Kiera Michelle Sundram (left) performing at SOTA Literature Afternoon 2019. Photo by Matthew Wong.
If your child is passionate about the arts, the School of the Arts (SOTA) could be a place where he or she could thrive. At the same time, you could be wondering: Is this really a passion, or just a passing fancy? Can my child commit to developing this interest for the next six years?
There are no easy answers to these questions, but perhaps, hearing from SOTA students themselves will help parents to better recognise what passion might look like in a young person. Below, three SOTA students share their stories about discovering their love for the arts, and finding kinship and fulfilment at SOTA.
Stella Lau, Year 3 Music student
Photo courtesy of Stella Lau (front row, second from left)
I decided to specialise in music as I knew I would never get sick of it — there is no way that I will ever stop enjoying music.
I first heard about SOTA from a friend, and when I attended the open house, I liked that at SOTA, the arts is not just an after-school activity, but rather, a subject that is important and highly regarded. At the time, I was on the fence about joining the school, as I was afraid that the academic education would not be as good as that of other schools. Also, with SOTA being an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, I knew the curriculum would be different, and I wasn’t sure if I could adapt to the change.
Thankfully, with my friend already in SOTA, he was able to tell me what the lessons were like, and I realised that SOTA could provide the education that I needed. My parents were also really supportive. My mom was an art teacher, so she values the arts and felt that SOTA was a place that could stimulate my creativity.
However, I wasn’t sure I would be good enough to get into SOTA. I applied to SOTA’s Talent Academy through the Music (Performing) track with Voice as my instrument, and after hearing about how small the cohort size was, it made me feel that my chances of getting in were zero. Unlike those with one-to-one training, performance experience, and theoretical knowledge, my only formal music exposure was from joining my school’s choir. However, I decided to give it a shot and here I am!
For me, one of the biggest challenges of studying at SOTA is the long hours. I find myself in school for nine hours or more, and that’s excluding the time spent working on projects. It can get tiring, and I’m still learning how to plan my time more responsibly. The work, however, is extremely fulfilling. In Year 1, we did a project where we had to compose a piece and perform it in the style of the Blues. We applied the knowledge that we learned in class, and I was challenged to understand the concepts inside-out.
My teammates and I also had to go through late nights, rejection, and disappointment, and that was painful. But it built me up to move on from “failures,” and see them as a step towards improvement, rather than be beaten down. Experiences like these have made me up my standards, and taught me not to settle for the bare minimum.
To aspiring SOTA students, don’t choose the school because it looks cool, or because you get to wear coloured socks. Make sure the art form you sign up for is something that you want to know more about. And make an effort to understand the IB curriculum — both its strengths and limitations — before you make a decision. Choose SOTA because it makes you feel excited about learning, and growing as a person!
Kiera Michelle Sundram, Year 2 Theatre student
Photo courtesy of Kiera Michelle Sundram (back row, third from right)
In a community where I was often told to take my academic subjects as top priority, it seemed unreal that there was an opportunity to pursue my passion to a depth that I craved.
Since I was young, I’ve had strong opinions, and wanted my views to be shared and understood. I’ve always been expressive — drawing was a hobby during my younger days, which allowed my emotions to filter out into something that could be appreciated. But as I grew up, something else took hold of my heart: theatre. Performing in front of a crowd, the adrenaline would rush through my body when I could physically sense the audience’s reaction, and feel the emotions radiating from them. To be involved in theatre is to understand not just myself but also my character; to see a situation from a different perspective, and bring justice to another’s thoughts. To support those on stage with me, and backstage. That was what I wanted, what I needed, what I loved. That is my passion.
Looking back, I fell in love with theatre far more quickly and deeply than I had with drawing. This was when I realised the difference between a hobby and a passion, a habit and a commitment.
Stepping into SOTA for the first time, I had high expectations, but feared I would be let down. I should’ve known that SOTA leaves no one disappointed. Outwardly, the school’s architecture is enough to catch the attention of any passerby, but the real wonders are hidden within. SOTA’s magic lies in its talented and supportive community; it’s a place where we can laugh, live, and love with people who truly understand our passions.
While my decision to try out for SOTA was easy, applying to a school filled with artists can be unnerving. But during the interview and audition process, the teachers had a way of calming my nerves and making me feel comfortable, and it made me yearn to join the school even more. Once I got in, I also witnessed the bond between students, who share a mutual respect for one another’s art forms. We want to support one another unconditionally throughout our journeys.
Currently, I am the most excited about my Theory and Context module for theatre. It’s given me an opportunity to look past the surface of each performance, and find meaning in every piece that I watch. It’s allowed me to move closer to exploring theatre from all angles, and to have a better appreciation of the medium.
Here at SOTA, we have to be ready for challenges. It’s okay to ask questions, and it’s okay to make mistakes. But what I’ve learned most is that it’s important to listen to one another. Opposing views can create conflict, but they can be refreshing and useful too. Contrasting ideas can provide balance, or lend themselves to new ideas, and it’s something we can all benefit from.
Muhamad Irfan Bin Muhamad Rapid, Year 3 Visual Arts student
Photo courtesy of Muhamad Irfan Bin Muhamad Rapid (front, left)
I’ve been drawing since I could remember. I enjoyed drawing as a child, and the more I drew, the better I got. Drawing is something I’m good at, and I want to make something out of it. Also, one of my cousins pursued art professionally — he’s now in his 40s, making a living as a freelance artist. He recently had his art displayed at the Lakeside Project (at Jurong Lake Gardens) and Kampong Glam. His accomplishments have pushed me to pursue my own passion for the arts.
Two of my cousins have attended SOTA, so I was highly encouraged by my parents to give it a try too. I attended SOTA’s Open House and Open Symposium, where I saw that the lessons are carried out in a hands-on and engaging way. I was also able to find out more about their Visual Arts curriculum, including what I would be learning and doing for each year.
During the application process, my parents were always there for me. I had doubts about my portfolio and I felt nervous, thinking that perhaps I might’ve done something wrong, or that SOTA wouldn’t be impressed by my art. My parents helped to curate the drawings for my portfolio, and they would reward me when I made progress with my application, with little treats like going out for a family dinner.
When I made it through, the prospect of being separated from my friends in primary school was daunting, but I overcame this after a few months. The student culture at SOTA is like no other in Singapore. There are no boundaries — everyone knows and is friends with each other. The younger and older students interact a lot. For example, during our service projects, students across years and disciplines will work together, and end up becoming great friends.
If there were any challenges, I would say that in my first year, it was hard to adapt to the curriculum. It is far more project-based than what I was used to, and I had to develop skills in the areas of time management and teamwork. But it’s an environment where people motivate one another and ask for help when they need it. Teachers also offer consultations for projects, and students can speak with them individually or in a group for feedback.
At SOTA, I’ve learned things about the world that have completely changed my perspective on the way that we live. During my English Language and Critical Thinking classes in Year 2, we covered the refugee crisis and we debated the issues in groups. I realised how much we had been taking for granted and how a crisis could happen to us at any time.
If you’re considering studying at SOTA, prepare to do a whole lot of work. Students have to do at least one project for each subject, and four projects for their art form in a year. Many of these projects overlap, and are due at the same time. Each project also has a significant weightage, which will affect your final grade. To me, this isn’t a bad thing — hard work is always worth it.
Still curious about SOTA, and how its vibrant learning environment can help students to realise their creative potential? Visit the school’s Open House 2020 page! Find out what alumni and parents have to say about SOTA, take a virtual tour through each of its arts faculties, and read about its six-year curriculum, which aims to give students the best of both worlds — a solid foundation in both academics and the arts.