Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music’s graduates share how they found their rhythm

Since it opened its doors 20 years ago, the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST) at the NUS has grown from strength to strength to become Asia’s leading music conservatory.

World-class instructors and rigorous, multidisciplinary programmes are key notes in YST’s repertoire. But it is the students – talented musicians who hail from around the world – who form its very soul.

Many of those who have walked through YST’s doors have gone on to become internationally acclaimed performers, conductors, composers and the likes, using music and the arts to entertain, inspire and shape lives.

We speak to three graduates from the YST Class of 2023 who are freshly joining these ranks to find out more about their varied musical journeys and how YST helped them find their groove.

Journey to world-class

Many prodigies start young. Trumpeter Nuttakamon Supattranont, also known as Gale, is no exception. Her love affair with the instrument began at age seven when she joined her school’s marching band in Thailand.

“My father pushed me to learn music because I was not good at maths and science”, the 23-year-old recalled with a smile.

What started out as a backup plan became her main pursuit. After pre-college in Thailand, she came to Singapore and enrolled in YST. She was drawn to the conservatory for its stellar teachers – all of them professional musicians – and range of masterclasses by acclaimed visiting musicians.

A highlight, she added, was when she emerged as a prizewinner in the 2022 YST Concerto Competition.

“I was really happy to represent the Brass department and do everyone proud. It felt amazing to stand on that stage, playing as soloist alongside friends in the orchestra,” she said.

Percussionist Lee Yu Ru is another promising recent graduate.

While he started learning the piano at age four, it was only at age 10 that he really got into it. This was prompted by the release of the video game Final Fantasy 10, whose soundtrack enthralled him. He furthered his interest at the School of the Arts (SOTA).

After graduating from SOTA in 2017, his musical journey almost came to a halt when he chose to take up a degree in economics.

However, after one semester of feeling “empty and not very motivated”, it became clear to him that music might be a better fit. At that time, Yu Ru, now 28, had been helping his alma mater with its percussion ensemble. With help from his former teacher at SOTA, he aced the YST admissions audition and made the Conservatory his new home.

Tuning out self-doubt

Yu Ru, who majored in Western classical percussion, relished the exposure YST gave him to overseas artists – from performing as a soloist with the Conservatory Orchestra in Singapore and South Korea, to performing alongside the esteemed London Sinfonietta and Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra.

At times, however, he struggled with “imposter syndrome” – feeling as though he was not qualified enough, particularly as a young and growing artist. But his teacher’s advice uplifted him: “Be the most consistent person that you can be, and naturally things will fall into place.”

He was not the only student who learnt to tune out self-doubt during their time at YST.

Toh Yan Ee, a composition major with no prior formal composition training, struggled with this in her first two years at YST. “All my life, I learnt by imitation and conformed to what was taught to me. It felt like my personality had yet to be discovered,” she said.

Thanks to the insightful conversations with teachers and peers, she gradually found her own style and interests as a composer. “I began embracing not only my own likes and dislikes, but also those of my peers, understanding there isn’t a single right perspective made me more open minded about trying new things in music, and in life,” she added.

Her time at the conservatory was a transformative one, and gave her space to come into her own. “If I had not chosen to study music in YST, I would have been a very different person now,” she said.

One of the highlights for Yan Ee was embarking on a Student Exchange Programme at Queensland Conservatorium (Australia) in 2022. With the generous support from the YST’s Student Artistic Development Grant, she also had the privilege of attending festivals and academies such as the Young Composers Meeting 2023 in the Netherlands.

Yan Ee’s interest in arts administration and the behind-the-scenes of music production led her to pursue a communications internship at YST. “It complemented my composition education very well with skills like creative problem-solving and attention to detail,” said Yan Ee, 23, who worked on social media, videos and articles during the stint.

All the world’s a stage

For all three musicians, YST has provided a promising start to their careers.

Percussionist Yu Ru, who has freelanced with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) as well as other ensembles, hopes to land a job at an orchestra.

As for Yan Ee, the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London beckons, where she will pursue a Master’s degree in Composition. She hopes to continue developing herself in various facets of music and the arts, setting her sights on full-time composing for now.

Trumpeter Gale has recently bagged a spot in the SSO and will be sitting shoulder to shoulder with her former teachers on the Victoria Concert Hall stage.

“I am a bit nervous to be playing with them as a colleague and peer,” she confessed, “but I cannot wait to start.”


This story is part of NUS News’ coverage of Commencement 2023, which celebrates the achievements of our more than 14,700 graduates from the Class of 2023. For more on Commencement, read our stories and graduate profiles, check out the official Commencement website, or look up and tag #NUS2023 on our social media channels!