Photo credit: SAMUEL PUAH


Samuel Phua, 24, is a saxophonist, music educator and concert programmer. During the day, he is often running between rehearsals or teaching lessons. You can also find him planning for his next concert or performing in one. In 2017, he received the Singapore National Arts Council Arts Scholarship for Undergraduates. Today, he shares some lessons that he has picked up on his journey.

Remember your “why”

The primary purpose of a university isn’t to clock in hours to get a certificate. It is to give you an education for you to learn. I used to practise in big lecture halls at my university and would frequently be asked to leave by teachers as they had classes to teach. Instead of leaving, I asked if I could join their classes, and many were happy to have me on board. Watching the Bollywood classic “3 Idiots really gave me the courage to do that. I have now graduated with enough credits to qualify for a minor in Improvisation, Chamber Music, Pedagogy and Performance Coaching.

Make connections with the people around you

My first two months at university were pretty lonely. I started school a semester and three weeks later than everyone else because I was serving my National Service. Everyone had already formed their cliques of friends, and I was a shy person in the extremely cold country of Finland. After two months of learning to be the first to say “Hi”, I eventually found my group of friends who eventually stuck with me through thick and thin.

Rest is just as important as work

Time is really precious to me as I sometimes overwork myself. This is a very important and “timely” reminder for me. As a freelancer, I set my working hours and tend to fill my days to the brim. Back when I was in Finland, I had the mission to record as many works as I could and spent many hours in the practice room! Inevitably, I overworked my body and had to take a three-week break from work to recover from jaw pain.

Think long-term: Will it matter in 10 years?

Flautist Roberto Alverez and harpist Katryna Tan released their CD featuring works from Singaporean and Spanish composers 10 years ago. “The Last Dragonfly Dance” was a musical gem that I uncovered a decade later and fell in love with. This is the gamble when it comes to new music. Many new pieces get shelved after the premiere, but a historical recording allows us to learn about these works in the future.

Don't get it perfect, get it done

I struggle with procrastination in everything I do as I am a perfectionist at heart. The self-doubt that “it could be better” always eats me up on the inside. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a mentor was “don’t get it right, get it done”. Post that video. Write that article. Learn from your mistakes and don’t repeat them!

Document everything!

When I was 20, my mum and dad gave me a hard drive of every concert programme or newspaper article I was featured in. This gave me all the materials I needed to start my website and YouTube page.

This article was published on Dec 18, 2021

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