The Symphysis of Law and Music
(L to R): Linda Ong, Loo Eng Teck and Ho Kah Wye
The Friendship Band
Some time ago, a friend mentioned that his girlfriend is a member of a rock band. All of us at the dinner table were visibly impressed. ‘That’s cool,’ a female lawyer said. I, always on the lookout for leads, immediately smelt a story for this column.
Some time later, I met the lawyer-cum-rock-band member. Linda Ong, 28, is a young, attractive woman. However, she appeared quiet and reserved. The rock band persona was nowhere in sight.
After their secondary four examinations, Linda and her schoolmate, Loo Eng Teck, and two other male friends decided to jam together. Eleven years have passed since Fuzz Box was formed. Linda is a family lawyer at Engelin Teh Practice LLC and Eng Teck, 28, practises criminal law at Harry Elias Partnership. The other band member is Ho Kah Wye, a chemical engineer. The three-member band is now known as Lunarin. The trio came up with the name, Lunarin, which means ‘full moon’. The band members feel that they are at the peak of their creativity on the 15th day of the month, when there is a full moon. Their new songs usually get written on that day.
Lunarin has recently been receiving constant publicity in the local media. ‘We managed to keep our involvement in the band under wraps from our colleagues until last year,’ said Linda. She added that everyone – family members, bosses, colleagues and friends – has been very supportive.
Linda was even recently ‘auctioned off’ for a date to raise funds for a charity, Music For Good. The highest bidder, a young, married man and a first-time attendee of their gig, won the honour of having dinner with her. Describing the two-hour ‘date’ as ‘weird’, Linda laughed it off when I teased her about it over drinks one weekday evening. ‘The highest bid was $88.00,’ added Eng Teck gleefully.
The trio’s strong friendship is the success formula of Lunarin. ‘When our friendship gets strained, it is the band that keeps us going. When the band is going through a difficult period, the friendship keeps us going,’ shared Linda and Eng Teck. During the interview, they referred several times to the numerous friends they have made in Singapore and Malaysia through their band. It was clear that these friendships are an integral part of their lives.
‘Although it is no mean feat juggling a busy law practice and a growing band, I think it helps me to achieve work-life balance. It makes my life meaningful,’ said Eng Teck, the drummer in the band. Like Linda, Eng Teck too does not appear to possess the gregariousness one would associate with band members.
Writing songs, conducting rehearsals, holding gigs and marketing the band takes place after work, sometimes as late as from 9pm to midnight on weekdays. Linda’s car is used to transport the band’s heavy equipment. Their earnings, in addition to their personal funds, are used to meet the band’s expenses.
‘I can be bad-tempered, detached and take things for granted in daily life. With the band, I become a real person who is able to love and respect others. The band also helps me to mask my young female image. And yes, I would give up law practice if the band brings me a regular source of income,’ says Linda who plays the bass and sings in the band.
Both Linda and Eng Teck describe their music as ‘alternative metal, hard and progressive rock’. ‘There is no mass appeal to our music. Our audience is mainly junior college kids and undergraduates who enjoy alternative music. It is encouraging that they are receptive and accepting of our music,’quips Linda. ‘There is no clear divergence of genres in music as yet. We have at least 20 years to go before we can boast a sound music industry in Singapore.’
Eng Teck feels that he needs both his daytime law practice and his nighttime band performer job in his life because they fulfil his different needs. ‘We are doing the things that we really want to do in our lives and we are having fun. The one thing that we are lacking is sleep,’ he says.
Both of them and their third band member, Kah Wye, want Lunarin to grow gradually. They launched their first album, Chrysalis, at a successful party this January. Their dream is to release three more albums by the time they hit 40. Linda believes that nothing is impossible. ‘The last album must be a double CD,’ she declares.
Dreams Do Come True
When I was in my teens, my family used to visit a friend in Telok Blangah frequently. I remember spending many happy weekends and public holidays there. The family friend’s neighbour had two daughters and we used to play together. I did not guess then that I would be meeting one of them again – Rani Singam – as a jazz singer more than 20 years later.
During the interview, we did much reminiscing which was coupled with laughs. Rani, 35, is simply vivacious. She is full of smiles and laughter. She spent seven years working in the legal service. When her first child was born, she took a year off to care for him. She did not return to work after that. Instead, in the last three years, she has become the owner of a spa business, Smart Spa, and a jazz singer.
‘I have loved singing since I was four. I was part of the then Radio Television Singapore Children’s Choir and participated in the Talentime contest in the Rollin Good Times television programme. At seven, Rani learnt Indian classical karnatic music.
