Desmond Chow started playing the clarinet at the age of 13 when he joined the St Patrick’s School Military Band.
He went on to NAFA to pursue his Diploma in Music, and was awarded a full scholarship for his BA in Music course, which he graduated with honours. During his study, he performed with the Nanyang Academy Orchestra and Wind Ensemble and also performed the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the Orchestra. Desmond was second runner-up in the 1st Nafa-Music Essentials Concerto Competition in 2006.
Desmond is currently a member of the Singapore Festival Orchestra, Philharmonic Winds and The Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also freelanced with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra. He has performed in operas such as, Madama Butterfly, La Boheme and The Magic Flute as well as musicals like Phantom of the Opera. Other concerts include Aska Symphonic Concert Tour “Scene” and ‘Andrea Bocelli’ in Singapore.
He is currently the Woodwind and Clarinet tutor in Hwa Chong Institution High School and College; Assistant Conductor in North View Secondary, Clarinet tutor in Ang Mo Kio Secondary and Clarinet tutor in the Music Talent Development Centre (south zone) and giving individual Clarinet lessons.
(This interview was conducted in December 2010)
Why did you choose clarinet as your instrument? Did you consider anything else?
When I joined my secondary school band, my senior brought me around to try all the instruments and initially I wanted to play the flute because my friend played it. But I could hardly make a sound on it and the Clarinet was the only instrument I could get a decent sound out of. So that was how I ended up with the Clarinet.]
Describe your equipment setup.
A Buffet Tosca and a pair of Selmer Recitals. My mouthpiece is by BG, model B2. I use Vandoren V12 3.5 and Zonda Reeds with a GF ligature. I am also using the Maestro thumb rest by Ton Kooiman.
What’s the hardest part about being a clarinetist and what’s the best?
Every instrument is tough to master, so for me it is finding that right mouthpiece and reed combination. The best part of playing the clarinet is the huge range of colours that we can obtain from it and the range of nearly 4 octaves.
Who would you say has the most influence on your career so far?
My first teacher Mr. Ma Yue and subsequently Mr. Tang Xiaoping both from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
You have played in operas, musicals and other music events. What was it like playing for so many distinguished performances that included ‘La Boheme’ and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’?
It was definitely most enjoyable. Getting to see all the different costumes and all the work that happens backstage out of the audience view and finally the end product during show time. Performing with friends that you seldom get to meet due to each other’s work commitments. And of course, learning from the various conductors for each concert.
What constitutes a good performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
A fine concert hall filled with audience and musicians enjoying themselves. Just going out there and having a great time.
What kind of daily practice regime and structure do you adhere to?
I do long tones everyday and scales from Klose and Baermann, after that I work on pieces. I also test and prepare my reeds during my practice. It varies, but I always start with long tones.
Do you have a teaching style for your students?
I always encourage my students to reflect on what they do and how they can achieve a certain idea. By understanding what is wrong, they learn to avoid making the same mistakes. I am also opened to their feedback and ideas as it helps the student develop in his/her own unique way.
What music do you listen to? Anyone or any groups in particular?
I listen to Classical, pop and ballads. Favourite clarinetists are Sabine Meyer, Martin Frost, Paul Meyer and Alessandro Carbonare.
What is your favorite piece to play on the clarinet?
I love Weber’s Grand Duo Concertante for Clarinet and Piano. It was the first piece I learnt when I started taking Clarinet lessons formally.
What advices do you have for young clarinet players looking to make a career out of it?
If you have the passion for music and the clarinet in particular, go for it. What more can you ask for, for pursuing something so important to you and making a career out of it. You will always be subjected to criticism but always remember to be open and positive as it can only help in your development.
If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?
I really can’t think of anything else that I would have done. I did want to be a Doctor when I was young though, lol.