Regarded as an exceptional teacher to many, veteran band conductor Mr Lin Ah Leck (林生) passed away on 13 October 2019.
It is with heavy hearts, from many of us in the Singapore Band fraternity, to bid a final farewell to our colleague, friend and senior Band Director Mr Lin Ah Leck.
Mr Lin was amongst the group of pioneer band instructors who were trained and deployed to spearhead the band movement in Singapore. His unrelenting passion, energy and fervent commitment to teaching has gained much respect from colleagues and students alike. Besides having conducted many Wind Bands (school / community), Mr Lin was also very active in the Chinese Orchestra movement.
We will remember fondly one of Mr Lin’s favourite line to musicians during his rehearsals was – please give me a chance to do one more time. Such humility has since been deeply rooted in many of us today. Inadvertently, he has in turn given us a chance to be what we are and what we can in music. A good father and an influential teacher, Mr Lin has left with us not just knowledge, but also the fond memories of many wonderful performances under his baton. The wisdom, good conversations and much insights of a great and humble man who had worked with us, will continue to live in our hearts for many years to come.
From all of us,
Band Directors’ Association (Singapore)
Mr Lin graduated from the Teacher’s Training College in 1971, and became a full time band conductor from 1977 onwards.
He was awarded a scholarship from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) in 1979 to study music in Sydney, Australia, and subsequently obtained an Advance Certificate in Music Education from the National Institute of Education in 1981.
In that very year, Mr Lin conducted the Temasek Junior College Symphonic Band in its first ever concert, Prelude I. Since then, he has been a mentor to his students till his passing.
‘Band give me a chance.’ A phrase heard by generations of TJ Band students. Most of the time, the mistake was ours but this was perhaps his gentle way of reassuring us and getting us to try again. This was what he was like to many of us. He was firm but never fierce or unreasonable with us. He taught us never to be satisfied with what is, and to always think of what could be. His simple ‘再来一次’s were profound lessons on introspection and self-assessment. From him we learnt to take ownership of our music. It was never “do this or that”, but “go and think of how you can match the band sound”.
Through him, we learnt how music is a full-bodied experience. His eclectic taste for music demonstrated to us how music knows no boundaries. Most of us start out band life in the TJ band room wondering why tuning had to take forever but as time went by and when we heard ourselves produce that magical TJ band sound, we understood why. At rehearsals he would take us from ‘Bangkok’ to “Germany’ several times until we finally get things right. And sometimes we had to repeat from ‘F-fu’ or ‘Orange’.
Each time, he would thank the band and we would sometimes wonder why we deserved any thanking. But that was Linsheng for you. Performances with him were always thrilling to say the least. He would always remind us to ‘enjoy the performance, Band! never mind if it was the SYF or a regular concert. ‘Enjoy so the audience (and the judges) also enjoy with us the music’ was his gentle reminder to us all. We always looked forward to those climatic moments where the TJ Band magic happens; that moment of splendour where his concept of the ‘big ball’ sound arrives. Words can’t quite adequately explain his music, you had to be there to feel it in your bones.
TJ Band will always be very special experience for every single student who had been under Lin Sheng’s baton. He was humble, always keen to learn, and ever ready to bounce ideas and discuss music. Band practice was more than just playing notes to fulfil CCA requirements. Band was our escape from the boredom of home and school. Band was where we gathered as partners in music. Even after graduation, we felt that same excitement performing under his baton as an alumni. Nothing can explain him staying back on Saturday nights to conduct us pro bono other than his passion for music and love for us.
To our dearest Lin Sheng 林生, you have been our rock and a Father figure through almost 4 decades of TJ band. Thank you for always making time for us, above and beyond what duty called for. Thank you for always believing in us, and assuring us that we’ll make progress as long as we do not let up. Thank you for always genuinely caring for us all. We are blessed to have been part of your magical journey as a musician and we hope we have also made you proud of us. Words cannot express the intense sadness we are feeling at your sudden departure. We pray that you are still happily making music wherever you may be.
It mattered not where we were from, to TJC Symphonic Band we all belonged.
Winnie Chew (TJC Symphonic Band Alumni), compiled from various notes left by TJC Band members
Between 1989 to 1993, Mr Lin was the resident conductor at Raffles Girls’ School Symphonic Band, and also taught at St Hilda’s Secondary School Wind Orchestra. He then became resident conductor at St Gabriel’s School Symphonic Band (SGSSB) in 1995.
