Compared to his peers, Flute graduate Teo Shao Ming (BMus ‘19, Flute) charts a rather different pathway. After graduation, he will work in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), where he is signed on with the SAF Band. “As the first one from YST to do this, there’s a certain feeling of responsibility! It will be a new journey, with new things to take on.”
Beginning as a saxophone player in his secondary school wind band, Shao Ming credits YST alumni Lim Yean Hwee (Horn, ’07) and Kelly Loh (Flute, ’12), who taught his school band, for inspiring him to pursue music and take up the flute. As he began to self-learn the flute, he found his first teacher, Ms Wang Tong, at the age of 16. “She has been an important mentor, and encouraged me to audition for the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, which sparked my passion further.” After completing his O-Levels, he went to the LASALLE College of the Arts where he completed a Diploma in Music. He then signed on as an army regular in the SAF Band, where he received the Fellowship of the Trinity College London.
Why did he then come to YST, given the steps he had already taken in his music career? Shao Ming says, “I didn’t actually think I would get in – YST is very competitive in the Singapore and Asia landscape. But I was looking to pursue something further.” Asked if studying overseas was a consideration, he says “I considered it seriously. But here, we get to have masterclasses almost every week, receive wider opportunities and build valuable networks. My classmates have travelled from so many different countries to be here. Why would I leave?”
Exposure to diverse musical approaches was truly a key part of Shao Ming’s time at YST, from learning alongside peers from a wide range of countries, to working with faculty and Visiting Artists with different pedagogical approaches. A particularly impactful experience for him was attending a masterclass with flutist Lee Soyoung last year. “She went beyond technique and connected the music to the composer’s life and experience. In turn, this is something I strive to do with my students – for example, before beginning a new piece, I ask them to do research first and tell me three facts about the composer.”
Outside of music, YST students benefit from connecting with the NUS curriculum and community, and Shao Ming strongly advocates taking advantage of these offerings. “Don’t just stay within the same context! Through interacting with people from different faculties, I’ve learned about a lot of things, from career ideas to time management and life planning – and you get to share about what you do as well.” Going beyond Singapore, in September 2018 he was part of a team of YST students that engaged communities in Brunei and Malaysia, providing professional music instruction to students and contributing to teaching practices in the community.
One feels from him a strong sense of self-directedness, and a keen desire to make the most of every opportunity. Where does it come from? Shao Ming shares, “At first, I struggled with self-doubt, feeling that there was so much I had to learn. But I started to overcome it as I gained insights from speaking to YST alumni and other more senior musicians, while also interacting with people at an earlier stage of their musical journey and reflecting on how I could grow even more myself.”
What is something he would share with people considering music professionally? He says, “Talk to people in the scene and get advice from them. There are lots of ways to be in music besides performance or composition – for example, you can work in therapy, production, sound engineering, theatre or management. Branch out and find out what you like – and once you do, just keep doing it.”