Updated: Jan 3
I've practised drumming skills in the swimming pool, I've practised on the floor, I've practised on my lap, I've practised in the park... If you want something in your heart, and if you heed the call of the Universe, you will do whatever it takes.
Just because you deserve something, doesn't mean they're going to give it to you. Sometimes, you have to take what's yours. - Coach Carter, Film.
I share this post to inspire those of you who are on a path to your true destinies (or even other pursuits), bending reality to your will, reaching for something, and so on and so forth. An excitement and an odd sense of calm both rage and ebb inside me, while typing this, as I believe I was put here to pass on the torch of knowledge, that was so generously and graciously passed on to me from the Universe. It is but an excerpt of my journey from LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, which I will be covering more in depth in my book, Surviving Music School.
It was an interesting time for me. I had dropped out of the National University of Singapore. My childhood conditioning was taking a smack in the face, let me tell you. However, the hormones of late teens combined with new conditioning about life, goals and self-actualisation from a recent stint at a Multi-Level Marketing company was driving my being full force into the field of music... which I knew nothing about. I got in to the college barely scraping by playing two songs on drums, Starlight by Muse and You Give A Bad Name by Bon Jovi. I didn't know where the future was headed. All I did know, was that I was spending more time on the drum set than my Engineering books, and so that had to mean something.
Something more than "that's just a distraction." So I dropped out of Engineering at the National University of Singapore much to the chagrin of my parents, and joined LASALLE College of the Arts
Incident 1 Fast forward to where a bunch of kids didn't want me to succeed. Or perhaps, they didn't want to fail? Maybe they thought success was only reserved for a select few. Old school, fear-based, scarcity-mindset thinking. Believe it or not, there were two drum sets about 25 of us drummers in the school could practise on. 2. It turns out, if you put someone with decent looks, a higher educational background, some talent, a hot girlfriend and the highest grades the previous year in a group with people who are lacking in those departments, people tend to get flustered. I didn't know this, as I had never lived my life that way. I knew success was abundant for anyone who wanted it and headed in its general direction.
Get this. People used to dismantle and hide the pop drum set (the other one was more suited to jazz) so that I couldn't practise. Was I mad at them then? Of course. I even pitied them. I did have some maturity then to know that these people must have had some kind of hardships in their lives, to have to do these kinds of things to a fellow student. Some of them were in music, because of having no other options in life, I was told. Sad, I agree. I was about 4 years older than all of them, as I had just finished my National Service (compulsory military service for Singaporean males) and was taking this course as a BA (Hons) Music, while many of them were taking this course as a Diploma In Music Performance, right after Secondary 4 (that's Grade 10, for those of you following the Western systems). However, now, I look back on this incident with true and inner empathy, understanding and forgiveness. Heck, I could buy them all a round of coffee now (except I don't take in caffeine any more) and would love to help in any way I can. I have actually, since those times, in various ways. I won't be naming them, as the point of this post is not to bring anyone down, but to uplift others. So whenever that happened, I would drop everything on the floor outside the music classrooms G304/G305, and switch on my cheap metronome on the floor next to me. Then, I would proceed to start drumming on the floor. Bad for our wrists, bad for the sticks (which cost money by the way), bad for students on other levels trying to study, but... what choice did I have? I drummed on tables, chairs, floors, railings, my lap till it became red, and the fake turf grass on the ground floor in the centre of all the blocks where students would come to chill and hang out.
