Unlike most musicians, I was not born into a musical family nor did I start learning the clarinet when I was a kid. A significant part of my childhood was spent playing in the sand, chasing after livestock at my late grandma’s, and getting screamed at by my mum for climbing onto all sorts of household furniture.
Thanks to the extensive wind band movement in Singapore, I first got acquainted with Western classical music instruments when I was 13 and began learning percussion while a student at the St Patrick’s School in their Military Band. A year later, I thought belting out rhythms on drums was not my cup of tea and switched to the clarinet because the latter looked cute and easy to play.
How terribly mistaken I was!
Squeaking and squawking through the initial years (sorry neighbours!), I eventually developed a deeper interest for the clarinet, often sourcing out method books and quartet materials at the National Library to play with some like-minded friends. This was when my love for chamber music and curiosity in pedagogy were seeded.
At the tender age of 21, after having served for two years in the Singapore Armed Forces, I commenced formal musical studies at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music where I received clarinet instruction from Ma Yue and Marcel Luxen and graduated with a bachelor's in Music. There I had the opportunity to perform at the Rome Chamber Music Festival, Paléo Festival Nyon, do exchange studies at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and work alongside the London Sinfonietta during the Singapore International Festival of Arts in 2014.
Being attracted to the elegant French tradition of clarinet playing, I completed my master’s at the Haute Ecole de Musique in Geneva where I studied clarinet with Romain Guyot and Benoît Willmann, and chamber music with Gui-Michel Caillat and Michel Bellavance. Apart from marvelling at the magnificent Swiss Alps and strolling along sapphire blue lakes, I appeared with the Geneva Sinfonietta and the Chamber Orchestra of Geneva in various projects, and also worked as an invigilator for the British Council.
Education is an important avenue through which individuals transcend social strata. Whenever the opportunity arises, I teach clarinet and music in public schools so that youth from different backgrounds can benefit, as I did as an adolescent, from the wide-ranging positive impacts of music education on their personal development.
Haute Ecole de Musique de Genève
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore
What is your favourite piece of music and why do you love it?
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto! Rather, it’s his powerful Requiem in D minor which never fails to tug at my heartstrings at each listening. It is a mysterious and timeless masterpiece which encompasses the entire spectrum of human emotions, and which takes you on a journey of life through to death. It was also a DVD recording of the Requiem by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by the late Claudio Abbado that made me want to become a musician.
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I won a story-telling competition with the Pied Piper of Hamelin when I was a child.