Currently serving as President of the Band Directors’ Association (Singapore), Jovan Neo is an avid music lover, whose passion for conducting started when he was a Euphonium player in his secondary school, playing under the guidance of Mr Ng Eng Kee.
“I quickly became a band geek and spent countless hours listening to band music and studying conductor scores. However, it was when my school offered O level music that I was truly inspired. Mrs Arlene Chan took on the challenge of teaching the class, and I was exposed to western classical music for the first time. From then on, I knew that I wanted to pursue music as a career.”
With formal training in conducting under the guidance of Dr Lee Tian Tee and AP Ho Hwee Long, Jovan also studied music composition under Dr John Sharpley and Dr Zechariah Goh. After completing his studies, Jovan started his teaching career as an Assistant Band Director to the Anglo Chinese School (Independent) Symphonic Band and the Anglo Chinese School (Barker) Military Band in 2003.
Presently, Jovan is the Band Director of Tanjong Katong Secondary School Band (TK Band), Temasek Junior College Symphonic Bands (Integrated Programme and Junior College) and the Resident Conductor of the Montfort Alumni Wind Orchestra (the alumni band of Montfort Secondary School) as well as Tanjong Katong Alumni Band.
Through his years of experiences to date, Jovan’s approach to teaching bands is deeply rooted in the belief that music education goes beyond technical skills and performance proficiency.
“As Parker J. Palmer once said – Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. In other words, my approach to teaching is influenced by my personal experiences, beliefs, and values. I see my role as a conductor and music educator as a reflection of my soul, and I strive to create a safe and nurturing learning environment for my students.”
“Thomas Moore’s idea that studying music develops qualities such as talent, work, expression, beauty, and collaboration resonates with me. I believe that music education cultivates not only technical skills, but also social skills, emotional intelligence, and aesthetic judgement. Music shapes our hearts and souls, and it has the power to transform ordinary experiences into something extraordinary.”
“Bennett Reimer’s perspective on music education as an alternative to the reality of the everyday inspires me to create meaningful and engaging musical experiences for my students. I want to challenge them to think critically, collaborate creatively, and develop their own sense of musical expression. Ultimately, my goal is to help my students appreciate and enjoy music as a lifelong pursuit, and to use music as a way to connect with themselves and others on a deeper level.”
In TK Band especially, Jovan is required to teach in both wind band and marching band settings. As a result, he strives to create a supportive and collaborative learning environment where students can grow and develop their skills, as both settings require a high level of discipline, commitment, and teamwork to achieve the desired results.
“In marching band setting, although the focus is mostly on marching drills, we still need to develop a sense of ensemble playing, dynamics, and phrasing, as well as technical proficiency on our instruments. The difference is that we also need to coordinate our movements and formations to create a visually compelling performance. So, in both settings, I focus on creating a clear and structured rehearsal plan, breaking down complex passages into smaller parts, and addressing technical issues as they arise. I also strive to create a positive and supportive learning environment where students feel comfortable asking questions and taking risks. I believe that this approach helps to build confidence and a sense of ownership over the music-making process.”
“And yes, I tend to get sunburnt more often in the marching band setting!”
To ensure his students are engaged and motivated throughout the entire rehearsal, Jovan structures each session to typically consist of three main components: warm-ups, the main repertoire, and a closing piece.
“The warm-up section, or appetizers as Dr. Lee taught me, is crucial in preparing students physically and mentally for the main pieces. We usually start with long tone exercises, followed by scales, and technical exercises to develop tone and intonation.”
“The main repertoire section is where we focus on polishing and refining our pieces. This is where we spend the bulk of our time, working on dynamics, phrasing, and ensemble playing etc. I strive to make this section as productive as possible by breaking down complex passages into smaller parts and addressing specific technical issues that arise.”
“Finally, I like to end rehearsals on a positive note by playing a closing piece, or dessert, as Dr. Lee calls it. This is usually a piece that the students enjoy playing on their instruments and helps to build morale and a sense of accomplishment. I believe that this approach helps to keep the students motivated and engaged throughout the rehearsal and ensures that they leave feeling inspired and energized.”
