One Small Voice: Lin Xiangning

Published on 18 July 2016

What can an arts education do for you? SOTA’s Valedictorian for the Class of 2015, Lin Xiangning, shares her personal experience.

INTERVIEW BY PAMELA HO

As a student from a neighbourhood primary school, going to the School of the Arts (SOTA) was never on my radar. But I knew I wanted to play the piano, so I thought probably a secondary school with a Music Elective Programme — until my music teacher in school suggested I consider SOTA. I attended their talk and decided there and then I wanted to audition for a place. It wasn’t anything specific the teacher or students said, it was just how passion-driven they were.

People often think that at SOTA, students study nothing but the arts. That’s not true! It’s a six-year education that leads to an International Baccalaureate, and for those who opt for the diploma programme, their art form is just one of six subjects. So it’s perfectly understandable when SOTA graduates go on to pursue law, medicine or engineering.

The difference, though, is that you’ll be a doctor or lawyer who has been exposed to the virtues of the arts and whose thinking is moulded by it. In class, we could be studying Pythagoras’ Theorem in mathematics, but we’re challenged to apply it to our various art forms. So for music, the theorem applies when you tune some instruments. This arts integration really pushes us to think!

I remember during our literature presentation, some students choreographed a dance, others created a sculpture. And once, at assembly, the national anthem was played on a suona [Chinese reed trumpet]; other times it’s sung a cappella. We’re always finding new ways of doing things, and the teachers encourage that. So the courage to push boundaries — and not be afraid of being judged — is something we pick up at SOTA over time. I don’t remember our teachers ever turning down our ideas. If we’re overly ambitious, they will help us scale it down or find other platforms to stage it.

We’re always reminded that it’s not enough to know our craft; we need to be able to articulate our thoughts about it. That’s how we grow our art and build the community. One of SOTA’s core leadership values is ‘people-centredness’. It means that for anything we do, be it a piece of music we’re playing or a dance we want to choreograph, it’s always about how it can value-add to people. So we’re encouraged to research on topics we’re interested in or things we feel strongly about. And when you have peers with many varied interests, you learn a lot of different things!

At the end of the day, it’s okay if you don’t know for sure if you want to pursue the arts. SOTA doesn’t chain you to the arts! It’s just a different education experience. Some parents think that if you invest a lot of time in something, you need to gain something from it. Like, if you go to SOTA and end up not being a pianist, your time is wasted. The word ‘wasted’ is what I hear a lot. I guess the question of practicality always creeps into the arts!

I don’t think anything is ever wasted. In fact, in this current climate, we young people need to be more versatile, creative, and open to change. I think learning anything is practical, as long as you know how to apply it.

LIN XIANGNING is the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Valedictorian Award for the Class of 2015 at the School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA; see www.sota.edu.sg for more). A musician and scholar, this 18-year-old has garnered awards in international piano competitions, from as far as the United States and Bulgaria, and was selected to attend several top international music programmes, which took her to Boston, Manchester and New York. In 2014, Lin received the SOTA-Ngee Ann Kongsi Scholarship and was accepted into the prestigious Young Artist Programme of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, under the tutelage of Albert Tiu. She is currently continuing her music studies as an undergraduate at the Conservatory.

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