Joachim Lim is as comfortable playing timpani in Mahler as he is drumming in a rock band. Armed with wide musical knowledge and versatility, he “performs with a razor-sharp edge” (The Straits Times) and has experience in various orchestras and ensembles, including the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra, the Singapore Lyric Opera, OpusNovus, Now Hear This, the Peabody Wind Ensemble, the Peabody Latin Jazz Ensemble, percussion ensembles from the Peabody Institute of Music and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, and many others.
He is a firm believer that knowledge should be shared so that others may experience the joy in music making and listening, and in July 2016, held his first independent solo percussion concert to promote this cause. Described by The Straits Times as having an “aura of informal intensity”, Joachim’s concert featured three Singapore premieres, “turning the potentially ridiculous into the searingly serious”.
Joachim was part of the pioneer group of students that participated in the Joint Degree programme between the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music of the National University of Singapore. Graduating from both schools with First Class Honours, Joachim was placed on the Dean’s List in the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and was also Valedictorian of the Conservatory. He was also awarded the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) Outstanding Achievement Award during his graduation in 2014 and in the same year, was offered a full scholarship by the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music to pursue his Masters degree at the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University, where he graduated in May 2016. In Singapore, he studied with Jonathan Fox, principal percussionist of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra; at Peabody, his mentors include marimba virtuoso Robert van Sice, and his team of teachers including Tom Freer, Gwendolyn Dease, and David Skidmore.
In 2020, together with friend and colleague Derek Koh, Joachim formed Morse Percussion — a percussion collective that aims to cultivate interest and education in percussion music. Since their inception, the group has commissioned numerous works by Singaporean composers, as well as perform at the 2021 Singapore International Festival of Arts, where they gave the Asian premieres of David T. Little’s Haunt Of Last Nightfall, as well as Third Coast Percussion’s arrangement of Philip Glass’ Aguas da Amazonia.
Apart from his classical achievements, Joachim is also part of the classical-crossover group, Lorong Boys. Their spontaneous performance in the trains one night in Singapore brought overnight fame and they were soon sought after by the media and other music groups in Singapore. The Lorong Boys’ achievements include a sponsored music video by Yahoo! Singapore, which they dedicated to Singapore’s 49th National Day, as well as collaborations with renowned Singapore musicians Inch Chua, Nathan Hartono, and The Sam Willows. In 2021, the Lorong Boys became ensemble in-residence at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music and performed another Concerto Grosso with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in 2022.
Adding to that, Joachim is also the percussionist of the TENG Ensemble, a collective that bridges Eastern and Western traditions, culminating in music that marries both traditional and contemporary. The TENG Ensemble also perform outreach programmes at various hospices and care centres, bringing music back to the people and the community.
Joachim is currently Artist Faculty with the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, and is a Freer Percussion Artist.
How did your foray into music start as a young child?
I started learning piano at about 7-years old, and also joined the school band when I was 8! Few people know this but I actually played the flute first haha! But because of my piano background, I got assigned into the percussion section in secondary school as they needed mallet players – it turned out to be the greatest blessing in disguise!
What spurred you to pursue a career in music?
Two things were always very certain when I was a 18 – I really loved music, and I also did not know what to do after finishing “A” Levels. So my then-girlfriend (who is now my wife!) encouraged me to try out for the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, since I loved music and seemed pretty good at it. I took that advice to heart and was very fortunate to be posted into SAF Band during my National Service, making it possible for me to practice and audition into YST.
You have an impressive academic record under your belt, with an undergraduate degree from NUS YSTCM and a Master’s degree from Peabody Institute in Baltimore! What prompted you to take your music studies all the way through to the postgraduate level?
Hahaha thank you, but I wouldn’t consider it impressive! When I was in YST, I was part of the first joint-degree programme with the Peabody Institute. It was at Peabody where I met one of the greatest percussionists, mentors and educators of all time – Robert van Sice.
Studying with him made me realized how little I knew about music and percussion, and so that hunger and thirst for knowledge made me want to return to Peabody to continue my postgraduate studies. Even today, I still wish I could go back and study with him because there’s just so much more to learn!
As a performer, you are involved in many acclaimed local groups, some of the most significant of which are the Lorong Boys, TENG Ensemble and Morse Percussion, which you co-founded. Could you share some insights into how these experiences have shaped you as a performer/ educator/ person?
That’s a great question! As a creative, I find it difficult to separate those three personalities because for the most part, I feel that they are one and the same. As a person, I try to be as true, honest and kind, whether it’s with myself or people around me, and that in turn, is reflected in my playing and teaching.. or at least I hope so!
Even though the experiences from each of these groups are so varied, the skills I learned through them intertwine with one another – Lorong Boys: lots of fun and passion, but also pushing boundaries with musical improvisation; TENG Ensemble: being rock steady and laying the foundation for other instruments to shine; Morse Percussion: being extremely dependable and trustworthy to my other teammates.
I find that it is akin to doing a group project in school, but the “final presentation” is a music performance – life and music are not so separate after all.
Most recently, you formed Charles Street Duo with Tzu-Jou Yeh, which showcases the eclectic pairing of percussion and cello. How did this collaboration come about?