In 1997, Mr Lin was provided a scholarship by the Ministry of Education to study music at the University of Illinois, USA. He was also awarded the Long Service Award from the President of Singapore that year.
In recognition of his music work, he was awarded the Contribution for Performance of Art from the Nanyang Hakka Community Clan.
It was during my secondary school days that I met Mr Lin. I joined SGSSB in 2003 when I was secondary 1. During that time, Mr Lin was not the main conductor but the junior band conductor, as he was training Mr Jeffrey Chan on how to lead the band. It was only after I graduated from St Gabriel’s in 2007 that Mr Lin took over the band again as main conductor.
During my five years with Mr Lin, there was so much joy and laughter. He loves to use quotes like “band, please give me a chance”, and scold us on our music, like, “Why are you rushing? Rushing to Holland ah? 赶去投胎?”
I remember working closely with Mr Lin when I was playing in Moulmein Wind Symphony and Singapore Wind Symphony, when he guest conducted them. He was particularly strict and sensitive to sound and harmony, and would spend hours drilling us on the sound and harmony practices that he arranged.
At that point, I had no idea why harmony was important, but I began to realise when I started to pursue my further studies on clarinet and music. Mr Lin was always motivational and inspirational. We would always chat a lot when I come back to SGS during my summer breaks, and without fail, he would always motivate and support me.
Mr Lin has played a major role in my music journey which led me to pursue my music studies. I will not forget his teachings and he will always be remembered.
Jeremy Chua (Clarinetist, SGSSB Alumni)
Mr Lin played an integral part of the Maris Stella bands when he became the music director of the Maris Stella Primary School and High School Bands in 2002.
He also started to conduct the Maris Stella Symphonic Band Alumni in 2003, and led them to a Gold Medal at the 15th World Music Contest held in Kerkrade, the Netherlands in July 2005.
In 2006, he led both Maris Stella Alumni Band (MAWE) and Temasek Junior College Symphonic Band at the 1st National Band Competition held in Singapore. Both bands not only attained Gold awards, but also the Top Band position in the 1st and Open Categories respectively.
The very day Lin Sheng told me to start Maris Alumni Wind Ensemble (MAWE) with him, it was a ‘dream come true’ moment.
Lin Sheng has been an inspiring conductor during my years in Maris Stella Symphonic Band. He didn’t scold the band even once during his years of teaching in Maris Stella. His famous lines in Maris were ‘Band, 从这里再来一次’，’Wa Lau eh, 不要乱乱玩哈!’, ‘Don’t disappoint’, and ‘你的音飘到荷兰去了’.
Perhaps due to the fact that Maris is an all boys school, he was stricter with us since all of us were just like ‘little devils’. He was very precise of the sound concept and direction he wanted out of each piece, and he will patiently describe to us in every possible ways he could think of. Whenever we made any mistakes or didn’t play up to standard, he would just put all the faults and pressure on himself so that all of us can focus on creating the best music.
He once told me, ‘As a musician, your job is to bring out the best sound, meaning and emotion engraved in each and every single note on the score.’ I definitely did not understand what he meant until the later part of my music journey with him.
Back then, Lin Sheng had a really big dream for Maris Stella. He wanted a ‘IP’ system for our members, to progress from Maris Stella Primary to Maris Stella Secondary and then on to the alumni band. It was a dream that many of us thought was far fetch and hard to achieve but he was very determined to do it. He continued to build and grow each band one year after another.
For the alumni band, his ambition was way bigger. He wanted us to participate in World Music Contest (WMC). We were a newly formed band and all of us had no experience in organising or running a band. It was difficult but his endless encouragement got us together and press on. We eventually did it, represented Singapore, clinched a gold at WMC and achieved 3rd place. It was him behind all of these achievements. Even though my team and I handled most of the admin and logistics, we definitely would not have done it without Lin Sheng.
Since then, MAWE has continued to bloom and grow to greater heights every year. MAWE has been his brainchild, his work, and an achievement unlocked by him. We would not have existed without him.
I am really thankful and grateful that he gave us the chance to continue playing music together even after graduating. He has provided a platform for us to perform a more advance level of repertoire. Lin Sheng’s dedication, perseverance and effort put into the band have succeeded in moulding so many great and fine musicians out of Maris Stella. We the Marist bandits can’t express how much gratitude we have for him.
