A piano prodigy from birth, Cheryl Ann Spencer has always loved music having grown up in a home that was constantly filled with it.
Cheryl’s innate musical talent was evident early on as a toddler, having picked up the piano by herself and displaying the unusual ability to play by ear.
“Since I was young, my parents found out that I could play whatever I heard without notes or anything, like a copycat,” said the 45-year-old.
“My mother told me that when I was around two years old, I just suddenly walked to the piano and played ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’!”
Though Cheryl was extremely musically inclined, she never received any formal musical training throughout her growing years.
Although her father was a music educator who had played and studied music in the Vienna Conservatory, he did not want her to study music through exams but “explore and enjoy” it instead.
As such, she was content to play the piano at home.
Though Cheryl continued to love music throughout her formative years, she soon reached a crossroads after graduation.
Caught between her love for music and interest in banking, she had to decide which to make a career out of.
Eventually, Cheryl decided to pursue banking – though her love for music would never leave her.
“I worked in London in the banking industry. But I loved jazz so much – almost every week, I was going to a jazz concert,” she revealed.
On top of her job as a banker, Cheryl looked for and found a jazz teacher to teach her piano after work.
Such was her love for music that when she moved to England, she bought a piano within two weeks after going out every day to look for one.
“It showed how important music was in my life. I always wanted to play. Nobody had to force me,” she remarked.
Shortly after giving birth to her first child in London, Cheryl and her family moved back to Singapore in 2007.
That was when she left the banking industry to become a full-time stay-home mum.
A turning point in serving God
In 2013, compelled by a desire to serve God, Cheryl joined her church’s music ministry to begin using her musical gift for His glory.
“I told God that when my daughter is three years old and she can go to Sunday School independently, I would like to serve in the music ministry since they always asked for volunteers,” she recounted.
However, Cheryl’s church was looking for someone with a more formal music education, since certain songs had more challenging scores to read.
As a musician who had always played by ear and never went through any formal training, Cheryl soon realised she had a “deficit” in this area.
As such, she came to see that stewarding her musical gifting might involve taking additional steps.
“By studying, I further enhance His gifting,” she explained.
“My gifting was all instinctive. But if I could balance the instinct with real theory from school and my study of classical and jazz music, then my gifting would be more useful.”
Once she had received her Grade 5 certification, Cheryl joined her church choir.
With much practice and determination, she was also able to get her Grade 8 certification within the short span of two years.
“It was really by God’s grace,” said Cheryl, as she looked back on that early period of studying.
Little did she know, but it was a season that would spur her to go even further in her studies.
Furthering her studies in music
Some time after receiving her Grade 8 certification, Cheryl decided to enrol in LASALLE College of the Arts to pursue a second degree in jazz.
Although she passed the auditions and successfully enrolled in this competitive course, learning was not a bed of roses.
In fact, it was so difficult that Cheryl initially wanted to give up.
“It was really beyond me. The theory was so difficult – nothing like the Grade 5 and 8 that I did,” she said.
“I often compared banking and music, and I said, ‘Now I know why daddy said it’s hard work!'”
“Was this really God’s journey for me? Or was it just something I myself wanted to do?”
The first six months were the worst due to physical fatigue.
After putting her kids to bed at 10pm, Cheryl would sit and practise at the piano until 1am to improve.
She also had to learn new music technology and audio engineering; starting at “ground zero” proved to be a humbling experience.
These pressing challenges led Cheryl to seriously question whether or not it was really God’s will for her to do this degree.
“I hadn’t felt so low in my life. I couldn’t balance trying to be a good mother, a good wife and a good student,” she admitted.
“In school, I was drowning. At home, my children missed me. I felt so torn.
“Was this really God’s journey for me? Or was it just something I myself wanted to do?”
As such, Cheryl asked God for a sign if He wanted her to quit her jazz piano programme.
When the sign did not come, however, Cheryl decided to obediently finish her degree.
