GEMS Music Hub teacher Cassandra Chong tells us about her passion for music education and her career as a touring vocalist and pianist
An experienced musician, Cassandra first started to learn piano at the age of seven. She studied classical piano with the ABRSM and contemporary and jazz music with the International College of Music (ICOM) in Kuala Lumpur before travelling to Boston. There she studied under the tutelage of Berklee faculty members Tim Ray (pianist of Lyle Lovett) and Hal Crook, a leading teacher and author in the field of jazz improvisation. After completing her studies, she pursued a career as a vocalist and pianist, performing in the UAE, Malaysia, UK, USA and Italy.
How long have you been playing?
It started with seeing my neighbour play the piano when I was seven years old. I knew from a very young age that I wanted music to be my life because I always find a home for my emotions, feelings and expressions whenever I play the piano.
What inspired you to start teaching? And how long have you been with GEMS Music Hub?
I’ve performed for most of my adulthood. In today’s digital world, I want to share this skill with the younger generation in order to help them access their inner world and be able to express themselves creatively and skillfully. I’ve been with GMH for three years now.
What is the best part about your job?
The best part is seeing my students learn and be able to play piano or sing confidently.
How do you organise, plan and execute your work?
While I have played the piano and been singing for a long time, I continue to learn through masterclasses, workshops and research to find the best ways to help students understand.
How does learning to play the piano or studying voice benefit a child?
Learning to play an instrument helps develop and improve their hand-eye-ear coordination and fine motor skills. There is a lot going on, from looking at the notes and using your fingers to find and play the notes, to playing accurately and in time with the accompaniment. By playing the piano, they learn how to multitask by doing two or three or more things at the same time.
Name your favourite event that takes place at GEMS Music Hub.
My favourite event has to be the masterclasses for teachers and students – best of all, they are offered for free. I particularly enjoyed the conducting workshop with London-based conductor Ben Gernon, who was in Dubai to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra as part of the Proms Season at Dubai Opera this March.
How do you weigh your success?
When I see my students working hard at something they find challenging, while still being happy, I feel successful as a teacher. There is no greater reward than this kind of satisfaction.
Interview With Music Hub Student Kristyn DSouza
Kristyn is a Year 6 student at GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis and a keen musician. She has piano and voice lessons with Ms Andreas Levenda from GEMS Music Hub. Kristyn is a member of the GEMS Choir and was a finalist, for two consecutive years, at the GEMS Apprentice Musician of the Year competitions (2018 and 2019). Kristyn topped the Trinity Grade 2 classical vocal examinations in the UAE. She studies vocals in both the classical and rock and pop genres and enjoys musical theatre as well.
How did you start to develop an interest in music?
I’ve had a love for music since I was a little girl. I loved singing and had my first ever solo stage performance at the age of four. I started my formal vocal training when I was six and there’s been no looking back since then. I joined the GEMS Choir three years ago and began learning the piano recently.
What is the best thing about singing and playing the piano?
My favourite part of singing and playing the piano is performing in front of an audience. I enjoy sharing my love for music with everyone. And when it comes to the choir, the best part is when we accomplish a song with harmonies.
What has been your favourite musical moment this year?
My favourite musical moment was when I performed with my school musical theatre groups DAZZLE and DESTINY, at the GEMS Night of the Musicals, held at GEMS Wellington Academy – Al Khail in April. While I enjoy solo performances, being part of a team is a different and enjoyable experience. To top it, ours was the winning performance that night.
What are your other interests?
Swimming, dancing (ballet and hip-hop) and acting. It’s great that I can study my vocals and piano during the school day, through the GEMS Music Hub. Ms Andrea visits my school on a Wednesday. Saturday mornings are reserved for the GEMS Choir.