Striking a Chord With Music

For Jean Tan, a curriculum specialist at the Ministry of Education (MOE), making music is more than just a passion – it’s a way of connecting with people. (All photos were taken before COVID-19.)
Jean Tan had a passion for music since she was five years old.
Photo: Yao Tang

Jean Tan, a curriculum specialist, knew she loved to sing since she was five years old, after her father brought home a karaoke set. Her venture into songwriting, however, only began when she was around 20. When she saw a friend confidently perform at an open mic, Jean felt inspired to start writing and sharing her own music.

So far, Jean has released two EPs and three singles, as well as a song for the 2015 Southeast Asian Games.

Sometimes, her songs start as a theme or idea, which evolve into lyrics. Other times, a melody idea pops into her head while playing the guitar or piano. Her songwriting process is fluid – but being able to balance spontaneity and order, she says, is part of music-making, whether in the writing process or working with producers.

Jean typically works with her producer to translate and produce her songs.
Photo: Daniel Ho of OneClickWonders

Being less familiar with the technical aspects of production and arrangement, Jean looks for outside help when making records. “I thrive on ideas, words and melodies, so most of the time I have to rely on a producer to ‘translate’ my written song into the actual record,” she explains.

But she has picked up a lot along the way. In addition to project management – working with stakeholders, managing a budget and timeline, and coordinating engagement with media – she’s learnt more about producing music too.

“I learnt how to communicate ideas, given that people have different creative interpretations and inspirations, and how particular instrumentation or stylistic choices create certain types of sounds,” she says.

Delving into music has allowed Jean to be more engaging as an educator.
Photo: Jensen Ching

Engaging Audiences and Teachers Alike

All this seems like a world away from her day job, where she designs and reviews curriculum for schools. But Jean has naturally transferred what she learnt from performing into her work, which also involves engaging with educators.

“A lot of engagement design involves musical elements like rhythm, pace, and tonality. I’ve learnt that these can be varied for interest in an engagement, but not so much so that they de-stabilise the audience,” Jean says.

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A lot of engagement design involves musical elements like rhythm, pace, and tonality.

Touching Hearts With Music

Even though she’s had the opportunity to perform for large crowds, she feels that her music’s purpose – to connect with different audiences – is best fulfilled in cosy, intimate sessions. “So I tend to write with those settings and audiences in mind.”

When Jean performs, she also shares with her audiences the inspirations behind her music, most of which comes from her own experiences.

Translating them into tune and verse also helps her make sense of the challenges she’s been through. Her last EP, for example, is about her experience with kidney disease.

“I encourage my audiences with stories birthed from raw, authentic experiences of life,” Jean shares. “Music can be healing, both for myself and the people for whom I write.”

To Jean, making music keeps her fulfilled and provides a creative outlet.
Photo: Ronald Lim

A Hobby for the Mind

Above all, making music is Jean’s creative outlet. “My mind is constantly thinking of ideas, so music provides a useful means of creative engagement,” she says. Even though her hobby does not follow a regular schedule, she tries to take some weekends off to write, and plans for production and releases around her work.

Whether it’s making music or something else, Jean highly recommends keeping a hobby or other pursuit. “They make us more rounded as individuals, add to our life experiences, and give ourselves some breathing space outside of work.”

Check out Jean's feature in the Public Service's version of the NDP 2021 theme song, The Road Ahead.

  • POSTED ON
    Nov 9, 2021
  • TEXT BY
    Hidayah Md Sham
  • PHOTOS BY
    Jean Tan
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