Even though he has left us, his legacy will not end here. Just like the slogan of MAWE – ‘The legacy continues…’, we will always keep his legacy, his sound concept, his wish, his ambition and his motto as the core of MAWE and Marist bands.
Once again, Lin Sheng. Thank you.
Fredy Chia (Maris Stella Band Alumni)
Mr Lin served as a member of Composers & Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS), a committee member of Composer’s Association (Singapore), and Vice-President of the Singapore Chinese Instrumental Music Association. He is also the Honorary Council Member of the Singapore Chinese Music Federation and a committee member of the Musicians Society of Singapore.
As a composer himself, he was commissioned by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra to write several works, including ‘Elation’, ‘Millennium Overture’, ‘Legend of The Lion City’, ‘Concerto For Two Chinese Flutes’ and ‘Singapore River‘, which was performed in the 1999 Singapore Arts Festival. He has also composed and arranged many works for wind band and vocal.
Apart from his schools, Mr Lin also guest conducts several community groups, such as Singapore Wind Symphony, The Philharmonic Winds and Moulmein Wind Ensemble (2006 to 2010). He has also led the National School Combined Band and National School Combined Symphony Orchestra on various occasions, and the Braddell Heights Community Centre Symphony Orchestra and Chinese Orchestra, and 应和会馆华乐团 YFFK Chinese Orchestra in many performances.
The Philharmonic Winds and Philharmonic Youth Winds had the opportunity to learn from Mr Lin in our concert at the Singapore Conference Hall in September 2006. While we could forgive our memories for being hazy, given that the concert took place more than a decade ago, our members who played in it most fondly remember Mr Lin’s humble persona. Back then, he was already well-respected in the scene, and had taught a number of our musicians.
For those who had not experienced his rehearsals up till then, we were most surprised by his “One more time, please give me a chance”” comments whenever he need to stop to work on a section. We later learnt that he behaved the same way with his school bands too, and it spoke volumes about his kindly and respectful nature. Thank you, Mr Lin, for role modelling what true humility is.
Lionel Lye (President, The Philharmonic Winds)
Before I begin, I would like everyone reading this to take a minute and reminisce the times we had spent under Mr Lin’s baton. Generations upon generations of musicians have had the honour to play under his baton, benefiting immensely from his selfless teachings and musical concepts. He is like a candle that burns and shines brightly into the lives of his students.
When I heard the news of Mr Lin’s passing, thoughts and memories of yesteryears flashed through my mind as the scene of our last meeting played in my head like it was yesterday. It was during this year’s Singapore Youth Festival (Concert Band) Presentation in April, at the Singapore Conference Hall. He walked up to me, shook my hands and wished me the very best for my band’s presentation, bringing me warmth and comfort that a senior in the band scene should show such care and concern to a junior like me.
Another fond memory of Mr Lin, was when he asked me to guest play for the Marist Alumni Band for WMC 2005 and NBC 2006. This was when I was introduced to his famous metal baton, which he never fails to utilise in keeping us in time during rehearsals (And, yes, many metal stands were sacrificed in the process). His insistence of tuning the band to perfection has become his ‘signature move’, coupled with his catch-phrase of, ‘Band, please give me a chance’, speaks for the humility that Mr Lin exemplifies.
When I took over the helm of leading Moulmein Wind Symphony (currently known as Novo Winds), I took the opportunity and asked Mr Lin to conduct the band. His delivery and interpretation of the music was both gentle, yet powerful. His frequent jokes always lifted the mood during band practices. Under his tutelage, many of the musicians had blossomed into competent players, further honing their skills and musicianship as players.
What Mr Lin treasured most in life was his family, friends and students, especially the relationships and rapport woven seamlessly into his life. Thank you Mr Lin, for believing in us, and for seeing something special in every one of your students. We will miss your insistent tuning, we will miss hearing you say, ‘Band, please give me a chance’, and we will definitely miss your music.
Thank you for touching our lives in ways that nobody can.
Li Zhenqiang (former president of Moulmein Wind Ensemble)
For spending decades as a music teacher and conductor, Mr Lin received his Long Service (39 years) award from the Ministry of Education in 2012.
As a well respected and significant figure in both the Singapore wind band and chinese music scene, he has spent his entire career educating young musicians and grooming young composers, many of whom are making differences in society today.
A contributing editor at TBP.