Groundup Features: YouthHarmony
In this edition of Groundup Features: we speak to Yi Terng, founder of YouthHarmony – a groundup initiative which aims to build a community of young musicians in Singapore, where everyone has an equal opportunity to develop and hone the necessary skills to pursue music as a hobby, or career.
Hear from him as he shares more about the inspiration behind YouthHarmony and dishes out the details of their upcoming event – Youth Music Day!
Hey Yi Terng, thanks for being with us today. Please share with us more about yourself.
Hi everyone, my name is Yi Terng! I am currently a Year 3 student at Singapore Polytechnic, pursuing Infocomm Security Management. I am passionate about both technology and music. I hope to pursue a career in technology while enjoying my hobby in music.
I have been playing the trumpet since secondary school, which was introduced to me through my school’s symphonic band. I used to play the piano when I was young but did not enjoy playing it, hence I thought music was not a thing for me. However, I realised it was the instrument that I did not fancy as I really enjoy playing the trumpet.
I went on to give trumpet tutoring sessions and taught in a few schools. I was given many opportunities to perform and it has been an amazing experience for me. After experiencing the first-hand benefits of being exposed to such opportunities, I wanted to find a way to give back to the community and help other youth musicians in Singapore to find out how to use music to serve a greater purpose in our society.
Thanks for the introduction! You shared that you wanted to find a way to give back to the community and your medium is music. That leads us to your groundup initiative – YouthHarmony. Tell us more about that!
YouthHarmony was started earlier this year. The initial goal was to create a community and provide equal opportunities to all youth musicians in Singapore, regardless of their background, financial situation, or factors beyond their control. Personally, I was very fortunate as I was in a school that heavily supported their symphonic band, and I had the opportunity to meet a wonderful conductor who has been supporting me throughout. Thanks to him, I had many opportunities to perform, learn.
However, despite being given such performance opportunities, I realised that this was not prevalent in the Singapore music community. I noticed there were many youths who were interested in music but there were rarely any opportunities or events for them to participate in. Throughout my experience playing in the symphonic band, I only had 1 music camp a year despite the multiple performances I’ve had. Hence, when YouthHarmony first started, my team and I wanted to provide these opportunities for youths.
We do not want youths to go through the financial hurdles of paying hundreds of dollars for a masterclass event because the whole point of this is to encourage more youths to take up music. We want the art scene in Singapore to be more vibrant and more inclusive. Our primary goal is to provide more opportunities for youths to get a chance to integrate into the community and to feel a sense of belonging.
As our team progressed, one of our youths brought up the idea of utilising music to benefit other communities. This was where it got interesting because it was not something I had thought of originally and it seemed quite meaningful as it benefits other communities and groups.
Thus, we are currently exploring ways on how we can make use of music for the good of other groups; such as youths at risk, seniors in elderly and nursing homes, etc. We have plans to host workshops and teach them how to play musical instruments amongst other activities and interactions. Afterall, music develops more than just musical abilities but also develops cognitive skills, critical analytical thinking skills and discipline which are all essentially important soft skills in life. We do not want people to miss out on these opportunities because of factors beyond their control. As I mentioned earlier before, we want to provide equal opportunities to all.
Currently, we are also looking at how we can push for sustainability through music towards mental health. There are groundups such as Ms Eileen Chai and 3am Music Collective who promote mental health through music. We found this meaningful, and we hope to be able to do this as well and increase the scale of it.
Lastly, this is not explicitly our mission, but it is something we hope to provide our volunteers. YouthHarmony is an organisation. We require people with skills in certain areas like human resource, finance, and marketing etc. Our entire organisation is run by youths and students who are learning these skill sets. For example, our finance department is run by Accountancy students.
One thing I have found to be very meaningful is that my team has told me these opportunities have given them the chance to learn and apply their skills in a real world setting without having to worry about corporate risk. We always strive to provide a safe environment and culture where youths can experiment without the fear of judgement.. If it does not work, it is okay. We will figure out how to make it work or try other solutions. Although we do hope to provide as much as we can, these are the 3 main goals that YouthHarmony exists to serve.
What was the inspiration behind starting YouthHarmony?
The importance of having a voice for youths in the community.
There is a potential need for more active and regular participation opportunities for youth musicians in Singapore.
Sometimes as youths we can do things that adults are able to and that is the benefit of being young – we have time, and we see things from different perspectives. I am not implying that youths are better than adults or that adults are not needed but I feel that we need to complement what already exists, and improve together as a whole for the good of the entire community. It is not about competition; we are a non-profit organisation, and we want to focus on delivering the highest impact on the community.
We realised that the solution is to create a youth-run organization with a youth voice, so that youth musicians have a safe place to confide in. I had the idea, wrote it down and gave it some thought.
I had it planned out and ran through it with our board chairman, Mr. Adrian Chiang. Come to think of it, my original plan was horrible! Through multiple feedback sessions and revisions, we came up with something that we thought might work, gathered some like-minded friends to form a team, and YouthHarmony was born.
Thinking back on the past six months, what were some of the encouraging moments that have kept you going as founder of YouthHarmony?