Look, I made the school website :)
As someone who only had about 1 year of background in drumming, I sucked bad. So I had to practise. My girlfriend chipped in 1.5k and I had saved up another 1.5k from giving tuitions in English and Maths, to earn money. I bought a new drum set, from Yamaha. I set it up in my room with great care and precision. It was an electronic one from Yamaha. Obviously this put an end to relying on the school drums to control my destiny, and to nasty, toxic children playing around with musical equipment. My dedication was having a real go at this drum set. I set a 30 minute practise routine after long gruelling hours at arts school, whether I was tired, or not, regardless of the time. It was a degree after all, and one at which I didn't have a background like many of the kids there. So it was non-stop competition and pseudo-bullying at school from kids (some of them) who just couldn't comprehend how an Engineering dropout was whooping their behinds, when they told him to "Go Back To Engineering!" in the first year we were there. I call it pseudo-bullying because if I wanted to take any one of them physically, they wouldn't have stood a chance. Here they were, smoking, drinking and getting fatter and more unfit by the day, and here I was, rock hard abs, chiselled work ethic, flowing physicality and all rounded grooming because of non-stop sports in Singapore's top schools based on merit and the Army. This attracted stares from girls and women, and that did not help. That made them even more jealous.
It was the same struggle at home. "Now he's going to come home and make noise on the drums." "Look at your son, what is he doing with his life?" "Have you considered trying something else?" "Why don't you quit this and get a real degree? What will you do once you graduate?" "You're always too busy for your family." - This one used to drive me up the wall because I was only doing well at the degree so they wouldn't have a heart attack that their son messed up the music degree which they had told him not to do. And then one day my Dad walked in to the room and said, "You have to stop now, the neighbours came up just now." "Dad, my exams are in two weeks, there are no drum sets in school." "I don't care, this is my house. You do what I say. I'm not going to let the Government take the house away because of noise pollution complaints!" "Dad, it's an electronic drum set with three layers of thick styrofoam underneath. All they are hearing below is just a tapping sound on their ceiling!" "STOP THE DRUMMING NOW OR GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! WHAT KIND OF IDIOT ARE YOU?!" ... So I left the house. Just for 30 minutes though :) My parents thought I was being crazy. Inside I knew how much practise I had left to nail this exam. I took a pair of sticks with me and walked into the park outside our house. I found my way to the fitness corner, and sat down there, straddling the concrete wall. That's where the snare drum would be anyway, between our legs. I kept up the rudiments, but I was angry. Crying. Fuming mad. I came back when the sticks broke. I walked in the door. "HOW DARE YOU LEAVE THE HOUSE IN THE NIGHT WITHOUT TELLING US WHERE YOU'RE GOING?" "WHY? WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE? A 5 YEAR OLD? I DON'T REPORT TO YOU." "IF YOU WANT TO LIVE UNDER MY ROOF YOU REPORT TO ME!" "I just went to the park to practise, since I cannot practise in YOUR house." "Are you mad? Have you gone mad? What will happen if you don't practise for 5 minutes?" "THAT WASN'T 5 MINUTES!" "Whatever, who cares?" I walked into my room.
I am glad I fought to practise during incidents like these while in college. There were many, many more. I could have just quit, and said to myself, "You know what? You made a mistake. Musicians are nuts. They're stopping you from practising. They're killing off their own species. That's mildly retarded behaviour. The school doesn't care about you, it's running a business and taking your money. Just let's get the hell out of this black hole, although yes the girls are pretty, and let's start a proper degree from scratch, again." However, I chose to stick on, and finish what I had started. There's a magic in music one just cannot deny. Here's a series of events that unfolded after, because I went crazy on the drums for a bit. I did not plan these, I just flowed with the Universe. However, I knew that if I wasn't this good on drums or hadn't put in this kind of effort, none of these would have transpired. If I didn't continue to stick these moments out, and I chose to let my struggle define me (and this is obviously the short version) -
1. I would not have gotten good at drums. If I had not gotten good at drums, 2. I would not have bothered filming my classes and performances. If I had not filmed my classes and performances, 3. I would not have posted them online. If I had not posted them online consistently, 4. I would not have generated interest. If I had not generated interest, 5. A friend, Jaye who had left the college to go to Japan for a songwriting scholarship would not have typed me from overseas saying, "We should form a band man, you've got it going on." If he had not said that, 6. We would not have formed a band when he came back to Singapore. If we hadn't, 7. I would not have had the chance to hang out at his home studio. If I hadn't,
