Koh Chee Kang, a doctoral candidate in music education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign UIUC), holds a LTCL (Clarinet teaching and performance), a B.A. (1st Class Honours) in music from NIE/NTU and a Master of Music Education from the UIUC. Professionally, he has been a band director, a HOD/ Aesthetic and a senior music specialist at MOE. He holds the UIUC Bands Scholarship, Zimmerman Fellowship and MOE Postgraduate Scholarship.
(This interview was conducted in August 2010)
What made you consider pursuing your degree overseas?
First, pursuing a doctorate degree in music education in the U.S. is a natural choice for me after my attainment of a master’s degree in music education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) under the sponsorship of the MOE Postgraduate Scholarship previously.
A second reason for coming to UIUC is the opportunity to learn from the experts in the field, particularly in band conducting/education, music education, and research methodology. Third, having been a band director, HOD, and senior music specialist at MOE myself, I feel an obligation to continually upgrade my knowledge and to learn best practices from other countries in order to help contribute to music and band education in Singapore.
What were the challenges or difficulties you faced when moving on to the new different environment?
Moving to a new environment would always be challenging for anyone! The first challenge that I experienced myself was the need for adjustment from a HOD to student again.
Many times, I have to choose to sacrifice some aspects of my life in order to fit into a typical student profile, like rushing for classes every day, staying up late to meet deadlines for course presentations and assignments, or preparing for examinations (things that I have not been doing for many years!).
Life is so much “simple” now at my small graduate apartment. I have to look into every single aspect of life myself, like setting aside time for laundry and grocery shopping. It’s good to become a student again, but it takes time for the adjustment.
A second challenge was my inevitable self-doubt whether I would be able to do well in my course. My experience tells me that persistence, perseverance, and hard work are important qualities for success. My current Grade-Point-Average stands at 3.98 out of a possible 4.0!
Can you describe what’s a day curriculum like at the school?
In the early part of my doctoral degree, a typical day for me involved attending required and elective band and music education classes in the morning.
After a quick lunch, I would spend time either attending band practices that rehearsed three times a week, or practice my clarinet. I would spend the remaining hours before dinner doing administrative work or preparing teaching materials for my undergraduate music education classes.
After dinner, I would start doing my course readings for the week, and to complete my written assignments. Occasionally, I would attend an evening recital or other ensemble concerts at the university’s concert hall. I usually slept at about 1.30am or later.
What’s the most enjoyable learning experience you have had in your study period there?
The opportunity to be successfully auditioned to play with UIUC’s top ensemble, the University of Illinois Wind Symphony, and to perform the finest core band repertoire ever with this fine ensemble is a highlight of my learning experience here.
Of course, my various conducting experiences with the various UI bands and the clarinet choir is another highlight of my study here.
Most importantly, to be able to work and learn under the direction of the “big names” such as James Keene, Robert Rumbelow, Gary McPherson, Liora Bresler, and many others is my most enjoyable learning experience here at UIUC.
For any prospective young musician who wants to take their profound love in music to higher grounds, would you recommend them to study music overseas?
First, I must say that the Singapore arts institutions will provide a solid music degree programme for prospective young musicians.
I am an excellent example, having received a great music undergraduate degree at NIE/NTU that has prepared me very well for my postgraduate degrees at the U.S. Studying music overseas, however, would definitely be a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience that one will not experience in Singapore.
A critical issue for studying music overseas is the extremely high tuition fees and the higher living expenses as compared to Singapore. You may search for scholarship opportunities offered both in Singapore (e.g., PSC/MOE/NAC/etc.) or those that were awarded by the universities themselves. But this is usually very competitive.
For my case, I have been offered the UIUC scholarship, as well teaching and research assistantships over my course where I received monthly allowances and most importantly, a waiver of tuition fees.
If you could describe music in general in a few words, a sentence or a phrase. What would it be?
“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” (Plato)