GETTING TO KNOW… Singapore’s genius kids

Talented in maths or music, these superstar kids and their mums tell us what it’s like to shine…

Musical maven

Madeline

Once she started crawling, Madeline Goh, now 7, would make a grab for her older sister’s violin. Today, this mini-maestro holds her own as a violinist — receiving the platinum award at the Singapore Music Teachers Association’s 5th Singapore Performers' Festival. 

Madeline may smile sheepishly for the camera during the photo shoot, but she is clearly in her element when she’s cradling her violin. Her parents, Leow Pey Yun, 44, a stay-at-home mum, and Gregory Goh, 46, a scientist, noticed that their rhythmic toddler daughter would sway and dance to music. 

At age 3, they enrolled her in Wolfgang Violin Studio’s Baby Beats pre-violin class, where her teachers put her in the trailblazer class after spotting her abilities. Today, the soft-spoken Primary 1 pupil at Methodist Girls’ School is mentored by Min Lee, Wolfgang’s programme director, and a child music prodigy herself.

Pey Yun, who had played the piano in her salad days — “It was one of those things where my parents made me learn and I just had to complete my grade 8, then stop totally” — was pleasantly surprised when her daughter took quickly to the string instrument.

She says, “I’ve always wanted them to learn music — to enjoy it, appreciate it and relax to it. But I gave them the choice of instrument — they didn’t necessarily have to learn the piano, like I did.”

As to why she wanted to play the violin, Madeline admitted to wanting to follow in the footsteps of her older sis, Mathea, 14, who completed her music diploma two years ago. 

These days, the “M&M sisters” often play together, and a YouTube video of the pair playing Getting to Know You, followed by a medley of songs from Disney’s Aladdin, has garnered more than 500 hits. Madeline also plays during celebrations, such as for her grandmother’s 80th birthday and her kindergarten graduation ceremony.

This pint-sized performer loves entertaining others so much, she has even busked at farmer’s markets while holidaying in the UK and Australia. Pey Yun chuckles, “She just loves performing!”

Like most 7-year-olds, Madeline can’t quite decide what she’d like to be when she grows up — “There are so many things I like doing!” — since she is also into rhythmic gymnastics, swimming, singing and ballet.

Though she has weekly violin lessons — two to three times during the competition period — “I don’t think I practise three hours a day as my teacher asks me to,” she giggles.

On her part, Pey Yun tries to maintain a balance between letting her gifted girl go as far as she can, while teaching her that she’ll need to work hard if she wants to be good at anything.

“I don’t pressure her, but try to instil the discipline to practise and work hard. She should continue as long as she enjoys it,” she beams.

Fast worker

andrew

At 11 months, Andrew Lee was able to walk unaided; at 18 months, he could read two syllable words; by age 4, he was pedalling around on a two-wheel bike when most of his peers were still tooling around on trikes. Now 8, he lists chemistry and computer coding as his current interests.

When Jenn Lee, 42, a full-time blogger shares her young son’s achievements with others, she takes pains to be extra-careful. This is because she does not want little Andrew to be placed in a “special group of people”, just because his abilities far surpass that of his peers.

In fact, the Lees signed Andrew up for Mensa, so that he can talk to people who “speak the same lingo”. By the way, his polytechnic lecturer father, Andy Lee, 46, is a Mensa member, too.

When daddy brought home a science book recently, Andrew picked it up and devoured its contents. “It was so interesting — the periodic table and how everything, all the elements, make up everything in the universe,” he exclaims. Naturally inquisitive, the Primary 2 Kong Hwa School (a Special Assistance Plan institution) pupil tends to ask questions that even mummy finds hard to answer.

“Some people think we hot-house him and some label us as kiasu.”

“I have to look up the answers on the Internet,” Jenn laughs. He’s also musically inclined, has perfect pitch and is currently taking his grade 8 piano exams, having skipped grades 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7.

Jenn notes that it isn’t always a breeze raising such a bright child. “Some people think we hot-house him and some label us as kiasu,” she laments. “Some teachers even expect role-model behaviour from him, just because he can do his work well. It’s hard to manage because we can only tell him what social etiquette to adhere to,” she chuckles.

To support their son’s intellectual journey, the Lees have signed Andrew up for an online accelerated academic programme run by Stanford University, which offers virtual classrooms, as well as correspondence with lecturers via Skype. Their main concern is helping him learn more about the subjects he is interested in, Jenn says.

She adds, “We don’t want to pressurise him but we also don’t want to be too relaxed with him, in case he slips into complacency and is unwilling to take on new challenges in life.”

Meet a young boy who could recite the alphabet by age 1… next!