Currently the principal timpanist of The Philharmonic Orchestra and The Philharmonic Winds of Singapore. Yeow Ching Shiong started playing in both band and orchestra since he was 13. To him, Music is all about attitude and having fun!
(This interview was conducted in December 2010)
Tell us about how you first started playing percussion.
I started playing the snare drum in my primary school marching band when I was 10. When I was Secondary 1, I was selected by my conductor, Mr. Eric Lee (Catholic High School of Petaling Jaya, Malaysia) to play the timpani and I’ve been playing timpani (mostly) since then. I was lucky to be able to play for both wind band and orchestra, and the experience gained from playing in both types of ensemble has provided me with the best (musically and technically) of both worlds.
You are a Malaysian that moved to Singapore. Is there any difference between the Malaysian and Singaporean band scenes?
The biggest difference is the abundance of resources and the opportunities to perform that are made available to everyone from primary school bands to community bands in Singapore.
Have you ever considered a professional music career while you were growing up?
Yes definitely. I started freelancing since I was 17 and I wanted very much to pursue a career in performing.
Which influenced your decision to join the Philharmonic Winds (Philwinds)?
Distance! Hahaha… I couldn’t join Philwinds when they first started as I was then staying on campus during my first year in NTU (located in Boon Lay). If I had joined them then, it would have taken me 2 hours to travel from NTU to rehearsals and back again. I just couldn’t afford the time as I was trying to settle into Singapore and university life. I only joined them when I got my bike in my second year.
That aside, the beliefs and attitude of the Philwinds towards music making attracted me to join them. The rehearsal experience in Philwinds is very intense and everyone is very focused. It pushes everyone to do their very best. This can be daunting for some musicians, who find us too serious and critical about each other’s playing. Somehow we found enough like-minded people and went on to achieve many things together. Most importantly, the friendships and musical bonds that we had forged are also something that we cherish very much after all these years.
Speaking of Philwinds, you recently performed “Raise the Roof” by Michael Daugherty during their 10th Anniversary Gala Concert. Would you care to share your experience about that?
Firstly, it was a great honour to be asked to perform the concerto for the Philwinds 10th Anniversary Gala Concert. Secondly, performing a concerto pushes my technique abilities and performance to a different level. This is my second time performing a concerto; the last one was with SWS Percussion Ensemble under Mr. Dennis Sim in 2008.
Musically, it’s really fun as I’m sitting right in front of the ensemble, and that is a total different sonic experience as I now hear every single line played by the band. Sometimes I’m taking a lead, sometimes I’m playing an accompaniment and sometimes I’m playing unison with them.
For me, the biggest challenge of performing “Raise the Roof” is that the music requires me to play throughout, there’s no breathing time at all. It is akin to riding a roller coaster; once you’ve passed the first peak, it is non-stop action until the end of the piece.
Do you have a regimen that you stick to everyday for honing your percussion skills?
When I was preparing for my concerto performance, I practised at least 4-5 times for 3 hours max each time a week. For me, there’s a lot of slow practice whenever I’m on my instruments. Your body needs time to adjust to the playing. When I’m not practising, I would listen to all kinds of music to take my mind off the music that I’m performing. As a performer, I draw inspiration and ideas from all music. Also you need life experiences to enrich your music. I strive to strike a balance between practising and living a life.
What’s on your music stand right now? (i.e. What are you practising nowadays?)
Whatever I’m performing next!
Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline at the moment?
At the moment, I’m also the principal timpanist with The Philharmonic Orchestra. Next year, we will be doing Stravinsky’s Petrushka, I’m looking forward to that. Besides that, Philwinds is also preparing for the WASBE tour to Taiwan. I’m really excited about that too.