In her younger days in Kelantan, Khor Ai Ming woke up each morning to the chirping and singing of hundreds of songbirds belonging to her father, who trained them for competitions.
Now an acclaimed soprano, choral conductor and voice teacher, blending distinct voices into melodious choruses has become Ai Ming’s forte. Since coming to Singapore at the age of 20, she has remained here for more than a quarter of a century to advance her music education and music career.
“Along the way, I met my husband Tama Goh, a local musician,” she says. “He encouraged me to focus on becoming a vocalist and specialise in voice teaching in Singapore. I’ve not looked back since!”
A multicultural family
Besides performing and giving lessons, Ai Ming works with many local choirs at the professional, community and school levels, bringing the joy of singing to disadvantaged groups such as elderly dementia patients and visually-impaired children. A group which holds a special place in her heart is Vocal Associates Festival Choruses which she created in 2014 as a platform for her vocal students to gain stage experience.
Soon after she formed the choir, she was invited to contribute a 150-member chorus to the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra’s performance. It was a big gap to fill, but she gamely took up the challenge and extended an open invitation through various channels for new members. To her relief, more than a hundred signed up for auditions.
“Surprisingly, there were people from all over the world including Sweden, Japan, the Philippines…and of all ages,” she recalls.
The Vocal Associates have stayed true to its strong multicultural beginnings from those early days and continues to attract people from different cultures to sing together. Members from more than 20 countries, even from as far as Mongolia, Nicaragua and Ukraine, have passed through its door.
Vocal Associates is also uniquely made up of members from a wide age range of 6 to 77. It is very much a family affair too, with grandparents in the choir with their grandchildren, couples, and parents with young children.
Where differences unite, not divide
Differences are strengths to capitalise on, as Ai Ming discovers. Being a diverse group makes it more versatile when selecting song genres and languages, often matched to the cultures of her members. When they encounter lyrics in a foreign language, she invites the native speakers among them to explain their pronunciation and meaning to the others.
“Even in English, some words are pronounced differently in American English and British English. We pick the sound depending on where the song originated,” she says, citing the friendly exchanges the group often has over language.
When Vocal Associates performed at its 5th Anniversary concert, named “One Voice, One World” after its ethos, all its members donned traditional attire from their own cultures and sang a repertoire of songs in different languages. The visual impact was stunning, and its message equally powerful.
“Through music, we learn about life,” Ai Ming says. “At Vocal Associates, we learn so much from each other about cultures and people from different parts of the world and at different stages in life. Music and singing bring people together. It is a wonderful feeling of love and compassion.”