Today I finally managed to get the chance to interview Natalie Hiong, mother, singer/songwriter, composer, music teacher and owner of Creative Hearts, a music and performing arts school for young children. She is a veteran in the music industry, having been in it for the last 10 years, performing originals and composing music for corporations and advertisements.
Drawing inspiration from Sara Bareilles and Christina Perri, she has launched 2 EPs, performed in music festivals in Texas, Taiwan and Singapore and opened for headlining acts such as Lenka and Marie Digby. Her school has been around for the past 2 years, which she juggles with the commitments of raising her daughter, Hayley, who recently turned one. I sat down with her over Zoom to ask her about her life story, how she got into music, and her opinions on the music scene in Singapore.
Natalie was always exposed to music growing up as a young girl in a musical family. She learned to sing, play the piano, violin and oboe. She joined the school choir when she was in primary school, auditioned for a role in Les Miserables and even took part and won a songwriting contest; the prize included a visit to a Hong Kong police station -- as a visitor. All this in spite of the fact that she was actually a very shy girl, she adds.
“It’s funny,” she says, “that being in choir didn’t help me much with learning to sing pop songs as I felt I had a weak voice.” She also adds that she never believed she would end up doing music as a career because she had a misconception that only classical musicians were professional musicians, and not contemporary artists. She remained in choir throughout her secondary school and junior college years.
It was only when she studied economics in London School of Economics that she began her foray into pop music, playing at open mic sessions, taking musical theatre workshops and vocal lessons. She mentioned that it was easy to feed off the vibe of other like-minded people she met there, some of them also from Singapore, and start exploring her creativity and showcasing herself to a wider audience. After working at JP Morgan doing currency sales to other financial institutions, she decided that working in the corporate world was not her cup of tea and made the switch to pursue music as a full-time career.
“There was a lot of hustling because people don’t listen to you as a new artist.” she says, recalling what it was like as a solo artist. “It always feels like you have to wear your heart on your sleeve just to try and get anyone to pay attention to your work.” She adds that money concerns were also an issue, costing a lot just to record an album/EP. She also says that there were times when she was harassed by men in the industry who tried to abuse their status to take advantage of her, a fact that seems to reveal a little trauma in her eyes. Ultimately, she felt that she was better suited to a role outside of the limelight and gave up live performing. She still carried on writing music for businesses after, though.
All in all, what she learned was that she was gifted and passionate in teaching children, being inspired by her aunt who also ran her own music school, and says that she has never been happier being in early childhood education and showing kids the wonders of music.
You can check out her personal musician website at www.nataliehiong.com. Creative Hearts’s website is www.creativehearts.sg.