“I knelt down and I prayed to Him,” she recounted. “I said, ‘I know what You want me to do. I will finish the degree.'”
Cheryl needed courage and strength from God, so she held on to Philippians 4:13 in prayer: I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.
Pressing on in faith, she successfully completed her course and graduated from LASALLE with a Degree in Jazz Music in 2020.
Having persevered in finishing her degree, Cheryl saw how the new skills obtained enabled her to serve God in an even greater capacity though music.
Having learnt music engineering, for instance, she was able to handle her church’s livestreaming and audio recordings during the pandemic.
Her service could also go beyond playing for the worship band because God had now equipped her to compose music and lyrics.
Forming her band: Evolution Quartet
Cheryl is currently part of a homegrown jazz band called Evolution Quartet, which she formed after meeting fellow band members through her jazz programme.
“My band members are very established jazz musicians in the scene,” Cheryl explained. “During my Year 2 exam, I asked them to play for my school recital.”
“They made time for me and played for my exam – and they realised they loved my music,” she said gratefully.
Inspired by God’s constant presence in her life and the specific verse of Philippians 4:13, Cheryl composed “Jesus You Are Always There For Me”.
It was released late last year by Evolution Quartet as a Christian single, alongside their second album Pandemic Blues, which is on major streaming platforms.
Written during the pandemic, it was created to bring about a sense of hope in a time of hopelessness.
Speaking about the songwriting process for “Jesus You Are Always There For Me”, Cheryl shared that God “downloaded” the music to her suddenly one morning.
“I just couldn’t get out of my seat – I just sat and composed and composed.
“Afterwards, the lyrics came too. Sometimes it can take weeks or even months, and the lyrics don’t come. But God gave me the lyrics of the verse and the chorus on the first day!”
Music as ministry
Cheryl believes that her musical gift is not for self-glorification, but a way of ministering to people that ultimately brings glory to God.
“I believe God ‘downloads’ the music to me, and my music is supposed to touch people and bring healing,” she said. “I’m composing music to minister to people.
“In times of need, hopefully they can turn to the lyrics.”
Cheryl highlighted a recent concert at the Esplanade where she presented her music and album, and got to share her faith too.
“I decided to honour Him first in the concert, and opened the concert with the Aaronic benediction. Afterwards, a lot of people actually messaged me on Instagram and said they cried buckets.
“One person who had not touched the instrument for a long time told me that thanks to the concert, they took up the instrument and had the courage to play again. Another person also messaged me on Instagram and said the song ‘Jesus You Are Always There For Me’ came at a time when she was feeling so lost, and it ministered to her.”
“So, to me, this is my role in composing and writing music. It is not for self-glorification at all. It is really to share God’s love and to minister to the person when God wants them to hear it,” she said.
Imparting her skills to the next generation
Despite already being so musically accomplished, Cheryl sees how God is constantly refining her musical gift so she can impart these skills to the next generation.
“Last year, I went back to study piano pedagogy and classical music composition at the NUS Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. And so God is constantly polishing me,” she said.
“I think God is now using my skills to educate the new generation…
“I teach little children worship music, and I love it. Since I studied so much, I may as well put the education to use and pay it forward by teaching the new generation.
“And the earlier we start teaching our young children to serve and play music for God, the better it is because they are the future of the church.”
Having experienced the incomparable joy of serving God through music, Cheryl has absolutely no regrets taking this path.
“I’m so happy that I can do this, and I wouldn’t go back to banking. I met so many interesting people through this new journey.
“And I just keep learning. Within five years, I went to LASALLE and NUS, and I also released two new albums and two Christian singles.”
“I have a lot to be thankful for, and I have no regrets at all,” Cheryl concluded.
- What are you passionate about?
- How might God use this desire that’s on your heart for His kingdom purposes?
- Take a moment to consider your skills, talents and gifts.
- What is one practical way you can steward these for God’s glory?