In 2002, renowned jazz musician, Jeremy Monteiro, heard a demo tape that Rani had made. He later described the experience thus, ‘I thought that they were playing an early Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington or young Sarah Vaughn. I immediately asked them to call Rani to see when she could sit in with us on a gig. A few nights later, during one of my gigs, she came down and jammed with my band and sang her heart out. This signalled the start of a musical relationship which was to deepen and grow.’ Rani subsequently took up his invitation to collaborate. ‘We have a partnership that works. Jeremy is a legend in jazz. I am just starting out, just a baby. I have so much to learn. Jeremy has made such a profound impact on my life,’ she said in one of her rare serious tones during the interview. In 2004, Jeremy co-produced her first album, With a Song in My Heart.
‘Why jazz?’ I asked. ‘Just like how you cannot explain the reason for falling in love with a person, I cannot explain my love for jazz,’ she replied. She enjoys folk and R&B music as well.
A vegetarian, Rani takes good care of her voice. Cold drinks are out. Good health is essential. She spends a lot of time listening to other jazz singers and self-rehearsing.
Many of her former colleagues in the legal service have remarked that they live vicarious lives through her, but Rani insists, ‘There is a way for everyone to achieve their dreams, you know. We just have to pay a price for it. Do what you love and everything else will fall into place.’
Did she find it difficult to break away from the traditional role expected of Indian women? ‘It was easier that I was already married and my husband supports me in this.’ Rani wanted to really live her life rather than simply exist and doing what she does is her way of living a happy life. ‘Life is less stressful when you enjoy what you do. I do not rely solely on my singing for income. My main income is from my spa business. I do not have fixed goals of what I want to achieve in my singing career. I just go out and have fun as a jazz singer.’
‘My life is now so different. I have time for my son, my business and my performances in Singapore, Malaysia and Bangkok.’ She counts performing with jazz singer James Moody and performing at the Twin Towers’ Dewan Philharmonic Petronas in Kuala Lumpur in 2005 as the highlights of her singing career.
Her five-year-old son often wonders what his mother would be up to next. Rani’s response would be to echo what jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, once said, ‘The only thing better than singing is more singing.’
(L to R) William Lim, Francis Xavier, Seng Yi Lin, A Rahim Jamil, Andrew De Silva, Lau Kok Keng and Dominic Chan. Not in picture: Firdaus Rubin and Lam Chee Kin
The Legal Illegals
I was first introduced to Francis Xavier in 1989. He has a loud voice and a great sense of humour. He is knowledgeable on subjects ranging from health and fitness, food, sports to personal effectiveness. A lover of nature and travel, he has diverse interests. In fact, it was not possible to interview him as he was travelling extensively during the period this article was written.
He is driven by passion. The 40-something bachelor is also into playing drums. He has a soundproof room in his posh walk-up apartment, just so that he can play his drums at home.
An active Rotary Club member, Francis and a fellow Rotary member decided to form a band during one meeting. The seven-member band that was subsequently born performs all genres of music regularly at various events.
At the firm’s New Year’s Eve party last year, Francis, head of Rajah & Tann’s commercial litigation department, felt that the musical talents in Rajah & Tann should integrate work and personal interests by jamming together and entertaining their colleagues during office functions. The band, The Illegals, was thus formed. They practised weekly and performed their first successful gig of 12 songs during the firm’s Lunar New Year party this year.
Their roaring performance, together with the enthusiastic support of their managing partner, Steven Chong, has motivated the band to look forward to its next firm event. ‘We have found an excellent venue to pursue our love for music: at Rajah & Tann,’ declared Dominic, one of the band members.
The band consists of Francis (drums and vocals); head of iTec department, Lau Kok Keng (keyboard); former partner Lam Chee Kin (lead guitar); lawyers Seng Yi Lin (keys), Firdaus Rubin (vocals), Dominic Chan (acoustics, bass and backup vocals); and support staff, Andrew De Silva (acoustics, bass and vocals), William Lim (vocals) and A Rahim Jamil (percussion). ‘We play an eclectic and diverse range of music styles – from 90s alternative, 70s rock-and-roll to mid-tempo Eagles classic,’ said 26-year-old Dominic in an e-mail. He adds, ‘I feel that music was created to stir the human soul and when used rightly, it has the power to motivate, to change or to comfort people. At a certain level, it moves the individual to reach out beyond what one can see. It is a way for the created to reach the Creator.’
This, perhaps, is the way our talented lawyer musicians feel whenever they pick up that musical instrument or belt out a song.
Rajan Chettiar & Co