GLOBAL VOICES SERIES – Vocal Coach Kerri Ho

Nee Hao’s GLOBAL VOICES SERIES is part of an on-going series of interviews by Yinsey Wang with East Asian voices around the globe. Its aims, is to introduce perspectives from different walks of life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKerri Ho is an unstoppable, musical, bubbly people-pusher. She’s determined to share her gift with the world and assist as many people with their goals of releasing the true beauty and potential of their voices. The brave dreamer once worked a corporate job, but felt stuck in a life that she could not bear to lead. Yet after a life-changing decision, spurred on by a horrific nervous breakdown, she finally took it upon herself to follow her path.

She succeeded, with flying colours. An internationally-recognised vocal coach, Ho is the founder of The Songbird Tree. Through this platform, Kerri helps vocalists “get grounded, take flight and sing”, assisting hundreds of keen singers accomplish their musical goals through interactive and fun lessons. She also provides free resources through her YouTube videos (in which her channel recently accumulated 1 million views), providing life lessons and vocal tips. Her style is warm, compassionate and honest. She reveals her own self-doubts, challenges and how she overcame them in her videos. Kerri’s generous and attentive teaching allows viewers that anything is possible when they believe in themselves.

Her story is not only inspiring, but it reasserts the importance of knowing what one wants in life and setting up one’s mind for success. The guru has also developed the Build Your Best Voice vocal programme and has further plans to launch another course this year. 

You had a very conservative upbringing. How did that influence your life choices?

Coming from an Asian family, my parents were pretty conservative. I was influenced by a lot of fear in the sense that all the things I wanted to do were goaded with same ideas: Should I really do it? What if I fail?

Hence, I was both careful and fearful as a child, which a lot of people wouldn’t believe today when they see me! Before, I limited many of my own choices. However, as I grew older, I appreciated that this was stopping me from living up to my full potential. Things changed when I hit 24 and decided to quit my corporate career.

You decided on a corporate career but quickly grew tired of it. What gave you the courage to move into singing and teaching?

I don’t think that I had a lot of courage, it was that I had no choice in the matter: I could not go on as I was. I suffered a nervous breakdown. Getting out of bed was an impossible chore. I realised that my life would continue to spiral downwards if I did not make a change. My doctor reiterated this, and my hand was forced: I needed to change things. In essence, I was compelled by my inability to continue as I was and therefore I took charge of my life.

Did your experiences in the corporate world assist you in what you do now?

Absolutely. It was a tough and challenging thing, working in the corporate world. Though it taught me what I didn’t want in life, it did give me the confidence I needed to succeed. For example, back in the day, I had to see clients and be outside of my comfort zone very often. When it felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, I had to meet important people and pretend as if I knew what I was actually talking about!

Nonetheless, the corporate world helped me realise how important communication is and how you present to others and connect with people. It taught me about strategy – how to achieve goals. The corporate world revolves around financial targets. But when I started to pursue my singing, it helped me achieve focus. Rather than simply being a fluffy creative and talking big about dreams, I knew how to implement a plan. The discipline that I learnt helped me too; I can buckle my head down and get stuff done!

You experienced a nervous breakdown, but you managed to overcome it. That must have been a hard experience – where did you gain your strength from and how did you manage to reassess your life?

I was really sick and would often cry for no reason. Things had to change after my doctor’s appointment; it was my wakeup call. Oftentimes, I am an all or nothing kind of girl. When I decide to do something, I go all out. You could describe me as a bull – I charge ahead and won’t stop. But nowadays I’m not so much like that. But at the time, I decided that I had to make a drastic change or my life was over. It was a case of survival.

Also, deep down inside, I knew that I was made to thrive. Everyone was made to thrive; we are made to do the things that make us tick. Hence my journey started and I launched my career in music.

Connecting with people through singing must be an uplifting experience. Tell us more about those connections with students that have taught you something about yourself.

Yes, absolutely. It’s always an uplifting experience connecting with students. What I get to witness everyday with each person is transformation, for example when one student thought they couldn’t hit a certain high note… but then they could.

Vocal transformation involves the right mindset. It’s a personal transformation that isn’t just about singing well. Students gain much from the experience, often emerging more confident as people. Sometimes, their improvement helps them overcome personal issues, such as depression and anxiety. It is an amazing privilege to help others do this.

I realise how much I need to let go and get over myself.

