Music is something that’s close to heart for many of us. For Koh Hui Rong and Elvin Koh, music has been a part of their lives since their childhood days. As undergrads, they were actively leading their clubs, SMU Chinese Orchestra and SMU Symphonia respectively.

Today, as alumni, they are still very much in touch with the arts. Hui Rong works at National Arts Council and Elvin is an arts administrator at Nanyang Polytechnic, managing the symphony orchestra.

These are two alumni who have made music such a central part of their lives, before, during and after SMU. What does it mean to dedicate your energy and passion for what you love and enjoy?

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Hui Rong (left) and Elvin Koh with their instruments, the pipa and the clarinet

Hui Rong: I’m very grateful to my Chinese teacher when I was in Primary Two. She’s the one who introduced me to the world of Chinese music at a young age. She was the Chinese Orchestra teacher-in-charge and got a bunch of us to join the orchestra. I first started off playing the Liu Qin, but moved on to play the pipa. That’s how my journey started.

Elvin: I started playing music in primary school as well. I started off playing the tuba in the band. I began playing the bass clarinet because we were lacking clarinet players at that time. From then on, it’s been an amazing journey playing music and touring all around. Playing music helps me to relax. It’s something I love to do. It takes my mind of whatever I’m thinking about, maybe something stressful at work. I really enjoying going down for practice and meeting other musicians and friends as well. We’re one big family.


Hui Rong on the pipa

Hui Rong: The biggest challenge during my time at CO was the members’ attendance rate. It was difficult to attract students to join CO. Many students perceive Chinese music to be traditional, perhaps a little boring and uncool. Most freshmen enter university wanting to try out something new, have a new experience and participate in activities they have never done before. It’s hard to attract them to join CO but we do our best always.

Elvin: We face the same challenge here in Symphonia. How do we get more SMU students with musical backgrounds to join the band? As students, we have too many things on our plates and we have so many choices of clubs to join. It’s hard to bring together a strong pool of musicians in SMU but it’s fulfilling when we overcome the challenge and grow our numbers.

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Elvin: One especially memorable moment was when we were performing at the Musikverein concert hall, the home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. This is one of the top three concert halls in the world, in terms of acoustics. Performing in that hall, being in the same space where so many top musicians have played in before you, and hearing the sound of your music for yourself— it’s a totally different experience.

Hui Rong: I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved as an orchestra with our annual concerts. Our concerts have always been about doing things differently, out of the box. We enjoy introducing new elements and taking a multidisciplinary approach to our music. We’ve worked with an acrobatic calligrapher and have played Disney’s Kungfu Panda theme accompanying the animated movie itself. This is a great way to introduce Chinese music to people by debunking certain stereotypes, challenging norms, and making our music accessible and fun!


Elvin: It’s very fulfilling to be working with young students— I’m managing the Symphony Orchestra at Nanyang Polytechnic. We make sure that our students have many opportunities to grow and learn. We’ve just returned from a fall trip to Taiwan, which the students really enjoyed. We organise performances on campus, open to the public for free, to share our music and make life at our neighbourhood more vibrant and exciting.

Hui Rong: At the National Arts Council, I’m organising many arts events where we bring art to many neighbourhoods all around Singapore. It’s great to be involved in the arts even after graduation. I hope to be playing the pipa for as long as I can. And of course, to teach students who are keen to learn more about the pipa!

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Hui Rong: Through music, I’ve learned so much about perseverance. As the Chinese saying goes, “Three minutes of glory on stage; ten years of hard work off the stage.” Back when I was competing actively, I spent many hours in my room practicing, sacrificing time with my friends and doing other things that I enjoy.

Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams and passion. You only have this lifetime to do what you love!

Elvin: Whatever you’re passionate about, persevere and practice. Practice, practice, practice. And always look out for the opportunity. It will come, sooner or later, so make sure you grab it when it’s here at your door.

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SMU Chinese Orchestra (SMUCO) is made up of music enthusiasts whose mission is to promote the appreciation of Chinese music to the community at-large. SMUCO prides itself on being a youthful, vibrant and unique orchestra which has cultivated a refined taste in various music genres and art forms.

Established in 2003 by a group of passionate musicians, Singapore Management University (SMU) Symphonia is the university’s resident wind symphonic group and is one of the most prestigious clubs in SMU’s Arts and Cultural Fraternity.

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