Alex Abisheganaden



Alex Abisheganaden (b. 31 January 1926, Singapore–) is a musician who received the Cultural Medallion in 1988.1 He is Singapore’s first home-grown classical guitarist and double bassist, and has dedicated much of his life educating and popularising the performance of music on the guitar.Although his full-time career was in education, he developed an enviable reputation as a highly versatile musician, equally adept in classical, popular and traditional genres.3

Early life
Abisheganaden was born into a family of nine children.4 His family was unusual for Singapore at that time because it was English-speaking, English-educated and had embraced Lutheran Christianity.5 His father played the violin and his older brothers, Paul, Gerard and Geoffrey, were all musical as well.6 Abisheganaden was no different.

Abisheganaden credits his late brother, Gerard, a fine amateur pianist and cellist, as his greatest influence in music.7 His first memories of music were of hearing his father play Christian hymns on the violin in the early hours of the morning and classical singing on Geoffrey’s gramophone records in their Buffalo Road home.8 At 15, he taught himself to play the guitar using the textbook, Ellis Through School for Guitar.

During the Japanese Occupation, Abisheganaden played the guitar in an Indian orchestra for the Azad-Hind radio station, which broadcast pro-Japanese, anti-British propaganda in support of the Indian National Army.10 Although he had neither nationalistic nor political leanings, the stint was gainful employment that kept him occupied from evenings until the wee hours of the morning at its broadcast station at Cathay Building. Impressed by his singing and mastery of the Japanese language, the Japanese authorities invited him to sing Japanese folk and propaganda songs over the radio.11 After World War II, Abisheganaden completed his Senior Cambridge examinations and began a career in teaching.12 

Career in music
In 1950 Abisheganaden became a member of the Singapore Junior Symphony Orchestra and later the Singapore Chamber Ensemble, playing the double bass.13 He was provided with a double bass free-of-charge and received formal lessons from Hungarian cellist Feri Krempl.14 In 1960, he became the first person in Southeast Asia to receive a Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM) for performance on the double bass.15 He also attained Grade Eight for both guitar and voice, thus paving the way for a very versatile career in musical performance.16 In 1961, Abisheganaden received a grant for further study in the United Kingdom.17 He spent a year at London’s Royal College of Music where he studied voice, bass and guitar.18 His guitar teacher was the famous Australian guitarist John Williams.19 In 1967, Abisheganaden founded the Singapore Classical Guitar Society and was its main driving force for 25 years.20


The teaching of classical guitar playing in Singapore took on a new dimension with Abisheganaden’s programme Music Making with the Guitar, which was broadcast on the national Education Television (ETV) in 1970 and 1971.21 He also wrote the two textbooks that accompanied the series.22 This was the first time the teaching of a musical instrument was disseminated through mass media, thus raising the profile and popularity of the classical guitar.23

Abisheganaden also composed popular songs for mass singing and various government campaigns. In 1976, his “Salute to Singapore” won the national songwriting competition organised by the National Theatre Trust.24 Read for the Future” was the theme song for the National Reading Month in 1984, commissioned by the National Book Development Council of Singapore.25

In 1980 Abisheganaden founded the NUS Guitar Ensemble (GENUS) at the Centre for Musical Activities at the National University of Singapore (NUS).26 GENUS remains Singapore’s premier guitar ensemble and its annual public concerts invariably include original works and music transcribed for guitar ensemble by Abisheganaden.27

Abisheganaden was also actively involved in theatre. He has appeared in stage productions of Theatreworks and YMCA Sceneshifters, as well as the NUS Society’s opera productions.28 He made a cameo appearance accompanying harmonica player, Yew Hong Chow, on the guitar in Tan Pin Pin’s 2006 movie documentary Singapore GaGa.29

Abisheganaden has composed works for the guitar, including original pieces, many transcriptions of popular songs, and pieces for didactic and instructional purposes.30 One popular work is the 16-measure long Katong Blues”, which has much scope for variation and improvisation.31 Larger-scale works include “Huan Ying-Vanakam”, scored for sitar and erhu soloists and guitar orchestra, which explores common threads in Indian and Chinese music, and “Gela-Nexus” (an amalgamation of GENUS and his name) for guitar orchestra.32 Both works were performed by GENUS in 2007 in Singapore and Germany.33

In 2007, Abisheganaden received the Cultural Medallion grant, which supports the development and promotion of new works by Cultural Medallion recipients as well as raising of their international and national profiles. He used this grant to present popular ASEAN folk songs as well as his original compositions, performed by a new ensemble of more than 100 guitarists.34 

Now in his nineties, Abisheganaden continues to devote much time to teaching both solo and ensemble guitar playing. An inspiring figure in the Singapore music scene, he has touched the lives of many young musicians over the decades. By encouraging and helping them develop their musical talent at a formative age, it may be said that many musicians today owe their professional careers to the nurturing spirit and generosity of Abisheganaden.

