Writings

Music may not be for every child

Music touches each of us in many different ways. For some it is an expression of our emotions, a way to relax or an inspiration to get things going. We can’t get away from music. Look at how beautifully the birds sing even without any formal training. It is not surprising that many parents would want their children to learn music. They want them to not only appreciate but also partake in this wonderful realm of harmony, rhythm and melody.

Learning music certainly has its merits as it sharpens concentration, co-ordination, listening skills, and the list goes on. ”Musical activity throughout life may serve as a challenging cognitive exercise, making your brain fitter and more capable of accommodating the challenges of aging,” said lead researcher Dr Brenda Hanna-Pladdy. “Since studying an instrument requires years of practice and learning, it may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive declines as we get older” This study was done on 70 healthy adults age 60 to 83 who were divided into groups based on their levels of musical experience. The musicians performed better on several cognitive tests than individuals who had never studied an instrument or learned how to read music. The research findings were published online in the American Psychological Association journal Neuropsychology.

But before you go running to the music school with your kids in tow, do give a thought whether or not your child is inclined to music or has an interest in the subject. There are many literature on what to look for in your child to try and gauge his/her interest. Here’s a few thoughts that you can consider:

If you see your child sing along merrily and enjoying a song, do take note that singing is not the same as learning a musical instrument. Or, watch how the toddlers clap the hands to keep rhythm with the music, which is also one of the tell-tale signs. Another is to listen to how the child speaks when he/she hears a sound. According to some experts, musically gifted children are often more aware of sounds than other children. Thus, if your kid talks about flowing water or music coming from the neighbour’s house, it’s an example of awareness to what the child is hearing.

Learning to play an instrument requires an interest that can endure hours of practice, concentration, co-ordination and so on. Of course, there are the exams to be taken at the end of a year.

Once, one parent said she wanted her daughter to learn the piano because it would be a fall back in case she is not academically inclined. ”At least she would have a music qualification to become a music teacher and make a living,” she said. So imagine being in the shoes of her daughter. It you don’t have an interest in music, how frustrating it must be to sit for hours learning and practising at an age when many of your friends would be playing!

An interesting observation I like to share is my encounter with some adults who are committed to learning to play an instrument but much as they try they just can’t synchronise with the rhythm. Their hurdle is that they don’t have a sense of rhythm and worse some don’t even know when they are off-key. This is something that can be taught, but up to a point one has to recognise that perhaps in some of us, we are just not cut out for certain musical instruments.

There are many reasons advanced by music teachers and others on the merits of learning music. Some of them include building up of self- confidence, nurturing an ability to concentrate, developing discipline to improving memory. By and large I would agree with most of these and certainly there’s a lot of fun be it just singing or playing any musical instrument. I am quite sure it offers a lot of opportunities for creativity but you must have a passion for music to be able to deliver a melodious tune.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.
Image from Pixabay

Ramblings of summer…

There are friends who are mesmerised by the mention of the word summer. About the first thing that comes to their mind is “it’s the holiday season, basking under the bright sunshine”. Well in many ways, especially those living in the northern and southern hemisphere, this is true.

Indeed, even those who live on sunny Singapore, where its perpetually summer on every other month save for days when it rains, we too get caught up in this summer mood. To begin with, it’s the school holiday season, so the kids would tug at their parents to bring them abroad. And, there begins the mad rush from as early as March for parents to start booking for their sojourn to Asia, or further to US and Europe.

If I may extract a poem written by one Jim Milks that I stumbled upon the web, to describe his idea of what summer is:

A warm summer day
without a cloud in sight
A baby bird
Taking its first flight
This is what summer means to me

Trees full of leaves
Giving me shade
My dad and I
Fishing in the glade
This is what summer means to me.

Yes, indeed it sounds more like summer to me when I was a kid, living in a simple neighbourhood designed by the SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) before HDB came into the picture. We never dreamt of big ticket holidays. June holidays were a time to frolic under the sun, kite flying, or playing by the big drain behind my block of flat, running around the field with my football, or a game of badminton and that’s about all. Occasionally, I would be invited to go on a ride on a Vespa scooter. That’s about all there is to summer school holiday season.

