S'porean singing doctor Shea Ng on music and his medical journey

(PHOTO: Shea Ng)
(PHOTO: Shea Ng)

Developing a music career in Singapore can be challenging. On top of that, practising medicine, graduating from school and releasing new music altogether during the pandemic is an inspiring story that will motivate you to follow your dreams. With over 670,000 organic streams on Spotify for his debut single "Ivory Fields", Yahoo Lifestyle SEA spoke with Dr Shea Ng on contrasting interests, his new music after a three-year hiatus, and other projects in his pipeline.

"I have always had an interest in both the sciences and the arts. While many would consider them very contrasting pursuits, I believe that understanding one allows a person to appreciate the other better. In a way, both are equally powerful tools in the process of healing."

As a Singaporean singer-songwriter and medical doctor, Shea Ng, had recently dropped new music after a three-year hiatus. The 27-year-old revealed that it was during medical school that he took that first step to releasing his own music. "As medical students, we were given a chance to do non-clinical electives, and writing and producing music of my own was always something I wanted to try," Ng shared. "That was the perfect opportunity to kickstart my songwriting journey."

Ng's busy schedule in medical school translated to a break from his music career due to time constraints. However, upon completion of housemanship, he took "a sabbatical to rest and focus on the music projects." By writing songs 'based on personal experiences,' Ng released the single "Lights of the Fireplace", which is a continuation from "Ivory Fields".

(PHOTO: Shea Ng)
(PHOTO: Shea Ng)

Seeing music and medicine go hand-in-hand in facilitating healing, Ng noted that this is "more evident especially in specialities like palliative and rehabilitative medicine." Believing that art and music therapy can help facilitate difficult processes such as finding closure, he shared that "the two contrasting fields can complement each other to facilitate a more holistic healing process."

"There is a saying among some palliative doctors that the aim of terminal care is not to cure and not about adding days to life, but about adding life to days. It is perhaps for these reasons that I gravitate towards palliative medicine; the demographic of the patients there means that the attending doctor plays a crucial role in shaping how their story concludes. I believe that my love for music would allow me to bring another perspective when approaching terminal care."

Having learned classical piano from the age of five, Ng later realised pop music was a genre he had more affinity with. While studying Biomedical Sciences at Singapore Polytechnic, Ng started "making music semi-professionally, and was doing gigs quite often." He had performed at charity fundraiser events organised by Youth-for-Causes groups, with the Children's Cancer Foundation as one of the main beneficiaries.

"The themes of many of my solo songs involve the idea of coping with loss, such as in the song "Smoke", which I wrote about my late grandfather. While such experiences are associated with very painful memories, I have also found that addressing those emotions can be a very cathartic process with the help of music. Perhaps the ability to feel emotional pain is also what keeps us human."

When asked what he hoped his listeners would take home when they listen to his music, the singer-songwriter shared that it is heartening to know that his songs have a comforting effect on people. "However, I also write more 'fun' music that is less 'emotionally heavy'," he let on. "I do that with my funk-pop band, Oakë."

The 4-piece funk-pop band Oakë consists of Ng, his fellow singer-songwriter Irwin Zephyr Tan, producer and bassist Daniel Wong, and drummer Joel Hong. In 2020, they released a National Day-themed song and music video, "Where the Heart Will Stay", with the "hopes of inspiring sentiments of solidarity among fellow Singaporeans trying to make it through the peak of COVID."

Being the first batch of doctors who started their medical career headfirst during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ng admitted that the "extra measures put in place certainly do make things more tedious and difficult". However, he also recognised that the precautions are "also a necessity, and only by complying can we minimise the spread of the virus and hopefully pave the way towards a COVID-free future."

A stressful job even before COVID-19, we could only imagine the challenges a new doctor would face during the pandemic. "As a pre-university student, you'd know it would have been a tough career as a doctor, but you wouldn't truly have been able to know the extent of how tough it can get," Ng shared. While it can be taxing on the doctors both mentally and physically, Ng let on that thankfully, "we have patients who really appreciate the work we do."

So what is next for the singer-songwriter-doctor?

With his band Oakë, they will release "an upbeat, retro-funk tune titled Magic Clock" in July. "The playful song flirts with the idea of going back in time to win back someone presently losing interest in you," Ng shared, adding that the new track will be "in line with our band's genre and love for funk-pop."

He will also be releasing a new song, "The Bird and the Fish", with fellow singer-songwriter Enya Lim. Described as "an evocative musical narrative with indie-folk stylings featuring lush orchestral instrumentation", the song "explores the idea of self-actualisation and self-discovery."

As for his medical profession, Ng shared: "I'm heading off to the Emergency Department in one of the public hospitals, as part of the rotations that most doctors will go through in Singapore."


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