Photo by Joel Kang

As the daughter of grandparents who held traditional beliefs that a woman should not focus on “activities outside the house”, my mother was denied the opportunity of a music education. Determined, the only outlet was to join the school display band as a snare drummer and when she finished her education, she bought herself an organ with her first paycheck and vowed to send her children for music lessons starting from a young age. Today, I can say that I am very blessed to have started taking formal music lessons from the age of four and nurtured under my mother’s thirst for musical knowledge.

The turning point in my life came at the crossroads on deciding on colleges, and I was forced to turn down music conservatories due to the lack of finances. It created an awareness of musically talented youths from underserved communities who are often caught in such situations. Like my mother, they are denied the opportunity of a formal music education but for reasons that can be changed if somebody simply steps in.

During my time in Singapore Management University (SMU BA in Social Sciences – Psychology, Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources) I discovered a man by the name of Jose Antonio Abreu who has set a very good example of being that somebody. As the founder of the revolutionary Venezuelan orchestra programme, El Sistema, he has transformed the lives of millions of youths which in turn transformed the social landscape of Venezuela. He has been my inspiration since 2010 and got me to kickstart the community music initiative to benefit the underserved youths, providing them an opportunity to have a music education.

In 2012, I was offered an opportunity myself – a scholarship to represent Singapore at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-South Korean music cultural exchange and learnt about the music of these countries. Later that year I moved to Istanbul, Turkey for four months and fell in love with the odd meter measures and exotic harmonies. As my curiousity about the diverse cultures in the world grew larger each day, my burden for the unjust and inequality grew heavier too.

Another opportunity came in 2014, with financial support and scholarships, I finally got to do a BA in Music (Jazz Composition) at Berklee College of Music. From there, I formed The Chamber Jazz Collective. My calling as a Community Musician has since became clearer too – i.e. To make a social impact through my roles as a jazz composer and educator, starting from my circle in Singapore and hopefully, creating ripples to the rest of Southeast Asia such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.