I was fortunate to have done a summer course in a university in the US. Yes, almost everyone was away except for a number of us, several housewives (whom I knew because they came for lecture with baskets filled not with books but with groceries), but, of course, there was no summer loving so don’t ask me to “Tell me more…” (John Travolta’s Grease).

There were other occasions in the UK, where we spent hours in Hyde Park, at times at Speaker’s Corner or just lazing on the grass, chatting and enjoying the beautiful summer’s day. As the years passed, I joined the maddening crowd in Europe from Paris, Amsterdam, Bonn and even Waikiki beach in Hawaii. One occasion that is vividly carved in my memory is when I was with the crowd in a pub in a beer garden. There was no need for rehearsal as each time it came to the chorus of “Que Sera Sera.. whatever will be, will be…” everyone stood up and joined in with jugs of spilling beer in hand. Oh, it was electrifying!  It’s part of the 80s SMS – or what is called the Summer Madness Syndrome.

Whatever it is undoubtedly summer is a time of joy, to let yourself loose and go and enjoy your life while you have the health, the energy and the time to do so. Or, you may choose just to laze around, read a book or two and do the things that you want to but haven’t had the time for.

You don’t have to go overseas to find joy; just cycling around Singapore can be very interesting. And you’ll realise how many things around us we never noticed because we were always in a hurry, in a bus, a train or a car. I saw squirrels scampering among the trees. Or go on any of the many heritage trails.  Bird watching anyone? Maybe pause and think when was the last time you visited a museum? What about discovering the different places of worship in our midst? Or, go island hopping – Singapore is made up of 63 islands you know? And, if you are a history buff, there’s a whole lot of stuff to look for from the time Raffles landed in Singapore. – BY SUNNY WEE

Image from Pixabay

Making it possible for every young person…

Education is also a key enabler of social mobility. We cannot guarantee equality of outcome, but we seek to provide equal opportunity for every student. We thus…ensure that no child is deprived of educational opportunities because of their financial situation… – Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education, on “Education for Competitiveness and Growth”

These words echo loud within the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC where many young people have been benefiting from its Community Scholarship programme.

One student is 18-year-old Ms Ong Boon Cheng from Toa Payoh East, who is pursuing a Diploma in Accountancy at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Now in the first year of a three-year course, Ms Ong was pleasantly surprised when she was successful in her application. The former Cedar Girls’ Secondary School student had spent almost a year at a junior college before she opted out because of many challenges at home which distracted her. Then last year her dad passed away. Her mother, a secretary, had to shoulder the burden of raising the family.

Ms Ong went on to complete the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry diploma in computerised accounting and business studies. But she knew she has to do more than that if she was to achieve her dream to pursue a career in the accounting profession.

“I applied for the scholarship and I felt so relieved when I got it. I realised that there are people out there who care for me and my family. The scholarship lightened the financial burden and made it possible for me to pursue my studies, ” said Miss Ong who has since stopped giving private tuition so as to devote more time to her studies. She has an elder brother, who is now working, and a younger sister who is still studying.

Today, Ms Ong has learnt to put the past behind her and to look forward. She offers her time as a volunteer with the Toa Payoh East Youth Executive Committee (YEC) putting in some 10 hours a month on average to help other youths.

“l have gone through a difficult phase in life and I can feel for others who face such circumstances, ” she added. “We organise activities to engage the youths, giving out subsidized tickets to Adventure Cove Waterpark, The Escape Artist. We also bring under privileged children for cable car rides, River Safari, Sea Aquarium etc. ”

Ms Ong takes charge of one of the three groups – the Programme Group in YEC; the other two groups take charge of Engagement and Publicity.

” It is quite hectic coping with my studies but I am encouraged by my friends and family. I really enjoy my subject and so that helps.”

As a former brownie and a Girl Guide in her school days, she is used to interacting with people. Currently she is also giving service in the polytechnic’s BP-NP Mentoring Club which was founded in 1996 to aid academically weak students in primary and secondary schools. She also serves in Ngee Ann Rotaract Club.

