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When medicine and song meet to make sweet music

With large scale gatherings suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nurses Day at the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) took on a different approach this year.

Working around the restrictions, senior management and several doctors in NCCS came up with the novel idea to put together a sincere tribute to NCCS’ team of oncology nurses.

Separated by time and space but unified appreciation and support for their nursing colleagues, several medical staff sang a special rendition of ‘You Are The Reason’, with Medical Director Professor William Hwang writing special lyrics that pay tribute to the role oncology nurses play in their patients’ lives. Senior Resident Dr Joshua Hoe, contributed to the effort with flawless musical arrangement.

View video here:

Music has often been said to be the medicine of the mind and this music video was certainly a refreshing touch and a lovely surprise to NCCS nurses .We speak to one of the doctors behind this campaign – Dr Joshua Hoe, Senior Resident, National Cancer Centre Singapore who put together the music for the video.

Salubris: Hi Dr Hoe, what a heartwarming video, tell us all about it – whose idea was it and how long did you take to put all the recordings together?

Dr Joshua Hoe: All credit goes to the bosses for the idea! I think it was Professors William Hwang and Toh Han Chong, as well as Dr Elaine Lim who originally had the idea. They subsequently shared it with the other doctors. I came into the picture because they knew I had a personal interest in music. It took me around two days of recording, editing and video production work with one all-nighter!

Salubris: Two days – that’s a feat considering the number of recordings you had to edit and clip together. Do you have any prior experience in producing music?

Dr Hoe: I've always loved music, and I think probably since my dad (who is very much an audiophile) spent every evening blasting Michael Jackson, the Eagles ("Love will keep us alive" is such an amazing song), the Beach Boys and Pink Floyd. As a child, I used to dance to Michael Jackson’s song in my pyjamas, but please don't ask for pictures of that!

As I got older, I very much wanted to play the music I was hearing with a guitar, not least because I hoped it would get me a girlfriend as a teenager. Instead, I fell in love with music and started playing the guitar. These things are definitely not mutually exclusive, since I am married now and still play the guitar quite regularly (with permission). 

Salubris: How long have you been doing this and what instruments do you play? Which music genres are you into? 

Dr Hoe: I've been playing the guitar for about 15 years and have a small recording setup at home . I mostly play the acoustic guitar, some electric guitar, some drums, very little bass guitar, very little keys. I am into recording and audio production too, at an amateur level. I started to record my own covers and arrangements and have been posting those on my Youtube, Instagram and Soundcloud page since my university days.

That’s a tough question about music I'm into! My musical heroes of the moment are: John Mayer, Tommy Emmanuel, William Fitzsimmons, The Band Camino, Hillsong, Dave Barnes, Ben Rector, Matt Wertz, Scarypoolparty, Gabe Bondoc on YouTube - I suppose collectively they roughly fall into the pop/rock/blues/acoustic genres.

And if anybody needs music to relax, study or blank out to, I recommend Lo-Fi hip hop on Spotify or YouTube. It’s fantastic – just search it!

Salubris: Now we’re curious. Being a medical professional often means long working hours, how do you find time to play and record music? 

Dr Hoe: It’s hard! Ever so often I have to re-evaluate how I use my time. But 90% of the time I don't feel as if they are in conflict. I can't spend all my waking hours thinking about work anyway as the brain stops being productive after a certain point. When I play and am in a creative space for a while, it gives me more energy and drive than before. I'm also very lucky to have a supportive wife, which is a huge factor!

When I was a medical officer, I took leave to busk in the Singapore General Hospital MUSICFEST event organized by Singtheatre. I went around a few wards to sing and strum the guitar. I would love to do it again, if there is an opportunity and if I have the time!

Salubris: Are there other doctors who you play music with?

Dr Hoe: Yes, I had a cover and/or wedding band when I was in medical school and my band members are also doctors working in public hospitals. And I recently discovered a great group of doctors who are obsessed about music after I did a medical humanities event called "A Night To Remember". We’re always talking about music to each other.  

My wife is a geriatrics trainee in another public hospital and I think she probably has the best voice I've heard amongst people I know in real life. We have some covers we did together on my Youtube page and we often play for church or at weddings together.

Salubris: On a final note, share with us what makes music such a special hobby for you.

Dr Hoe: Playing and making music brings such a rush of emotions every time. The way I see it, music connects things - it connects the mechanical movement of playing something on an instrument, with an experience in the mind or intangibles like an emotional or spiritual experience, and ultimately connects to other people who share the experience. For me personally, it is intrinsically linked to playing regularly in church, and it’s also a great reminder to stay fluid and reactive in the moment rather than overthinking things.