When Rachel Lim performs on stage, those in the audience may go away thinking that the talented soprano has the voice of an angel.
What they may not realise is that she also has a heart of one.
An accomplished singer who once made it to the top five of local reality programme Campus Superstar, the recent graduate of the Yong Siew Toh (YST) Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore (NUS) is also deeply passionate about using her gift of song to do good.
Rachel explains: “I see music as the bridge between people who are seemingly different. It breaks down barriers because it removes the tension in the atmosphere, allowing people to freely experiment with their creativity and communicate with others in a non-intimidating way.”
Rachel (first from right) with her coursemates during their NUS Commencement Ceremony in 2018.
It’s something she’s believed in, and one that inspired her to start a music creation programme in her university days for the young beneficiaries of the Children’s Cancer Foundation’s Place for Academic Learning and Support, with the help of some friends and peers from the YST Conservatory.
Once a month, they would explore a chosen theme with the children and introduce them to the fundamentals of music. The volunteers would then work together with the children to create a piece of music to call their own by the end of the session.
But it wasn’t just what the children learnt about music that made those sessions so special.
It was how they blossomed with each session, as Rachel says: “It was the most amazing thing… they went from looking vulnerable and scared in the first session to being so excited and enthusiastic about sharing their ideas in the subsequent sessions.”
Rachel with Rinn Chan, one of the young beneficiaries of an inclusive arts movement project in collaboration with Superhero Me.
Beyond a craft to be perfected, music has always been a form of self-expression for the young singer who, at 25, is already quite the seasoned performer.
“I was once told by a coach that we sing because we can no longer express ourselves in plain words. I really like that idea. Music is like an extension of our emotions,” she shares.
It’s funny then that Rachel came very close to matriculating as a Business student - a choice that her younger self saw as “a safety net”.
Ultimately, passion won over pragmatism, and with the support of her family, she decided to transfer to the YST Conservatory a month before enrolment.
“Since I’ve been blessed with this gift, I feel responsible to use it to the best of my ability.”
“I also think that what drives me is that I can't imagine living life without music being a part large of it, and who says musicians can't be entrepreneurial?" she muses.
Rachel performing at a lecture-recital curated by students at the YST Conservatory Orchestra Hall.
While on a full scholarship that also provided her with a stipend and accommodation, Rachel enjoyed the freedom at YST Conservatory to push herself as a musician, and credited her mentors, Professor Alan Bennett and Associate Professor Chan Tze Law who encouraged her to explore different classical singing styles and rethink the role of musicians.
The latter’s Business for Musicians class was particularly eye-opening, as it inspired Rachel not to wait for opportunities to fall into her lap.
“The class taught us that if you don’t receive any opportunities, you should create them for yourself. That really changed the way I thought about myself as a musician.”
And at NUS, Rachel found no shortage of opportunities to pursue her diverse interests.
Given the “safe space” that the YST Conservatory creates for its students to run their own events and projects, while providing guidance and funding, Rachel’s learning did not stop in the practice room or at the concert hall.
Rachel (first from right) at her graduation recital performance in 2018.
She participated in outreach events to teach music to children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and helped to put together an original multi-sensory show for children with special needs.
Rachel also did a semester’s internship with the YST Conservatory’s communications and outreach department, where she was the school’s first intern, helping to plan events and running its social media channels.
Finding her passion for inclusive arts and honing these valuable skills have helped her emerge as a more versatile musician.
She says candidly: “I started off wanting just to perform and teach. It was only in my third year that I realised how much more we could actually do.”
A recipient of the National Arts Council’s (NAC) Arts Scholarship (Postgraduate) in 2018, Rachel has just embarked on her postgraduate studies in vocal pedagogy, at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. And although she’s currently based a few continents away, the distance has not stopped her from working on her vision of a voice association in Singapore that brings the community together to foster inclusive arts.
Rachel (second from right) during a performance of The Enchanted Garden, an original interactive music show for children.
To young, aspiring musicians who are just about to start their journey at the YST Conservatory, Rachel offers these words of advice: “Jump at opportunities and make plans. Go to as many concerts as you can, talk to people and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
“Being at university is the best time to make mistakes, so you can learn and come back stronger from them. Start something new, because you’re never too young or inexperienced to bring something to the table!”