Crystal Goh, 32, was named by her father after an American country singer Crystal Gayle because both father and daughter love singing.
An NUS Arts and Social Sciences graduate who worked as a writer in World Vision Singapore, Crystal loves to sing so much that she said: “My voice was my main source of beauty. I knew it was something people would applaud me for. My plan was always to go into music full-time some day.”
But plans don’t always go your way.
One morning in April 2011, Crystal “could not muster a decipherable word” according to the article written by Theresa Tan today entitled “Giving hope after losing voice”.
Crystal recounted: “It sounded like I was having a very bad sore throat. Like I was being strangled. People couldn’t understand me when I spoke.”
She at first thought she had the flu and wanted to wait it out till full recovery. But when it persisted, she went to three or four specialists who confirmed that she suffered from what is called “spasmodic dysphonia”.
It is “a rare neurological disorder in which the muscles of the voice box go into spasms”.Her only relief is to inject botox “through the neck into the vocal cords to stop the spasms temporarily.”
Crystal shares the pain with these words: “As someone who loves to communicate, that joy was gone. I not only found it hard to sing, I had little reason to sing. I would cry in my room, asking God why something so precious and so much a part of me had to be taken away.”
Since then, everyday struggles to communicate, to order a meal at the hawker centre became “a hurdle to overcome.”
Crystal also shunned social gatherings until she was asked to write a song for the wedding of a good friend.
When she was further asked to perform it, she hesitated. She said that she was afraid her voice, which breaks every few seconds, would ruin the wedding.
But her friend insisted, and Crystal explained to the crowd about her voice before she sung it with love and courage.
At the end of the performance, she was surprised that the audience “were moved” and gave positive feedback about her singing.
Crystal said: “From then on, I realised it is not about how well I sing and if I impress others. By singing, I can share my story and give hope to others.”
Her story doesn’t end there.
Music transcends the soul and Crystal is not going to let a setback, however crippling, stop her from touching lives with her gift.
She said that she found strength in the story of a woman in the Bible who herself “found strength to sing despite her despair at her circumstances.”
Crystal practically spent the next year meditating on the story of the woman and wrote a song about it entitled “There will be Spring.”
And with this song, it planted the seed to the birth of Crystal’s social enterprise “Diamonds on the Street” in 2012.
She took that name after “those precious stones that emerge after being tested by pressure and heat” and this mirrored her life’s experiences intimately.
Diamonds on the Street was started with two friends and it “has reached out to about 200 vulnerable young people, such as those from troubled families.”
Crystal recounted that there was “one 15-year-old girl (who) composed her first song and dedicated it to her estranged older sister, with whom she yearned to reconnect. Their relationship improved after she shared her song with her sister and they began to speak more openly to each other.”
And after making a difference in the lives of others, Crystal found strength to make a difference in hers.
It reports that “her voice had improved significantly” and she can “now speak audibly, though she has bad days when her voice troubles her.”
She is now taking a part-time master’s degree in music education at NIE and runs music programmes to reach out to more vulnerable youths.
She said: “Though I lost my voice, I’m now part of a bigger collective of people helping others who are struggling to find their voice.”
Lesson? If we need a reason to get up this morning to see the world in a different light, to see our struggles in a different light, Crystal’s fight ought to nudge us in that direction.
Now I know that many people have gone through worse than her, but we are not comparing traumas here. We are instead learning from lives that have overcome and there is always a common golden narrative that runs through them.
It is the power of a dream, the hope of realising that dream, the faith that never gives up and the climb to reach the top no matter what the circumstances.
Once in a while, we all need that nudge and that push to move us along. It comes from different (and most times, most unexpected) sources.
A story of another may inspire us. A song can spur us on. A long cry somewhere by ourselves can change our trajectory. An admission and a surrender may bring us to a point of empowering humility. Most times, it takes the sting of despair to wake us up.
I have learned that unless we come to ourselves in a dark wood where all straight, easy and convenient paths are lost, we will never go beyond ourselves to see beyond the self-directing script of our own victimhood to the horizon of our own overcoming.
And like the 15-year-old girl who composed a song and sung it to her estranged older sister to reconnect with her, we ourselves need to reconnect with life, to feel alive again, to live intentionally, and to go beyond our pain to touch others.
Music does that. A good song quickens the soul to action. It lifts wounded hearts like fresh water springs in parched lands.
The power of music is not just in the rhythms, melodies or the voices, but it is in the meaning it communicates to our spirit deep within. It is in how each note and word fills the gap in our pain and consoles and assures us in the midst of our circumstances.
Being a pianist for decades in church, music has never failed to make me tear, make me see more clearly, make me get up from my self-pity, and make me reach out to others. Somehow, the voices that care is in the words that are shared with the songs that reconnect with souls and spirit.
Let me give you an example of its power by reminding you that there's always gonna be another mountain. You will always want to make it move. Sure, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Somehow, you are going to have to lose. But it isn’t how fast you get there. It is not about what is waiting on the other side. Because ultimately, it is the climb that gets you there.
If these words written and read sound familiar, it is because it is taken from a song. And if you have time, go somewhere quiet and listen to it. It is called “The Climb.”
And here’s the whole lyrics. I am sure Crystal is able to appreciate its power to lift spirit and I believe it is this same power that gave her reasons to sing again. Cheerz.
I can almost see it
That dream I'm dreaming but
There's a voice inside my head saying
You'll never reach it,
Every step I'm taking,
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking but I
Gotta keep trying
Gotta keep my head held high
There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb
The struggles I'm facing
The chances I'm taking
Sometimes might knock me down but
No I'm not breaking
I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I'm going to remember most yeah
Just got to keep going
I gotta be strong
Just keep pushing on.