Timeline
1941:
Teaches himself to play guitar.

1946: Completes the Senior Cambridge Examinations at St Andrews School.35
1947: Joins the teaching service, with concurrent pedagogical education at the Teachers’ Training College.36
1947–1957: Teaches at Rangoon Road Primary School.37
1950: Begins lessons on the double bass. Performs in the Singapore Junior Symphony Orchestra and Singapore Chamber Ensemble.
1957–1963: Principal in various primary schools.38
1960: First person in Southeast Asia to receive a Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM) for double bass performance.
1961: Receives a grant to study music at London’s Royal College of Music. Becomes a student of Australian guitarist John Williams.
1964–1981: Inspector of Schools, Ministry of Education.39
1967: Founds the Singapore Classical Guitar Society.
1970: Formulates the series and writes the textbooks for Music Making with the Guitar on Educational Television (ETV).
1976: Conferred the Government of Australia Cultural Award. Wins the national songwriting competition organised by the National Theatre Trust with “Salute to Singapore”.40
1980:
Founds the NUS Guitar Ensemble (GENUS) and develops the first Niibori guitar orchestra in Southeast Asia. Conducts the ensemble in annual concerts.

1988: Awarded the Cultural Medallion.41
1998: Conferred Meritorious Award by the Composers and Authors Society Singapore (COMPASS).42
2006: Makes a cameo appearance in Tan Pin Pin’s documentary movie Singapore GaGa.
2007: Receives Cultural Medallion grant from the National Arts Council.43 

Awards
1976:
Government of Australia Cultural Award.44

1988: Singapore Cultural Medallion (Music).
1998: COMPASS Meritorious Award.
2002: CFA Special Recognition Award.
2007: Cultural Medallion Grant. 

Concerts/Performances
Numerous concerts with GENUS and other performing groups.

Recordings
Maestro: The Music of Alex Abisheganaden [CD]. (2000).

Publications
Abisheganaden, A. (1970). Music making with the guitar. Vol 1. Singapore: ETV Service. (Call no.: RSING 787.6151 ABI).

Abisheganaden, A. (1971). Music making with the guitar. Vol 2. Singapore: ETV Service. (Call no.: RSING 787.6151 ABI)

Abisheganaden, P. (2005). Notes across the years: Anecdotes from a musical life. Singapore: Unipress. (Call no.: RSING 780.59597 ABI)



Author
Chang Tou Liang



References
1. Tang, K. F. (1988, March 1). Top artistes relax to get their ideas. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T. T. B. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopaedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
2. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/1, p. 9]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
3. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of casette recording no. 001461/11/5, p. 6]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

4. Chua, C. H. (Interviewer). (1996, October 1996). Oral history interview with Paul Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001415/48/48, p. 7]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
5. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/4, p. 33]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
6. National Library Board. (2008). Alex Abishegenaden, Cultural Medallion Award, 1988, Music [Interview]. Retrieved from NORA; Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/4, p. 34]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

7. Abisheganaden, A. (1983, June 12). 60 years playing the high notes. The Straits Times, p. 24; Lum, M. (1993, October 3). Look, it’s Alex in a dress. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Lum, M. (1993, October 3). Look, it’s Alex in a dress. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Library Board. (2008). Alex Abishegenaden, Cultural Medallion Award, 1988, Music [Interview]. Retrieved from NORA.
9. Low,Y. L. (1988, July). Plucking the strings to his heart. Singapore Tatler, Hongkong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ST-[HIS]); National Library Board. (2008). Alex Abishegenaden, Cultural Medallion Award, 1988, Music [Interview]. Retrieved from NORA.
10. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/3, pp. 22–23]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
11. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/3, pp. 22, 28]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

12. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/1, p. 9]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

