Passion in a Pandemic (by Chloe Kow)

With the performing arts sector taking a hard hit from Covid-19, Chloe Kow speaks to two students who persevered to pursue their craft.

Viktoriya Klyukina, 22, is a final year music student preparing for her Graduation Recital (Source: Chloe Kow)

After finishing an impressive flute solo she had practiced for months, Viktoriya Klyukina, 22, took a bow to an empty concert hall in September last year. This silence greeted her first live-stream concert in which she performed to a camera instead of a crowd. 

Viktoriya, an international student from Uzbekistan, is a final-year flute major at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, as well as a current resident at Prince George’s Park Residences (PGPR). Coming from a family of musicians, Viktoriya always knew that music was her calling. She first picked up the flute when she was eight years old and she has not looked back since. 

When Covid-19 hit hard last year, first to be restricted were performances involving intentional expulsion of air, of which included wind instruments.      

From over 200 events annually, Viktoriya found herself unable to attend rehearsals, suddenly barred from her craft.   

“It’s super sad in terms of the amount of work which we haven’t done but could do,” she said while recounting how her entire third year of academics and performances was shifted online.   

Jez Chin, 20, is a Soprano Section Leader in The NUSChoir. (Source: Chloe Kow)

Practising music online is something that Jez Chin, 20, would also be familiar with. Jez, Year 2, FASS,and ex-Sheares Hall resident joined The NUS Choir last year when they first began practising over Zoom. “There was no human interaction at all and you can’t hear anyone else except yourself and the leader teaching,” she said.   

Trials and Tribulations  

Apart from limited opportunities to perform, Viktoriya shared how the situation was so volatile that a recent performance by other students was cancelled due to a positive Covid-19 case. Consequently, all students and staff who were in contact with the infected performer had to be isolated.   

Viktoriya had then been asked on short notice to replace a fellow flutist who was involved in this cancelled performance, as her isolation made her unable to attend rehearsals for a separate recital. She said: “It was a test of my professionalism. With Covid-19 you need to be able to jump into things very quickly.”  

Such professionalism was shown in how The NUS Choir put together their first digital concert, Many Waters Cannot Quench Love, last academic year on 8 May 2021. 

The choristers performed 14 pieces in groups of fives, which was later streamed online. Jez was shocked because it meant that each singer would have a role akin to a soloist, which was unfamiliar to most choir members.   

To her relief, the process went well, and she learnt to become a more independent singer. Jez recounts an abrupt cancellation of practice in September, as the choir’s usual practice venue had to be sterilised due to a Covid-19 case. She said: “I was worried that we would not have enough time to learn our pieces. I was also shocked because we could have possibly returned to online singing after one whole year.”  

Fortunately, the situation was sorted out by the management and practices resumed shortly after.  

Return to the Stage  

“I was very happy. I even forgot I had stage fright and was almost running onto the stage to play. So exciting,” Viktoriya said as she shared how she performed live again at the Esplanade Concourse last month, after a year of not being able to do so.  

The latest National Arts Council Safe Management Measures allows up to 20 unmasked performers.  Viktoriya explained that full-fledged orchestra pieces are still not possible due to the limit on performer numbers.   

However, students have begun practising chamber pieces suitable for smaller ensembles.  Viktoriya noted that this was a good opportunity to practise more, as such pieces were usually brushed aside, back when their schedules used to be more packed.   

The NUS Choir has also adapted to the latest safe management measures to sing in groups of 20. Chin said: “It was the best day of my life. I was honestly very happy when I heard we could finally sing in (groups of) 20.”   

Although the sound produced from a smaller ensemble cannot compare to the fullness of an 80strong choir, Chin considered this a significant improvement from last year.   

Unexpected Silver Linings  

 Viktoriya’s personal convictions and passion for music helped her maintain a positive outlook. She shared that the merits of this situation included more time for individual practice and self-exploration.   

Being forced to take a break also benefitted her physical and mental health. “I feel much better and have become more productive. I feel reborn,” she said.   

 Viktoriya encourages those who are struggling amidst Covid-19, to “have an open mind and consider things from a different perspective”.  

Likewise, Jez is looking on the bright side. She said: “I learned to be a lot more thankful to be able to sing with others and learned to appreciate my art a lot more.”  

Jez is currently a Soprano Section Leader and looking forward to performing with The NUSChoir at their annual concert, Varsity Voices, in April 2022. To anyone interested in joining the arts scene, she said: “Just go for it.”  

Sources: Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, The NUSChoir, NUS Centre For The Arts, NUS Cultural Activities Club


This article was contributed by Chloe Kow in collaboration with the AY21/22 Semester 1 run of the NM2220 module.

Know any other interesting stories of residents living on campus? Tell us in the comments or DM us on our IG @nusresidentiallife !

Bethany Low

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