I fell in love with singing when I was 13, ever since my first secondary school music class.
Previously in my primary school there had been one good music teacher, who always led the school in the National Anthem during assembly and other songs during school celebrations, but she was never my music teacher.
Thus music lessons in school weren’t something I’d look forward to, until I entered the music studio in my secondary school for the first time and met Mrs Goh. Smiling, she handed out pieces of paper with the lyrics to four songs, sat down at the piano, and said, “We’re going to sing these songs today.”
Once a week for two years, we gathered with Mrs Goh and sang so many songs — from classic oldies, to pop songs, songs from Disney movies, from musicals… We’d break into groups and sing different parts, we’d learn some simple harmonies, we’d clap along to the different rhythms as we sang. And what really made these lessons fun and enjoyable was Mrs Goh’s passion and love for music.
Each afternoon after a school day with her music lesson, I sang the new songs over and over again, memorising the words so I could sing without looking at the lyrics.
Each night I’d lie in bed in darkness, listening to pop songs and ballads on the radio, and imagine myself performing them with six of my idols as though we were part of a pop group like the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls. Sometimes I got so caught up in my fantasy and my singing woke my brother, who would come knocking on my door to tell me to be quiet lol.
Singing was simply a fun hobby for me, and one where I could pretend to be a famous performer with my imaginary pop group (which had Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in it).
It became even better for me in secondary two when I became friends with my classmate, Laurencia, who loved to sing and was in the school choir. Nearly every day in school, we sang the latest pop songs together during recess and in between lessons, taking turns to sing different parts and the back-up vocals.
One day, Laurencia asked me, “Since you enjoy singing so much, why aren’t you in the choir?” I had never thought of joining the choir, but knowing she believed I was good enough for it made me decide to audition the next year (secondary three).
This was my first ever audition, and Laurencia helped me practice for it several times the day before. I felt confident when I joined the line outside the music studio, but as it became shorter and I got closer to the music studio door, I started to feel more and more nervous and anxious.
By the time I stood in front of Mrs Goh (who was also the choir mistress) and two other teachers I didn’t know, I was trembling uncontrollably, my face felt hot and flushed, and all I wanted to do was to run away and hide.
Mrs Goh invited me to start singing, and I opened my mouth to sing “Somewhere over the rainbow…”, and the voice that emerged was so shaky and hoarse and terrible, which made me feel even worse, and all I could do was to keep singing, trembling, and looking at my audience for encouragement, but they maintained a neutral front. Though I finished the song, I was resigned about ever getting into the school choir.
I never told Laurencia how I had messed up, and she was so excited and hopeful that I would get accepted, that I almost believed I might. But when the new members were announced the next day, and I wasn’t one of them – that was the moment singing completely changed for me. I concluded that my singing wasn’t good enough, and I stopped singing, not even with Laurencia.
Years later, I was in love with a guy who used to be in his secondary school choir, and when he heard me sing, he said it was my school choir’s loss that they didn’t want me. That got to my head, and I started to sing again, this time loudly when I was in groups, knowing that people would hear my voice and later turn to me and praise my voice.
And when they’d ask if I was in the choir before, I took great pride in telling them “No”, hoping they’d think I was a naturally gifted singer and admire me for it.
Singing was still fun and enjoyable, but it had become about proving my worth as a singer, and I used my singing to get validation from others.
In 2008, I arrived at a liberal arts college in Nashville, Tennessee to major in Songwriting and pursue my dream of becoming a singer-songwriter. I was eagerly envisioning all the ways in which my life would change after I graduated and became a famous singer-songwriter.
But in a city where nearly everyone had the same dream, I was surrounded by students who had amazing voices, and many had personalities way more out-going than mine. I started to lose confidence in my singing abilities, and once again concluded that my secondary school choir was right — I had never been good enough, and was never going to be good enough no matter how hard I tried.
In my final semester I enrolled in Introduction to Drawing. With the encouragement of my art professor, I decided to pursue my childhood artist dream, and forgo the singer-songwriter one indefinitely. In 2012 I returned to Singapore, and with the success of my first solo exhibition in early 2013, I’ve been a professional visual artist since.
All this time I held on to the belief that I wasn’t good enough as a singer – my secondary school choir didn’t want me, my peers in Nashville were way better than me, and even when I sang just for the fun of it, I hated the way my voice sounded. I used my fulfilment of my childhood artist dream to justify that I was okay with not being a singer, though deep down inside me that desire to sing continued to live on.
Then I attended a weekend-long singing workshop in 2016, and subsequent ones in 2018. Slowly over these two years, I learnt to love my voice and to sing with joy again. I realised that singing is about expressing myself as I am, not comparing myself with others, and most of all, to enjoy what my voice can naturally create.
One of my biggest self-discoveries was how I always chose to sing difficult songs that were outside of my range because I wanted to prove to my audience that I was a great singer. When really, the greatness in my performance as a singer comes from being truly connected with myself and authentically expressing who I am.
Through the TruSelf Singing Weekends, I reconnected to the joy of singing that I discovered when I was in secondary one and singing with my classmates in Mrs Goh’s music classes, and in bed late at night with my imaginary pop group with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. I rediscovered the joy of singing with others, which I experience regularly now through the monthly Jamming Nights that my fellow vocal coaches and I have been organising for everyone to enjoy singing together.
I let go of the need to sing “perfectly” and allowed myself to enjoy singing just for the fun of it. I sing in the shower again at the top of my lungs. I record videos of myself singing at home and publish them online, just to share my love for the songs. I’ve been attending open mic nights, and despite at times feeling inferior to all these other amazing singers, I take the stage anyway and have fun expressing myself through song.
Funny thing I’ve noticed, as I let go of the need to prove myself as a singer, I’ve also let go of the need to prove myself as an artist, and started to have fun with my art again, and not get caught up with trying to present myself as a “serious professional” artist.
Having reconnected to my love for singing, I’m now a vocal coach who supports others in discovering an authentic expression of yourself in a fun and enjoyable way, where you can truly be yourself, no matter which singing level you’re at.
And I strive also to bring forth the same level of enthusiasm and passion that my music teacher Mrs Goh had, so that all of us have fun singing together, and experience joy in authentic self-expression.