The music industry is often characterised by the twin promises of fame and glory. However, beneath that embellished narrative hides a world of uncertainty, rejection, and chaos. And not to mention its incredibly competitive landscape, with so many eager to make their mark, no matter how small, in a saturated canvas.
MDC instrumental performers Jocelyn, Ben and Bom know this firsthand. Having performed with some of the music world’s most iconic stars like JJ Lin and A-Mei, this trio has definitely put in the sweat and tears, committing hours to polish their craft while dealing with the industry’s notorious pain points. Now veterans in the field, they share their origin stories, and the many perspectives, lessons and hopes they have gathered from their years as prolific musicians.
Jocelyn Ng, the accomplished violinist
It’s truly amazing how comfortable Jocelyn Ng (@jocelynviolin) is on stage, as she mesmerises the audience with her electrifying stage presence. But this confidence belies the hard work that prefaces every single performance. She admits, “On some days, I practise the violin for as short a time as 30 minutes. But there are those days when I would rehearse for 8 hours straight! It really depends on the performance I’m preparing for.”
The stakes have gotten way higher for her since she joined the Music & Drama Company (MDC) in 2020. A musical powerhouse, the MDC has groomed some of Singapore’s top performers, from the likes of JJ Lin and Sheik Haikel as well as Nathan Hartono. Jocelyn now represents the next generation of MDC’s instrumental prodigies. But as intrepid as she is humble, Jocelyn wanted to make full use of this opportunity to produce an original piece she could call her own. She brought together a team of musicians, dancers and set designers to create “Here For You”, a dazzling multi-media spectacle of light, colour and music.
So how did it all begin? Jocelyn was only 10 years old when she performed at Miss Chinatown Singapore with her rendition of the Chinese classic, “Fisherman’s Song”. “I was so nervous during the rehearsals, but the ovation at the end of my performance alone made it all so worthwhile,” Jocelyn recollects. It was this very moment that propelled her to push her musical aptitude to its limits, exploring and incorporating multiple genres like jazz, rock, and pop in her performances.
And it is this staunch commitment to her craft that garnered interest from Goh Kheng Long, Music Director for Chinese pop icon JJ Lin. “This was in 2021, during the tail-end of Covid-19 when JJ Lin wanted a local string quartet for a charity concert he was staging. I sent in my violin cover of his composition for Chingay 2020, and the rest is history,” she shares. Since then, Jocelyn has accompanied JJ Lin on multiple tours and has performed for huge crowds in Singapore, China, and many other stadiums around the world.
And this is just the start for the consummate violinist. “I like to challenge myself, get out of my comfort zone artistically! Perhaps even write my own music!” she reveals excitedly when asked about her plans for 2024. Ultimately, one thing is for sure – you can expect to see only her best when you watch a Jocelyn Ng performance.
Ben Poh, the impassioned double bassist
Do not be quick to judge Ben Poh’s (@benthepoh) boyish good looks and youthful charm. Having graduated with a BA (Hons) Music in Jazz Performance with First Class Honours, this deeply perceptive bassist was also mentored by the one and only Christy Smith, a distinguished icon in Singapore’s jazz scene.
“He taught me to embrace the journey of self-discovery, to be open to any form of music,” he says, “And that’s what makes Christy Smith so great – it’s always about the music. He isn’t one to make a big deal out of things such as performing with heavyweights in the industry.” Ben would visit Harry’s Bar at Boat Quay to watch Christy perform, hungry to learn more about the craft and its history.
As of today, he has performed for international megastars like A-Mei (張惠妹), Ernie Watts and Weibird (韋禮安). He is the personification of the adage “Find a job that you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”
Funnily enough, Ben didn’t always want to be a bassist. An avid guitarist, he fondly recalls a time when his dad owned a music store. A music aficionado himself, his dad had loaned his personal guitar to Ben, only for him to leave it behind in a taxi. “I didn’t dare ask him for another one,” he jokes.
Only when he was at Lasalle College of the Arts did he pick up the double bass. Upon hearing its warm and sonorous tones, Ben knew immediately that the double bass was his instrument. “It’s not just that I really liked the sound. Its entire vibe resonates with me, seemingly mirroring my personality – mellow and warm, yet dynamic and assertive when the situation calls for it,” he reveals.
Impressive as it is, the journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Ben.
“This is not by any means a comfortable way to make a living. And I think anyone who is considering music as a career needs to know that a big part of committing to an art form like this is to really embrace uncertainty and instability,” he cautions. He highlights the “long hours of practice, frustration, and the occasional dip in self-esteem that every musician must bear with.”
To budding artists, he reminds you to always be honest with your art. You may not be able to please everyone, “but the ones who do choose you will love you for what makes you you.”
Bom Low, the convivial drummer
It’s hard being a travelling musician. It’s even harder being a father and a travelling musician. With a newborn son who is less than a year old, Bom Low’s (@bombomlow) priorities in his music career have noticeably shifted, from seeking excitement and novelty to stability. He finally bid his freelancing career of seven years farewell to join the MDC in 2019. And the good news – he likes it there!
“It really is a great place to be! One of the many highlights of my time here is being able to perform in Tekong. The camaraderie and energy in the room was palpable and inspiring!” he expresses.
Bom’s entire life is shaped by his unconditional love for music. However, his passion wasn’t always well received by his parents, “My parents were pretty traditional. They didn’t like that I wanted to pursue music professionally,” he admits. However, fate knew that his musical endeavours were inevitable. All he needed was an epiphany – and he got one during his time in the Singapore Police Force (SPF), when he witnessed his Warrant Officers (‘enciks’) performing music for visiting families. “It made me realise that a career in music could materialise into something amazing!” he shares.
Since then, he has performed with musical legends such as Taiwanese singer-songwriter David Tao, who was his idol growing up. He has also performed alongside Taiwanese singer-actress Angela Zhang. “Every show with Angela was amazing. Just imagine, a 40,000-seat stadium brimming with fans cheering us on!” he reminisces. The exhilarating momentum, the uproarious cries and the vibrance of the stage – these are what fuels Bom to be the rockstar that he is. “I was once down with food poisoning for a week, but I still had to perform. Really, the sheer adrenaline just kept me going!” he muses.
When asked how he balances fatherhood with his professional obligations, he credits his wife for her support. And unlike his own childhood, he would indubitably support his son if he did choose to pursue music! In the meantime, Bom will keep doing what he loves most – performing.
“To new or struggling musicians out there, keep working hard! Expand your connections, remain humble and most importantly, treat every show and rehearsal like it’s your last, because you’ll never know!” he shares.
Find out how MDC artiste Izzathy Halil excels at her performing career while caring for her cancer-stricken mother.
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