“To ensure that rehearsals are effective, I pay close attention to the needs of my students and adjust as necessary. For example, if I notice that the students are struggling with a particular passage, I may spend more time on that section, or I may try a different approach to teaching the material. I also encourage my students to give feedback and suggestions for improvement, which helps to foster a sense of collaboration and ownership over the music-making process. Overall, I aim to create a positive and productive learning environment that supports the growth and development of each individual student.”
As a conductor and music educator, Jovan has high expectations of his students.
“Firstly, I hope that they are inspired and motivated to practice and improve their musicianship. Music is a skill that requires consistent practice and dedication, and I believe that my role as a conductor is to help my students develop that passion and commitment.”
“Beyond the band setting, I also expect my students to be curious and to seek out opportunities to learn more about music. This may involve attending concerts, listening to recordings, or exploring different genres and styles of music. Music is a rich and diverse art form, and I hope that my students can appreciate the breadth and depth of its beauty.”
“In addition, I hope that my students can continue their music-making experience beyond their time in the band. Playing music is not only a skill, but also a source of joy and fellowship. I believe that music can bring people together and create a sense of community and belonging. I hope that my students can find this space for themselves and continue to make music throughout their lives, whether it’s through joining other ensembles or simply playing for their own enjoyment.”
“Finally, I hope that my students can develop a lifelong love and appreciation for music. Music has the power to move us, inspire us, and connect us with each other and with the world around us. I hope that my students can continue to attend concerts and enjoy music as a source of enrichment and joy throughout their lives.”
Similar to what he has envisioned his students to do in their music life, Jovan is also gaining new insights and skills to enhance his contribution to the field of music education, as he is currently pursuing the Master of Music Leadership at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore.
However, he continues to face many challenges in his work as an educator, such as the fact that students are also getting busier these days.
“With so many competing demands on their time, it can be difficult to keep them engaged and motivated in the band setting. To overcome this challenge, I believe that effective communication is key. We need to set clear goals and expectations for the band, and let students know the schedule and important dates well in advance. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page and has a clear understanding of what is expected of them. In addition, I strive to be understanding and empathetic to the needs of my students. I know that they have many other commitments and responsibilities outside of the band, and it’s important to me to support them in any way that I can. For example, I may offer extra practice sessions or one-on-one coaching for students who are struggling to keep up. By being flexible and accommodating, I hope to create a supportive and nurturing learning environment where students can grow and develop their skills.”
“Overall, I believe that the key to overcoming challenges in the band setting is to stay focused on our shared goals and to be flexible and adaptable in the face of changing circumstances. By working together as a team and supporting each other, we can overcome any obstacles that come our way and achieve success in our musical endeavours.”
Despite the various challenges faced at work, Jovan believes that the most rewarding aspect of his work is seeing the final product come together, whether it’s a marching show production, the end of the SYF journey, or a concert.
“There’s nothing quite like the feeling of watching your students perform and seeing all of their hard work and dedication come to fruition. It’s a testament to their talent, passion, and commitment to the art of music-making. When I see my students perform with confidence, precision, and musicality, I feel a deep sense of pride and satisfaction.”
“In addition to seeing the final product and watching my students grow and develop their skills, there are other things that bring me great satisfaction as a conductor and music educator. One of those things is bumping into former students attending concerts or watching them perform in concerts after graduating. It’s a great feeling to see that my students have continued to pursue their love of music beyond the band setting, and that they have found a sense of community and belonging in the world of music. It’s also a testament to the impact that music education can have on a person’s life and the role that we, as music educators, can play in shaping their future.
“When I see former students attending concerts and enjoying music as a lifelong pursuit, it reaffirms my belief in the power of music to enrich our lives and connect us with each other and with the world around us. It’s a reminder of why I do what I do, and it brings me great joy to know that I’ve played a part in helping my students develop their love and appreciation for music.”