David Zechariah Kwek graduated from the Royal College of Music, London, with First Class Honours in collaboration with Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore. He has performed internationally in various ensemble settings, putting up well-received concerts in London, UK, Johor Bahru and Labuan, Malaysia as well as Medan, Indonesia. 

He is a familiar face in the Singapore orchestral scene; performing on the clarinet and bass clarinet with various orchestras. He has been a registered freelance musician with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra since 2018. In the international scene, he performed with the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra in 2017, and Bandung Philharmonic as Principal Clarinet for their 5th season in 2019. 

David’s achievements include the NAFA Merit Award AY2018/19, Best Graduate Award 2019 for the graduating cohort of the Bachelor of Music (Honours), and the Embassy of Peru Award 2019. In that same year, he also won the 1st prize (under 26 years old category) at the Clarinet Asia competition held in Macau. 

From 2019-2022, David was an adjunct lecturer and teaching assistant (2021) at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, School of Music, teaching clarinet and clarinet studio classes. Apart from teaching important aspects of clarinet playing, he prepared the studio for public performances at the Esplanade Concourse and the Esplanade Recital Studio. 

In the autumn of 2022, David will be pursuing his Master’s Degree in Music Performance at the University of Oregon, School of Music and Dance. He will be concurrently working as a Graduate Employee, assisting Associate Professor of Clarinet, Dr. Wonkak Kim in teaching and administrative duties for his clarinet studio. 

Hello David! Congratulations on beginning a new chapter of your musical career. Share with us your feelings on starting graduate school for music.

Hi, The Band Post! This next chapter of my life has come a long way since obtaining my Undergraduate degree in 2019. In the past 3 years, factors like local job opportunities, the pandemic and important career decisions have taken me along an exciting (and tumultuous) journey of self-discovery. All in all, I’m very much looking forward to being a student again at the University of Oregon, School of Music and Dance. 

What made you decide to pursue music at a higher level? It must have been daunting to confirm your decision to pursue a masters in music performance. 

Upon graduation, I was very privileged to be offered a part-time teaching position at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, School of Music, that allowed me to teach clarinet to foundation and diploma-level students. After barely 1-2 years of teaching, I realised that I quickly exhausted all my known teaching pedagogy. Too often, I had to research deeper to better help the tertiary level students. This starkly reflected my insufficient experience as a young Undergraduate degree holder, which then drove me towards the goal of pursuing higher education.

The decision was indeed daunting as I knew I had to drop my base that I painstakingly built over the years, teaching, rehearsing and performing for a total of nearly 10 hours a day. The friendships that I had made with colleagues, students and parents were hard to let go of as well. However, I knew that in order to better support the music scene in Singapore, I had to first better equip myself by pursuing Masters.

Share with us some exciting experiences you can expect in the US?

Apart from studying with fantastic faculty members in the U of O School of Music and Dance, I am also awarded as a Graduate Employee. This allows me to work closely with my clarinet professor, Dr. Wonkak Kim on important duties like coaching, running the clarinet choir, organising clarinet symposiums, and hosting guest artists for masterclasses. I will also be conducting ‘Woodwind Tech Classes’, where I will be given 5 weeks to teach undergraduate music education students on the fundamentals of the clarinet, with my own to-be curated syllabus!

That sounds really exciting! As someone brimming with a wealth of rich experience, describe your first encounter with music and the clarinet. How do you think your philosophy of music has changed since then? 

Strangely, the clarinet was never a consideration when joining the then-Military Band in Woodlands Ring Secondary School. I wanted to learn how to play the saxophone badly. My band instructor and teachers (to whom I am now eternally grateful for!) assigned me to the clarinet. Being the unhappy and ungrateful student back then, I acted like I was struggling with the instrument for the first few practices, desperately hoping to get reassigned to the saxophone. Over time, I decided to give the clarinet a chance and, with the encouragement of my seniors, grew to love the instrument very much.

Back then, music was something I only knew how to enjoy. I am still enjoying it 14 years later but now, I also see that it has an importance in aiding the development of students. With the appropriate influences around, learning to master an instrument does indeed build character, like it did for me and many of my own students. 

How was it teaching the bright minds of the next generation in NAFA? How do you think teaching in America will be different from NAFA and how do you think your past experiences will aid you? 

It was a fulfilling experience teaching the students at NAFA. Most of us, wind majors, often only pick up our instruments in our co-curricular activity (age 13 or older). In terms of time, this already sets us behind other instrumentalists who may have started learning as a child. I am able to understand and relate to the freshmen at NAFA, offering guidance and encouraging them when the learning process gets challenging. It is always a joy working on performance projects and teaching the passionate and hardworking students at NAFA. 

I am very sure working with the students in America will bring about a completely different experience. I’ve had the privilege of working with a handful of American students here in Singapore and observed that they are generally more outspoken and open to share about their learning experiences as compared to the local students. Though this is not wrong, I always find it more effective teaching students who readily bring up their concerns, as this allows me to better help them in return. With this in mind, I’m excited to meet the members of the U of O Clarinet Studio and the undergraduate music education majors in a couple of weeks time!

In  the year of 2021, I worked as a Teaching Assistant at NAFA School of Music, assisting Mr Joost Flach, Head of Winds with administrative and teaching duties. This gave me a clearer picture of how tertiary level institutions function administrative-wise, as well as the challenging task of revising modules, syllabi and lesson content in order to better suit the needs of each generation of students. I am expecting nothing less going into the University of Oregon as a Graduate Employee, learning the ropes on how to organise students and assisting my professor. Doing all of this while managing my Masters education will be difficult, but I’m up for learning and growing from this challenge.

