Mr Benjamin Lim is a freelance music composer based in Beijing, writing music for ensembles, orchestras to scoring music for film, tv and theatre.
About Mr Lim
As an ACSian
ACS (Barker) (1997-2000)
I studied literature, history and geography as well as triple sciences at the O levels. During my time I was a Prefect Councillor, a cross-country runner, a member of the Chinese Orchestra as well as a contributor for the editorial board.
Upon my graduation I went to ACS (Independent) to teach as a Music teacher from 2009-2013.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
I’ve been scoring a series of children’s books for exclusive release in China; apart from that, I am currently preparing the scoring for the play ‘Now Then Again’, which will be part of the NUS Arts Festival in March 2016.
What led you to be go into education and subsequently, the music industry?
My mom was a pre-school principal, so was my aunt. Hence I guess I naturally always loved the idea of teaching and sharing ideas. I had started doing freelance music teaching since my National Service days, and thereafter I enrolled in the National Institute of Education because I wanted further training in teaching pedagogy, as I felt that I wasn’t getting the most effective results from my students, mainly due to my own lack of knowledge on the various teaching methods and techniques available.
You could say it never crossed my mind about there being a division between being a teacher and being ‘in’ the music industry, we were always encouraged throughout our training to be teacher-practitioners, and that was exactly what I did. However, it came to a point in my teaching career where I felt I needed to deepen my craft and hence, I quit my full-time teaching job to pursue a Masters in Music Composition, and thereafter worked full-time as a music composer and producer ever since.
Tell us about your time as a music composer. How does what you do now compare to what you did when you first started working?
I would say as a music composer, the amount of time I spend alone in my work studio and seldom meeting people was and is one of the biggest differences, compared to my time as a teacher, interacting with a large number of colleagues, parents and students on a daily basis.
Not many ACSians, at eighteen, have in mind a definite career path they would like to pursue. How set were you on your career when you were still in ACS?
I knew from about age 16 that I was going to devote a lifetime to learning and living through music. It was just that at that point in time I wasn’t exactly sure yet what options or specialisations were available- things then were slightly different compared to now with regard to options available, the different paths you can take etc. It was even more difficult considering I started a lot later in music compared to my peers (age 15), and being a chinese instrumentalist then, there really wasn’t many options available to where you could go to to read music at a higher level.
If you hadn’t pursued music, what would you have pursued instead?
By the time I was about to complete my National Service, I had already secured a place in the Arts and Social Sciences in NUS, as well as a double degree offer from the University of London/ School of Oriental and African Studies to read ethnomusicology and history. I have always loved history and literature, so I suppose if I hadn’t read music at the college level I would have read history or literature, and explore other work options thereafter.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced in your line of work?
There are numerous! But if I had to choose a few offhand, I would say it would be the constant juggling of your time, between constantly pursuing the craft and improving, having the time to write, and, well, everything else. Communicating between different members from different fields involved in a project is also always a challenge I face, trying to explain, understand and communicate to others what music is about and what music can do for a particular project etc.
What advice do you have with regard to keeping yourself sufficiently motivated when you work?
I would say just focus on being the best you can be, put your absolute best in everything you do, and just ignore everything and everyone else.
What are some of the challenges facing young (people in occupation)? What advice would you give them?
I think focus and patience is becoming a fast diminishing virtue these days in younger people new to the industry. It takes a lot of tenacity to weather through a career in music, and it’s easy to get carried away with chasing awards and brand names without really working on enriching one’s inner soul, which to me is the most treasured reservoir every artist should nurture and protect. I constantly remind myself to keep superceding myself through every new project, and not be impatient with myself with regards to my learning.
ACSians in the workplace
Are there many ACSians in your area of work? Are there any distinctive qualities that may be observed of ACSians in said area of work?
Yes, I have worked with numerous ACSians all across the arts industry. It’s hard to pinpoint any distinctive qualities per se, because honestly in the professional world, no one (who matters) really bothers about where you graduated from, as long as they value the work you do and you get along well!
How has an ACS education prepared you for your current occupation?
Personally, the environment and training in ACS really gave me the confidence to be a good orator, and have good public speaking skills. By and large learning how to express myself was something I remember most from being in ACS, but then again of course one could argue that it’s all part of growing up. However, from my own experiences, I still value the environment I had in ACS growing up.
Do you have any advice for ACSians who would like to pursue (the same occupation that you have)?
- Between passion and pragmatism, should one trump the other?