“I am currently embarking on a project called “tabs” to make prosthetic legs for the needy in Singapore with the help of the Prostheses Foundation in Thailand, ” she said.

Ms Ong finds volunteering self-fulfilling. It helps her improve her interpersonal skills and how to be a team player. “It’s a way to give back to society. ”

– This article first appeared in a Town Council newsletter.

Image from Pixabay.

Be a responsible neighbour in your neighbourhood

Living in a HDB estate is akin to living in a large extended family. That can be a lot of fun and lively, or an absolute nuisance, depending on what the resi-dents make out of it. We share walls and corridors with immediate neighbours. We share common facilities across the estate. Beyond our apartments, there are no clear boundaries. What we do at home or in the estate may affect our neighbours one way or another.

Being responsible to our neighbourhood creates a pleasant and harmonious environment for us all to live in. Keeping our volume levels low at home would make our neighbourhood a peaceful and quiet one. Cleaning up after our pets would also keep the environment clean for us and our neighbours.

Littering, especially bulky litter, is one of the biggest problems that ruins the living environment of a HDB estate. Sometimes, bulky items are placed along the corridors or disposed at common amenities like lift landings, creating obstructions and potential fire hazards. Residents can approach the Town Council for help to dispose such items.

We can, and we must take it upon ourselves to protect the well-being of our estate. Residents and Town Council need to work together to achieve the ideal neighbourhood. Here are some examples of simple things we can do to maintain or even enhance the quality of life at home:

– Do not obstruct the corridors and common areas with litter and bulky items. If you require assistance with moving them, call the Town Council at 6259 6700 or email them at prm@btptc.org.sg for assistance.

– Bag all your litter and throw them inside the central rubbish chute or bring them down to the void decks where there are numerous rubbish bins.

– Use public property with care; damaging or defacing common property is vandalism and perpetrators can be penalised by the law.

– Leash your pets when walking them, and clean up after them in common areas.

– Feed strays in a responsible manner and clear all leftover food away after feeding. Feeding strays is not illegal, but littering and dirtying public spaces is. Regardless, one should not feed pigeons as they spread diseases.

– Do not let down your guard on Zika and Dengue mosquitoes. Ensure that your house and corridor are free of stagnant water.

If you see someone not doing things right, speak to your neighbourhood grassroots group. Most people are reasonable but simply lack the knowledge or self- awareness. They would be grateful to be informed. Bishan-Toa Payoh is home for everyone.

– This article first appeared in a Town Council newsletter.

Image from Pixabay

Book Review: Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

“They call this an orphan train, children, and you are lucky to be on it. You are leaving behind an evil place, full of ignorance, poverty, and vice, for the nobility of country life.”

Orphan Train is a fictional story based on factual events in American history. In the 19205, many orphaned children born of Irish immigrants were boarded onto trains, sent from crowded Eastern American cities to the rural Midwest. Families who needed servants, farm labourers or more children would come and see the orphans and take whoever they wanted home. Vivian Daly was one such orphan who found herself on an orphan train at just nine years old. In present times, she is a 91-year-old, living on her own, tormented by her troubled past.

Enter teenage rebel Molly Ayer, a beneficiary, or rather, victim of the sometimes-flawed modern-day child welfare system. As punishment for one of her petty crimes, she has to take on a community service position to help an elderly woman — Vivian, clean out her home.

In spite of the vast age gap, their lives share similar parallels. Vivian’s voice and courage touched Molly, who came to see her as an inspiration and role model. In turn, Molly teaches the old lady that it is never too late to learn something new, and hope is never too much to ask for.

The horrors of Vivian’s story, which continue to ring true for less fortunate children in many parts of the world today, are a page turner. It is impressive how the author has turned a heartbreaking and distressing situation into a feel-good story by the end of it. In spite of the heavy subject matter, the writing style manages to be charming and uplifting, sometimes channelling humorous sarcasm.

Some readers however disliked the common negative stereotypes found in the characters. They also found Molly to be unlikable due to her bratty behaviour. It would also be prudent to note that the book features some swearing and coarse language.

– This book review first appeared in a lifestyle magazine.