For the first time, The Singapore National Cadet Corps (NCC) Command Band, Swiss Winds, was invited to be involved in the parade and city march segments of the National Day Parade 2010.
We are honoured to speak to the Mr Anthony Chew, Director of Music for the Swiss Winds about its glorious history, and the present duties tasked for the band.
(This interview was conducted in September 2010)
To begin, briefly tell us about your military service career where you were involved in the National Day Parade (NDP) in those years.
I commenced my National Service at the end of 1976 and was posted to the Singapore Armoured Regiment Band, which was formerly known as the 4th Singapore Armoured Brigade Band, serving under Major Ervin E Dragon, Senior Director of Music (SDM) in Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Band.
Times were different then. We had three service bands and they were the Singapore Armoured Regiment (SAR), Singapore Infantry Regiment (SIR) and Royal Singapore Navy (RSN).
Back then, the bands were staffed with regulars and NS men who had failed every other course and had nowhere else to go. When the Late Dr Goh Keng Swee became Defence Minister he implemented the policy of having school bandsmen to serve in the SAF Bands. I was the first batch that was affected by this change in policy.
I eventually signed on as a regular in the SAR Band, served as Principal repiano Clarinet (now defunct), Senior Librarian and Secretary to the Director of Music (DOM) and Chairperson of the band display committee.
During my service days, National Day Parade back then alternated between the Padang and National Stadium. “Marching In” of the band was an elaborate affair. We combined with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) Band to form the NDP Central Band, and had to play non-stop for 45 minutes for all the contingents to march in.
I remembered that vividly because we had to rehearse our marches for a solid hour non-stop every day during full band!
After the entire parade had marching off, our job then was not yet over. We had to re-form up in standing concert formation on one side on the Padang, to play all the music for the various displays.
What was the situation like in Swiss Winds when you took over and how has it become to what it is today?
Swiss Winds, was previously known as Swiss Cottage Secondary Military Band. When I took over in the mid 1980s, the band was fairly basic, performing for small functions and having a limited repertoire.
I adapted and implemented methods which I have learnt from my days serving in the SAF Band. The band eventually developed a sense of discipline and comadarie. However I must add that this was done with considerable amount of effort and persuasion.
In the early years, Swiss Winds (a name we coined in the late 1980s) has been involved in various national events such as supporting the Military Police (MP) Command (known as MP Regiment back then) for one of their Precision Drill shows for Chingay and playing as a supporting unit for various National Days.
One memorable one was when the current Senior Director of Music (SDM) ME5 Philip Tng who had just returned from his course in England and was tasked by then SDM Major Tonni Wei to conduct a combined school band for the fanfare portion of “Wings of Joy” as the President drove around the stadium.
Swiss Winds has been involved in the NDP as part of a pre-parade display band segment on two occasions. The band was also deployed for various community functions in and around Singapore in addition to school function responsibilities.
One defining moment for Swiss Winds was their participation and winning the gold award at the Australian International Band Festival at Brisbane. It helped boost their confidence and it has been a joyous ride since then!
How did you transform the Swiss Winds to become the command band for NCC?
It is the hard work of the many generations of band members that help transform the band to what it is today.
This is only possible with the visionary leadership of Chairman of National Cadet Corps (NCC), Dr Arthur Beng. and my then principal Mr Gan Chee Hau, who together initiated the possibility of Swiss Winds transforming to the Singapore NCC Command Band Swiss Winds.
What duties does the NCC Command Band Swiss Winds need to perform?
We function as a full ceremonial support unit for the NCC and our duties include all Graduation Parades, Change-of-Command Parades, Welcome Guard, supporting the various Precision Drill Squads as well as providing rousing musical support before or after a parade. Our marching unit, Maximum Impact, supports these functions.
In addition, we are also tasked to support the NCC Affirmation Ceremony wherein the new NCC Cadets are sworn in. This is a very large scale event, numbering up to 12000 personnel and is held either at the Singapore Indoor Stadium or the Singapore Expo Centre.
Our buglers support the annual Total Defence Day observance ceremony at the Cenotaph and the annual 2nd Week of November World War 2 observance ceremony at 4 locations in Singapore in conjunction with the SAF Band and the SAF Veterans’ league.
Twice a year, our jazz ensemble, Jazzination, provides dinner music for various NCC dinner events which include the Anniversary dinner and the International Cadet Exchange Programme dinners. They also entertain at other ad-hoc engagements for the NCC and affiliated organizations.