13. Abisheganaden, A. (1983, June 12). 60 years playing the high notes. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low, Y. L. (1988, July). Plucking the strings to his heart. Singapore: Singapore Tatler, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ST);
Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/4, pp. 8–9]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
14. Abisheganaden, A. (1983, June 12). 60 years playing the high notes. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Low,Y. L. (1988, July). Plucking the strings to his heart. Singapore Tatler, Hongkong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ST-[HIS]); National Library Board. (2008). Alex Abishegenaden, Cultural Medallion Award, 1988, Music [Interview]. Retrieved from NORA.
15. Abisheganaden, A. (1970). Music making with the guitar. Vol 1. Singapore: ETV Service, p. 100. (Call no.: RSING 787.6151 ABI); National Library Board. (2008). Alex Abishegenaden, Cultural Medallion Award, 1988, Music [Interview]. Retrieved from NORA.
16. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/5, pp. 46, 48]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
17. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/1, p. 6]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

18. Abisheganaden, A. (1983, June 12). 60 years playing the high notes. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Library Board. (2008). Alex Abishegenaden, Cultural Medallion Award, 1988, Music [Interview]. Retrieved from NORA; Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/1, p. 6]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

19. Abisheganaden, A. (1983, June 12). 60 years playing the high notes. The Straits Times, p. 24; Chang, T. L. (2007, March 23). The guitar man. The Straits Times, p. 80. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T. T. B. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopaedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
20. Chang, T. L. (2007, March 23). The guitar man. The Straits Times, p. 80. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T. T. B. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopaedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); National Library Board. (2008). Alex Abishegenaden, Cultural Medallion Award, 1988, Music [Interview]. Retrieved from NORA; Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural Medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 84. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); National Library Board. (2008). Alex Abishegenaden, Cultural Medallion Award, 1988, Music [Interview]. Retrieved from NORA.
21. Low, Y. L. (1988, July). Plucking the strings to his heart. Singapore: Singapore Tatler, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ST); Abisheganaden, A. (1970). Music making with the guitar. Vol 1. Singapore: ETV Service, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 787.6151 ABI)
22. Low,Y. L. (1988, July). Plucking the strings to his heart. Singapore Tatler, Hongkong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ST-[HIS])
23. Abisheganaden, A. (1970). Music making with the guitar. Vol 1. Singapore: ETV Service, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 787.6151 ABI)
24. Koh, N. (1977, August 21). Alex says he took great pains. New Nation, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Low,Y. L. (1988, July). Plucking the strings to his heart. Singapore Tatler, Hongkong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ST-[HIS]); Hedwig, A. (1984, August 13). Reading month to start on Friday. The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Chang, T. L. (2007, March 23). The guitar man. The Straits Times, p. 80. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National University of Singapore Centre for the Arts. (2016). NUS Guitar Ensemble. Retrieved 2016, July 12 from National University of Singapore website: http://www.nus.edu.sg/cfa/our_talents/music/guitar.php 
27. National Library Board. (2008). Huan yin – Vanakam. Retrieved from NORA.
28. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/6, pp. 57–58]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
29. Ho, A. L. (2006, March 16). Discordant notes from out-of-tune policies. The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
30. National Library Board. (2008). Huan yin – Vanakam; National Library Board. (2008). Gela nexus; National Library Board. (2008). Katong blues: [music score]. Retrieved from NORA.
31. National Library Board. (2008). Katong blues: [music score]. Retrieved from NORA.
32. Chang, T. L. (2007, March 23). The guitar man. The Straits Times, p. 80. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Library Board. (2008). Gela nexus. Retrieved from NORA.
33. National Library Board. (2008). Gela nexus. Retrieved from NORA.
34. The mark of masters. (2007, May–June). Instep. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 IS)
35. Lum, M. (1993, October 3). Look, it’s Alex in a dress. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
36. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/1, p. 3]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
37. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/2, p. 19]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

38. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/2, p. 19]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

39. Tan, B. L. (Interviewer). (1995, March 9). Oral history interview with Alex Abisheganaden [Transcript of cassette recording no. 001461/11/3, p. 20]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/

40. Low,Y. L. (1988, July). Plucking the strings to his heart. Singapore Tatler, Hongkong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ST-[HIS])
41. Tang, K. F. (1988, March 1). Top artistes relax to get their ideas. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T. T. B. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopaedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
42. Koh, T. T. B. (Ed.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopaedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
43. The mark of masters. (2007, May–June). Instep. Singapore: National Arts Council, p. 2. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 IS)
44. Low,Y. L. (1988, July). Plucking the strings to his heart. Singapore Tatler, Hongkong: Illustrated Magazine, p. 22. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 ST-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 2008 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Award winners
Arts>>Performing Arts>>Music
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Guitarists--Singapore--Biography
Music
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Abisheganaden, Alex--Biography
Arts>>Music>>Musical instruments and ensembles>>Guitar