Conductors to Watch: Gavilan Neo

Originally a choir member in his primary school days, Gavilan Neo‘s band life began when he joined the Montfort Military Band as a clarinetist under the baton of Mr Ng Eng Kee.

“My first exposure in music was traditional Teochew music through my family. I joined the band in 2003 as I wanted a music-related CCA, and one that’s preferably held in an air-conditioned room.”

Gavilan then joined the Nanyang Polytechnic Symphony Orchestra as a flautist, and went on to obtain a Diploma in Music Performance in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).

He had the privilege to study flute under Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) Principal flautist Jin Ta and Evgueni Brokmiller (SSO Associate Principal flautist), and performed in the NAFA Orchestra under the direction of conductors Lim Yau and Volker Hartung.

“I have always enjoyed going for band activities. After secondary school, I did part-time teaching and assisted in various school bands. These experiences allowed me to clarify my career direction to puruse music at NAFA which eventually influenced me to become a conductor.”

As resident conductor of both Montfort Military Band and Nanyang Junior College Symphonic Band (NYJCSB), Gavilan believes that having good music techniques is fundamental to band performance.

“On many occasions, musical ideas cannot be fully expressed due to technical limitations. However, I believe it is important to provide my students with good foundation so that they are able to pursue their music passion in future.”

“I also believe a good band should enjoy what they play and make music come alive. When students have good techniques, they would enjoy the music better and can express more musicality.”

“Of course, when teaching our students; many of whom are beginning musicians, the challenge is always to find the right balance.”

Apart from strong fundamentals, he also believes in picking educational materials for his students.

“The type of music I pick changes as I grow older. Instinctively, I prefer to conquer challenging wind band repertoires that are beyond my personal capabilities at any point in time.”

“It is good training to develop myself professionally, but it is always exhilarating when I have achieved my goals. An example is David R. Holsinger’s In the Spring, At The Time When Kings Go Off to War, which I did with NYJCSB at Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation 2019.”

“In general, most music have contexts that are educational for students. Instead of subscribing to a form or type of music, I believe it is important for band directors to know how to create educational materials out of the repertoire they intend to use.”

Apart from conducting, Gavilan is also actively involved in the Montfort Alumni Wind Orchestra (MAWO), whom he see as a band of brothers.

“It is always delightful to see band members of different eras gather on our regular rehearsals and suppers. Everything is done like the good old Montfort days, in the familiar Montfort way.”

“More than just a platform to perform, MAWO brings old friends and different generations together. I see my present students as my juniors who will carry on the legacy of the band and hope that in the future, they will see us as older brothers whom they can continue making music with and have discussions with that go beyond music.”

In his years of teaching, Gavilan realises the greatest sense of satisfaction at work is the journey of making music with his students.

“I enjoy the process of working with students to achieve higher musical capabilities and seeing them become delighted with their personal development.”

“I do hope that more parents and educators can recognise the value of school band programmes in developing 21st Century students; Band has allowed me to grow in many aspects during my teenage years and I hope that my students will have similar takeaways.”

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