I find myself in Tokyo as I write this, nestled in one of the cutest cafes in my neighborhood after a year-long wait to gain entry to this extraordinary place. My language skills are finally being tested, and I awake every single day with an almost terrifying sense of giddiness and excitement for the day to come, the likes of which I haven’t experienced since childhood. But despite these thrilling surroundings – as eerily familiar to me as a past life and yet as unknown to me as an abyss – when I reminisce on the moments that have transformed me most over the course of this year, my mind can turn only to thoughts of Singapore.

It always lingered in the back of my mind as a place I’d love to experience, but entry to Singapore initially seemed even less likely than entry to Japan. However, as a pathway for a nearly seamless entry unfolded before me,I jumped at the chance. It was a complete transfiguration of what I imagined my Luce year would look like, but I trusted my gut and followed the call nonetheless. Ordinarily reaching Singapore would have been an easy 2-hour journey from Thailand, but pandemic-era restrictions elicited a more scenic route: 66 hours of flying in the opposite direction. (It’s not an itinerary I would recommend, but I did accrue plenty of airline miles!).

Before I’d even arrived in Singapore, my generous network of friends and colleagues helped me to coordinate a fantastic placement in my new home as a Visiting Artist with Voices of Singapore (VOS). I was immediately scooped up by the organization’s founder, Darius Lim, who is now one of my dearest friends and colleagues. Throwing the crippling jetlag to one side, I got straight to work – conducting rehearsals, performing as a vocalist, designing my own workshops on the topics I’m most passionate about, and offering masterclasses to several of the organization’s 20+ choirs. I found all of these performance and conducting opportunities to be both exhilarating and affirming, and in hindsight, I see how these edifying moments, big and small, provided an ideal training ground for my long-term aspirations.

However, it was my community of friends and colleagues that unfurled so lovingly that most transformed me. Musically, I was astonished by the unbridled enthusiasm for singing that I encountered in every group I worked with, wishing at times that I could bottle it for my own use – especially on those days when ennui and jadedness engulf any creative professional. But offstage, I was overwhelmed by the warm and welcoming spirit of the VOS family. I enjoyed more invitations to unique cultural experiences, intimate gatherings, and unforgettable adventures than I felt I had any right to. (A special shout-out to my dear friend Joyce!) These quiet, understated moments with friends are the ones I cherish most, and I can only recall my journey in Singapore with especial fondness and gratitude.

As I have now settled into my life in Japan, I have relished the opportunity to travel more widely in-country. (For all its many marvels, Singapore is a tiny gem, though a gem all the same.) Unexpectedly, it was not until I journeyed to Kyoto that I began to understand the many synergies of my time in Singapore. In what was perhaps the culminating moment of my year, I was honored to spend an afternoon exploring chanoyu, “the way of tea”. Experiencing this ritual in-person was life-changing, and as the ceremony’s four core precepts emerged – harmony, reverence, cleansing, and silence – my mind saw only visions of Singapore, my new community.

by Matthew Shorten on February 22, 2022