Commissioned as an officer of the Singapore Armed Forces on 1 Aug 2004, ME5 Tan Aik Kee is currently the Director of Music for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Ceremonial Band

In 1993, ME5 Tan joined the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) Band and was later appointed as the Concertmaster and Drum Major of the SAF Central Band. In 1998, he was selected to attend the Drum Major Course at the Defence Force School of Music in Melbourne, Australia. 

As a clarinettist, ME5 Tan was admitted as an Associate of the Trinity College of London and a Licentiate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1997 and 1998 respectively. He also graduated and attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Music with First Class Honours from Kingston University, London in 2004.

In 2007, ME5 Tan received a scholarship to pursue the Bandmaster Course at the Royal Military School of Music (RMSM), Kneller Hall, in London, United Kingdom. During this period, ME5 Tan learnt conducting from Major (Retired) Roger Swift and Professor Robin Page, studied Harmony and Composition under Professor Mark Uglow, Music History and Analysis with Dr Tom Czepiel, Orchestration with Professor Stephen Roberts and Major Dennis Burton, keyboard works with Professor Berendina Cook as well as the clarinet with Captain {Retired) Frank Slack.

Apart from his military career, ME5 Tan is also the resident conductor of the Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) Concert Band since 2004, where he was also once a member of the band.

ME5 Tan Aik Kee will be joining the University of North Texas College of Music for his Master of Music in Wind Conducting.

Congratulations on the offer to study at the University of North Texas with Eugene Corporon and the rest of the faculty, what are your feelings about this opportunity? What do you look forward to?

I am grateful to the SAF for the sponsorship for me to advance my skills and knowledge in wind conducting and studies. The sponsorship signifies SAF’s commitment to nurture and advance the expertises of our servicemen in their respective vocations, even in music – a performing art.

To learn from Professor Corporon is really a dream come true for me as I have always looked up to him as one of the distinguished precursors in wind studies; and to study in UNT College of Music – one of the largest wind music schools internationally, is something that I am looking much forward to.

I anticipate a fruitful time with not only Professor Corporon but the other faculty members such as Dr Andrew Trachsel and Dr Daniel Cook, to reignite my passion in wind band music and performance by learning from them and working with the graduates and undergraduates, .

How does your career in the SAF Band and other conducting experiences from NP Band prepare you for your studies?

Through my 18 years of conducting experiences with the SAF Band and NP Band, it has instilled in me the skills and knowledge required to bring the best out of the ensembles that I conduct.

These experiences equipped me with the conducting and rehearsing skills required for a wide array of repertoire, and allowed me to deepen my conducting techniques such that I am able to translate musical notes on scores to music that animate the dramas, evoke emotions or paint the scenarios that the composer had intended it to.

Music performances that do not stir the hearts, are merely organised noise. Additionally, the experiences helped me learnt the aspect of people-to-people relationship that is also crucial in music making since we are after all, performers of the musical compositions.

You recently had a taste of the UNT when you attended their conductors collegium. What are some of your thoughts about the experience?

The course was very well organised with the idea to impart conducting skills to the students, and to ensure that the foundation of conducting is well established. I have gained much insights into my conducting skills, and how after so many years of conducting, what ultimately counts is my basic techniques, and what I want to describe with my hands and baton.

The collegium really brought me back to basics and to the reasons why I chose conducting in the first place. The participants are all privileged as we had the entire faculty there to guide and mentor us, and suggest to us what gesture would work best for the musicians to perform the music well. Participants were also encouraged to provide inputs to one another so that we not only learn from the professors, but also from the musicians who were the receivers of our conducting. 

What are some of your influences or inspirations throughout your music career?

My influences come from the conductors that I had the privilege to learn from. From my school days to my professional conducting career – the late Mr Cheng Yau Wan, my Secondary School Band instructor in Thomson Secondary School, who was the school band disciplinary master and also the softball coach; Mr Yeo Poong Poh, who was like a close friend who taught me in Ngee Ann Polytechnic Concert Band; Professor Ho Hwee Long, whom I had the privilege to learn under his baton in NIE Band; the late Mr Luk Hoi Yui who taught me in NTSB and SWS days, and many more.

From them, I saw their passion for music and teaching, and most importantly, their genuine care for their students like a friend, a mentor and a father to them. That was what inspired me to do the same for those I teach.

What are some of the music you enjoy conducting? Do you have any favourites?

I do not have favourites as I see myself as a tool of the composers to bring their music alive. Whatever pieces that I have chosen or required to conduct, I will do my utmost, together with the musicians, to bring the best out of the musical notes to the audience.

Um….perhaps this question should be directed at my students, they will know the answer 🙂

What advices do you have for young aspiring conductors and also the current ones in the scene?

Do not be afraid to try different genres of music, or music that requires advanced conducting techniques (or no techniques at all). You will only benefit from such experiences, whether good or bad.

Have high expectations in the musical performance, and ensure the musicians meet them. Be detailed, specific and fussy about what are written in the music, or what you hear and want to portray. Bring them out to the best of your ability and to the best of the capability of the musicians.

But in the process, most importantly, have fun! Make it fun, lots of it, as music indispensably is for our pleasure and enjoyment in both performing and listening.

Do you have anyone you would like to thank, or any words for your students before you go abroad?

Yes, my colleagues in the SAF Band, to whom I am extremely grateful for as they have encouraged me to pursue my aspiration even though they knew they would be shorthanded after I left. SAF Band, thank you, thank you and thank you! 

To my students, hey, thanks for being such a joy and for making my job as your conductor a thoroughly enjoyable one. It is both tough and easy at the same time, how strange.

Continue to pursue what you have set your hearts to achieve, and do your best in achieving them, never give up!

Written By Editor

A contributing editor at TBP.