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Yong Siew Toh Conservatory


Becoming Friends


Math and Music at NUS

Neil was a music major and Vera was a math major at NUS, and we met through a shared programme called the University Scholars Programme (which Neil eventually dropped out of - his brain chose not to keep up with too much intellectual discourse). Despite Neil's phobia of mathematical equations and Vera having no background in music, these two disciplines eventually allowed us to grow closer together and offered us the opportunity to do nice things for one another.

The reality was that Neil hated math, but as a Recording Arts and Science major was forced to take advanced math modules alongside dreaded 'electrical engineering' and 'devices and circuits'. This resulted in many long studying days in the common lounges of Cinnamon College, where Vera would tutor Neil in almost every single mathematical problem he had.

This went on for awhile, and Neil felt that Vera was helping him out so much (he even managed to get Bs for his math modules!) that he wanted to give something back. Of course his world then revolved around music so he began teaching Vera guitar, and eventually bought her a guitar too.

We are thankful that God used our interests and passions to bring us together in unlikely ways. The momentum of teaching and helping one another eventually led us to studying God's word together. Vera would give Neil some devotional books and bibles, share biblical lessons, and we also began to visit one another's churches. This was the beginning of our journey in Christ together.



Better is One Day

To many people, Neil's quintessential trait is that he is a musician. However, Vera and Neil didn't bond over a common love for music. Firstly, Vera doesn't play a musical instrument or listen to music much. Secondly, they didn't share any favourite genres or bands; while Neil grew up on a diet of 70s-80s rock like Pearl Jam, Vera didn't even know the famous Sweet Child O' Mine riff. When it came to music, Christian songs were a common ground. Neil taught Vera how to play You Are My All in All and Better is One Day on the guitar, going so far as to introduce high-level techniques like sliding chords, and plucking the melody and strumming the chords alternately. Vera also learnt about major and minor scales, the composition of a chord, chord groups (like 1, 5, 6, something), and other complex music theory. Neil was always patient and excited in guiding clueless Vera along, encouraging her callus-forming practice.


The leisurely practice sessions also gave them a platform to talk and know more about each other. They realised they were really very different in their fundamental ways of processing the world; Neil was super emotional while Vera was super rational (see also: music vs math). It was interesting to hear from each other a new perspective. For example, on the subject of eating unhealthy food, Vera's extremist stance was to reform your desires for the better things in life and you will enjoy the truly good healthy food, while Neil's indulgent take was to eat Taiwanese fried chicken cutlet everyday because it was so yummy. Frequently, their conversations also turned to God, as Neil grappled with how God came into the picture of his suffering / depression and Vera tried to guide him to see God amidst his struggles and beyond that, in all of life. In these deep conversations, solid bridges of mutual understanding were built, such that their differences in musical experience, though perhaps puzzling to outsiders, was no gulf at all.

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'Math and Music' - Neil

'Better is One Day' - Vera

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