Contemporary music composer Diana Soh is a recognised name in the world of New Music. All of 26 years old, the National University of Singapore (NUS) alumna has had her work performed by the internationally renowned Arditti Quartet, broadcast on BBC radio, and featured at the respected Takefu International Music Festival in Japan, where she was the youngest invited composer. That is some talent. So, it is surprising to hear that Diana had almost headed down another career path.
She says, ”If it hadn’t been for the timely setting up of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at NUS (it was set up in 2001) and the SingTel scholarship that I received, I would have given up on music and gone into journalism.” Diana received the scholarship for four years from 2003.
Diana has always been passionate about music. “I enjoy exploring different sounds,” she says. As a teenager, she sang in choirs and with a capella groups and bands. After graduating from Temasek Junior College at the top of her class with a Distinction in both Music and Higher Music, she contemplated studying music overseas but there were, as she says, “financial difficulties in following that thought. Thankfully, the conservatory and the scholarship allowed me to develop on home ground. In fact the SingTel scholarship allowed me to be a musician.”
Now a PhD student on a full scholarship at the University of Buffalo, US, Diana’s music is played across continents, from Asia and Europe to the United States and South America. As one of a handful of Singaporean composers, she’s flying the flag with gusto. She says,” I guess my best achievement is to remind the world outside that there’s an island out there… ”
Associate Professor Ho Chee Kong, Head, Composition, at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, says, “Diana was one of the first two composition students we accepted into the Composition Department. She excelled in the academic area and was on the Dean’s List. She was also an active member of the Singapore Youth Choir and volunteered at her former school, Temasek Junior College, despite her busy schedule in NUS. I feel very proud of her and believe that we will be hearing a lot more about this promising alumna in the years to come.”
Looking back on the day she heard about receiving the scholarship, she says, “I felt so relieved. My family is not rich. My dad is a driving instructor and my mum is a secretary. The scholarship removed a financial burden from them and also saved me from taking out a student loan. I felt honoured and happy as it made my parents so proud of me. My phone plan was with SingTel and I joked that my next step would be to write ringtones for the company. ”
Talking of the importance of giving to the University, Diana says, “Not everyone’s financial situation matches their intellectual abilities or their passion, and financial aid is an opportunity to change that situation and level the playing field. I also believe that in today’s world, youngsters are suffering from afflictions like meaninglessness and lack of direction, and these are as debilitating as hunger and poverty. Enabling a student to be in a university and to follow his passion is a way out of this apathy and towards hope and community building.”
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