Philip Tng, is currently the Senior Director of Music of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Band. He has recently completed his Masters in Wind Band Conducting at the University of Illinois (UI) at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied conducting with James Keene, Abel Ramirez, Roby George, Robert W. Rumbelow, Tim Foley, Stephen Peterson and Russel Mikkelson. Graduating with excellent academic achievements, he was initiated into the Phi Kappa Phi Chapter at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
(This interview was conducted in August 2010)
What made you consider pursuing your degree overseas?
It started with SAF offering me a scholarship in 1991 to study at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall in UK to become a Director of Music in the SAF Band. As a musician since young, I had always wanted to pursue music if it allows me to become a fulltime musician. The experiences in UK were excellent, with exposure to the rich musical culture in London. Since then, the desire to pursue knowledge and see the world is even greater, and after working in the SAF Band for the past 14 years, I decided to pursue a Master in Music in the US. This time, SAF supported my studies again to pursue a Master in Music at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in the US.
The exposure, once again, is tremendous as the school holds 70% of John Philip Sousa original scores, heritage of the Hindsley’s collection and meeting renowned conductors of the US.
What were the challenges or difficulties you faced when moving on to the new different environment?
The challenges or difficulties when moving on to a different environment are many, but they can also be viewed as new experiences when one is sometimes too used to the environment back home.
First, there is the challenge of getting the daily basic needs as you need to know where to get these stuffs in a new environment i.e.a place like in USA is huge and you will need a car to move around conveniently. So, friends are very important as they help you and give advice when in need.
Also, the diversity of culture and individuals are largely different and again when working as a team with foreign friends, one will need to understand that to achieve the best results. And for Singaporeans, it’s always the food that one missed most, other than your family and friends. But once you get used to the new environment, it’s an experience that you will enjoy!
Can you describe what’s a day curriculum like at the school?
Depends on the number of classes you register! But a typical day would be…wake up, go for classes, grab a meal in between classes (depending on the timing), back to room to do homework or book a studio to do some practicing, and band rehearsals usually in the afternoons or evenings. Goes on for 5 days, relax on Fri night (nice dinner with friends), Sat (do marketing, laundry, and play sports), and Sunday back to preparation/reading for the next week’s classes.
What’s the most enjoyable learning experience you have had in your study period there?
It is the opportunity to be able to learn from these profound professors, and the flexibility of choosing the elective courses that you will enjoy to make up your degree.
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?
If financially possible, yes! The cultural differences, exposure to musicians and professors, and even the weather all play a part in cultivating a person’s experiences which will help them inevitably to feel music differently.
What are your recommended paths for aspiring conductors?
First, be a good musician on your instrument. Listen to all kinds of music to understand styles and musical nuances. Also to have working knowledge of vaious instruments and train yourself to have a good ear for listening. Have a proper music education before conducting, as being a conductor is not just waving the stick, but also being a teacher and manager to your musicians. The rest will come with experience.
If you could describe music in general in a few words, a sentence or a phrase. What would it be?
Music fills the emptiness in life. It affects the emotion in oneself and can be a powerful media in carrying across messages without words. It is about passion, as a musician needs to practice everyday for many years to be good in his instrument, and while many gives up half way, those who are still practicing music after many years are truly passionate with what they started with.