Improving lives through music and art

What are you passionate about? For graduating NUS Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST Conservatory) voice major Priscilla Fong, she is passionate about many things: performance, hosting, community work, and more.

“I always thought that my interests were not complementary,” shared the mezzo-soprano. “But when I joined the Conservatory, Associate Professor Chan Tze Law told me to write down everything I would like to explore, encouraging me to just go ahead and take on my diverse interests, and I would see the way these interests intersected in reality." This sparked off an incredible journey for Priscilla.

Discovering her passion

In addition to the rigorous voice studies at YST Conservatory, Priscilla pursued every interest that came her way – she took up public speaking roles for numerous YST Conservatory events, joined the Conservatory as a communications intern for a semester, and was part of the core organising team for her cohort’s self-produced final-year concert Unmask 2021 at the Victoria Concert Hall.

But it was the many community engagement initiatives at YST Conservatory that she helped to organise, such as Enchanted Garden, an interactive multi-sensory performance incorporating music, dance and theatre for children who are vulnerable or with special needs, and volunteering with Project Artitude, an arts education and social enterprise founded by YST Conservatory Artist Faculty Leslie Tan of the Tang Quartet, that she began to realise how her interests could come together.

Hope Music Project, a series of music workshops for Afghan refugees in Hope Learning Centre, Indonesia, was a pivotal point for Priscilla. Despite the initial difficulties connecting with the refugees, the week-long initiative succeeded in staging a music performance with original music composed together with the refugees. “I saw how music could so powerfully transcend language and culture, and I thought that this was the kind of inspiration I wanted to continue to create, with and for others,” she recalled.

Founding Artpeace

Then in February 2020, Priscilla co-founded Artpeace with University of Hong Kong undergraduate, Alya Prasad, after attending the 2nd Peace Summit of Emerging Leaders at the United Nations Conference Centre in Bangkok, Thailand. Inspired and hoping to use music and art to raise awareness of important social issues and create positive impact, they put together a team of like-minded youths from across seven different countries, including Priscilla’s own classmates from YST Conservatory.

Plans went awry almost immediately when the Covid-19 pandemic struck but Priscilla and her team carried on with several initiatives –

  • Frontline Beauty, a cross-national effort putting together gift packages for workers on the medical frontlines. The project was initiated in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia, and the team secured over 850 products from 8 companies, creating 300 gift packages for 40 beneficiaries.
  • Art Apart, a virtual project on language learning, mentoring, art appreciation and cultural exchange bringing together refugee students at Minmahaw School, a post-secondary boarding school for underprivileged Myanmar youth. The team partnered with 10 volunteer students from NUS and the University of Hong Kong to help facilitate and curate five sessions of art, drama, and music workshops for 14 youths.

Artpeace just turned one in April 2021 and Priscilla is looking to make this a long-term project. Registered now as a non-profit organisation in Australia (since that is where their finance team member is based), the organising team plans to expand their projects regionally and internationally, with a theme of inclusive art education.

The next initiative for Artpeace is ART 5 ALL, a series of art workshops aimed at nurturing a culture of inclusivity. Featuring facilitators from Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and South Africa, this new project will partner beneficiaries from the Hong Kong Margaret Trench School and the Children's Cancer Foundation.

Falling into place

It was her love of storytelling and performance that led her into the world of classical singing at the age of sixteen. Now as she graduates from YST Conservatory, Priscilla’s journey through her diverse interests has shown her where to go – that she can use her passions to better the lives of those around her.

Looking back, Priscilla shared, “I used to believe my passions for performing, producing, hosting, and curating events were disjunct and unrelated - and for many years that frustrated me. But, in a sense, co-founding Artpeace was a culmination and marriage of these interests, providing a platform to pursue all these four goals with a mission of global youth empowerment and arts advocacy.”

Priscilla is quick to acknowledge that she never journeyed alone. “I really would like to thank the mentors, collaborators, and community in YST Conservatory and beyond,” she said. “These are the people I really want to thank, for where I am today. All these different roles and capacities I am involved in now, would not have been possible without the encouragement and guidance of these mentors over the past four years.”

This June, Priscilla will be graduating with a Bachelor of Music with Honours (Highest Distinction) in Voice, and she will continue to focus on Artpeace. “I am humbled by the opportunity to be collaborating with driven and inspired youth from around the world and cannot be more excited for what lies ahead,” said Priscilla.