Nabillah Jalal
Student at Royal College of Music (London)

Assalamualaikum Nabillah! Tell me more about yourself.

Waalaikumussalaam Alia! I am most passionate about working with communities, music (from Classical to Jiwang), food and makeup! When I have set my mind to do something, I’ll go all out and do whatever it takes to get it. I leave no room for regrets. Planning helps me to maximize my productivity. I feel that today is the only day we’ve got, and we have to make it count. I am a complete control freak! -laugh- I plan every single part of my day and panic when things go awry. I used to plan my life in 3-hour blocks, but I’ve learnt that things happen. You know, tube delays and stuff like that, so these days, I just list out the things that I have to do and try to tick everything off by the end of the day. I’d like to think that I’m a pretty organised person, which kind of goes hand in hand with being a control freak, doesn’t it? -laugh- I colour code and categorize my closet and lipsticks.

One of my mentors used to repeat the phrase “no regrets” to me, and I think that has helped me a through days when I feel like giving up. When that happens, I start to spam my close friends’ and brother’s WhatsApp in hope that they say something that will help me regain my mojo. It is crucial to surround yourself with the right people. If they want you to succeed, you will succeed, Insyallah.

I began cooking in the second year of Uni when I realized that alternating between eating cereal and instant noodles just won’t do. That’s when I realized that I CAN cook! There’s nothing like hosting an intimate dinner party with some friends in my apartment. I also love the bit where I scroll through Instagram and food blogs to search for a new recipe and flat-lay the end product. Oh, and when I cook Malay food, I’ll Facetime Mak while I’m cooking and she will guide me step by step. Most of the time, she will scream at me for putting too many lada padi. -laugh-

Have things changed after you made your Hijrah?

It has been a little bit easier for me to let go and let God. I keep going back to this ayat to remind myself that God knows best – “But they plan, and Allah plans. And Allah is the best of planners.” [8:30] Life gets so busy and chaotic at times. I think it is necessary for us to make a conscious effort to schedule moments to breathe and recalibrate. Underneath my #strong #independant #woman facade, I am still a girly girl who loves dressing up and am still very much a human being who makes mistakes and gets scared sometimes.

My favourite verses from the Quran are these – “For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.” [94:5] and “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” [2: 153]. I start my day by reading these two ayahs to prepare myself for what’s coming.

What interested you in playing the piano?

I was 4 when I started attending group piano lessons at Yamaha Music School. The branch that I went to offered ballet classes as well, and I remember begging Mak to let me do ballet. She said that I was too chubby for that, and she was afraid that my stockings and tutu skirt would tear. I then asked if I could do violin and she gave me some out of the world reason as to why I can’t do it. I don’t know. Maybe she wanted to learn the piano when she was younger but never got the chance to do so. Nonetheless, I am very grateful that Mak forced me to learn the piano! I remember how my brother had to sit next to me to make sure that I didn’t skive during my practice sessions. By skiving, I mean playing pop music and not practicing the pieces that I’m supposed to be playing. He would give me a death stare if I did so. -grin-

Honestly, I was just going through the grades. I didn’t practice much but Alhamdulillah, I managed to score quite well for my exams. I only realized that I really love playing the piano when I performed for the school’s High Scorers’ Concert. I was 16 when I told my parents that I wanted to take my diploma in music privately.I felt awful for my parents because my lessons were super expensive. We got into arguments all the time, but they saw how determined I was and eventually relented. It was really difficult to juggle A levels and to practice for my diploma. Alhamdulillah, my family and my piano teacher were extremely supportive and understanding.

The Royal College of Music (RCM) in London is one of the most prestigious music schools in the world. How did you manage to score a place there?

My piano teacher in Singapore was visiting one of her ex-students who was studying in RCM. She spoke to her ex-student’s teacher to see if the college would grant me an audition. Before that, I had written to the college to ask if I could apply for an audition but they said no because I did not study music at A levels. Alhamdulillah, I managed to overcome that obstacle, and they granted me an audition in Singapore. I was offered a place on the spot and cried instantly when the panel gave me the acceptance letter! Until now, they remember me as the girl who cried during the audition. -laugh-

Alhamdulillah! How did your family react?

My family was very proud of me, but they reminded me that an overseas education is something that is beyond our financial means. You see, the tuition fee comes up to S$38,000 each year, excluding travelling and accommodation costs. I was scared, but not enough for me to leave my dream. I didn’t have time to get scared too because I was working a lot to help ease the financial burdens of my family.

That sounds tough… Did you manage to cover your school fees?

Not really. At 19, I was thrown into the world. While my batch mates were already in university, I was looking for scholarships and sponsorships to help fund my studies. My piano teacher, who is like my fairy godmother, helped me prepare for my interviews so that I wouldn’t get nervous. Mak followed me to every interview. She didn’t say much but her presence was enough to calm me down.

Did you face any difficulties?

A person claimed that she represented an anonymous donor who would help to fund my education. She became uncontactable halfway through, and that gave me a panic attack. Honestly, the arduous process made me wonder whether it’d be easier for me to study locally or pursue another degree. However, I was reminded that all our affairs are in Allah’s hands. We do our best and we leave the rest to Allah. Alhamdulillah, everything turned out fine in the end. When Allah takes something away from you, He’s making space for something better. I was awarded the Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award (Overseas) and a sponsorship from Trailblazer Foundation. I also received a few other bursaries. At the same time, Bukit Timah Community Centre offered their space for me to do my first concert in Singapore. They gave me the liberty to plan everything, Alhamdulillah.

What’s the most beautiful moment you’ve experienced while pursuing music?

My third-year exam recital last year was open to the public. I invited some friends, my students’ parents, and the Overseas Singaporean Unit. I did not expect all of them to come. Even the High Commissioner for Singapore came! There were at least 80 people in the room and I felt so overwhelmed to receive that much support from everyone. I remember the steward-in-charge for the exam having to add extra chairs to accommodate the overwhelming turnout, and my head of faculty telling the steward to close the door because there was no space left in the hall!! It was very daunting when I realised that the hours of practising don’t matter and that my marks were dependent on that one performance. Before I performed, I did what I always do – I ate chocolate and recited this du’a “Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum, bi-Rahmatika astagheeth” which means “Oh Living and Eternal One, by Your mercy I plead for help”.

My exam piano was a beautiful Fazioli. I was facing the Royal Albert Hall when I played my programme and the sound was so lush and magical. I promise you, I felt like there was glitter coming out from the piano keys and unicorns hopping around!!! Everyone enjoyed it and it made me feel like I was giving a performance instead of taking an exam.

Who inspires you the most? Why?

Wah tough question. These days, it’s Vivy Yusof, the brain behind dUCk and Fashionvalet, and Aida Azlin from Theshawllabel. They feel very real! They’ve achieved so many things in life but are still very humble and are not afraid to show people that they are works-in-progress.

What do you want to say to people who are also pursuing a career in the arts?

Transcend your circumstances. Don’t let timidity and lack of self-confidence form an armour around you.

You do you, and you do you well.

Nabillah Jalal is now in her final year at The Royal College of Music (RCM) in London. You can listen to some of her performances on https://www.nabillahjalal.com

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