Octogenarian still likes to bring joy to others with music

PETALING JAYA - Singer-musician Daisy Sabapathy is turning 88 this month and her only wish is to continue bringing joy to others with the sound of music.

Daisy, the birthday girl on July 25, still plays the saxophone, piano, vibraphone and xylophone and sings in church or whenever she is invited to perform at events.

She has been doing this for the last 78 years.

"When I was 10, my sister Irene formed the Sabapathy Orchestra together with my other siblings and we would perform every full moon at a village in Parit Buntar where the family lived," said the chatty octogenarian who wished to be known as just "Miss Daisy" when met at her home in Subang Jaya.

Like the seven von Trapp children in The Sound of Music, Daisy and her seven talented siblings sang and played instruments together.

"My late father would pack the whole family up in four big cars and we'd go to the nearby kampung to play old favourites like Terang Bulan for the villagers. Our butlers and cooks would even prepare ice cream, tarts and other goodies for the audience during the hour-long performance," she said in crisp British accent.

G.N.S. Sabapathy, a prominent businessman who was involved in rubber, quarry and tin-mine ventures, had hired two music teachers from the Philippines and Austria to teach his children music. All their instruments were imported from England.

The family only performed during the full moon as it was bright, she recalled.

"Back then, there were no street lights. The villagers would sit along the road to listen to us play.

"My father always believed in community service and music was a way for us to contribute. In the evenings, we would turn on the radio and put it on loudspeakers so that those who didn't own a radio could listen to it outside our house," she said, adding that her father also used to place fresh milk buckets near their farm so that those who were passing by could drink milk in the morning on their way to work or school.

"The family orchestra was formed in 1935 and all of us could play at least six instruments, including the accordion, string base and cello.

"Those days, I believe we were the first and biggest family orchestra to perform in public. Our family was very close and we loved music, especially jazz.

"Playing in the Sabapathy Orchestra was one of the most memorable times of my life," she said.

During the Japanese Occupation, the family learned Japanese songs and were often asked to play for the officers.

The orchestra stopped performing in the 1970s after her siblings had their own families and her mother passed away.

"If we were paid anything, my father would give the money to the poor," she said, adding that money was never important to her.

Daisy is also a qualified professional ballroom dancing instructor.

She and her elder brother George, who now lives in Canada, are the only surviving members of the orchestra.