Singer-songwriter Tammy Ying has been based in New York City since 2013, where she runs a music school, The Music Box NY. The Singaporean, who graduated Summa cum Laude with a Bachelor of Music at Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 2013, continues to juggle piano teaching with her own love for music, by playing shows and releasing music online. This includes one of her recent songs, ‘5 Million’, which is accompanied by a creative animated lyric video.
In this Q&A, she shares more about the meaning behind ‘5 Million’, how growing up in Singapore has shaped her, and what she misses most about being away from the Lion City.
Tammy Ying in New York City (Image: Jared Siskin)
What inspired you to write ‘5 Million’? What’s the message you wish to convey through the song?
The inspiration for ‘5 Million’ came from the Singaporeans who represent Singapore abroad, regardless of the industry they’re in . People in sports, the arts, and other respective work fields – they are all doing their best and we should recognize and acknowledge their efforts. Being away from home is never easy, and we are all doing Singapore proud by making our presence known in the world.
How does being Singaporean inspire or influence your music?
The themes I choose to write about (home, love), the style of music (Chinese-pop influenced arrangements and chords) and the overall ‘sound’ of the music I write are definitely shaped by my background and upbringing in Singapore.
What do you miss most about Singapore while being away - particularly during National Day? How do you attempt to recreate familiarities of home while overseas?
I definitely miss the food and company! I usually host dinners and potlucks at my apartment every few months with my Singaporean and non-Singaporean friends, especially during special occasions like National Day or Christmas. I would cook local fare like chicken curry and Hainanese chicken rice – all thanks to ready-to-cook sauce packs – and we would all eat, drink, catch up and be merry! On a more casual basis, meeting up with friends and eating at Southeast Asian restaurants helps us keep in touch with our Singaporean-ness and allows us to immerse ourselves into a somewhat familiar environment for a few moments.
What are some of the fond memories you have of your time back home?
There are so many! One that comes to mind is hanging out with my friends 10 years ago vs now. It is the people that make a place home. When I'm with my friends, we reminisce about our times back in primary [school], secondary [school] or junior college, and talk about our current lives – like who’s getting married, who got a new job, who’s gotten a promotion. I also remember moments from my childhood, they may not be the most pleasant but they are forever engrained in my mind - early mornings (how on earth did used to I wake up at 6am?), Saturday afternoons and evenings at my grandparents’ home, and doing 10 year series test papers and books! I was so nerdy!
How have your years in Singapore shaped you to being who you are today?
My upbringing in Singapore instilled a sense of determination, perseverance and ‘never say die’ and ‘anything is possible’ attitude in me. Without these qualities, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am nor be the person I am today.
Tammy performing at the Esplanade in August 2017 (Image: Stanley Yeo)
How do you describe what ‘being Singaporean’ is to your non-Singaporean friends?
I tried to be creative with this one by incorporating all things Singaporean into my answer!
Singlish - ahbuden?
Intelligent and inquisitive (we kaypoh everything)
Never say die, but also scared to die (we kiasi everything)
Good food - we are all foodies. We think about what we’re having for dinner, while we’re eating lunch.
A+.- we’re pretty competitive, and always striving for the best.
Patriotic - every Singaporean, especially those abroad, is proud to be Singaporean.
Orderly - we line up for everything: from the Great Singapore Sale to getting onto a train.
Respectful - of our elders, of other cultures, of the fact that when someone chopes a table or chair with a tissue packet, we actually leave it there and acknowledge they were there first.
Efficient - when it comes to finding good deals
What are some of your future plans, both personally and professionally?
I definitely want to continue writing and performing music on a regular basis, and grow as an artist. I also want to expand the music school I run! Eventually though, I know the bigger part of me wants to settle down somewhere and start a family.
Do you see yourself returning to Singapore soon, or in the future?
I see myself as a citizen of the world at this moment, but Singapore is definitely home and has a special place in my heart that is irreplaceable. Who knows, depending on what the arts climate is like back home and where my career takes me, I could be back sooner than I think!