I learnt that when you really believe in someone, when you see someone’s potential, it really is something that is so powerful that can propel people forward. I’ve realised that I have the ability to encourage people and a lot of people tell me that – which is empowering.

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Sometimes students experience obstacles in singing that are physical, such as breathing technique or posture, but often what holds students back are negativity and self-doubt. When I see this in students, it reminds me that I also see this in myself. I continue to struggle with this. I realise how much I need to let go and get over myself. That’s the biggest lesson: to let go of my own insecurities and my own fears as well.

Tell us about your first experience with music.

I remember it so vividly! I was 5 years old, watching a television show called Hey Hey it’s Saturday. There was this person playing piano. I remember watching it; straight after he finished, I went to coffee table and pretended it was a piano and pretended I was playing it! Watching that was so inspiring to me; immediately, I wanted to do the same thing he was doing.

What’s your own vocal style like?  

I’m an absolute musical theatre freak. I love the Broadway belting tunes! So I guess I could say that my vocal style mirrors musical theatre singers, singing with a clear tone, being a character and telling stories.

Each person has their own voice and uniqueness. How do you help students achieve their goals and help them release theirs?

The key thing is confidence. I aim to release students from their fears by equipping them with tools to get command over their voice. This gives them the ability to sing powerfully or vulnerably, for example, when they desire. I want them to be like an artist with a palette of colours.

Singers with fear often only have colours black and white – they can only sing in one way or another, but do not have command over all the techniques they could. As a vocal coach, I want to give them splashes of yellow, pink, purple, and so on, to add to their spectrum of colours. Once they have a full palette, they can do whatever they want. That’s when their uniqueness comes through. They can make whatever choice they want.

The next point is expression – to tell the story of the song and not get lost in the technical side of singing. I want to help students feel the lyrics of the song. If they are singing a sad song, I encourage them to tap into similar experiences. It’s almost as if they are playing a film through their minds when they sing through the lens of that experience.

 I want to help students feel the lyrics of the song. If they are singing a sad song, I encourage them to tap into similar experiences.

In essence, there are three steps: (1) master one’s voice; (2) forget technique; and finally, (3) understand how to tell a story by feeling the lyrics.

Does singing help you express things you couldn’t normally express otherwise?

From a very young age, I was timid, fearful and scared of expressing myself. Singing and playing the piano were the only ways in which I could feel like I could authentically express myself without behind held back.

Now I am more confident, for example, when speaking publicly, presenting and teaching. Expressing myself has become easier, but music has helped me connect to something within me that gives me such joy and cannot express it logically. With music – I get lost, time flies away, and there is an inner sense of joy that isn’t explainable. I am able to connect with my gift, a gift I believe that God has graciously given me and allowed me to share with others.

You could describe me as a bull – I charge ahead and won’t stop.

Tell us more about your Vocal Programmes.

My first vocal programme, Build Your Best Voice is designed in such a way that it is actually is a holistic approach to vocal technique. It involves the last 10 years of my research and learning and training, a well as incorporating lessons from my experiences exploring technique and teaching one-on-one clients. Many students around the globe wanted this because my time is finite and I can only take on so many students. It’s a flexible way to learn and develop one’s voice.

It’s condensed into one programme and gives you a systematic way of vocal development, because it is a step-by-step process. If you do step 10 without doing step 1, you will get an imbalanced voice. I just finished creating it last year in December! It includes recordings of my live webinar training sessions, 6 hours across 5 weeks and vocal demonstrations. Also, it includes 66 audio tracks, which you can put on your iPhone or whatever device and train yourself.

TSBT_-_Product_Image_-_964_x_784px_-_Build_your_Best_Voice_-_Video&AudioMy upcoming programme for 2014 is entitled How to get grounded, take flight and sing. This is actually my tagline for The Songbird Tree. This new programme addresses vocal technique and other concerns to help students become the singers they want to be. It also provides guidance in how they can develop the confidence to sing what they want, when they want, and in front of whoever they want. It is about working through negative thoughts, self-doubt and fear. It also puts vocal health in high priority to ensure students can retain their voices for the long-term and thus share their gifts forever.

I feel that it is my mission on earth is to help singers flourish and change the world. A key thing I want to tackle is how do we use our influence, songs to address social injustice in world and make world a better place?

For more information about Kerri Ho and her vocal programmes, please visit The Songbird Tree.

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