In our series on getting to know the music instructors from Ritmo Music Studio, we spoke with Jennifer. Besides teaching drums, she also founded Ritmo Music Studio. In this interview, we find out how Jennifer began her journey in learning, teaching and promoting music education in Singapore.
How and when did you discover your interest in music?
My dad used to play classical music in the house when I was young and I really enjoyed the music. I started playing music when I was 10 years old, joining the school’s Chinese Orchestra as the pioneer batch of players. I wanted to learn piano but my parents did not allow me to.
What was the first musical instrument you learnt?
The first instrument I learnt was the Liu Qin, a four to five-string Chinese mandolin with a pear-shaped body. It looks like another Chinese instrument - the more well-known Pipa. Liu Qin has a higher range than the Pipa.
When did you discover your interest in drums and percussion?
I developed some rhythm sensibility when I began dancing at the age of 7 or 8 years old. I was later chosen to be in the percussion of my secondary school band. My interest in drums and percussion developed from there.
Where did you pursue your music education?
I pursued my music education at the Los Angeles College of Music (LACM), which was known as Los Angeles Music Academy (LAMA) when I was there in 2007. During my time there, I learnt from some of the musical greats in the entertainment industry.
Did you explore a music career elsewhere other than Singapore? What was your experience?
Yes, I did. I was involved in gigs in California while living there for 3 years. It was an eye-opening experience for me and it was very refreshing to meet other passionate performers from all over the world.
I had the opportunity to play music at live award shows and musical theatre and performed with all kinds of performers. They include award-winning artists, singer-songwriters to a top 40s cover band, and an indie rock band with whom I recorded an album. While there, I managed to intern with a booking management company and learnt a lot about the various music festivals (jazz in particular). I had a lot of fun meeting new people and gained a lot of valuable experience along the way.
Any advice to share for others who want to pursue a music career overseas?
Do your research first and decide if you want to be part of that local music industry. Talk to people who are there or have lived there before to find out more information and how it is like.
You can also stay in that country for 1 or 2 months and explore the industry and do some networking before deciding if the environment or industry is for you.
Treading a career path in music isn’t a conventional choice in Singapore. How did you get into teaching music and did you get discouraged by your family and friends?
I began to realise my potential as a teacher when I was studying in junior college. It turned out that many of my seniors did not play in secondary school bands and they lacked confidence in playing their parts. I enjoyed teaching them and we did successful performances together. I was fortunate to get an opportunity to tutor the percussion section in a secondary school band while I was waiting to enter University. So that kick-started my teaching career.
Who inspires you most as a musician?
My secondary school band conductor, Mr Lee Seck Chiang, was the first to teach me how music can touch one’s life. He brings musical notes on paper to life with his conducting and created such a huge impact on me that I wanted to play music as part of my life. I am forever grateful for his kind teachings and for developing my (and many others in the industry) passion for playing music!
Who are your favourite musicians? What attracted you to their music?
I listen to a wide variety of musical genres ranging from movie soundtracks, funk, rock, blues, jazz, reggae and more. I became interested in different musical artists in various stages of my life so it’s hard to pick and choose a favourite musician!
These days, I mostly listen to groovy tunes such as funk, R&B, jazz fusion and lofi music.
What prompted you to start Ritmo Music Studio?
I want to spread the love of music, the joy in music-making, and make it accessible to everyone from all walks of life. My vision is to create a safe space and a community where people can come together and play music freely regardless of their skill level, background or abilities.
Is there any new musical instrument you would like to learn?
I would like to learn Harp one day. I own a lap harp which I have not touched for a while!
What would you say to someone who is keen to start a music career like yourself?
Always keep an open mind, learn a bunch of other industry-related skills other than your main area/focus. For example, learn to play a different instrument or learn to do home recording. Know your strengths and weaknesses and keep working on your weaknesses. Sometimes, things can get hard but never give up! It is not a straightforward career but I guarantee you that it will be a fulfilling and rewarding ride! After all, what is life without any adventures?