It takes understanding and faith to create a sense of home wherever one goes.
I take too much time to warm up to people. At the dismissal of classes, I look forward to returning home and being in the company of music, books, and entertainment shows. Don’t get me wrong—I am delighted to chance upon my friends in the hallways, elevators, classrooms, and the student lounge, but it has always been extremely challenging for me to feel fully comfortable and natural engaging in small talk. Every year, the quantity of people I can truly confide to is decreasing because of my ineptitude for building relationships through common social activities. Avoiding large groups of people by staying after class to ask questions has become a tactic to escape being caught up in “rush hours” at school, where the corridors can be jam-packed with moving bodies. I am indeed genuinely interested to unveil more of the music I am learning with my professors, but too often I am too unbearably to participate in that in class.
Despite my small friendship circle, I am still fortunate to have found a very hearty and reliable support system at Juilliard. Four and a half years here had taught me the intrinsic differences between ephemeral companionship and true, unwavering alliance. In times of personal struggles, which involve episodes of existential crisis, creative blocks, and difficulties in overcoming various obstacles, some of my friends and mentors have stood by my side and urged me onward in these battles. Although I experienced disappointment at friends whom I have fully supported but who have never been to any of my composition premieres, I learned to expand my heart beyond that and understand that the amount of exchanges I have with others may not always guarantee the same amount and quality in return. Perhaps that has contributed to my slightly cynical view of network circles and made me steer away from people even more. However, this is characteristic of what life is with its unpromised returns, which will never subvert or discount the presence of other greater meaningful avenues we can all anticipate. Fortunately, these experiences growing up have gradually enabled me to discover the identities of people who really root for me and my music.
My greatest fellow fighters in Juilliard include my composition teacher, Robert Beaser, who has believed me from day one and took me under his wing; my professors, who have been generous with their time and imparted valuable professional advice within and outside the field of music; as well as teachers and friends from the composition department and beyond. My faith in my own compositions often dwindles towards the point of extinction because I would often be displeased with and doubtful of my own progress, hence the more I depend on external sources of encouragement to feel validated. These individuals people have constantly ascertained the value I have in my work and myself, motivating me to see the good and elucidating the direction of improvement I can strive toward.
My composing buddies at school, who undergo similar, identifiable types of laborious pain in creating, can really understand what goes on beneath the triumphs of seemingly completed work. Driven by a common love for adventure and exploration, we sometimes share our stories with one another and the result has been the formation of a tightknit bond of empathy. Empathy, only discoverable in those with similar circumstances, has the power to unite different strands of personalities, even the most introverted of hearts. I also treasure some of the musician and dancer pals whom I have befriended and worked with, for they remain open and enthusiastic about collaborating in future artistic visions, even if some of them have already graduated. One must not forget that the backstage heroes of music, dance, and theater productions in school are also quiet supporters of our artistry whom we can always head to for insight and help, speaking from firsthand experience (Thank you so much, Márion!). In Juilliard, it is definitely possible to build long-lasting friendships and uncover pillars of strength as long as your heart is ready to receive and give.
My family in Singapore, though not direct participants in my musical life at school, also never fail to show their concern and love through electronic means, making sure I still eat my meals regularly and get enough sleep. My brother, who is studying at Columbia University, involves me with some of his school activities and attends my concerts. To see familiar faces in masses of unrecognizable silhouettes is always so comforting. In a world where each of us must still trudge on even in the most delirious situations, learning to develop faith in those who can bear the brunt with us will give us the horsepower we need and ensure we never crumble.
Attend a student performance on campus.