Conductors to Watch: Vincent Lee

A cornet player in his school days, Vincent Lee joined the Sembawang Wind Orchestra in Secondary two where he was exposed to more band repertoire and conducting which inspired him to stay in the industry till today.

At the age of 17, Vincent was successfully chosen through an audition to represent Singapore as a Trumpet player in the International Youth Wind Orchestra in Switzerland. He also recorded a solo Trumpet part with Hong Kong veteran singer and actress Nancy Sit in her album ‘Rhythm of the Rain’.

“During my polytechnic days, I was given the opportunities to tutor in secondary schools. As I had to juggle between a day job and university, I did not have formal education on the Trumpet due to a lack of finances. It was only much later that I obtained a Diploma in Trumpet Teaching from the London College of Music.”

“The opportunity for me to conduct only came up when the main conductor of the band I was tutoring had to attend to another school on certain days. As a result I was asked to stand in as the assistant conductor. Without much background, I had to read up on the concepts of building a band, as well as observing other conductors in the field. It was only till NIE opened its Specialised Diploma course in Band Directing where I had proper training to become a conductor.”

Today, Vincent is the conductor of Woodgrove Secondary School Symphonic Band and Jurong West Secondary School Symphonic Band. He is also the Assistant Conductor to Jurongville Secondary School Symphonic Band, and the Music Director at New Gen Wind Symphony, a community band house under the Taman Jurong Community Club.

“I have to tribute my music journey to my conducting professor, A.P Ho Hwee Long at NIE, my secondary school band instructors – Mr Ong Tee Hoe and Ms Sia Swee Suan, then Music Director of the Sembawang Wind Orchestra – Mr Desmond Ng, my polytechnic band director who was a very inspiring teacher – Dr Lee Tian Tee, and my conductor friends Mr Simon Ng, Ms Dorean Tan, Mr Toh Tang Yang and Mr Abdul Hakim who have been my best inspirations and guidance in the scene.”

During his years of teaching, Vincent believes that most players are ‘built’ for specific instruments.

“Choosing and allocating students to the correct instruments potentially minimises the amount of effort spent, and is extremely satisfying when students pick up the skills fast, both beneficial to the students themselves and the eventual band learning outcome.”

“My students are encouraged as far as possible, to be able to read and play their own favourite music in a span of one year. This music can be their chosen favourite, be it a Disney classic or a K-Pop hit. When students are able to do that, they will carry the confidence to teach others, and also develop the determination to move their music ability to the next level. Both traits are by any means, worthwhile values of character building.”

Vincent also believes that efficiency in time management is a primary focus during rehearsals.

“It is unrealistic in my opinion to expect students to have prior self-practice before rehearsals. The students are daily ridden with homeworks, assignments and other activities that take up their time, which is why specific, objective-driven, time efficient practices are all the more important.”

“Every session is objective driven, from achieving better technical abilities through specific repetitions, specific band warm ups that cover harmony building, intonation and articulations, to specifying measures in the choose pieces for sectional practices. Sectional practices are also scheduled and the sections are given specific instructions to achieve set objectives.”

“The chosen pieces are progressively difficult in nature, catering to the younger recruits while also allowing older players to teach the younger ones. A very active teaching culture is set in my bands, because when the the older players teach the younger ones, they actually do learn more. When objectives are achieved in the sessions, meaningful repetitions are done to ensure consistency in the longer run.”

In preparation for these objective-driven rehearsals, he believes score preparation is crucial so that he will know how much time will be roughly spent on certain segments of the piece.

“Before every rehearsal, I will have a mental timeline on how much time to spend on certain sections of the intended piece, and what are the accompanying warm ups that will help the band to reach certain objectives within the rehearsal.”

Like many conductors, Vincent dreams to be able to conduct Claude T. Smith’s Festival Variations and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor someday as these works have a vast space and a unique setting for so many different interpretations.

He also hopes that young musicians who wish to become conductors have a open mindset to learn from others.

“Aspirations are different from knowing-how. You may have the aspiration to become a conductor, but learning the ropes of becoming a conductor takes a long time and patience. Having an open mindset to learn from all conductors (be it the good ones or better ones) is extremely important!”

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