Oh this is a great story! Tzu-Jou (she also goes by Zoi) and I met in 2015 when we were students at Peabody. We played Andy Akiho’s 21 for my graduating recital the following year and the chemistry was just so natural, most likely because we were already good friends before “working together” – a trait that I believe is very important! We knew we wanted to perform more together, but I was coming back to Singapore and she still had a few more years left at Peabody.
Fast forward a couple of years, she started dating a Singaporean working in Washington D.C. at that time, and then got married and moved back here! My wife and I have always told her to come to Singapore and this is probably the most epic sign that the Universe could give Tzu-Jou hahaha! So watch out for Charles Street Duo – definitely more to come in the years ahead!
Other than being a performer, you are also a faculty member at YSTCM. Could you tell us more about how you decided to become an educator?
I’ve always thought hard about this and during my postgraduate studies, came to realise that I wanted to elevate the percussion standard of playing in Singapore. When I was a young student, I never had a teacher and learnt anything percussion related through seniors or peers. It was only during my time in YST and Peabody that I could finally learn things “properly” – technique, sound, and even teaching methods. As my teachers have passed down their knowledge to me, so will I carry that torch and pass on the baton, almost like a duty to make sure that the current young students receive proper instruction on how to play their instruments, how to practise, as well as how to perform.
More importantly, I think that being an educator is part and parcel of being a musician. The “performer brain” informs the “educator brain” and vice versa. How could I teach properly if I am also not performing frequently? I need to know what performance skills are needed in order for me to teach my students, thereby helping them with their performances.
What are some of the highlights of being a university music faculty member/ educator? Conversely, what are some of the challenges you have faced as an educator?
Teaching at a university/college level is truly a blessing – their maturity and thought-processes are on a deeper level, allowing us to find various nuances and meaning to the music that the students prepare.
But whether the students are young adults or just young in general (think 7 years old!), I am also learning so much from them! It’s not so much as a “challenge”, but every student has their own strengths and weaknesses, and also learns and approaches music differently. I find that the more I adjust my teaching approach to help them, they also realize that it actually builds up what they already know, in turn reinforcing their strengths. These “a-ha!” moments are truly what I live for, no matter who I am teaching.
With your varied portfolio, I am curious to know what a typical day/week is like for you. What does a usual day or week in Joachim Lim’s life look like?
Just follow me on IG at @joachimlimpercussion and you’ll know! Hahaha no la I’m just kidding! But seriously though, because I have a family and 3 kids now, most of my time is spent at home with the children and my wife, just trying to make sure that one of us is available to take care of the kids. My Google Calendar likes to celebrate pride but is actually a nightmare to look at because it’s so colourful hahaha! So anyway, a typical day in 2023 could be something like this:
6:15am: Wake up, wash up, etc.
6:45am: Send oldest boy to school and then head to work (teaching).
– If I’m not teaching in the morning or if my wife has to work in the morning, then I’ll send our second boy to school while looking after the littlest girl –
Afternoons (1pm-6pm): Teaching in schools, sometimes going all the way till 10pm, depending on the school. If I’m not teaching, then we’re sending the kids to their various activities.
Evenings (6pm-9pm): Dinner with the family, followed by getting the children to bed.
After 9pm: Let the party begin!! I usually can do some practising during this time, or get some work done (you’d be surprised at how much “admin” a musician needs to do!), but also using this time to get some alone time with my wife – it’s extremely tough after having 3 kids!
12am or so: Bedtime!
Sorry you had to read all that… told you following me on IG would be faster!
Finally, what are some pieces of advice you would give to young people out there who are considering a career as a music educator?
Consistency is key! Whether you are intending to be an educator or performer, work on your craft consistently and you will definitely see results! There will be days or weeks where you lose determination and drive, but stay strong and disciplined – it will help you, especially during difficult periods in the future.
If you have the means and resources, find a good teacher that you trust to guide because he/she will be immensely helpful in your growth. If you do not, don’t worry because the internet is your gold mine! Nowadays, it is extremely convenient to access free information, especially on sites like YouTube or even on social media like TikTok or Instagram. Get in touch with your musical heroes, asking them all sorts of questions – you might get a reply and that’ll be fantastic! If not, really the worst-case scenario is you don’t.
At the same time, be practical and forward-thinking in your musical journey – plan ahead, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket (COVID taught us that!). The world is becoming more and more diverse, and that’s what we need to be as well. But most importantly, be genuine and keep an open-mind on your never-ending musical journey.
Please include any other comments or closing remarks here!
Thank you so much for giving me this space to share my experiences! I just want to share that I am always inspired by Dr. Tony Makarome and how, at his age, he is still a student and a lifelong learner. I aspire to be like him in my pursuit for musical excellence and so I write this to myself as well – I hope that educators continue to keep an open-mind, inspiring their students not only through words but through humility and humbleness of actions, always remembering that there is no “one way”, but rather, all roads lead to Rome.
Cherlyn is an educator who enjoys teaching and mentoring young people. She plays the clarinet, drum set and piano.
The first instrument she learnt was the piano from the age of 6 to 16 – a typical trajectory in the life of a stereotypical Asian kid. This opened the doors for her to study higher music as part of the Music Elective Programme, which broadened her perspectives about music history and world music. She picked up the clarinet when she joined her secondary school band, and later played in her university wind band. An advocate of lifelong learning, she started drumming when she became a working adult.
Cherlyn strives to be a Jack-of-all-trades and master of some, and is on the lookout for the next challenge, skill or field of knowledge to dive into.