Interview with Maria Grace Koh

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Photos by Ridho Sunjoyo & Afiff Razali

Maria Grace Koh holds the record for being one of the fastest female swimmers in Brunei. If she had had it her way, she would have pursued swimming professionally. Academically, she also excelled as one of the top students in her class. She could also have chosen any career: medicine, law, engineering, you name it.

Maria picked singing.

Today, Maria is majoring in Pop Vocals at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. This renowned Performing and Visual Arts institution is reputed for nurturing some of the region’s top creative talents such as Kit Chan, Inch Chua and Sezari Sezali. At LASALLE, Maria is being coached by some of the region’s most elite trainers, including Babes Conde who was a mentor for Singapore Idol.

In April of last year, as part of an exam Maria had to perform a Solo Pop Recital as part of the ‘Esplanade – On the Waterfront’ series before a crowd of 2,000 people . This experience strengthened her resolution to be a professional recording artist and performer. On the stage during that solo performance, she had a powerful epiphany – she realized that she’d always been destined to sing. Then in July, Maria was asked to represent Brunei in the World Championship of Performing Art competition in Hollywood, she won 5 Silver medals for our Nation.

At twenty-one years old, Maria’s career is just beginning and yet she has managed to achieve more than most people ever do in a lifetime. From an early age Maria’s journey and choices have been anything but ordinary. Join us, as we explore the motivation behind her extraordinary path and discover the secret to her success.

1. What intrigued us about you is that you seem to have the ability to achieve very high levels in whatever field you choose. How much of it is talent and passion; and how much of it is hard work?
One thing that I strongly believe in is that ‘you can do anything you set your mind to’ – this is one of my most important mottos in life and this is pretty much how I’ve been able to achieve everything I have up until now!

Talent can only get you so far – hard work ALWAYS has to be invested to take you to the next level and if you’re passionate about what you’re doing – there’s no stopping you from reaching your goal.

Maria Grace Koh

2. In a recent conversation we had, you mentioned that you do not choose a challenge unless you are confident that you could ‘win’. Would you say that making prudent choices has in some way enabled you to achieve success?
I don’t think I would set myself a challenge if I didn’t have much of an interest in it. I set myself goals that are just outside of my comfort zone – this enables myself to be pushed in new directions and allows me to ‘grow’. I don’t think prudence has much to do with it – I really do think that no matter what goal you set for yourself, if you commit to it whole-heartedly then you shouldn’t have any problems getting there! Carpe diem!

3. Describe a typical day as a vocal student at LASALLE.
As a student, I still follow my normal school timetable, as well as my vocal exercises – it is always important to practice …practice makes perfect! Apart from this, I am a person who manages my time well, so I always have time to complete my assignments and properly,

hang out with my friends, do exercise, and spend some alone time relaxing and reflecting. As for songwriting – whenever the inspiration hits me!

“Growing up, I’ve always wanted to represent my country, to tell the world that there is more to this tiny little country other than oil and gas.”

Maria Koh performing at The Esplanade, Singapore

4. Tell us about your home environment. How did you even convince your mum and dad to allow you to choose singing as a career? How did your parents shape who you are today?
I couldn’t have asked for a better home environment than the one I grew up in and still am in now. Not being biased, but I have the BEST parents in the world. They have never once doubted me (or if they have, I have proven them wrong! This is something else I enjoy doing, proving people wrong) and have supported me 100% in every single thing I have wanted to do.

One thing I believe that is so essential to children’s development is the support they get from their parents and siblings – it really goes a long way. Many people think that it was my parents who pushed me to go into everything as a kid, but actually it was me who wanted to do everything!

My parents taught me to prioritise, so I wouldn’t just be a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and ‘master-of-none’. Whatever it was that I wanted to do, my parents and brothers have always been there to support me no matter what – whether I fail or succeed, they have always been there to cheer me on. They gave me space to grow and ‘find my place’ and I think I’ve turned out alright!

My parents kind of realised my interest in music at a very young age and helped me to develop by sending me to piano lessons. Later on when I decided that this was what I wanted to do for a living, my parents encouraged and supported me to go all the way.

In a nutshell, I really just have the BEST FAMILY ever!

5. What do you aspire to achieve in your singing career?
If I had things my way, after finishing my studies I would like to record my original material and go on tour with my (amazing) band – preferably internationally. I really want to put Brunei on the map in the area of music and I believe in my material and that’s what counts. To be able to touch hearts and move others is something I’ve always been set on doing and that’s what I’m going to do! Winning a Grammy wouldn’t be too bad either and hey – here’s to wishful thinking.


Go for the Grammy and put us on the world map, Maria! As you so eloquently put it, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” Maria’s single, ‘Hello World’, is currently available on iTunes under her stage name, ‘Eia’.

This article was published in the Jan-Mar 2014 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!