"I didn't know I could compose until my vocal teacher asked me to try. The song was called Dream and was about enjoying music and the freedom to love."
LORRAINE TAN (in white dress) on the first song she composed, when she was in her 20s. With her are her mum Christina Chan, younger sister Lydia, nephew Reagan Tan and niece Reyes Tan
Singer-songwriter Lorraine Tan hated piano lessons as a child and would cry in the toilet when it was time for them.
"My mum was the one who kept me going. She insisted that I had to be disciplined and see it through, no matter how difficult it was," says the 35-year-old, who is leading the line-up of a concert fund-raiser at The Star Theatre on Aug 12.
My Singapore, a charity event she founded three years ago to reach out to the less privileged through music and the arts, will also feature xinyao star Pan Ying and jazz singer Nathan Hartono this year.
When Tan was in her teens, a new piano teacher motivated her and she changed from a student who failed her music examinations to one who scored a distinction for her Grade Eight test.
In a way, she is now living her teenage dream through the My Singapore concerts. "I dreamt of having my own concert at the Indoor Stadium," explains Tan, who got a part-time job as a singer at a Mandopop music cafe when she was studying at Hwa Chong Junior College.
But she never tried to be a Mandopop star because "I was shy and I did not want to leave Singapore to live in Taiwan".
A civil engineer by training and a former transport planner, she went on to teach music in secondary schools and, in 2005, started wedding music company Wedding Harmony with her husband, Dr Yuen Siu Mun, 38.
While she devoted most of her 20s to her career and marriage, she is now spending more time with her mother, housewife Christina Chan, 60; younger sister Lydia, 31; and niece Reyes Tan, three. "In your 30s, you tend to come back together as a family," she says.
Do you come from a musically inclined family?
Tan: My mum doesn't like singing but my dad does and he taught me all of Teresa Teng's songs. She is his favourite singer.
When I was 13, karaoke was popular and my grandmother's house had a karaoke system. Every week, we'd visit her and sing.
Did you often sing for the family?
Madam Chan: Her maternal grandmother was her No. 1 fan.
Lydia: And her dog. My mum and I would stay in the air-conditioned rooms when we visited, while my grandmother and the dog listened to Lorraine and our father sing in the living room.
Madam Chan: Lorraine was in secondary school then. She would sing duets with her dad, but now they don't have the time to do that.
How do you spend time together now?
Lydia: We meet at least once a week for dinner, no matter how busy we are. Now, my mum comes over to my place every day because of my two children. Lorraine is also my part-time babysitter for Reyes.
When did you compose your first song?
Tan: When I was in my early 20s. I didn't know I could compose until my vocal teacher asked me to try. The song was called Dream and was about enjoying music and the freedom to love.
Madam Chan: She let me listen to her songs and I told her what I thought. I think her songs are great.
Have your parents been supportive of your career choices?
Madam Chan:As long as she is happy and knows what she wants, I won't stop her.
Tan: My mother liked the idea of me being a teacher, so she was okay with my career switch.
Were your parents strict with you and your sister?
Lydia: They weren't strict about our studies, but they emphasised moral values and discipline.
Tan: Like not speaking with your mouth full and not swearing. These are very important to my father.
Madam Chan: I don't believe in caning. It isn't a solution because children wouldn't necessarily understand why if you hit them.
Was there any sibling rivalry?
Madam Chan: Not at all.
Lydia: We shared a room in an HDB flat in Yishun for most of our lives.
Tan: Until I got married, in fact. When we were very young, we'd play house and camp under the bed. I'd pretend to be a teacher and she would be my student.
Lydia: I'd tell her things before going to our parents. She'd know who I liked and advise me on whether I should date a particular boy.
How did you sisters work out your differences?
Tan: We were quite conflict-averse and easygoing with each other.
Lydia: Lorraine was very generous in sharing her belongings with me. She took good care of me as a big sister.
Tan: We had an extra room at home but my parents believed that if we shared the same room, we would be closer.
Lorraine, since you have bonded so well with your niece, you obviously love children.
Do you plan to have your own?
Tan: Maybe in a few years. Now we're too busy and my life is packed to the brim.
Madam Chan: I am not worried. I'll let nature take its course.
If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you have done differently?
Tan: I would like everything to be the same.
Madam Chan: I would take more time to rest and not overwork myself.
This article was first published on JUNE 22, 2014.
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