Do Singaporean wind bands have a repertoire they can call their own? Do we have our own “classics”? Indeed we do, but we seem to be reluctant to celebrate these works as well as their composers, and failed to give them the recognition they richly deserve.
Here is a personal list and a broad survey of the field. Do you agree that these are or may one day become classics? Are there any other works you know that are not in the list?
Arrangements & Transcriptions
HO Hwee Long (arr.) | A Dance of the Yao (Liu Tieh San)
UMETANI & HO Hwee Long (arr.) | Malay Folk Songs Selection
Mitsuo NONAMI (arr.) | Asian Selection No. 1 / Asian Selection No. 2
LEONG Yoon Pin | “Giocoso: Larghamente” from Symphony No. 2 (1979/1988)
Arrangements & transcriptions of music not originally written for the wind band play just an important a role in the wind band repertoire as original compositions. In the 60s and 70s, when there were not as many published works for wind bands available, it was commonplace for band directors to make suitable arrangements for their bands to perform.
One of the most important of these arrangers, and also one of Singapore’s most important wind music educators is Assoc Prof. Ho Hwee Long who is a mentor to an entire generation of wind band directors and music teachers. Amongst his many arrangements, A Dance of the Yao has remained an evergreen favourite until today. Lesser known is the Malay Folk Songs Selections created in collaboration with H. Umetani.
Another important arranger who worked alongside the great Naohiro Iwai for the pioneering YAMAHA New Sounds in Brass series, Mitsuo Nonami fell in love with Southeast Asia. Nonami remains passionately committed to spreading his expertise in and love for wind band music all around the region, creating unique “New Sounds” arrangements of local folk songs and popular tunes. Asian Selection No. 1 & No. 2 are shining examples of his skill, which blends commercial appeal with humor and virtuosity.
Because Mr. Leong created such precious little material for wind bands, his own transcription of the 2nd Movement of his Second Symphony “Giocoso: Larghamente” needs to be included here. This arrangement was created for the NTSB for its performance in Hong Kong as part of the APBDA Conference in 1988.
In recent years, a number of very talented arrangers who have likewise grown up playing in wind bands, and who are exposed to the wildly different styles of arrangement and orchestration by European, American and Japanese arrangers.
Capitalizing on the local and regional mandopop craze, Sinyee YAP’s Mayday Medley and ONG Jiin Joo’s Those Years must have been on the concert program of every secondary, tertiary and community band for a whole year or more. Their arrangements were so good, that they were also popular in the Taiwan where these hits originate.
Like band directors in the 60s and 70s, Mohd Rasull honed his skills as an arranger creating arrangements of music that his students wanted to play in order to motivate them.
As part of a team of composers, including Terrence Wong, Jinjun Lee and many others, working with the Singapore Wind Symphony in their annual Singapore A Musical Celebration! series have churned out scores of arrangements of national songs, musical theatre and even jazz music by the great Jeremy Monteiro.
Amongst these, Rasull’s Forbidden City Suite, Kahchun Wong’s swinging take on Singapore’s favourite national song Home, Ong Jiin Joo’s medley from the mandarin musical “If there are seasons” featuring the xinyao hits of Liang Wern Fook, Terrence Wong’s stylish arrangement of Monteiro’s standard finale Soliloquy and Jinjun Lee’s wind band version of the jazz giant’s classical-folk Overture in C – The Story of Singapore hit the spot like many of the others.
Syawal KASSIM | Suite of Malay Dances
Zaidi SABTU-RAMLI | Munnaeru Vaalibaa
Danial ARIFFIN | Enigma
As this survey of classics or would-be classics come to a close, it must surely be apparent that the breadth & depth of Singapore’s wind band literature is not a figment of someone’s feverish patriotic imagination.
With top ensembles like The Philharmonic Winds championing cutting edge works like Chen Zhangyi’s Towards Dawn in their “Singapore Compose!” series, and world-renowned soloists like Joseph Alessi, Joe Burgstaller and Steven Mead giving the world premieres of our composers concerto works – there is no question that our composers are up to the mark, and their work hold their own when compared to the best of wind music all over the world.
As you wander down the list of recent works, you will find compositions rooted in tradition (like Syawal Kassim’s wonderful Suite of Malay Dances), history, nostalgia, innovation and personal expression. Beyond what they do for the wind band scene, these composers are capturing our dreams and memories, and expressing the hopes and aspirations of all Singaporeans – and sharing them with the world. As I type these final words I am overjoyed to read that Jinjun Lee’s new work was selected as the winning composition of the 2014 World Projects Composition Contest and will be given its premiere in June 2015 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the Los Angeles International Music Festival. What does the future hold? Nobody knows, but I hope that whether we have our own “classics” will very soon become a rhetorical question.
This article is the second of a two part series and is preceded by “Marches and Concert Works.”
Adrian Tan (1977 – 2021) graduated with honours in Theatre Studies from the National University of Singapore, and Masters of Music (M.Mus) in Conducting from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music under the guidance of Imre Pallo. He has appeared with orchestras and wind ensembles in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, China, Taiwan, Romania, the Netherlands and the United States as a guest conductor. Since returning home, he has dedicated himself to the advocacy of classical music and the music of Singaporean composers with innovative concert programs and outreach activities. He is the Music Director of the Singapore Wind Symphony, the Braddell Heights Symphony Orchestra and the Saigon Philharmonic (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam).
Adrian has left us on 12 July 2021 but we would like to remember and acknowledge his contributions to The Band Post and the band scene.