Welcome to our weekly series where we highlight the great work that RBC alumni are doing in the field of music education. Each week our guest will reveal insights such as what led them to do what they are currently doing, the projects they have been involved in since graduating, what inspires them on a daily basis, and what advice they would give to any music student considering working as a music educator in the future, whether full-time or as part of a rewarding portfolio career.
Luan Shaw, Interim Vice-Principal, Music (Learning and Teaching)
Dr Adam Whittaker, Head of Pedagogy
Richard Shrewsbury, Head of Learning and Participation
I am a mezzo-soprano from Penang, Malaysia, I graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire with BMus (Hons) in 2013. Apart from singing, I was a second study pianist, and I also opted for the pedagogy module in my final year. I was among the finalists of the Reginald Vincent Lieder Prize, and winner of the Ella Cheshire Award for Soprano, the Margaret Pascoe Singing Scholarship and the Joseph Weingarten Prize. As a result of the Joseph Weingarten Prize, I was awarded a full scholarship to further my postgraduate study at The Kodaly Institute, Franz Liszt Academy Hungary. During my time in Birmingham, I also participated in the New Horizons programme delivered by Quench Arts in partnership with Birmingham Music Education Partnership.
On returning to Malaysia, I started teaching as an adjunct lecturer at UCSI University, Sunway University and Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM). Working in the tertiary education sector as a vocal tutor, choir instructor and on Kodaly-related courses, I helped significantly in developing the ‘Song and Aria Courses’ syllabus, on top of their one-on-one vocal lessons, modelled on the repertoire class we had at Birmingham Conservatoire. In 2017, I became involved with an outreach programme in the Myanmar Music Festival (MMF). I was subsequently appointed to be the Vocal and Choral Director of the MMF, setting up the first MMF national choir, connecting people and developing a range of musical humanitarian works. I also worked closely with Kuala Lumpur City Opera as a singer, vocal coach and conductor for their Opera for Kids and Opera for Teens programmes. In recent years, noticing the growth of the opera industry in Malaysia, I founded ProMusica 88 Fiamma Opera Studio, focusing on preparing young singers to embark on their careers, featuring young singers in full scale opera and opera scenes. It is quite revolutionary in Malaysia to have young singers take the lead. I believe that with quality mentorship, the newly-formed opera studio has a chance to bring the opera in Malaysia to the fore.
I believe that opera and classical music are gems of world culture. Popular music is ubiquitous but young people are far less exposed to classical music. Education plays a big role in developing interest in young listeners.
In Malaysia it is common for students to respect (or rather, fear) their teachers. It is not common for them to ask questions or discuss their thoughts or decisions with them. Art is about communication and I am very glad that I have introduced the culture I took from the Conservatoire, that with respect, we are open to communicate with teachers. I feel immense pride when my students here start to actively ask questions and share their thoughts and opinions about vocal techniques etc. I enjoy helping people explore their full potential. I have had quite a number of students who have won international prizes and furthered their studies at reputable universities.
I would recommend that musicians consider entering music education for the noble calling of preserving classical music.