Ms Samantha Chong has been holding the appointment of Music Director of several school bands. Under her baton, her bands have received Gold Awards at the Singapore Youth Festival Central Judging. Currently, she is the Music Director of the St Margaret’s Symphonic Band, Fuhua Military Band and Hougang Secondary School Band.

Awarded a scholarship by the Singapore Public Service Commission to the University of Northern Colorado, USA, Ms Samantha Chong, studied under renowned musicians Buddy Baker and Jack Robinson and well-known professors of conducting, Eugene Corporon and David Wallace, and graduated with a Bachelor of Music (Performance). With a desire to keep abreast with educational trends in music, she had also obtained a Master in Education (Music) from the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University.

Ms Samantha Chong is well-respected on the local music scene, where she is an accomplished trombonist, who actively performs a range of music from classical music to musicals and contemporary works to jazz and gospel with various groups. Since her return from her overseas studies, she had been performing with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra until recently. She is currently the Principal Trombonist of the Singapore Festival Orchestra and the Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra and is the Band Leader of WindWorkz: the Big Band.

A much sought-after music educator, she has groomed many lower brass players of the Singapore Youth Orchestra, the National University of Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and the Singapore Armed Forces Band. Other than her involvement with performing groups, she has also shared her knowledge and experience as an adjunct lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

(This interview was conducted in April 2012)

How did you come to choose music education as a major? Did you consider other paths before deciding on a music career?

Music performance was my principal major. I still enjoy playing a lot. For me, music education is a natural progression, an extension of my music career. Besides teaching youths at the secondary school level, I also teach private students of all ages and in tertiary and community settings. My youngest student was 8 and oldest was 60! 

I joined the band when I was in Primary One because the band instructor was also my form teacher and almost the whole class was roped into the band. From then on, it was music all the way through secondary school and junior college.

I am also quite athletically inclined and would have chosen a sports-related career if I did not go into music.

Was there anyone in particular that encouraged you to pursue a conducting career?

The conductors that left an impact on me are Mr Lee Seck Chiang, Mr Luk Hoi Yui and my conducting professors at university and of course, the renowned orchestral conductors who conducted SSO. There wasn’t anyone who actually encouraged me to pursue a conducting career. As a trombonist, besides playing, I get to sit behind and observe the person who stands in front of the ensemble. I enjoy looking at them and learning from all of them.

You hold degrees from both the University of  Northern Colorado and the National Institute of Education, NTU. How did this education aid you in your career?

At the University of Northern Colorado, I was a performance major and a Public Service Commission (PSC) scholar. My focus was to graduate and perform with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra(SSO). I was hoping to do a double degree but PSC did not allow that. All this while, I never really left the band scene as I was still playing in the university band. After SSO, I decided I should get a proper teaching degree and I enrolled for the Master in Education programme at NIE/NTU. The graduate course was more academic-based and I realized I was able to substantiate what I have been teaching through the research done by others. I was also able to learn much from reading journals and research papers.

What were some of your most memorable moments as a conductor?

The beautiful sound produced by my students are memorable moments. I am so happy to see the joy on their faces and the passion and commitment that they display. Two most memorable moments happened to be the first notes played by my bands during the SYF in 2003 and 2009.

How do you keep your students motivated to continually improve and strive to reach their greatest potential?

I like to expose them to different genres of music. I stress the importance of listening and practising smart. I also encourage them to watch all forms of performing arts and I try hard to get the schools to engage instrumental tutors so they can learn the correct way.

You are currently an active player with the Singapore Festival Orchestra and the Singapore Lyric Opera Orchestra. Can you talk about your involvement and what you find you gain in being involved in local music?

SFO and SLO are project-based orchestras. In a way it is good because besides teaching, I get to keep playing and it refreshes me every time and I learn new perspectives of music making and teaching. Also it is a very good way to keep in touch with fellow musicians and friends.

Tell us more of WindWorkz, the big band which you lead. What are the reasons behind its establishment, and what are some of its upcoming projects?

I have always enjoyed playing in a big band since after my stint with the SAF Music & Drama Company. I believe as a trombonist, one needs to play in all kinds of ensembles. WindWorkz was formed five years ago. I was thinking about forming one with friends from church and it was a coincidence that another friend was thinking about it. So one day, we sat down and talked and this big band came about. Our mission and vision is to play music for a good cause and for fellowship. Most of these friends are “weekend warriors”. We play for closed functions and we hope to have a gig every quarter.

Many would remember you as being part of the success at Nanyang Girls Concert Band for over 10 years. What were your feelings after your departure last year? Any words of encouragement for past, current and future students?

Nanyang Girls’ Concert Band was my baby and I’m proud of its achievements. The girls are passionate about music making and I enjoyed seeing all of them mature into better musicians. Leaving is always sad but I have moved on and I wish the girls all the best in whatever they undertake. NYCB…the passion lives on

Do you have anything to add before we sign off?

Thanks for the music!


Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.