It has been a tough period and there were times when I was down, things looked hopeless. I was really stressed out and thought to myself, “Is this really worth it?”, “Is this really something that I should do? Maybe it is something that I was wrong about and the world does not need this.”.
It was demoralising, but what kept me going was looking at how far the team had come. I have a core team of about 12 youths, which is the senior management team of the organisation. These individuals have put in a lot of work even though they are busy. In fact, I am one of the youngest here and most of them are in university, army or working. Our board of directors Mr. Adrian Chiang and Mr Lee Jin Jun are incredibly supportive as well, which gave me more motivation to keep going.
One of my core team members, Ming Jun, is currently serving his national service and yet he has so much passion for YouthHarmony. It is rather amazing and inspiring to see how he finds time to contribute to the organization.
Looking at how close-bonded and passionate everybody is, this kept my drive going. I know that I am not alone, and I have the support of my wonderful team who will not let me down. I know they have my back and no matter what happens, we can face it together. This is one of the most important things for most leaders and founders – to have the support of your team. Otherwise, it will be very lonely.
Thank you for sharing about your heartwarming moments! You have also mentioned that the initial months were tough. What were some of these challenges you faced, and how did you solve them?
1. Building a team
This is one of our biggest challenges that comes as a shock to many. It proved challenging to build a team as our members had to juggle other commitments, such as school. This was a big issue as the organisation took a toll on everyone, especially in its early days. It caused a lot of discordance, resulting in the team not functioning. When things did not work, we could not progress.
A lot of time was spent fixing internal issues, which slowed down our progress at the start. In hindsight, I should have started out with a smaller team with the focus on building its foundations before expanding the size of our team.
We managed to build a strong team over the past few months. Eventually, we figured out how to better manage our recruitment process.
One of our volunteers, Jae, is currently studying in NTU and is skilled in Human Resource. She has poured in a lot of hours in recruiting new volunteers and encouraging participation in volunteers.
2. Raising funds for expenses
I think this is a very common challenge that most groundups would face. For us, the biggest problem was that we were incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee too early. We spent a lot of time ironing out internal issues instead of executing revenue-generating events, whilst still having to cover administrative expenses that came with incorporation.
The initial payments were covered by donations from our volunteers and board members. We had many expenses to pay for, but we tried to minimise it as much as possible. We were left with expenses for our web domain, website, the corporate secretary fee, and the auditor fee, but these still totalled over S$2000. As youths and students, it was difficult to fork out the amount needed. Each of us had to put in around S$50 to S$200 before we could hit the target amount.
It is rather challenging to charge for virtual events, as it can be hard to encourage interactions on a zoom event with eight musicians. Problems such as lag delays may also happen. We can only run free events or find ways to scrape together some money.
On a positive note, we have managed to raise enough funds through donors and sponsors, internal and external, who believed in us, so that we can pay our expenses off comfortably. We now have the option to conduct activities for our own volunteers and future events through sponsorships and donations. In fact, we are very fortunate to have 2 wonderful sponsors for our upcoming event, Youth Music Day. We are grateful to have our patron sponsor, Musette Live, as they have been very supportive of us. Thanks to them, we are a lot more financially stable now.
3. Reaching out to the masses
YouthHarmony has a social media presence, but we are struggling to reach out to communities such as schools and Co-Curricular Activities (CCA) groups.
From my limited experience, it usually takes a big event to gain a wide reach, set one’s credibility and put ourselves into the picture. But we do not have that reach yet. Some of my volunteers have come up with ideas such as reaching out to community partners and career partners who have been very nice to help us spread the news. For instance, Groundup Central - We are very fortunate to be a part of Groundup Central’s membership.
We have also tried sending Instagram direct messages to CCA groups and through our internal network, which we initially thought reached quite far. However, there is always the challenge of maintaining our presence and reaching out without feeling embarrassed due to how young we are. This is something we struggle with, and we will continue to do our best and work on. Right now, my marketing department is coming up with a marketing calendar and brainstorming on how we can improve our online presence.
4. Networking with potential partners and collaborators
The last challenge we face is networking. We are not well connected to many groups in the community. Of course, that is one of the issues that comes with being a new entity. But as I have mentioned, we found Groundup Central and we are very grateful for the opportunities it has opened us to. We are also very grateful to our sponsors and partners that we have or will be working with.
For Youth Music Day, we managed to get 14 speakers and we will be conducting masterclasses and talks. They are all doing this in their free time voluntarily and these are professionals who can charge as high as $200 per hour. We are very grateful for everyone’s help and support, without which the event would be much harder to run.
We are encouraged to hear of the support you have received. Having gone through these experiences, what are some tips you have for fellow peers who want to start a groundup initiative?
I have seen a lot of people who want to start or have tried to start, and some of them are my current volunteers. I think that the biggest concern everyone has is finances. Money can provide you with things like space and performance opportunities but how does one get the funding?
