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Find Your Tune with Cheow Cai

Music is everywhere – we listen to it when we study, exercise, travel, and go about our daily lives.

I have a distinct memory of picking up a trumpet in Primary School; my first instrument, out of a box of many instruments at my first band practice.

It marked the beginning of a life-long love for music.

In Secondary School, I wanted to take my music journey to the next level. There was one problem – my school did not offer ‘O’ Level Music as a subject. Undeterred, I completed the entrance exam and filled out an application to take the subject.

But when the time came, my music teacher chose not to send in my application. I never found out why, but I suppose they didn’t believe in my ability. That hurt, but I didn’t let it stop me.

I dived deeper into my music. My mentor, Lee Jin Jun, inspired me to start composing, and guided me through those early compositions, where my skill didn’t quite match my fervor. It was on this journey that I discovered the poly course of Music and Audio Tech, and set my sights on it.

The Early Admissions Exercise called for an original composition, and I helped a friend who was also applying with his composition, all while composing my own. Yet, when the results came out, my friend got in with the composition I had written, while my own application was rejected.

I was distraught – my world came crashing down, and everything I did after seemed to blow up in my face. I was failing academically, and musically. Waves of criticism and rejection left me feeling chewed up, spat out, and washed up with nothing but my failed compositions around me. I had no passion left in me.

In a moment of serendipity, I remembered an old mentor of mine, from a composition competition I had participated in. I reached out, hoping to reignite that dying flame for music in me.

It worked – he helped me secure an audition for NAFA’s diploma course, which led me earning a spot in the course, reigniting my passion for music.

My first semester in NAFA was challenging – I was struggling to keep up with classes, and was burning out quickly. But I was unwilling to give up.

As dizzying and tiring as it was, I persevered through my bumpy musical journey, not wanting to fail again. My hard work paid off – I clinched the Tan Chin Tuan Merit Award, and achieved a 3.8 semestral GPA.

Chasing your passion is like trying to swim in choppy waters – it’s tiring, difficult, and often overwhelming. But sometimes, all you need is a beacon of light to guide you safely to shore.

My music journey is far from over – there is so much left to do. I was fortunate enough to find my beacon, and now as an instructor in the same primary school band where I started, I find purpose paying it forward to future generations of musicians.

So this one’s for the musicians, the artists, and the dreamers – keep playing your tune!

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