He’s 1.8m tall and sports a booming voice! You might think he was a basketball player, but dad of two Mark De Silva actually plays the guitar and sings to toddlers as a job with his playgroup ‘Boogie Bug Music’.
Musician Mark De Silva together with his good friend Reuben Tupaz make up ‘The Amazing ToyBox’ – Singapore’s answer to The Wiggles – as well as ‘Boogie Bug Music’ their home-based musical playgroup! Their enthusiastic singing, guitar playing, jokes and fun have kept families with small tots entertained for many years. I personally first met Mark when my eldest was a toddler (about 8 years ago!) and we loved his playgroups – a chance for kids to have some musical fun – and for parents to connect with other parents! Here we chat with former music teacher Mark about his passion for music, what the best part of his job is (the super sweet answer will surprise you) and about being a proud dad to his two daughters.
Tell us a little about yourself and your family
I’m turning 46 in a few days and I’m from a mixed-race heritage. Married 12 years to Maria Singh who is working in Communications for Hilton in Asia Pacific. We have two lovely girls, Mia 9 and Micah 7. Yes, we are all M’s. As my youngest daughter would put it, the M family!
Tell us something quirky about yourself
The quirkiest thing about me would probably have to be my job. Not many people can believe that I, 1.8m tall, sporting a beard, and a naturally boomy voice, run a music playgroup for children from as young as 12 months up to 3 years old.
What musical instruments do you play and did you learn them as a child or later in life?
I love playing the guitar. Picked it up when I was in secondary school as I really wanted to rock on the electric guitar like Slash from Guns and Roses. As the years went by I found myself gravitating towards the acoustic more, with the likes of James Taylor and Jason Mraz, just to name a few, taking the forefront. Though if I really had the ability to choose, I would love to be an old time crooner, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole come to mind.
Did you always love music and want to be a musician?
I’ve always loved music, especially being in a household where my dad was always listening to music. Family parties were always filled with singing and dancing as someone was playing the guitar while others were making beats with spoons and upside down buckets. Everyone was encouraged to join in, but I was always the shy one. Hence I never thought I’d make a career out of it. Much less a career out of making music for children.
What other career ideas did you initially have?
Being a police investigator was on the list of things I wanted to pursue, but I think I would have made a terrible detective.
Tell us about being a music teacher before starting your own business.
I began my teaching career at Julia Gabriel Centre in Dec of 1998, working as a part time teaching assistant as I was still in school at that time. I fell in love with the job so much that I went back to work there full time at the end of 2002 after serving my national service. I started as an assistant in playgroup classes for children aged 3 and under, and within 6 months I was teaching my own small groups. An opportunity arose for me to run some music classes for their sister school, Chiltern House. I was thrown into the deep end, teaching music to 6-year-olds, and was completely out of my depth.
Having a steep learning curve, but with the help and guidance from the other teachers, I soon found a new calling. I moved permanently to Chiltern House on weekdays, teaching music to children from Nursery 1 to Kindergarten 2, while also maintaining my mini playgroup classes on the weekends. I can’t say that I have stopped teaching, as Boogie Bug Music still allows me to do that, but not being in a school, you do miss the comradeship and sharing of ideas and stories with the other teachers. I’m still great friends with all of them even after having left for more than ten years. It’s a unique bond I will always cherish.
How long have you been running the children’s musical playgroup Boogie Bug Music?
Together with a good friend of mine, Reuben Tupaz, we set off on a path to become the next Wiggles, or the Hi 5 of children’s edutainment. If The Wiggles were the ‘Beatles’ of the kids’ music world, then we wanted to be the ‘Simon & Garfunkel’ or ‘Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis’ of it.
So in 2005 we started The Amazing ToyBox, with our own brand of songs and live music and interaction. Music and comedy were the key elements of our shows. We recorded 3 albums of children’s music, which we wrote, produced and recorded all on our own. Having played all the instruments on the album, it was quite an achievement for me.
Not being able to sustain on just shows alone, we started a home-based music playgroup in 2007 called Boogie Bug Music, and have been doing that ever since. 15 years and still running strong.
What’s the best part of the job?
The hugs, without a doubt. At the end of class when I’m singing the goodbye song, and these little feet walk up to you and plant their little arms around you and squeeze you as hard as they can. It just makes my day. Never gets old!
How did your business survive during the pandemic?
It was tough, we readjusted the format of our classes to match the restrictions, and continued as best we could. The families were so understanding and rolled with all the changes we had to make, especially when they kept changing. It’s a good thing we were good at saving too – our coffers took a massive hit.
Did you notice any negative impacts on the kids who attended your music classes during the pandemic?
The amazing thing about young children is their resilience, and their ability to move past bad things. In class, it’s like the pandemic never happened.
What’s your parenting philosophy?
Us against them. That’s what I tell my wife. We are a team and they can’t get between us.
What’s your favourite one-on-one activity with your children?
I personally love playing card and board games, so I naturally love playing them with the kids. Gonna try Dungeons and Dragons with them next.
Your wife is a big foodie – how about you?
My wife does most of the thinking so I usually don’t think about food unless I’m hungry. The fanciest meal I had till I met her was the onion loaf at Tony Romas. She has certainly opened my eyes to a whole new world as I am not a very adventurous eater. Without her I would not have had all these wonderful, albeit sometimes rather weird experiences.
It’s impossible to surprise her on her birthday with a fancy restaurant. So I’d rather just let her choose.
Any favourite restaurants in town?
The fried spring chicken stall at my local coffee shop that has been there for years is my go-to happy place. Though with my age, that has reduced significantly.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Since the kids were born, I have always insisted that we have a date night at least once a week. We are lucky that my parents can still watch the kids for us. It’s a day we really look forward to every week, even if it’s just sitting at home watching a movie together, but my wife usually has an idea of where we will be going.
What has been the most surprising thing about being a dad?
That my dad was right. He said I will find out one day when I have my own kids. Never believed him. Well, he was spot on! Also, how you can love something that can drive you up the wall, so much, that it physically hurts in your chest.
What’s been your proudest moment as a dad?
Oh boy, so many. My kids very easily make me proud. But I have to say the proudest moment was when Mia, in 2018 at age 5, took the stage with me for my Boogie Bug year-end show and handled herself like a seasoned performer. No fear or doubt whatsoever. She beat me by 12 years as I only did my first ever live performance at age 17. This year, Micah will be joining her.
Many thanks for chatting with us, Mark! All the best for your upcoming Boogie Bug kid’s show!