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Vocal disorders can't stop Diamonds On The Streets from singing

Published on Dec 16, 2012 6:00 AM
Members of Diamonds On The Streets include (anti- clockwise from top) Mr Eugene Koh, Ms Clara Lim, Ms Sharon Lim, Ms Wong Shu Yun, Ms Crystal Goh, Ms Samantha Chow, Ms Lee Ting, and Ms Naw Say Lwai Phaw. Ms Abigail Cheng is not in the photo. The grouptakes the experiences of those who have overcome obstacles and translates them into music. Its members are people who either had voice problems or loved ones battling illnesses such as cancer. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Listening to Ms Crystal Goh's light and airy melodies, it is hard to believe this is the same voice that has been plagued by muscle spasms, reducing her speech to barely a whisper.

The secret lies in singing at a higher pitch, said the 26-year-old, who was diagnosed earlier this year with a rare vocal disorder called spasmodic dysphonia.

"Surprisingly, the spasms are usually absent while speaking or singing at high pitch," she said with a smile.

Her optimism, which comes through particularly strongly in her songs, has been hard won.

Ms Goh used to be a freelance singer-songwriter who performed in pubs.

But her dreams were shattered when she was struck down by the disorder.

She stopped believing that she would recover when doctors said there was no cure.

Yet with the constant encouragement of close friends and family, she dragged herself out of depression and decided to sing again.

She and a group of close friends, who either had voice problems or loved ones battling illnesses such as cancer, decided to pen their experiences as songs and sing them to encourage others who were going through difficult times.

Called "Diamonds On The Streets", the group wanted to convey the message that ordinary people can shine during stressful times - just like carbon turning into a diamond under high temperature and pressure.

They recorded the songs and posted them on a website with their accompanying stories.

The group of nine, most of whom are women in their 20s, have also been gathering the testimonies of people who have overcome obstacles and translating them into music.

This Christmas Eve, they will be sharing their stories and songs with those living at Residence @ St George's girls' home.

Ms Abigail Cheng is one of the women who had her experiences distilled into a song.

The 23-year-old undergraduate used to breeze through life, excelling in top schools before deciding to study law.

She was forced to slow down when she was diagnosed with tongue cancer two years ago and had to learn how to talk and eat again.

A song titled Ride On captures how her priorities shifted after her life-changing diagnosis.

"I joined the group as I have great faith that music will help those who are in tough times," said Ms Cheng, who recently celebrated having survived the two most critical years since her diagnosis.

"Music speaks when words fall short and can affect our moods and change our perspective on how to tackle situations," she said.

Ms Goh also believes strongly in the power of music. Despite warnings from doctors not to over-exert her voice, she persisted with the recordings.

"I enjoy doing it because it gives me hope, though I have to put in 10 hours for what usually takes one hour due to the multiple takes," said the humanitarian worker with a non-governmental organisation.

Speaking in a raspy voice, Ms Goh told The Sunday Times that doing the recordings was like running a marathon.

"I would get breathless and tired and not have the energy to speak to anyone after that," she said.

She still struggles with day-to-day activities such as chatting to friends over dinner. And when ordering food at hawker centres, she often has to either write down her order or use hand gestures to place it.

Although her voice still has a strained or strangled quality, it has become more audible over time.

And the quality of her singing is no longer paramount for this once perfectionist performer.

Ms Goh came to this epiphany when she sang at her good friend's wedding last year.

"I had promised her that I would sing... After I lost my voice, I told her that she could find someone else but she insisted that the stage was mine because she believed that I would recover.

"From then on, I realised that it is not about how well I sing but showing others that we need to continue to believe in our dreams and to believe that we will recover."

Tune in to their songs at


Background story

Dare to dream

"I realised that it is not about how well I sing but showing others that we need to continue to believe in our dreams and to believe that we will recover."

MS CRYSTAL GOH, a former freelance singer-songwriter who was diagnosed earlier this year with spasmodic dysphonia, a rare vocal disorder that reduces her speech to a whisper