with audience of concerts on land. We started conversations when we ran into each other at ports, in elevators and in restaurants. We became friends and exchanged emails after the cruise. These interactions helped me understand how they felt about music and our performances. I will never forget their supportive cheers, kind words and teary eyes. Their enthusiasm and love for music constantly reminded me why I learnt music in the first place.
This is the stage where I performed more than 250 concerts
2. Traveling at No Cost
Musicians on cruise ships have lots of benefits. I was grateful that my contract covered free meals in restaurants, a single cabin, round-trip airline travel from home, and health insurance for the duration of the cruise, so being able to travel at no cost was great! I had the opportunity to explore as many places as the guests did, sometimes joined shore excursions for free, and at the same time received regular pay check. We could also have family and friends onboard at no or low cost.
As musicians, we enjoyed guest status and could eat in the Lido Market
3. Meeting People
Apart from forming friendship with guests, crew on the ship came from different parts of the world. I enjoyed every moment I spent with these new friends from Amsterdam, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Germany, Indonesia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Morocco, the Philippines, Romania, South Africa, Turkey, the United States, Venezuela... you name it! I could see my friends every day and I never got tired of listening to the stories of these free spirits. I also got to see their vulnerable sides and connected in a deeper level. I realised no matter how different our backgrounds, we always share more similarities than differences.
I still remember being sad and a bartender made me this chair.
He told me that is what he always did to make his daughter feel better.
4. Knowing Myself
There was something about being at sea that made me understand so much more about myself. It was about taking a break from the to-do lists, it was about learning to be comfortable with not being busy. It was being away from the culture, people and social norms that I was familiar with, it was being in a place where people saw me as who I really was instead of knowing me through where I studied and what I achieved. It was the time I spent alone in my secret spot, when all I heard was sea waves and when I saw nothing but sunset and stars.
One of the many sunsets I saw in one of my secret spots
I am so glad I took the leap of faith and started this adventure in my musical life. I knew I would like it, but I actually LOVED it a lot more than I expected! It was an eye-opening experience for me, and a truly rewarding one I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
Fore more stories about my adventure, you can listen to my episode with Nancy Loo on Radio 4 of Radio Television Hong Kong on 4 July 2020 (Cantonese): https://www.rthk.hk/radio/radio4/programme/Cantilena/episode/692130