Depending on the type of group you have, but as an organisation, we wanted to get sponsorships and corporate partnerships. For smaller groups that are starting out, I think the most important thing is to gain support and build up a very strong case for what you are advocating for. It can be as simple as showing others why you want to do this. This is most important when you are new as you have no track record, so you can only show the potential and future.
For example, when I started YouthHarmony, I told Mr. Adrian Chiang that we do not have enough performance opportunities for youth musicians. He asked me why, and if I was sure there were no opportunities since he is well-versed in the scene. I went to research and found out that the band scene did have many events, but they only occurred once a year and are sometimes packed in the same month.
The main issue was not that there were not enough opportunities, it was that there were not enough regular opportunities. We want to create regular events for musicians to regularly participate in and be integrated into a community where they can belong. Cost of these events are rather expensive, with some of the music camps priced from $80 to $90. Therefore, our job is to figure out how to make such events more affordable so that we can cater to more youths at an affordable rate through sponsorships.
Essentially, finding the issue and building a case for it. Everyone is passionate and wants to do their part. It is very inspiring to see many individuals, especially youths, create startups and initiatives. The most important part from my experience would be to build a strong case for what you are doing and why. You need to be able to convince people to support you in order to succeed.
As we heard earlier, YouthHarmony will be hosting Youth Music Day this coming December. Tell us more about that!
Youth Music Day is a unique event. December is usually filled with many music festivals and camps. How these festivals usually work is that the organisers or music groups invite youths to join them for a few rehearsals (3 to 7 days of camp and rehearsals) and they end off with a performance at a concert hall like Esplanade. I have been to some of these festivals, and they were fun.
However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I was worried that many of these festivals would not happen. So, we thought of making a virtual music event that delivers a different kind of impact. Earlier I mentioned how we lose a lot of value through virtual events, so how can we reangle this to provide value in a way that does not require musical instruments and can be done through a virtual environment?
Our program is specially curated so that youths can learn, reflect, and bond without having to be limited by the lack of musical expertise or instruments as not everyone has their own instruments or are at the same proficiency level. We curated a program that consists of masterclasses and sharing from other groundups. We also have artist spotlight sharing from The MadHatter Project, Asian Cultural Symphony Orchestra and Melbourne-based Ms. Allison Walker to conduct Singapore’s first live music coding workshop.
We have catered a lot of time for group bonding and interactions in-between each programme so that they can meet people and come up with ideas together. Most camps are too packed and there is not much time for interactions. Usually after camps, many participants no longer interact with one another. We don’t want that to happen anymore; we want this event to be the start of a community building that lasts past the event itself.
Most importantly, the event serves to develop youths’ leadership skills. The youths will get to hear from two groundups, Volunteer Guitar Connection and 3am Music Collective, on how they started their initiatives. We hope that we can encourage youths to be leaders, develop themselves and find ways to start their own initiatives to give back to the community.
Finally, we hope that through these sharing, youths will be inspired to learn and apply what they have learnt. We want to spread the gift of giving and encourage more youths to find ways that they can take initiative to benefit the community in their own ways.
Youth Music Day will run from 1st to 3rd of December, 9.30am to 6.30pm daily. The ticket is set at a very affordable price of $20 per person. The event will be held virtually on Zoom and you can find our sign-up link on Eventbrite.
Thank you for sharing about Youth Music Day! For our readers who would like to support YouthHarmony, how can they do so?
We welcome volunteers who are keen to commit to a management committee role to join us, regardless of skill sets. We have youths who have never done marketing before but are learning from those that have the know-how, we have many non-musicians volunteering with us too, and many other youths who support the operations of YouthHarmony in many different ways. The management committee is certainly a great and safe space for learning and growing.
For volunteers who are not able to commit to management roles but would like to participate in our events, you can join our community on Discord where we put out open calls for volunteers to join us for events.
We will be embarking on a new initiative, led by our youth volunteer who is in the army (as mentioned earlier!) We will also be working with four elderly homes and senior activity centres to put up a performance and interact with the seniors by playing games and bonding with them. It will be a visit to an elderly nursing home, with COVID-19 safe management measures in place, focusing on music. For this event, we will be doing an open call for volunteers in late November or December, and training will be provided.
Finally, how do you hope your initiative can help Singapore become the city of good?
I do not think I have mentioned this but through this initiative, we are exploring ways on how youths can give back to the community using music and their skills. I was inspired by the students at Anderson Serangoon Junior College because they went to an old folks’ home to do a performance instead of going there to do things that the elderly may not enjoy. They were able to use their hobbies and musical abilities for good and I found that particularly inspiring. That is what we are hoping to promote with YouthHarmony and music in Singapore.
We also endeavour to bring communities together for the greater good and happiness of everyone. One example would be the music community. One thing unique about YouthHarmony is that we want to involve musicians from all music groups, going beyond the boundaries of instrumental types or genres.
I was very fortunate to be able to attend a Singapore Polytechnic award presentation where I had for the very first time witnessed performances by the Malay and Indian societies. It has not only introduced me to a wider genre of music and instruments, but also helped me to better appreciate the racial and religious harmony in Singapore and to have that as one of the community pillars in YouthHarmony.