He plays four musical instruments and has performed over 450 times in front of royalty, celebrities, foreign dignitaries and also for charity events.
Last year, he received three international awards in music, all this while pursuing a demanding medical degree.
Meet Julian Lee, pop violin performer and final-year medical student.
Last year was a significant year for him – in March, he was named the McMillan Rising Stars Awards’ Most Promising Violinist of the Year 2017 by McMillan Woods Global Awards, in Kuala Lumpur.
In September, he was awarded the Asean Leading Emerging Violinist Performer 2017 at the 8th Asean Outstanding Business Awards (AOBA), organised by the Asean Retail-Chains and Franchise Federation (ARFF).
Three months later, in December, he was awarded the Top IN Inspiring Musician Award at the 2017 Asean IN Awards.
“It was all very unexpected because those awards were mainly for entrepreneurs, and I am a freelancer. But I feel privileged to win those awards, as I was the youngest to win all three,” said Lee, when we met for an interview and photoshoot recently.
Balancing his life as a musician and medical student at Universiti Malaya is no easy feat.
Classes on weekdays and performances on weekends do not leave him much time for a social life. “Time management is important. It is difficult because medical school is also a tough course,” said the affable Lee, 23.
From Penang, Lee’s first exposure to music started when he would accompany his mother, a school teacher, when she went for her piano lessons.
He then started learning piano at the age of four, followed by violin a year later.
Lee obtained his ATCL (Associate of Trinity College London) Diploma with distinction (violin) at the age of 13. At the age of 15, he obtained his piano ATCL Diploma with distinction and was also named an Outstanding Achiever by the Trinity College of London.
In 2010, he was one of a few teenagers handpicked by international concert pianist Bobby Chen to attend the 1st Overseas Malaysian Winter Piano Academy Music Camp in the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin School in Britain, where he also performed at the famed Yehudi Menuhin Concert Hall.
Then, in 2016, he received the Society for Education and Research Development (SERD) India Excellence Award for his outstanding contribution to the field of instrumental music.
Lee has always taken to music like a duck to water. When he was in primary school, he would practise at least four hours a day.
“My mum would have to ask me to stop in order to go and study,” recalled Lee, with a laugh.
Now, due to his studies, he practises two hours a day, twice a week, spending more time if he has an upcoming performance.
Aside from violin and piano, Lee also plays the guitar and erhu. He is also a songwriter and does music arrangements.
The violin is his favourite because it sounds “the closest to the human voice” and is easier to carry around.
Lee’s very first pop violin solo act was at the young age of five, when he performed at the Komtar Merchant Association Anniversary Dinner in Penang which was attended by then Chief Minister of Penang, Dr Koh Tsu Koon.
Since then, he has performed at major beauty pageants, gala dinners and charity events, one of which he proudly remembers Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau Tak Wah being one of the guests.
Kee credits his late violin teacher Brian Tan Wee Thean (who passed away in 2011 due to pancreatic cancer) for giving him his early performance opportunities.
“Back then, pop violin was something fairly new. We were doing electric violin performances in Penang then,” said Lee, who admires Jay Chou, the famous Taiwanese singer-songwriter, actor and director.
After he left school, he began to look for performing opportunities.
“All I had was my passion and hunger to succeed, and a bit of luck, which has brought me to where I am today.
“I did not have any resources like an established company, agent or marketing manager or even a personal assistant,” shared Lee, who has a younger sister aged 18. His father passed away in 2012.
He has also been the sole decision-maker, with some help from his mother, who teaches English and music in a primary school in Penang.
“I focused fully on my music and live performances. I made sure I perfected every detail before going on stage. I did my best for every live performance, no matter how small or big it was,” he added.
People often considered him too young to perform at big corporate events, awards ceremonies or world-class fashion shows.
“To me, age is just a number. I think in music, the younger you are, the further you can develop musically. It is never too young to dream big or aim for the impossible.
“I never knew I would come this far in music, with zero resources. But I have the passion and dream,” said Lee, who aims to be an international violinist.
Being in medical school, Lee gets many invitations to perform at charity events for cancer patients and at old folks’ homes.
“It means a lot to me to be able to put a smile on their faces. That’s something money cannot buy. Music has no language barrier. Being able to perform for them and seeing the joy on their faces is the least I can do to help the unfortunate via music.”
Lee believes that music is powerful in affecting emotions and healing the soul.
“That was what made me curious about music therapy. I hope to be involved directly or indirectly in it in the future. I believe it can benefit many, and hope it will develop extensively in our country in the not-too-distant future,” he said.