The Wind Ensemble provides the ceremonial and dinner music for the NCC Dining-In, which is usually held at the SAFTI MI Warriors’ Hall or at Pasir Laba Camp.
This year, the Swiss Winds was invited to be part of the Parade and City march segment for the National Day Parade for the 1st time. How did this idea came about?
The idea was mooted in 2009, when DOM SAF Ceremonial Band A ME4 Johnson Lee (also the then Acting SDM) suggested the possibility of Swiss Winds take part in the City March. However, the proposal was too late to be incorporated as the NDP rehearsal had already started.
In 2010, he again initiated the idea to SDM ME5 Philip Tng and it eventually evolved into NCC Command Band participating in the main parade together with SAF Band, SPF Band and also in the city March.
How do you prepare your students for this event?
In addition to our usual training, we ensured that there was enough time to rehearse on the field. We had a couple of training sessions at our HQ at Amoy Quee Camp where we simulated the City march as far as possible.
Musically, the SAF Band assisted us in conceptualizing the sound-scape and we ensured that the band was able to perform all the repertoire required for both the Parade and the City march.
SDM ME5 Philip Tng had been most encouraging to the band since we started, and we appreciate his support and encouragement that went on week after week as he conducted the combined band at the Padang.
ME4 Johnson Lee, ME2 Ng Kay Lim and ME1 Eddie Chng from SAF Ceremonial Band A also took time out to ensure that the band was ready for the event.
Apart from being musically capable, the leaders were also required to attend and pass the NCC Advanced Drill Course and/or the Senior Specialists’ Course, where they learned leadership skills, teaching skills in drills, rifle drills and colour party drills.
We also had to change the design of our uniforms for the parade. I have to thank Mdm Jasmine Krishnan, RQMS SAF Band for her kind assistance in this area.
How do you or your students feel to be part of this major national event?
Jerome Wong, Drum Major: I am deeply honoured by the privilege accorded to me to head the NCC Command Band at this prestigious national event and I hope to my nation, corps and school proud. I am grateful to the powers that be, the National Day Exco headed by Col Benedict Lim, Chairman NCC Council Dr Arthur Beng and my principal, Mr Liu Earnler, for permitting the Band and myself to participate in such a monumental occasion.
Other comments include,
- It’s been a joy being part of the National Day Parade!
- Tiring but worth it
- The experience is one that I WILL remember”.
The band members were thrilled to be part of the parade (as were many parents, who indicated so during our meet the parents session) and especially to be able to play alongside the SAF Central Band, SAF Ceremonial Band A and the SPF Band – something they will remember for the rest of their lives!
Finally, what do you expect your students to benefit from participating in this event, or rather what do you hope to see them achieve?
I believe it is the experience that I would like my students to take away from this event. No other band in Singapore has ever been given such opportunity to work side by side with professionals for such extended periods of time; both of which I believe have displayed the highest levels of musicality and discipline through their playing and drills.
This may have been our first time participating in the National Day Parade, but I trust this would not be our last.
Musically they have benefited from working with the professionals – one of the most fundamental musical concepts that our student musicians have learnt from both the SAF and SPF Bands is something very dear to every musician’s heart – to play the music and not the notes.
It is often said that the March is to the band what the Overture is to the orchestra: Both bands have, whilst performing for the NDP, transformed the marches into living music.
Leadership wise, Drum Majors ME2 Hafis of the SAF Band and SI Mohammad from the SPF Band have provided pointers for our Drum Major and other leaders.
Administrative leadership has been an added bonus for this event – my Sergeant Majors and Logistics Head have learnt and proper procedures from the work of Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) ME3 Razak and (Acting) DOM SAF Ceremonial Band C, ME3 Goh Poh Wah, in addition to ME3 Hussin and ME2 Jais.
What I appreciate most is the fact that all the SAF Band has treated the NCC Command Band as young adults and have demanded the highest standards from us. It is incredible how my cadets have matured both mentally and musically through our participation in NDP 2010.
It is my hope that my cadets will have many “take aways” in this journey and these lessons learnt will continually inspire them to persevere and strive for the best both in their academic life and musical life.
Musically I hope that more of my student musicians will be inspired through their interaction with the SAF and SPF bands to always aspire to be the best and to consider making music their career at some point in their future!
Lastly, my sincere thanks to the SAF Band and SPF Band for a wonderful and a very successful NDP 2010.