22 June 2018: Yale-NUS students and staff volunteers: Sharing joy through music, art and heritage

Text by Kelly Ng | Images provided by Amanda Leong and Neil Chan

In February and March 2018, some Yale-NUS students volunteered as musicians and chamber choir performers performed for the patients of Alexandra Hospital and migrant workers of HealthServe.

Dean’s Fellow Neil Chan, who had organised both efforts, said, “My primary goal in organising these events was to give students the opportunity to bless others in very conventional ways, as well as the chance to learn and grow. I strongly believe that an individual’s well-being derives from doing good unto others. The essence of well-being is the satisfaction and euphoria felt when you know that you have done good unto others. This is often magnified by the gratitude and happiness expressed by the receiving party.”

Students visited the wards of Alexandra Hospital on two occasions as part of a Music for Wellness programme. During each visit, students got to interact and engage the patients with songs and music.

Ricky George (Class of 2020) who participated in both sessions said, “Both outings were great. In addition to the patients, it was a joy to see the medical staff engage and sing along with us. I remember feeling quite emotional after each outing.”

The Yale-NUS College Chamber Choir team also performed a wide repertoire of songs for migrant workers of HealthServe, a non-profit organisation dedicated to addressing the needs of Singapore’s migrant workers. The songs were designed to be accessible for individuals who were not familiar with chamber music.

“We performed a song that mimicked cat calls, which the migrant workers really enjoyed. I was very encouraged to see the choir go all out to bring joy and cheer to others,” shared Neil.

Tng Yong Li (Class of 2020), a member of the Chamber Choir and a key personnel behind this volunteer project, explained that this activity was the first of its kind for the team.

“The choir has only been performing for the school community and we thought it would be more fulfilling and meaningful if we could bring our music outside of campus. We decided to bring our music to migrant workers and it was heartening to see that they really enjoyed our performances,” she said.

A number of Yale-NUS students and a Dean’s Fellow also volunteered as art tour guides and gave guided art walks for the public at Emerald Hill. This was part of the Oh! Open House an annual art walk that took participants through designated places in Singapore where ordinary spaces were redefined and reimagined through art.

Oh! Open House is a non-profit art organisation that started in 2009 as an art walk to highlight art in unconventional spaces. Since then, it has grown from being an ad-hoc art walk to an annual event. These art and heritage walks challenge participants to think deeper about the immediate environments they inhabit.

One of the featured artworks along the art walk.

This year, the Oh! Open House art walk was conducted at Emerald Hill. Two volunteers, Dean’s Fellow Courtney Carter and Amanda Leong (Class of 2021) shared their thoughts on the experience.

“Before I came to Yale-NUS as a Dean’s Fellow, I worked in many art galleries and took several art history modules. Hence, I wanted to find a way to learn more about Singapore and Southeast Asia through the arts. During the art walk, we were encouraged to use our own daily experiences to inform the way we shared the stories and artistic intentions,” shared Courtney.

Echoing similar sentiments, Amanda’s love for creative writing and scriptwriting also spurred her to expand her boundaries into the visual arts. She added that volunteering with Oh! Open House had gifted her with new skills and knowledge.

“Emerald Hill used to be a nutmeg plantation, so the art works there sought to explore Singapore’s relationship with botany and colonialism. The tour I led was called ‘Fantastic Beasts and Man – eating flowers’. It explored how power dynamics, in colonialism and the rise of Science, shaped our understanding and relationship with plants in Singapore. All volunteer guides had to undergo a few training sessions where we practised how to talk about art and draw connections to our daily lives,” explained Amanda.

These various volunteer opportunities, in which Yale-NUS students and staff willingly set aside time for, are testament to the strong culture of community engagement in the school.

In the same vein, Neil shared, “There is a lot being done right now in the school. Students are constantly caring for one another and for the communities beyond Yale-NUS through various dialogues, movements, programmes and events. I really hope that this spirit of community engagement through volunteer work continues to develop at Yale-NUS.”