Nonnie Lemye Tjong
De Grand Lady of Music
Ms Lemye Tjong-Sze-yin, also known as Nonnie, was the youngest daughter of the Major (the highest representative) of the Chinese, Tjong A Fie, on Sumatra. Born in 1912 in Medan, she spent her childhood in the big Chinese family house of Tjong A Fie on Kesawan. From an early age, from the age of eight, she received piano lessons. When Harm Kamerlingh Onnes in 1923 went to visit the family Tjong he wrote about her:
“Then Non, about 11 years in a checkered blue pyama, and a cape head with shiny black hair, a nice kid to see. Such a fine appearance and a cute face … Non retrieves music, Diabelli, and plays nice with her little hands. She can not reach the pedals, and then we play together a quatre main, and she is not shy and plays everything to perfection and exactly all repetitions. “.
Nonnie received a Dutch education and attended the Catholic elementary school in Medan. In 1921 her father Tjong A Fie died. Five years later, in 1926, the whole family Tjong left on the ship Insulinde to Europe where Nonnie was admitted to the Conservatory in Geneva. A family member, Lim Nee Kar, had tuberculosis and went to a spa in Arosa, Switzerland. Actually, it was planned to travel to the Netherlands so that Nonnie would go to the conservatory in Amsterdam, but because of Lim Nee Kar they went to Switzerland. After three weeks on the boat they arrived in Marseilles in August 1926, after which the family traveled by train to Geneva, where they had rented the Villa des Maroniers, in Bellevue, five kilometers outside Geneva, at Lake Geneva. The Tjong family stayed here until 1932. One of the neighbors was King Leopold of Belgium who owned a castle at the lake near the Villa des Maroniers.
That Nonnie had left for Switzerland was not unnoticed in Medan. De Sumatra Post reported on November 6, 1926:
“A Chinese pianist. The youngest daughter of the late Major Tjong A Fie passed the entrance examination of the conservatory in Geneva. She succeeded as number 1, and the youngest of the examinees. Young Miss Tjong is in fact only 13 years old and her admission speaks more strongly, as the Geneva conservatory has an international fame, as so many countries send aspiring students. “
The same article appeared in the Malay language paper Pelita Andalas and in the Chinese newspaper Tjin Po. In 1932 the Tjong family went back to Medan, except Nonnie, who continued to live for a year in Geneva to finalize her conservatory. In 1933 she graduated in piano, after which she travelled back to Medan.
After Nonnie had returned in Sumatra she gave concerts and even went on tour. De Sumatra Post wrote in 1935:
“Chinese pianist to Padang Ms. Tjong Sce Yin. One of these days we were visited by ms. Tjong Sce Yin and it was a peculiar sensation, this Chinese young lady who we knew as a school girl in Medan thirteen years ago, and meet now as a pianist of recognized qualities, which in Europe already received attention, according to De Sumatra Bode. .. Although “the call of the East” sounded in her ears, she got from various European music centers offers to perform in concert, and so she was, inter alia, the first Chinese pianist who performed with great success in Geneva. A short time ago, ms. Tjong Sce Yin returned to Medan, where she performed for the Deli Art Circle, and whoever has read the reviews in the Deli papers, knows that she was praised all over, in which praise the Singapore papers are not left behind, when she there recently gave piano and organ concerts. “
In December that year, she gave another concert in Medan and the following year again, this time in the Protestant church at the Manggalaan.
In 1936 Nonnie married the Belgian honorary consul Max Lemye in Medan. They had four children, three daughters Olga, Monique and Maxi and son Arthur. During the Japanese occupation, the family was separated when Max Lemye in 1942 as a Belgian citizen, was interned by the Japanese in the civilian internment camp Si Rengo Rengo near Rantau Prapat. He survived the camp time and was reunited in August 1945 with his family. The family, however, was separated again in the early 50’s as the eldest children were sent to boarding schools in Belgium for schooling. Nonnie followed in 1955 with the youngest child and later her husband who worked until 1962 for the Belgian plantation company Socfindo in Medan. But meanwhile Nonnie had in 1948 founded the Medan Music School.
Halfway through the 1960s, when European names were no longer allowed in Indonesia, the school was renamed “Sekolah Musik Murni” (Pure Music). Nonnie yearly came to Medan for several months to manage her music school and to teach. First classes were held in the big house on the Kesawan, later, a new school was built at Jalan Mahoni.
Over a period of more than 60 years there are countless children educated at her music school. Nonnie Lemye organized exchanges of Indonesian students to music schools in Europe, from various countries guest lecturers came to Medan and frequently concerts and musical performances were given. Nonnie S. Y. Lemye-Tjong was the “Grand Lady of Music in Medan. She died in 2012. The music school still exists, now called Sumatra Conservatoire.
Dirk A. Buiskool