My experiences taught me that access to music is a right, not a privilege. I came from an average working-class family, and my first contact with music was by accident. In primary one, my mathematics teacher handed me a consent form recruiting new members for the brass band. I brought this form home for my parents to sign without any idea of what it entailed. Clearly, joining the band ended up being a pivotal point in my life.
At first it was the camaraderie and friendships that kept me interested and playing. Being part of the band taught me discipline and teamwork – to practise alone and in a group, and to learn to work together with others who are playing different instruments.
“Learning music can also allow one to develop qualities such as respect and patience”
These are just some of the cognitive and psychological life skills that can be imparted through exposure to music. And like other non-academic pursuits such as sports, learning music can also allow one to develop qualities such as respect and patience.
For the past three years now, I have been working closely with the kids at Child at Street 11 in Singapore, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing quality early education for children from diverse backgrounds, such as special needs kids or those from low-income families.
One of the kids, a six-year-old, used to bite and hit his friends to express anger about his parents’ divorce. Through music, he found a channel for these emotions and now aspires to be a conductor. If you think of music as an international language, you realise the ways children can learn to express themselves beyond words.
More than expression and creativity, it is also about listening. Playing music, or being exposed to music, naturally hones the ability to listen. It has perhaps played a part in my ability to pick up languages easily, simply by hearing how they are spoken.
This has become crucial in establishing rapport with the different orchestras I work with around the world – to not just come together to make music, but also bridge the differences in our cultures.
50–100: Number of musicians in a typical symphony orchestra.
If this quality of listening is extended to our community, I believe that it could inspire more mutual understanding, respect, empathy and love. I am still learning from the kids that I teach, who in turn inspire me with their wonder for the world.
Ultimately, my journey is a lifelong pursuit of music, and I will always remain a student of what it teaches me.
Illustrations by Stuart Patience
This article was originally published in the April 2020 issue of SilverKris magazine