Well-being with music

28 December 2018 | Community
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Mr Chan (far left) with some of the volunteers at a hospital ward visit (Photo: Neil Chan)

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST) alumnus Mr Neil Chan believes strongly in the value of doing good, both for the beneficiary and for the benefactor. A professional musician, he hopes to use music to “intentionally improve the health, wellness and well-being of others as well as educate participants on the benefits and impact of doing good”. To that end, he recently launched his “Music for Well-being Initiatives” where he leads volunteers in various music outreach programmes, such as hospital ward visits in collaboration with partners such as Sengkang Health, and projects with migrant workers together with organisations such as Healthserve.

The “Music for Well-being Initiatives” started taking form during Mr Chan’s time as a Dean’s Fellow and Wellness Coordinator at Yale-NUS College (Yale-NUS) from July 2016 to June 2018, after graduating from YST. His role saw him spearhead initiatives targeted at student welfare and coordinating the efforts of the wellness committee, along with providing emotional support for the students under his care. He recalled answering midnight calls to counsel students, mentoring freshmen taking their first steps into independent college life, and leading dialogue sessions discussing various social issues. “These experiences made me realise there was so much joy to be found in helping others…the fulfilment and nourishment that came from doing good and knowing that I could be a blessing to someone else,” he shared.

In his second year as a Yale-NUS Dean’s Fellow, Mr Chan started leading diverse teams of students to play music at hospital wards and migrant worker food distribution events, as well as organising community drum circles around the College. Now, he is working towards opening this up to the general public.

I hope to grow ‘Music for Well-being Initiatives’ into a community of musicians and non-musicians alike who have the passion to serve and bless others.

This comes with its fair share of challenges, including managing the diverse cultural backgrounds, levels of musical experience, and interpersonal relationships within each group. Mr Chan thus makes it a point to ensure each volunteer feels “equally important and included”, as well as to tailor the set list to be accessible to all participants. One of the biggest challenges is financial sustainability, said Mr Chan. “These activities take up a considerable amount of time and energy, and as a working musician it’s been difficult to juggle these commitments of passion with work to earn a living,” he shared. To address this, he aims to focus on what is needed to keep the initiatives going and growing, as well as look for grants that can finance his efforts.

Feedback thus far has been very positive, Mr Chan said. “Many participants shared that they were encouraged as patients opened up and started smiling and joining us in music-making…and that while we set out to bless others through music, we ourselves are blessed in return.”

Mr Chan already has plans to expand his range of activities and will be collaborating with the Alzheimer’s Disease Association in January to take part in their ongoing series “Memories Café” which engages people with dementia and their caregivers through art. For this, he will lead a session guiding beneficiaries in playing simple percussion instruments, as well as singing and dancing to familiar songs.

“This will be my first time engaging persons with dementia through a music outreach programme. I am eager to gain relevant experience in relating to them so that I can start designing more programmes to engage them under ‘Music for Well-being Initiatives’,” he shared.  

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Mr Chan (2nd row, fourth from left) at the project with migrant workers (Photo: Neil Chan)

Mr Chan also plans to continue to run the hospital ward visits at least once every two months and work more closely with Healthserve to find creative ways to engage migrant workers through music at least twice a month.

“I hope to grow ‘Music for Well-being Initiatives’ into a community of musicians and non-musicians alike who have the passion to serve and bless others,” he said, adding that he hopes this will inspire the participants to start their own activities, reaching out to many different people.