8. I would not have expressed to him that I also wanted to try singing. If I hadn't,
9. He wouldn't have said, "Do it bro! You can do anything! I've also tried all the instruments and I started with drums!" If he didn't, 10. I wouldn't have because the people at school were hell bent on believing in people's weaknesses, or at least making them believe in their own, and not their strength and promise. If I didn't try vocals, 11. I wouldn't have released a few tracks here and there, featuring little duos and trios we tried setting up including this one here where I tried rapping, Miles Away. If I hadn't tried such collaborations and building such teams and realising how much work it was to put a team together (and a headache which I didn't need) because I could not do things all by myself,
12. I would not have decided that the next song was going to be solo, so I could go at my own speed and standards (which for better or for worse were fast, and high). Just me, all me, start to finish. Composition, writing, singing, rapping, songwriting, music production, mixing and mastering. If I had not decided that, 13. I would not have been bothered to go the piano room next door in between teaching drum students at a large music school with really lousy pay and would have gotten demotivated about music at that job really quickly. All said and done, the rate we were getting paid was $7/hour if we divided the pay by the number of hours per month we were at the school. If I hadn't been bothered to go the piano room next door, 14. I wouldn't have written the hook for my song Sail Away, in about 5 minutes. If I hadn't written it, 15. I would not have a good song to my name. If I didn't, 16. I would not have wanted a good video to go with. If I didn't,
17. I wouldn't have asked my friend Terence, Co-Founder of Ministry of Funny, for cash or a sponsorship to make the video. If I hadn't, 18. He wouldn't have suggested crowdfunding it. If he hadn't,
19. The video probably wouldn't have got crowdfunded, which it did by the way. If it hadn't, 20. I wouldn't have contacted a team that worked on one of Wiz Khalifa's videos, back on Twitter after they contacted me. If I didn't, 21. I wouldn't have a decent looking video to go with the song, after the editor stitched up the parts recorded in the U.S. with the parts recorded in Singapore. Watch it below. If I didn't,
22. I wouldn't have wondered if it could be played on TV Networks. If I didn't, 23. I wouldn't have contacted MTV Asia and VH1 India. If I didn't, 24. I probably wouldn't have read in my email inbox, "This looks and sounds amazing, thank you for thinking of us, we'll play it." How's that for an Engineering drop out who didn't know anything about music when joining music college? I digress. If I didn't, 25. I would have probably lost hope in music and you would not be reading this post.
Have you ever had a random thought, at a random part of the day? Have you ever felt a voice inside your head telling you to do something that sounds exciting or thrilling? A skill perhaps in a small way? A musical instrument? A Facebook page spreading awareness on something? Maybe an impulse to do something romantic?
I have news for you, that's not only your mind. That's the Universe talking to you. Listen to it.
I could have let my ego and fear-based society mindset come through each time there were obvious roadblocks with phrases like "but the circumstances were not right." And thoughts like, "Music is nuts, let's quit. It was a mistake to join this college," or "I started great in this degree I knew nothing about, I'll just pick another one and start again, it's only been two years." Believe me, there were people who quit from my batch and mumbled something about "musicians" when asked why they were leaving. However, I chose to follow the Universe and the small voice inside me that said, "Try it for a bit longer, see where it goes."
You against the Universe is a stupid battle. - Sadhguru
In conclusion, I want you to think about your life. I want you to think about a seedling of an idea that came to you but that you have not done anything about. Or an idea that you have done something about, but you stopped halfway. If you started something with a pure intention such as joy or love, then finding strong reasons to continue is your responsibility to your soul. Peace, Love, Faith Zephyr P.S. Jaye currently owns and runs The Music Parlour, Singapore. Terence currently co-owns and runs Ministry of Funny. As for me, I've found a way to combine my musical, writing, speaking and mind, body & spirit talents as I transition into the next phase of my life, via my movement, Three Part Human. > The real question though, the only one you must concern yourself with is, what are you doing? What makes you itch? What speaks to your soul? Whatever it is, do it with love and do it true!
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