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The Show Goes On…line: Crystal Goh

She searched for her voice and found the song in her soul

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Published: 22 May 2020


Time taken : >15mins

Having lost her voice to a rare neurological condition when she was 25, Crystal Goh turned to songwriting and discovered a deep reservoir of strength she never knew she possessed. 

In this powerful and moving performance, the singer-songwriter bared her soul through a series of original songs and soundscapes inspired by her journey of healing. By immersing herself in the experiences of those who had also suffered loss—be it their freedom, memories or loved ones, she found traces of her voice in theirs. Today, she continues to use her stories and performances to spread a message of hope. 

Performed and filmed live at Esplanade Concourse on 19 March 2020, this event was presented under Foreword, a free-for-all programme where words—spoken, narrated or musically interpreted—take centre stage. 

 

Crystal Goh is a singer-songwriter and music producer. She has performed at UNESCO-NIE Centre for Arts Research, TEDxP&G Singapore 2016 and the Generation Now 2015 Conference among other international events. In 2013, she started collaborating with at-risk youths and children of incarcerated parents to write, record and perform original songs. She completed her Masters of Education (Music) at the National Institute of Education in 2020. 

The following interview with Crystal has been edited and condensed for clarity.

When and how did you lose your voice? How did you attempt to cope in its aftermath?

Crystal: In April 2011, I lost my voice to a rare neurological condition called Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD). It happened suddenly one morning and I was 25 at the time. SD causes spasms during speech, causing the voice to break or to have a strained or strangled quality. The cause is unknown, but it is suspected that this happens after you strain your voice during a bout with allergies. 

 

How did you eventually recover your voice and what did you discover or learn along the way?

Crystal: Although my voice still carries a strained quality, it has recovered quite significantly over the years and I have also learned how to swap certain vowels and consonants around to make my speaking and singing less difficult. Personally, I felt my voice recovering after I started to co-create songs with youths who were in vulnerable situations. During that period, I wondered if our journeys of healing were connected and decided that I should continue co-creating songs with them to learn more about how our healing is associated with one another and music-making. 

I’ve also learned that the songwriting process involves a lot of active meaning-making, whether on a conscious or sub-conscious level. This is because it is deeply reflective and requires us to make small or big creative choices at every step. It gives us the permission to take creative risks and to listen to our inner voices, which can often be a little soft and shy. This creative act is a form of kindness and courage that we can offer ourselves and others.

 

How did Diamonds on the Street come about and what do you hope to accomplish with this initiative? 

Crystal: When I first lost my voice, I wrote songs about my feelings and experiences. Even though I was hurting, the process was cathartic because it helped me make sense of what I was feeling. Everything I was scared of, and all the hopes I had, I put them into music. 

To me, one of the most delightful things about music is how we can take a deep individual experience and turn it into a shared experience. A song allows us to live the emotions of the singer like we are on a journey together. Since young, I’ve always wanted to be a part of this experience both in terms of imparting and receiving a musical connection.

When I discovered that creating music could be a healing process for me, I wondered if it could be a way for others like me, who are also experiencing difficult times, to find hope. So, I started Diamonds on the Street, a music collective that allows me to write songs together with at-risk youths. 

I named it Diamonds on the Street because I wanted to bring across the idea that for a shiny diamond to emerge, it must first undergo high amounts of pressure and heat. We are all like diamonds in some way — the challenges we face in life can be painful and difficult to overcome but once we get there, we become better versions of ourselves.

Diamonds on the Street has been partnering Esplanade’s Community Engagement team for a number of projects now and we’ve been grateful to be a part of the participants’ stories.

 

Speaking of stories, is there one you can share with us?

Crystal: One of our participants, Joan*, composed her first song and dedicated it to her sister. They had been estranged for some time and she yearned for a chance at reconnection. 

Joan began sharing about her songwriting journey with her sister as a starting point for conversation. As the weeks passed, the sisters found themselves bonding again through open and honest dialogue.

When Joan finally presented her completed song, her father was so proud and inspired by his daughter, he was determined to try writing his own song, too. Her humble, sincere composition brought the entire family closer and even kindled new dreams. 

What is your day-to-day life like these days and what are you planning on doing next? 

Crystal: I have some things I find myself doing regularly over the years whether for work or play. This often involves writing stories, producing music and teaching. 

As a singer-songwriter and music producer, I sometimes feel moved to offer some form of solace, joy or companionship through my music. I enjoy exploring and experimenting with sounds and words to discover something new about the artistic medium or about the world, and then finding ways to share these discoveries with others.

Learn more about Diamonds on the Street or support their initiatives at diamondsonthestreet.com

*Name has been changed to protect the participant’s privacy. 

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