Child drum prodigy and Singapore's youngest busker Ethan Ong was born as Ethan Ong Sze Rey on April 2, 1999 as the first son Son of Bernard & Christina Ong. Ethan has a younger brother, Noah Ong Sze Kai.
Ethan Ong has been drumming to practically any tune/ rhythm without any guidance or coaching since the age of two. Ethan has been trained by drum maestro Jimmy Lee and recieved his busking licence from the National Arts Council at the age of five. We, his proud parents, truly believe that God has blessed Ethan with this gift and hope that you have had the chance to watch him perform in person.
Ethan Ong's drum evolution, explained by his parents:
Version 1: Daddy’s shoulders, palms, and lap (a.k.a. daddy custom)
Yup, that’s right. Ethan’s first ever drum set was the ever present, ultra mobile shoulders of mine. During church services (especially the fast paced songs), Ethan would readily bounce along in my arms and drum on my shoulders when he was somewhere between the age of 1 to 2. Before long, we noticed that he had a very natural sense of rhythm and was rather precise in his groove and crashes (on the “cymbals”). Needless to say, he looked forward to every worship service!
During the weekdays, Ethan would drum on my lap and palms whether we were in the car or on the MRT. We would either be listening to music from the car stereo or I would be singing, with him drumming along to practically any tune or groove.
Version 2: Milo/ Neslac Tins, pot and pans and what have you
Naturally, Ethan started to source out every container he could lay his hands on and started to create his own rhythms on tins, pots, pans and boxes (yes, he was actually more interested in the boxes his toys came than the toys themselves). Armed with his very own pair of “Ethan Signature Series” disposable chopsticks, he drummed along to songs primarily from Hillsongs Australia (Christian Praise and Worship songs commonly referred to nowadays as Contemporary Christian Music).
Even when we visited our relative’s homes, they would actively display some of their pots and pans for Ethan to drum when we visited. Despite the noise that this created, they were always supportive of Ethan’s emerging talent.
Version 3.1 - 3.4: Toy Drum Set(s)
We decided before he turned two, that it was time Ethan got his first toy drum set. We used some of the Toys ‘R’ Us vouchers which my colleagues gave (for his 2nd Birthday gift) to purchase a toy drum set. Though this was a bare bones drum, he took to it like a fish in water. Since the drum had only 2 toms and a cymbal, he used the rims of his right tom as the hi-hat. With this basic set up, his drumming really started to take on a definite shape and form. It was also during this time that Ethan started to watch “Live Worship” VCDs from Hillsongs. He could literally sit in front of the TV and drum away everyday (for hours on occasions). Being made of relatively cheap plastic, the drum set didn’t last very long (especially with the long hours of practice) and Ethan went through about 4 of these drum sets. After that, we convinced ourselves that it made economical sense for us to invest in a drum set that was less “disposable” in nature.
Version 4: Our 3-Seater Sofa (a.k.a. softest drum set in the world)
The more Ethan watched drummers (be it TV or in church) perform, the more he realised that his toy drum set somehow didn’t look like the real thing. It lacked the snare, some toms and quite a few cymbals. The fact that he was now watching drum videos by Akira Jimbo/ Modern Drummers also heightened his awareness of a significant between the set up of his own toy kit and the “real thing”. Being the creative child that he is, he started to re-arrange the cushions on our 3-seater sofa in a very precise fashion to simulate the set up of a drum kit. Having said that, we lost our ability to use our sofa for quite a long while as any attempt to use the sofa for what it is (to sit on!) was met with a rather emphatic response from Ethan. After all, we were messing up his “drum set”. This situation was not sustainable and we decided that it was time to equip him to another level…plus we wanted to have our sofa back!
Version 5: Yamaha DD-55 (Electronic Drum Pad)
Other than the reasons mentioned above, another limitation of the toy drum/ sofa “drum set” was the lack of pedals. We felt that the next phase of Ethan’s drumming development should be the kick drums, since his grooves were now consistent and steady. The decision that lay ahead was whether to get a true blue acoustic drum set or an electronic drum pad/ set. We decided on the Yamaha D-55 Electronic Drum Pad as it offered the much needed volume control. Additionally, the drum pad was much more affordable compared to an acoustic set…after all, Ethan was still very young (3+) and we didn’t want to fork out a huge investment and then have him change his mind on drumming (parents will testify that this is a very common trend amongst young kids taking up instruments/ hobbies). In any case, Ethan’s 2002 Christmas present was settled!
Version 6: Tama Stagestar
A year passed and we were now convinced that Ethan’s interest in the drums would not be a passing fad. Besides, he had been featured on Channel U News during the year (2003) and we made up our minds to finally purchase his first acoustic drum set. We decided on the Tama Stagestar as it carried a 18” Kick Drum and a low profile hi-hat stand and stool. With this set, his footwork really started to develop. We also bought him a set of Paiste 402 cymbals as the original cymbals really sounded very challenged.
As Ethan's drumming progressed, we started to expand his cymbals set. We added a Paiste 502 18" Ride and a Sabian 10" HH Splash. In October 2005, Ethan received a set of Zildjian ZXT from the Zildjian's Asia Pacific Marketing Manager (Kim) - such a wonderful gesture and blessing! The most amazing is this - on the same day we received the kind offer from Kim, we discovered that Ethan's Paiste 402 crash had developed a crack - talk about God's wonderful provision once again!
Version 7: Yamaha Manu Katche Hipgig Junior
Typically, after the weekend busking sessions, I have to re-setup at home so that Ethan and Noah have a chance to play on the drums at home. Having gone through this routine at least 50 times, I convinced myself that I had to figure out a better way to do this. Hence, the decision to buy another drum set.
After countless checks on reviews and recommendations, we decided on the Yamaha Manu Katche Hipgig junior. The tone was beautiful and the kick drum had oomph indeed. Very hard to imagine when you first set eyes on it as it is only 16” in diameter (the size of many regular floor toms).
We had initially though of using it for busking. But changed our minds and decided to keep it nice and pristeen at home, and leave the Tama Stagestar to rough it out on the streets!
Version 8: Roland TD-12 V-drums
In late 2006, Ethan's parents decided that in order for Ethan to get any meaningful amount of practice on the drums, we would have to invest in an electonic drum set. We took the plunge and went all the way and got the highly acclaimed Roland TD-12 (not forgetting highly expensive too).
This electronic drumset features rim sounds for all toms and 3 zone floating cymbals. Essentially, we wanted Ethan to get as close to an accoustic set as possible within the home and yet be able to play as hard/ long as he wants to without fear of disturbing our neighbours.
This has worked out very well for us as Ethan's drumming took on a different level with the ability to practice at home. In fact, Noah (Ethan's younger brother) has been happily drumming away on the set too (like Ethan, he too plays the drum!)