Benjamin Yeo is a Singaporean composer who is internationally notable for his original wind band works.
As a band enthusiast, Benjamin started writing and arranging music for wind bands and ensembles at the age of fifteen. His works have since been performed in both local and overseas concerts, and have also been featured on both national and international platforms such as the locally held Bi-annual Singapore Youth Festival Central Judging for Brass/Concert Bands and various contest/festival lists around the world.
His compositions, such as “Beyond the Highlands”, “Legend of the Ancient Hero” and “As the Moon Whispers” have received accolades on the international level, with most of music published by C. L. Barnhouse Company and Beriato Music (Belgium). His works have also been recorded by world renowned ensembles like the Washington Winds in the USA, the Royal Netherlands Army Band ‘Johan Willem Friso’, Rundfunk Blasorchester Leipzig and Royal Band of the Belgian Guides in Europe.
The Band Post speaks to Benjamin, who is also the composer of this year’s SYF Arts Presentation set piece “Future of Tomorrow” in an exclusive interview.
How does it feel to be commissioned to write for this year’s primary school SYF?
I am glad to be able to contribute something back to the band community here in Singapore. My life would have been very different if not for my band education and exposure I received since Secondary School.
Being the third local composer to be commissioned to write an SYF set piece after the late Mr. Leong Yoon Pin as well as Dr. Kelly Tang, who was also my composition teacher, is definitely very meaningful to me.
This project served as an important affirmation for our growing local band (composition) scene and I hope to inspire more students to be part of this exciting journey.
Why a march, as compared to previous set pieces which were short overtures or band works?
I strongly believe in the educational value of a march. The structure is fairly straightforward and students need not worry much about the more complicated aspects of a programmatic work or overture for example, while focusing on developing fundamentals.
The march is a good training/assessment tool for tone-production, breathing and phrasing, rhythmic precision, tempo consistency, stylistic articulation, dynamic contrasts, balance, structural and instrumental-role awareness – the list goes on! Not only is it a good tool, it is also lively and spirited with very singable themes for young students to enjoy the music during their rehearsals. The notion of ‘singing’ is also extremely effective to teach musical lines and pitch accuracy.
As an educator, I often imagine how I can best engage students to aid their learning process and (further) cultivate their interest in music-making. That’s how ‘Future of Tomorrow’ was initialised.
Would you say it is relatively easy to write for lower grades? If not, why?
Definitely not – in fact, the simpler the music the more difficult it is to write well!
Music at a lower grade level is often restrictive due to its technical limitations (e.g. keys, instrumental ranges and physical restriction of younger players) as well as instrumentation challenges. These compositions need to be well-thought-out, keeping in mind at all times what younger players can or cannot do while maintaining good musical coherence and sensibility in the work. Most importantly, it needs to sustain interest and help build confidence for these young ones so that they will continue playing in future.
I have written several works for young bands and ‘Future of Tomorrow’ seems to be the most challenging to write so far. I spent more time than usual looking at every single part to ensure its playability and even so, there are always more rooms for consideration!
The march fuses excerpts from Malay folk songs – were these intentional for the work to stay close to our hearts?
Through this march, I hope students will be introduced to some of our Malay folk songs. ‘Katak Lompat’ was specially chosen as a tribute to Mr. Mitsuo Nonami who has used this tune in his earlier SYF set piece for Primary Schools, ‘Sunset by the Lakeside’. He has always been an important figure in the development of our local band scene as an educator and composer.
This melody in minor key also landed itself very well in the 2nd strain of the march. The tune from ‘Rasa Sayang’ was used later on as a bridging motif through sequences into the final strain of the march.
What advices do you have for the students involved in the music-making process?
Preparing for SYF is never easy considering the limitations faced by many schools here in Singapore. I think the most important thing about music-making is to learn as much as possible, enjoy the music and treasure those times spent with each other during the process.
Till today, I still remember vividly the SYF moments with my band-mates and we still meet up today although we have graduated for years. I would say close friendship is probably one of the most successful outcomes of the SYF.
What do you think the band scene will be in 5 years time? Do you have a dream?
The band scene here in Singapore is getting more exciting. We have great opportunities for performers, conductors and composers to excel in their field.
I hope one day, Singapore can be a valuable and important band hub in Asia for educators, conductors, composers, publishers and students all over the world to gather, network and learn from each other. How nice it is to have our own version of ‘Midwest Clinic’; I often think about how such a big event can be organized in our Suntec City Convention halls, the Singapore Expo or the Marina Bay Sands.
Well, it’s an expensive dream – but I guess that’s where possibilities begin!
To learn more about Benjamin Yeo and his works, visit his website here.
A contributing editor at TBP.