When One Breathes Music
By Nina Syahira
January 21, 2015
Singing is a fun activity that many of us enjoy doing in the car, at places like karaoke bars with friends, at home or even in the shower where no one can hear you. But to do it in front of an audience on stage sounds like a whole different ball game. We can’t imagine the amount of pressure that’s on the contestants of SAFRA’s The Ultimate Voice. There are great prizes at stake, including an original single written just for the champion.
So how does one beat the nerves before performing on stage? We recently met with 47-year-old Jason Ong to find out the answer for you as he shares what it’s like to be a professional singer.
For Jason, music appreciation seems almost as natural as breathing. His childhood love for singing has grown into a lifelong passion from which he strives to elevate the local music industry with every contribution he makes, be it in the a cappella scene or chorus. But he has never had any formal music training.
“I had no toys to speak of and every time we ask for one, my mum only had two words, ‘no money’. So we make do with what we have. Sometimes we’d go downstairs and catch grasshoppers, stuff like that.”
Despite that, their modest household did have a proud centrepiece; his sister’s piano. His sister was the only child in the family who had formal piano lessons but soon lost interest. So with the accompaniment of a neglected piano and his grandmother’s leisure singing, he slowly picked up playing music by ear all on his own.
“I was alone for a fair bit of time because my siblings would still be in school and a good way for me to while away the hours was to sing. My granny who took care of me at the time would sing to me or teach me a song and I would sing back.”
At the tender age of 10, Jason had his first public singing performance in school but he ended up getting frozen on stage and forgot all the words. For many, this would have been quite traumatic but for Jason, it was a harsh lesson that became instrumental in his future career in music.
“I think it all really boils down to your level of confidence. If you have prepared well, you’re not going to make a mistake. I have made mistakes before but I always try not to show it and do different things to cover them when performing.”
Perhaps it’s this type of attitude that has kept him on the right path to success; he just never stops learning. Over the years, Jason has worked with various groups like the Singapore’s Men Chorus (which he also co-founded) and school choirs. He now sings with two a cappella groups called In-A-Chord and Key Elements.
Back in the 90s, Jason and the rest of In-A-Chord were invited to provide backup vocals for famous Chinese singer Sandy Lam’s song called “Crying Game”. Upon request, they were trained by a renowned vocal teacher despite having had at least 10 years of singing experience.
“She said, ‘Gentlemen, would you please sing for me?’ So we sang and when we’re done, she turned to us and said, ‘And they paid you for that?’ Yeah, it was such a terrible let down but it’s good lah because it put us in our place.”
Sure enough, it all paid off in the end when In-A-Chord performed one of Sandy’s songs in Jason’s arrangement to her as a surprise during a demo session. Needless to say, she loved it.
“She was so tickled and told her manager to invite us to attend her concert to sing with her on stage in front of 10,000 people. That was in ’96.”
Photo sourced from ke.sg
Today, he celebrates one of his biggest achievements to date which is writing and arranging a Key Elements album of 12 original songs called Uncovered – a Treasure Trove of Original Works. It was released in 2013 and subsequently nominated for “Best Asian A Cappella Album” by the Contemporary A Cappella Society (of America).
Currently, Key Elements consists of six members; Chua Kim Beng (tenor), Chua Hui Lian (alto), Gail Wong (soprano), Cherie Chai (mezzo-soprano/vocal percussionist), Vaughan Tan (bass) and of course Jason (baritone/arranger/composer). Heavily influenced by Pop and Jazz, their songs sound like an exciting experimentation of silky smooth vocal goodness.
Together they have done seven full-length concerts in Singapore and also participated in numerous a cappella festivals and competitions, including the much anticipated annual Vokal.total International A Capella competition in Graz, Austria, last year. There, they were awarded the Audience Award in the Jazz category and Silver diplomas in both Jazz and Pop categories.
On behalf of The Ultimate Voice contestants, we ask for the best advice he has ever received.
“One of my voice teachers said, when you perform, regardless of whether it’s front of one person or a million, you always give your best. You never short-change your audience. As long as I get to make one person like my song, I’m happy.”
Look out for Jason Ong and Key Elements in the near future with their next concert.
Do you aspire to be a singer? Make your dreams come true at this year’s The Ultimate Voice! Click here for more details.
Need ideas for the audition? Check out our list of the 12 Most Iconic Singaporean Songs here!
Read more inspirational stories of everyday people and their passion in sports, photography, dance and more here!