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The performing arts are still largely regarded as “unconventional” career paths for many in Singapore, so what do parents do when children express a desire to pursue the arts seriously? This Mother’s Day, we hear from mothers on what it takes to raise an artistic child and how to be a supportive parent. Read on as they share more about the joys and challenges of being a “stage mum”.
In this article, we hear from Daphne Lim, mother of singer-songwriter Enya Lim, as well as Aini, mother of performer Sarah Syazlina.
“I work at a regular job and I enjoy listening to music to relax. But Enya, you know, she is musical and has this natural ability,” says Mrs Daphne Lim. Her daughter, who goes by the stage name NyaLi, sits next to her with an amused look on her face, chiming in as her mother recounts her journey to becoming the singer-songwriter she is today. A graduate from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA, Enya is known for her clear and sultry voice. Having risen through gigging in the pub scene, she is now a familiar figure in the local music scene.
With a laugh, Daphne shares the first time Enya showed this affinity for music at the tender age of two, when Enya was out with her paternal grandmother for a meal and spontaneously stood up on a table to sing. “She has always been very responsive to music. By the time she was four, we could tell that she was oriented towards the arts, so we enrolled her into piano lessons which she continued through primary and secondary school.” The songstress was also active in her church choir up until junior college, but never viewed performing as more than a hobby until she was in university, when she joined the NUS Jazz band.
“My husband and I never encouraged or discouraged her as we believed that the arts were important for development and adds perspective,” states Mrs Lim, “But being very Singaporean and practical, when she started to express more serious interest to turn this into a career, we advised her to evaluate her choice thoughtfully.”
After completing her degree at NUS, she made her way to Kuala Lumpur to audition for Berklee and obtained a partial scholarship for vocal performance. “I recall having to come up with a proposal,” Enya says with a smile, “there was a lot of convincing I had to do before I could go to Boston.” Ultimately, Daphne and her husband decided to support her, believing that their daughter had the talent and resilience to survive what they viewed as a “brutal” industry.
When asked if she had any advice for parents who have children similarly inclined to the arts, Daphne took on a more serious tone, though still laced with kindness, “You have to be clear-minded about how you can support them, financially and emotionally. Do not kill their interest but be practical and reasonable with them. When things become difficult, you have to be there to remind them of the things they promised to themselves.” Enya ends off the conversation by paying tribute to her mum, saying, “I think artists tend to have a more sensitive profile and she was well-aware of that. She was always there for me, supportive but without sugar-coating her feedback. It’s something I am grateful for.”
Despite being only 16 years old, singer and performer Sarah Syazlina has quite a resume. She started gaining the public’s attention when she participated in the singing competition Juara Mic Junior. Her following has since grown exponentially, amassing nearly 12,000 followers on Instagram. She has performed at events such as ChildAid 2019 as well as shows organised by National Youth Council and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. She also acts and dances, having starred in shows by MediaCorp’s Suria as well as theatre company W!LD RICE. Most recently in February, she released her single Benar Benar Lupa written by notable Indonesian producer Ilham Baso, marking her entrance into the regional market.
“She first started showing interest in music when she was nine years old. We always had Hindustani shows playing on the television and one day, I saw her singing and moving to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai! She really liked Shah Rukh Khan back then,” remarks her mother Aini in a jovial tone. While no stranger to the stage, having performed in bands herself, Aini did not pursue singing as a career but was happy to see her daughter take a liking to it. She enrolled Sarah into vocal and dancing classes after her daughter expressed her desire to learn, a move that helped turn Sarah’s initial interest into a more serious passion, culminating in the burgeoning career she has today.
While Sarah has been growing her following steadily, the path has not been easy, with hazards such as being exposed to toxic behaviour online. Sarah is candid about her mental health struggles, “I have had a lot of anxiety. I’ve gotten hate comments, even death threats.”
I’ve cried, said I wanted to quit, but I never did because my mother was always there to remind me to be strong.
Aini was well-aware of the risks when Sarah first started performing in public. While she always felt proud of her daughter, there was no denying the uncertainty she had, “I wasn’t sure if she would succeed, and there were a lot of highs and lows. I knew it was not going to just be a bed of roses. She had to be mentally prepared, to learn how to handle negative feedback and improve herself.”
As she inches towards tertiary education, Sarah is at a crossroads. She had initially planned to enrol into an arts school but had a change of heart, although she does not intend to give up performing. She still firmly believes that it is possible to make a career in the arts and that familial support is key.
“Singaporean parents tend to have very high expectations of their children,” Sarah notes, “and I have seen a lot of friends give up singing because of their parents, so I am very thankful that my mother and my family are so supportive. I don’t think I could do this without her.”
No matter what Sarah chooses, Aini believes in being supportive and that the key to raising a child well is to listen to them. Her words of advice are clear-cut and simple, “Let them choose what they want to be. If your children love the arts, support them. Parents should not make their children love what they themselves want. They should listen and accept their child, guiding them along as best as possible.”