Muhamad Yusri Bin Mohamed Ali is currently serving in the Singapore Armed Forces as the Director of Music of the SAF Central Band, the Chief Instructor of the SAF Band and Conductor of Republic Polytechnic Wind Symphony (RPWS).

Yusri has since attended several conducting masterclasses with Hardy Mertens (NL), Timothy Reynish (UK), Mick Dowrick (UK), Robert Ponto (US), Stephen Peterson (US), Mallory Thompson (US), Douglas Bostock (GB), James W. McRoy (US), Shuichi Komiyama (US), Robert W. Rumbelow (US), Gary Green (US), H. Robert Reynolds (US) and Virginia Allen (US).

He is also the organizer of his 2-year Concertmaster/ Conducting Apprentice Programme in RPWS where he guides and trains student conductors in the art of conducting. The Woodlands Young Conductors Workshop was also conducted to provide an avenue to inspire young conductors to better themselves.

(This interview was conducted in September 2011 by John Joel Seow)

When did you decide that you would make conducting your career? 

I guess for many of us, we picked up conducting when were in school as a Student Conductor of our school bands. I was very fortunate to be able to see so many conductors at work all through my studying days; both in my school bands and the Singapore Youth Orchestra (SYO). When I joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and played in the Central Band, I had the opportunity to watch many international guest conductors at work. I can’t say for sure the exact moment or event that made me decide on a conducting route. The move felt really natural. I knew that I needed to train hard so that I can do a great job of it. I think it is more a love and passion for music making than anything else that made me choose to be a conductor.

Who are your role models in the conducting world?

This depends on what aspects of conducting you are talking about. I am influenced by many conductors in the field. Some are conductor-conductor while the rest are music educators with strong conducting abilities. I think the following lists out my top four! Not in any particular order. A great teacher and friend, Dr. Timothy Reynish, Maestro Douglas Bostock, Composer-Conductor, Hardy Mertens and the Director of Bands at University of Illinois, Dr. Robert W. Rumbelow.

You are the brains behind the Woodlands Young Conductors Workshop. Tell us a bit about what participants can expect to gain from this event.

The intention of the Woodlands Young Conductors Workshop (WYCW) was to provide an opportunity for young conductors to work on improving their conducting technique and  communication skills. Conductors communicate their ideas and intentions to the musicians through their baton and the better their grasps of the language, the clearer will be the transmitted message. Many of us simply beat time but there is more to conducting than just time-beating; there is tension, drama, emotions and most definitely, a story.

Since the 1st WYCW in 2009, the Republic Polytechnic Wind Symphony (RPWS) has been the demo band and through this project, the band has helped many participants in their quest to be better at conducting and music. Participants are of various levels of competency. Some are beginners and some are conductors of secondary school bands in Singapore. Whatever the level, everyone learn from each other and will leave the workshop remembering something that could help them be better conductors.

The next workshop is on 6 and 8 October 2011 and registration is still open for applicants and observers. Please visit here for information and how to join the workshop!

Do you feel that there have been more young musicians taking an interest in conducting, compared to, say, 5 years ago?

Yes, I think there is a growing number of young musicians taking up conducting now as compared to 5 years ago and this was evident from watching the School Bands Central judging last April. I am concerned about their level of preparedness and competency. On one hand, I applaud their desire to teach and inspire but on the other hand, I wish they would spend some time studying so that they can be more effective in their teaching. The students in the bands are pretty much a reflection of the conductor in front. I feel sad if my student stops playing after being in my band programme because they did not enjoy themselves playing music.

You have served as an officer in the SAF Band for quite a while. Tell us about the roles you played within the unit.

I was commissioned in 2000 when I returned from my studies and since then, I have been the Director of Music of SAF Band B, Chief Instructor of The SAF Band and now, the Director of Music of the SAF Central Band. As an officer in the SAF Band, we are not only required to conduct the bands, we have other administrative roles to perform too. However, I always light up when I know I have a full band session and we will be reading something new!

You play the trumpet as well. As a conductor, how much time do you dedicate to maintaining your proficiency on the instrument?

I was very fortunate to have very good trumpet teachers in Ms Chan Peck Suan, Mr Peck Sin Chuan and Professor Edmund Cord from the Indiana University. They focused quite a bit on strengthening my basics and musicality. Even when I stopped playing for many months, I can still sound acceptable, albeit lacking in stamina! But, with time, I can get what I used to be able to do. However, with the many available young talents in Singapore right now, I think I can safely take the trumpet out for recreation only! I do enjoy teaching trumpet! I love to share what was shared to me by my great teachers.

Are you pursuing any non-musical endeavours at the moment?

A great non-musical passion of mine is Cooking! I love to cook. I was thinking of opening a restaurant one day so that I can cook full time! This love stems from my desire to eat “good food”. ”Good food” costs a lot of money! So I decided to cook it myself. Every time I visit a restaurant, I would see how the chef prepares the dish and I would try to replicate it! Cooking shows and books are also great resources for me. Care to try my cooking?

Before we sign off, do you have anything else to share?

In today’s context, Conducting is no longer just about waving a baton or hand in front of a group of musicians. Conductors need to have a strong command of interpersonal abilities and leadership strategies so that he can lead the band in all aspects, not just musical. I discovered in my daily exposure to musicians, both professional and student, that the success of the rehearsal and indeed performance is very much connected to how much they feel for and believe in you, their Conductor.


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.