I was lucky enough to grow up learning the piano and singing in my school’s choir. In my teens, I took up percussion in school. I wasn’t exceptionally good at my academics but music/band was always something I looked forward to during my school days. Being the elder of 2 children, I was tasked to lead from a young age. My friends and even my Mother use to always callÂ me å¤§å£°å©† (translation: loud mouth grandma). But it later dawn upon me that my leadership traits also stemmed from the years of performing and being centre-stage in school concerts. I had the confidence that came from knowing my art through the hours of practices and exams I have taken. It is knowing that the crowd is cheering me on for something I have spent ages trying to master that gave me the re-assurance to display my fruit of labour. Learning music gave me the self-motivation to practice. Of course, at times I have to be reminded to sit-still and even forced to attend piano lessons. But they eventually paid off. So you might ask, how exactly do these things work? Is it scientifically proven? Is it necessary?
I’ll tell you my story and you can decide for yourselves.
When I was in primary school, I didn’t understand why I had to be put through these graded classicalÂ piano lessons on a hot Saturday afternoon (it was the best time to sleep) after a long morning of remedial lessons in school. And true enough, I did fall asleep on many occasions. I would be sat right next to my teacher, doing music theory and nodding off at the same time (Sorry Mrs Tay). We would spend the first half of the lesson doing theseÂ dreadful music-theory-past-examination-papers then hop onto the piano to do practical in the next half. I recalled forgetting to trim my nails this one time and was made to trim them during my PAID lesson time, a mistake that I never repeat even up till today. I was never great at practicing before lessons, much of my lesson time was justÂ Mrs TayÂ just showing me what to do & my job was to just copy what she did. I was never really inspired to practice or create. Nevertheless, she took me till ABRSM Grade 5 and I’m truly thankful for that.
But of course, I took home a few things from my lessons withÂ Mrs Tay, self-discipline,Â perseverance and willpower.
Never did I truly start to enjoy my music education till I got to Secondary School. Joining the Percussion Band changed my life, I became a total band geek. I was given a chance to applyÂ my primary music education. I thought to myself, this is what I’m good at. I was ahead of my band mates because I had the prior music background. For 3-4 years, I would spend hours in the band room after school just ‘hanging out’ with the instruments and tinkering with it all. Part of this was the fact that I had a great band instructor whom later became my mentor. Mr Lim was very supportive and encouraging. He was patient at teaching and imparting his knowledge as much as I was interested in learning.Â Note: Mr Lim plays anÂ integral role in my subsequent music journey, he is God-sent.
When I was 14, my Granddad passed away. Over the course of the wake, I had a public band performance (these are hard to come by during my time). I was also made to play a SOLO part so someone was going to have to learn my parts. I was really torn, I knew out of respect I wasn’t supposed to play for the performance but I wanted to. Every inch of me wanted to. My parents eventually agreed to it and with the help of my really supportive band teacher IC, we went ahead with it.Â My contributions and commitment to the band was recognised and I was appointed Band Leader for 3 years.
Through the percussion band, I also met aquintance with Pat (not her real name) who lived closed to me and also played the piano.Â We became good friends and soon we found ourselves visiting each other’s homes to mess around with some piano-4-hands duets. It was so fun we would spend the entire afternoon and evenings together. ButÂ Pat was never into music the way I was. We soon grew apart as the big O got closer.
This part of my life, music taught me about relationships, resilience and commitment.
Back in the day, you need to score really well for Os in order to admit into theÂ Dip Music & Audio Technology course in Singapore Polytechnic. IÂ don’t want to bore you with the details of how I managed to make it onto the guinea pig batch of the course but it was a tough decision I had to make.
As you could have probably guessed, I joined the polytechnic’s symphonic band. The jump from percussion ensemble to symphonic band was drastic; From having many continuous note-playing to counting 2374568723645 bars of rests, 25 playersÂ to 100 odd players; countable number of notes in a piece; I wasn’t coping well with the change. Nevertheless, I stayed on for the year. It was simply because I was needed. That’s the thing about playing in a group, being a part of the bigger picture.
During my time in tertiary education, I was also actively participating in non-curriculum percussion gigs led by my aforementioned mentor,Â Mr Lim. This was my outlet. It was the only place I had a more notes to play, a place to feel more engaged.
Soon after, we branched out into Handbells; aÂ huge part of my life as the President of Singapore’s Premier Handbell Ensemble/Society. For the first time, I witness the growth of a team from the beginning. If you’ve seen or played handbells before, you’ll know it is a rather visually-enhancing exercise. We often get people coming up with all sorts of reasons toÂ dissÂ the art of handbells; “Oh, the ice cream bells!”
This part of my journey, I tried to better understand leadership,Â I tried my best to improve my musicianship,Â technique and on-stage presence.Â I was less hot-headed too, I practiced patience and learned to listen, not just to the music but also to the issues that life threw at me.
Here We Are
The next phase of my musical journey brought me to the land of Scouse, home toÂ The Beatles.Â Liverpool was the best and worst thing that happened in my musical journey. I found myself really broken on many occasions. But that’s how music is supposed to make you feel isn’t it?
I played in countless bands, gigs, musicals, dance shows, music videos, orchestras, each one taught me something new.
There was also the independence that came with being away from family and friends. This part of my life, many people came and go really quickly.Â I fell in love, I fell out of love (in life and in music). IÂ cried, hated, let go, grew, stumbled, crashed, but most importantly, I learned from it.
If you are fortunate like me and haveÂ typical asian parents who put you through all sorts of different extra-curricular activities, good on you. If not there are ways to get the exposure. The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay puts on 70% free shows, I reckon that’s a good place to start.