This is a tough one to answer, and it differs from person to person I would say. I think the bottom line is this- you have to ask yourself very honestly what kind of minimum standard of living you’re willing to live with- because it is going to be very tough and punishing in the beginning stages, for an indefinite amount of time. However, my own personal belief is that life is really short, so instead of moping about with a life you’re unhappy with, do something that you’re passionate about, put time and money into honing your craft continuously, it all gets better over time.
- What skills should I possess to have a successful and/or fulfilling career in your area of work?
It all boils down to attitude end of the day, really. Technique can be learnt and improved upon, but without the right attitude, you don’t get anywhere.
- What activities can I explore in school that will help prepare me, or help inform my decision on whether I am suited for this area of work?
Well definitely as a start I would highly encourage anyone interested in a career in music to be part of a performing arts group in school. If that’s not quite your area/ instrument of interest, volunteer to be part of the worship team, or pick up an instrument and lead your own small prayer group with friends to start off. The idea is that you do need to be fairly proficient on at least one instrument to be able to move onto composing later on (generally speaking, although there’re numerous examples of great composers who never played an instrument).
Time in ACS
What did you remember best of your days in ACS?
- What co-curricular activities or extra-curricular activities were you involved in?
I was a school runner in the cross-country and athletics team, part of the Prefectorial board as well as the Chinese Orchestra.
- Did you have any hobbies in school? (E.g. Soccer during recess, or perhaps during curriculum time)
I played a lot of soccer and basketball in my primary school days, less so in secondary school. Recess was always a busy period because we would probably have prefect duty. However, after school (outside of CCA time) I would frequent comic and toy stores, go to certain museums and walk around or hang out at a few buddy’s houses jamming in our own little ‘band’. I was also an avid in-line skater and I would head home to my HDB estate and spend hours blading around.
Do you have a favourite memory of your time in ACS?
- What was your most memorable experience in the school?
I remember most fondly the last few days leading up to the demolition of the old ACS (Barker). We had a huge school event in the basketball court, there were buffet stalls all lined around the court, and that evening amidst performances by our students guests and parents came to dine on the basketball court, it was indeed very beautiful the way it was lit up that night.
Also all the endless unforgettable memories in that creepy old clocktower- apart from prefect camps where we had to walk unaided through the dark to the top of the spiral staircase, it didn’t help that our orchestra room was there as well, at the foot of the spiral staircase; coming back at night after a performance was always daunting, and the seniors would never spare an expense to terrorise the juniors!
- Time spent in ECAs, with your class, an act of mischief?
My class, 4A1 (Class of 2000), up till today is still remembered fondly by our teachers and former principal, Mr Ng Eng Chin. We were such a notorious class and the acts of mischief that our class masterminded are probably the stuff of legend. However it was all good in the end and we even made our own graduation short film, shot by one of our classmates, and all our teachers starred in it, including Mr Ng himself!
What was the one most important lesson you learnt from your time in school?
I came from a lower middle-income family, and was one of the minorities of students who lived in an HDB estate that was at least an hour and a half from school. Many of my classmates were sons of very well heeled and influential people, but I never felt ostracised or different in any way. I was always invited with open arms into their homes, for stayovers, birthday parties and all that. Hence the most important lesson to me was that everyone is born the same, it doesn’t matter how much money you have in your bank account, what matters most is what kind of person you grow up to be.
If you could change one thing about your time in ACS, what would it be?
What makes an ACSian?
To me, a strong sense of core values, a strong moral compass, and a free spirit!
What does ACS stand for, to you?
ACS is one of the few institutions in Singapore whereby you feel that you’ve inherited a part of history, you’re part of a long lineage of distinguished individuals with a lot of heart; and you have to uphold that as you are going to pass on that same mantle to your sons and daughters in the next generation.
How have the friends you made in ACS shaped the person you are today?
I would say they taught me the value of striving for your goals, that you can pursue and be anything you want to be as long as you put your heart to it.
What’s your personal motto?
Believe in something bigger than yourself.
What qualities do you most admire in others?
Honesty, loyalty, candour, empathy.
What do you appreciate most in friends?
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
Probably just that I have persisted and willed my way through all the way on my continuous journey of music, despite numerous setbacks and hardships.
What direction do you think ACS should take, moving forward?
I hope that ACS will continue to be a beacon of excellence- I’m sure in terms of direction ACS will continue to be in the good hands of its leaders!
If you could give your eighteen-year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Believe in yourself more, don’t let those around you now affect you, you owe it to yourself to pursue happiness.