Who has been your biggest pillar of support throughout your career as a performer and a music student?

I’m extremely fortunate to have had many pillars of support throughout my career and student life – the list would go on and on!

Most important are my family who unconditionally supports me even though I often don’t get to spend much time with them due to my busy schedule, working and teaching. My direct mentor Mr Joost Flach played a big part in educating me on various aspects of wind playing and teaching with his invaluable experience as an educator. The lecturers (my teachers!) of the NAFA family were very extremely supportive of my decision-making during this journey, often guiding me and pointing me in the right direction. 

Not forgetting my close friends and colleagues, for being my listening ears during times of adversity. We often forget that the community formed around us also shapes us!

Last but definitely not the least is my loving partner who at times grills me for bad decisions I make but always supports me no matter the outcome, haha.

Could you share with us your daily practice routine?

Unfortunately, being a freelance performer and educator in Singapore means that we don’t often get consistency in our practice routine. Due to events like concerts, masterclasses and ad-hoc workshops, this makes our schedules somewhat inconsistent. However when I do have the luxury of time, I aim to have a proper warm up that includes long tones, scales and arpeggios in different patterns. Here is an example of my daily practice routine during the preparation for my recent recital, ‘Sonatas for the Bb clarinet & Bass clarinet.’

  • 1 hour Warm-Up Session
    • Chromatic long tones that cover the standard range of the clarinet (E3 – G6)
    • Arpeggiated exercises from the book: “Clarinet Tone: Art and Technique” compiled by Alessandro Carbonare, published by Riverberi Sonori
  • 1 or 1.5 hours Practice Session
    • This time is purely catered to isolating practice of difficult sections in the music, learning the technique through slow and mindful practice. I also use this time to mentally set my intentions for musical phrasing, ensuring that I avoid unwanted ‘bumps’ and unevenness in my lines. Other important factors like tone colour and articulation are carefully thought of and executed during this session. 
  • 1.5 hour Run-Through Session
    • This is where I practice running the recital in its entirety, without redoing any sections until the whole recital programme is over. During this time, I include appropriate time for intermission and drying my instruments as I planned to in my recital. I also avoid doing unnecessary things like using the toilet midway during a piece or distracting myself with my phone. I will always have a review of my own performance at the end, marking down places where things went wrong so I can work on them the next day.
  • 1.5 hour Run-Through Session (2)
    • Only done if time permits and my body is able to hold itself, with an appropriate amount of rest between both run through sessions. The 2nd run-through usually never goes as well as the 1st (this being the end of a long day), but it’s a good indicator of how my body and mind functions during fatigue, and this teaches me how to combat it in the case if it should happen.

Which piece of music speaks to you the most? How have they impacted your playing and interpretation of music?

As cliche as it may be, the first movement of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto KV. 622 has impacted my playing and interpretation of music the most. The main difficulty of this piece is ironically the simplicity of it all, where every aspect of tone, tone colour, intonation, articulation and phrasing is laid bare and can be easily scrutinised. Practising this piece for various auditions always teaches me how to refine my playing and more importantly, my inner ears. Every time I revisit the concerto, I find myself nitpicking at places where I never thought I would, examining details and constantly adjusting to find the most satisfying performance. 

How would you encourage young clarinettists or young musicians who are interested in furthering their music studies?

In our ever-growing music scene, there are many music workshops and ensembles you can apply for that are both exciting and extremely beneficial to your development as a musician. I would also highly encourage young musicians to take regular instrumental lessons with experienced local talents to develop their playing, in order to better aid them in such workshops and ensembles as mentioned above.

I like to compare music to athleticism – Usain Bolt didn’t break the 100m men world record with only a day’s worth of work! Like all art forms, this requires a deep and consistent amount of time and commitment to your craft in order to develop as a musician. There were countless instances of self-doubt and frustration in my journey as a music student. This often ended up in anger or quiet tears in the practice studio, when I was unable to accomplish a certain goal in my playing. In hindsight, these experiences were crucial in allowing me to understand myself more, which then spurred me on to work even harder and smarter. 

Ironically, the phrase “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” never turned out true for me. Loving my work meant constantly working on myself every day of my life, sometimes even to the point of burning out! However, the fulfilment I get after playing for a concert or seeing a student develop is a genuine feeling that I can never get out of anything else.

To summarise: If you are interested in furthering your music studies, enter with a plan in mind. Work hard, work smart and mix with like-minded musicians that strive for the same goal. Also bear in mind that the journey will never be smooth sailing, but the fulfilment you get out of it is irreplaceable.

After pursuing your masters, do you have any plans you would like to pursue?

I wish to pursue a Doctorate in Musical Arts degree in the US and continue to use music as a tool to help the lives of people through performance and education! Throughout these next few years, I hope to refine my clarinet playing, upgrade my skills as a musician and develop my own sustainable pedagogy.

Kyla Kwan

Written By Kyla Kwan

Music has always been a large part of Kyla’s life. After loudly proclaiming that she will never join a performing arts CCA again, she promptly joined Crescent Girls’ School Symphonic Band and picked up the clarinet. She began her venture into the world of the Symphonic Band and continued at Eunoia Junior College under the baton of Mr Adrian Chiang. A sophomore at Nanyang Technological University, she is currently majoring in Linguistics and Multilingual Studies and is grateful for Band Fusion for giving her this opportunity to stay in touch with this lovely community. She is still struggling to park her car.