Natalie Gail Pimentel is a Final-Year student at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. She is pursuing a Diploma in Music (Clarinet) and is currently studying under Mr. Tang Xiao Ping, the Principal Bass Clarinetist of Singapore Symphony Orchestra. Natalie has years of experience under her belt by performing in many concert settings ranging from solos and small ensembles to orchestras. She has organised performances with her school peers and they have been showcased in various library concerts and music platforms. Natalie is well-versed with the other instruments in the clarinet family such as the Bass Clarinet and the E-Flat Clarinet.

She currently teaches both piano and clarinet at the Da Capo Music Academy.

Hello Natalie! You’re almost on your way to completing your diploma in NAFA and stepping into the world of professional music. Let’s take this opportunity to reflect on your journey thus far. 

What was your biggest push factor which finally made you decide on NAFA? I’m sure as a fresh secondary school graduate, it must have been very daunting to think about which path you would like to pursue. 

My biggest push factor was actually my first clarinet teacher, Mr Philip Han. He first introduced me to the clarinet, during my days in the primary school band. He registered me for clarinet exams and am nurtured by him into the musician I am today. 

He was my biggest push factor as he equipped me with music theory and the other music requirements to enter NAFA. I was also given opportunities to perform in my band and that’s where I discovered my interest in performing with friends. Knowing that NAFA gives me more opportunities like this in a professional setting, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it!

Out of all the instruments, what drew you to the clarinet?

When I first joined the Concert Band in my primary school, I didn’t really have a choice to choose the instrument I wanted, because I couldn’t make a sound on any of the mouthpieces (like flute headjoint, trumpet mouthpiece, horn mouthpiece, etc.) except for the clarinet, so I was kind of forced in. What made me gradually love the clarinet were my clarinet section mates in secondary school. I was given many opportunities to play in clarinet ensembles then, and playing with my friends motivated me to practice more often, as I really enjoyed performing with them.

How has your education in NAFA shaped your idea of music and clarinet?

Studying in NAFA helped me realise that music is much more than just playing the right notes, correct dynamics and articulation. I realised that there needs to be intention while performing music, coupled with an understanding of the score, and a sense of life is the crux. Without giving life, it makes the music stagnant and boring. Applying our own experiences and interpretation to the music makes our performances unique and special.

Who is your greatest music inspiration and how has that impacted your playing?

That would be Sabine Meyer. I have listened to many standard clarinet repertoire performed by her and I love her sound and interpretation! Listening to her music not only motivates me to practise more, but also to open my ears and be sensitive to my sound.

Tell me about your most memorable experience in NAFA. How did it leave a strong impression on you?

I have made many wonderful memories in my past 3 years at NAFA (2 years of Diploma + 1 Foundation year, I’m year 3 now). However, the one that stood out to me the most was during one of my first rehearsals with the NAFA Orchestra. When I was in Foundation Year (Year One), I sat in and played for Sibelius Symphony No. 5, 3rd movement. Even though I had never played Sibelius before, there was a part of the movement that left me with goosebumps when we played it. Ever since then, that Symphony has become my favourite piece. It left a strong impression on me because I realised how real it was to play such a big work in an orchestra. I realised that there would be many special moments in the piece and that it is up to us, the musicians, to shape that experience for the audience. So when I played for that rehearsal, my seniors played it beautifully, and I aspired to be like them. 

I’m sure after spending so much time with your instrument, practising for rehearsals after rehearsals, you’ve learnt a lot about your individual style and needs. Tell us about your daily practice routine! How has that changed since you have started playing clarinet? 

Before coming into NAFA, I just practised without being aware of myself and the efficiency of the sessions. I used to just run through pieces and only repeat the parts that I liked to play. In my Foundation Year, I saw how everyone practised for long hours everyday, and I felt pressured to follow them blindly. I had no idea what I was doing, I just practised like that since everyone was also doing so. It was only in my second year that led me to realise, to help me improve faster, it wasn’t about the amount of hours that I put in everyday, but the quality of practice.

It meant creating a proper practice routine with efficient ways to solve my problems, learning how to take scheduled breaks, control myself from getting distracted, etc. My current practice routine now consists of at least 30 – 45mins of warm up, long tones, interval exercises and tonguing exercises. I would then move on to the etudes that I am currently preparing for my Year 3 technical exam. After which I would practise some solo and orchestra works.

What kind of challenges have you experienced while training to be a young musician? How have you bounced back from them?

I think the biggest struggle of being a musician is striking a clear balance between work and life.

I used to sacrifice the time meant for family, friends and rest. Instead, I would throw myself into music and practice. On school days, I reach around 8:30am, and I get home at 10:30pm. The only time for a breather would be on weekends. However, I teach on both Saturday and Sunday and coupled with school work, it leaves me with barely enough time for my family. It almost came to a point when it felt like I only went home to rest. I wanted to fix this, so I scheduled my practice sessions and rehearsals in such a way so that I could have an early day to rest and have dinner with my family.

As someone who is most likely entering the music industry here in Singapore, can you share some of your feelings and reservations?

I am actually quite nervous to enter the music industry in Singapore as I still have a long way to live up to the standard of a professional musician. I am still a student, so my experience with the music industry lacks in many areas as compared to many veterans. I hope that in the future, I’ll get more opportunities for exposure and networking.

What are some of your future aspirations and musical endeavours? Anything you would like to try your hand at? 

In the future, I would like to try leading an ensemble, or more specifically, a clarinet group. That might eventually help me once I graduate, when I will begin to teach more often. I feel like it’s also essential to know how to organise performance projects, so I would definitely love to start one with my friends at NAFA too.

Which piece speaks to you musically? 

One piece really stands out among the rest. I’m currently working on Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique with an orchestra. What struck me the most was how Berlioz wrote the main theme, and how he wove it into all 5 movements. The symphony talks about the love and infatuation he had for a lady, and the other fantasies he had of her. The main theme brings out that deep love and desperation he had.

To me, it’s a reminder that if we yearn for something so dearly, we naturally cling to it so fervently that we might unknowingly sacrifice our needs just to achieve it. 

Kyla Kwan
Written By Kyla Kwan

Music has always been a large part of Kyla’s life. After loudly proclaiming that she will never join a performing arts CCA again, she promptly joined Crescent Girls’ School Symphonic Band and picked up the clarinet. She began her venture into the world of the Symphonic Band and continued at Eunoia Junior College under the baton of Mr Adrian Chiang. A sophomore at Nanyang Technological University, she is currently majoring in Linguistics and Multilingual Studies and is grateful for Band Fusion for giving her this opportunity to stay in touch with this lovely community. She is still struggling to park her car.