IMPACT 0308: SERVING THE COMMUNITY THROUGH MUSIC
Natalie Koh, 24, is a Singaporean violinist who graduated from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, NUS, with Highest Distinction. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Music degree in Chicago. A recipient of the NUSS Medal for Outstanding Achievement and the Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award, she performs as a freelance professional with various orchestral and chamber groups both locally and internationally.
As a strong believer of inclusivity, she has been working with the special needs community through the project, Superhero Me, since 2017. She is also the co-director of Music for All, Music with All, an initiative she co-founded in 2020 in hopes of promoting an inclusive society through music education. Today she shares some lessons that she has picked up on her journey!
Don’t wait for others to do something that you wish was done
Oftentimes I feel many of us Singaporeans would like to see changes made to our society but instead of being part of that change, we would grumble about what we are unhappy with. I think it is part of Singaporeans’ nature to complain about others, but perhaps more doing and less talking will be more beneficial in the long run.
I often hear about people talking about how our country is not inclusive enough, and I feel the same way too. This has encouraged me to co-found and co-direct Music for All, Music with All, an initiative to promote inclusion through music education. I hope more people can come forward to start similar initiatives in their own fields to advocate for inclusivity.
Don’t complain, be grateful
This might seem similar to my previous point. I am grateful to be in a position where I have the privilege to live, study, and eat comfortably, and I believe that if you are a Singaporean, there is a high possibility that you do too. Most of us do not have to fight poverty, war and hunger, for example.
We are blessed to be in a relatively safe country like Singapore – isn’t that a blessing already? Complaining about issues such as MRTs breaking down suddenly does not seem all that significant in the light of global issues. I think that is also one of the reasons that shaped me to become a more empathetic human being, motivating me to reach out to underprivileged communities to the best of my abilities.
Don’t say you are “too busy”
This is something that I realised over the past few years, especially since I started working as a freelance musician whilst studying. Even though it may get overwhelming at times, “I am too busy” is an excuse that I try not to use, just because I may be missing out on an opportunity if I am constantly pre-occupied by the fact that I am “too busy”. Of course, this should never be at the expense of one’s health!
Don’t limit yourself
It may be daunting to explore unknown paths at first, but the first step will always be the hardest before it slowly gets more comfortable. Being proficient in one particular area is not enough; we ought to be multifaceted in today’s world. There is much to explore and learn, and we should take the opportunity to seize it while we can.
I believe that as a classical musician, performing and teaching the violin should not be my only focus. Therefore, I often dabble into other areas such as interdisciplinary arts and inclusive education.
Don’t be afraid to express your voice
We ought to be extra cautious with what we express to the world, especially with the rise of social media now. However, if we were wise, we could definitely utilise it in a positive manner. If you feel strongly about a social issue, why not express your thoughts (in a level-headed manner) online? The Internet is a place where connections can be made, and voices can be heard.
On my social media platforms, I promote the work that I do as a classical musician and as a community artist. I think it has not only helped me build a portfolio of sorts, but also allowed my friends and followers to understand a little more about what I do and why I do the work that I do.
Don’t be put down by what is going on around you
There may be times when you feel as if things do not seem to go your way, even after you’ve put in your “all”. I experienced that in junior college – I was struggling immensely with my academic subjects.
Perhaps I was just not made for the JC curriculum, but it was something I had to tide through nevertheless. I was fortunate that I got to pursue my music career after JC, and discovered that pursuing music was obviously the path that I was more comfortable with. I guess my point is that tough times are sometimes inevitable but they certainly do not last, and we just have to plough through it.
Don’t only be work-focused
Work hard, play hard! I am someone who finds joy in working and studying hard (mostly because I simply love doing what I am currently doing), but over time, I realised that there is more to life than gaining work experience and earning money.
I deserve to take care of myself: both my physical and mental well-being. I picked up yoga three years ago and I am so glad that I did. It is something that allows me to focus purely on myself, and to build patience, strength and focus through my practice. Yoga has made me feel more human!
Don’t be restricted by age
This is also something I realised recently. Due to the nature of my work, I often interact and collaborate with people who are older than me. That has definitely helped me gain a lot of wisdom, but now that I am back in school, most of my current peers are younger than me. I was not accustomed to it at first, but I came to the realisation that there are still many takeaways that I can get from interacting with people who are younger than me. They also keep me youthful!
Don’t give up
This is such a common saying but I stand by it, that life is precious and there is really so much that we can do. Sometimes, the circumstances will just work within your favour over time. I auditioned for the Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award in 2018 but I was not awarded then.
I did not give up, simply because I acknowledged that the award winner that year was truly deserving, and it served as a learning process for me anyway. Then I worked hard for my second audition in 2020. I have never considered myself to be an outstanding violinist, but I gave my best nonetheless, and it was my great honour to have received the award that year.
Don’t let people define your worth
I have had people in my life say that I won’t be able to pursue a successful music career. I have had people tell me to stop “wasting my time volunteering”. I have had people say I won’t earn money from doing what I am doing… The list goes on. These words truly hurt, but I think people sometimes say the things they say because they are not familiar with the situation at hand.
With passion and perseverance, I stuck through it all, and I am proud of what I have achieved. This hopefully proved people wrong, and more importantly, proved myself right. I think that as long as you believe in the beauty and the intentions behind what you are pursuing, it would be less likely for others to cause your passion to waver or make you doubt your worth!