2020 Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award winner Natalie Koh: A talented musician with a heart for children with special needs

September 25, 2020

Natalie’s first steps towards becoming a professional musician weren’t the easiest. Although she began learning violin at the tender age of five at her mother’s behest, Natalie barely passed her ABRSM exams in the fledgling years of learning the instrument. Nevertheless, it was her love for classical music and the violin that allowed her to persevere in her music-learning journey.

It was in her secondary and junior college years that she started developing a more well-rounded education in music.

‘I was in my school’s Higher Music Programme and Concert Band, instead of the obvious choice of String Ensemble. I also decided to involve myself in playing more orchestra and chamber music. I believe these experiences ultimately contributed to my growth as an aspiring musician, and allowed me to be more creative and expressive,’ Natalie explains.

Consequently, it was to her delight that Natalie successfully auditioned into Yong Siew Toh Conservatory back in 2016, where she spent four fruitful and rewarding years.

It was through the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory that the young musician broadened her horizons interacting with children with special needs. The Conservatory was working on a joint project with Superhero Me, an inclusive arts organisation that harnesses the creativity of art to empower children with and without special needs.

‘I realised that there were so many people whom I did not know about and that I did not interact with enough,’ says Natalie.

‘I felt compelled to learn more about the special needs community and connect with them more through art. Hence, I’ve been working primarily with Superhero Me since 2017 to facilitate art workshops and conduct music workshops. This December 2020, we are looking to stage a multi- sensory theatre production for children with autism, of which I am the composer and live musician.’

Whilst pursuing her undergraduate degree, Natalie received opportunities to perform in Japan and Canada in 2019 and 2020; two of the most memorable ones being the Chofu International Music Festival and the Musical Chairs Chamber Music Festival. The Chofu International Music Festival is led by renowned conductors Masaaki Suzuki and Masato Suzuki, and comprising professional musicians from top Japanese orchestras, like the NHK Symphony Orchestra and Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra.

‘I was thoroughly inspired and motivated by the high calibre of orchestra playing, and working side-by-side with professional musicians was unforgettable. The Musical Chairs Chamber Music Festival was held earlier this year in Montreal, Canada and was also coincidentally my last ‘live’ and most memorable performance before the COVID-19 restrictions,’ says the 22 year old musician.

Winning the 2020 Goh Soon Tioe Centenary Award is a great honour for the young musician, and has definitely provided her with a boost of confidence. With the prize money, Natalie plans to fund part of her graduate studies in September 2021.

‘As a recipient of the Award, I will also have the opportunity to perform my own recital. I was supposed to have one as my graduation recital in April 2020 but alas, because of COVID-19 this was not meant to be,’ says Natalie regretfully.

‘I am glad that this opportunity to perform one last time is given to me, before I leave Singapore to pursue my further studies. After completing my Masters, I will return to Singapore and continue to teach the violin. I plan to start my own studio, and continue to perform as a freelancer in orchestras. I also hope to grow my portfolio as a community artist, to continue to share my passion for music with the special needs community and with people from all walks of life.’

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