Kam Kee Yong



Kam Kee Yong (b. Penang, Malaysia–)1 is a composer, violinist, conductor, artist, and the father of violinist Kam Ning.2 He is often described as a self-made man, with values of hard work and a pioneering spirit.3 Kam led the Singapura String Orchestra and the People’s Association String Orchestra from the 1970s to ’80s, nurturing a generation of musicians.4 He is a strong advocate for the performance of local compositions.5

Early life
Kam is the eldest of six children born to Kam Beng Soo, a school teacher and freelance jazz musician (clarinetist and music arranger), and Ooi Kooi Aun, a homemaker.6 The family environment was conducive to music making and the younger Kam played the drums and violin in his father’s jazz band. He first learned the violin with his father when he was 10, continuing his studies with Louis Lim in Penang until he was 15.7


Kam came to Singapore in 1958, and in 1959, studied painting at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts on a scholarship from a friend.8 However, he did not continue with classes beyond the second lesson as he found it too restrictive. Meanwhile, he continued to be inspired by local scenes such as the Singapore River and Chinatown, and managed to sell his art works while studying in London.9

In 1960, Kam left for London to study music at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) on a scholarship given by rubber philanthropists from Penang, in particular Tan Boon Peng.10 This ensured payment of his fees and living expenses at the RAM for the next five years.11 Kam studied the violin with Fredrick Grinke and Molly Mack, chamber music with Watson Forbes, and composition with Alan Bush. His talent for composition was soon evident when he won the coveted John E. West Prize for his String Quartet No. 2 in D minor; the work received its world premiere at the RAM. Bush continued to be a strong influence for Kam even in the latter’s mature years. Kam received the Licentiate in Music in 1965.12 Upon graduation, he returned first to Penang and then to Singapore. In 1969, Kam was selected to take part in the Dimitri Metropoulos International Music Competition for conductors in New York. His second participation was in 1971.13

Musical career
In 1970, Kam founded and directed the Singapura String Orchestra, a mostly student orchestra.14 The 35-member orchestra gave its first performance at the Singapore Conference Hall in 1972, with guest artistes Alex Abisheganaden, Anne Tan and Lynette Seah, amongst others.15


Kam was tasked to start the People’s Association Children’s String Orchestra in 1981, an alliance which lasted until 1989. As conductor of the orchestra, Kam recorded his Chinatown Suite and Marine Parade Suite for WEA records in 1985.16 

In 1982, the Ministry of Culture commissioned Kam’s The Five Sentiments for ballet and orchestra for the Singapore Festival of Arts. He conducted the Festival Orchestra for the world premiere of this work. He also conducted the Asean Youth Music workshop during the Singapore Arts Festival, performing his Sentiments for Orchestra.17

Apart from his multiple roles as conductor, composer and educator, Kam stayed committed to a performing career as violinist, organising annual solo and chamber performances.18 In 1984, the Cultural Medallion was conferred upon Kam for his valuable contributions in music.19

Life in Singapore soon grew stifling, and in 1989, Kam left with his family for Toronto, Canada, to start anew. From 1990 to 2000, Kam directed the Avant Garde School of Children’s Art and Music in Toronto. His pedagogical methods soon proved fruitful when many of his students garnered top prizes at international art competitions.20

Kam’s home-coming with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra took place in November 2010 when six of his works were performed, with Kam Ning as soloist and Darrell Ang conducting.21 

Kam is married to Jean Van. They have two children, Kam Lei, a drummer and teacher residing in Taiwan, and prominent violinist Kam Ning (b. 1975), currently residing in London.22

Timeline
1957: 
Performs as guest artist at Penang’s St Xavier’s Hall in a recital organised by Irene Kohler.23

1959: Studies painting briefly at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts on a scholarship from a friend.24 / Performs two fund raising recitals in Penang with pianist Chua Kah Pin.25 
1960: Embarks on studies at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM), London, on a scholarship given by Penang rubber philanthropists, in particular, rubber magnate Tan Boon Peng.26
1963: Composes String Quartet No. 2 in D minor (“Malaysian”), which receives its world premiere at RAM on 5 December. / Wins the John E. West Composition Prize for the String Quartet No. 2 in D minor.27  
1965: Receives the Licentiate in Music from the RAM28 / Passes the Division 5 in violin performance examination. Only 5 out of 36 people who took this examination qualified. Represents Malaysia in a performance of three of his compositions in London at the Commonwealth Institute, on World Commonwealth Day.29 At this event, Kam appears as soloist and conductor in The Prodigal, a song cycle for soprano and strings, Piano Quartet in E major, and Kuang Xiang Qu (“Chinese Rhapsody”) for violin, piano, harp and percussion.30
1969: Selected to take part in the Dimitri Metropoulos International Music Competition for conductors in New York. Participates again in 1971.31 His Piano Quartet in E major is performed at the Asian Composers’ Conference and Festival in Hong Kong.32 
1970: Presents a recital at the Singapore Conference Hall with pianist Cheung Mun Chit. The programme includes Kam’s Kuang Xiang Qu.33 Records an LP Oriental Violin Pieces for A Victory Production, Singapore,34 with Cheung as pianist. / Founds and conducts the Singapura String Orchestra (a mainly student orchestra), an alliance which lasted until 1981.35
1972: Debut of Singapura String Orchestra in Singapore Conference Hall, with guest artistes Alex Abisheganaden, Ng Kok Cheow and Anne Tan.36 
1975: Chong Kwok Kuang Sian Tzit is commissioned by the TOKK ensemble of Tokyo.37 
1978: Receives the Australian Cultural Award.38 Tours Australia to give lecture recitals on his compositions and art.39 Performs Suang Lin Tze-En Sze with Avon Youth Symphony Orchestra.40  
1981: Opens the Kam Kee Yong School of Music and Children’s Art at Peace Centre, Selegie Road.41 Forms and conducts the People’s Association (PA) String Orchestra.42 
1982: Receives a commission from the Ministry of Culture to write The Five Sentiments for ballet and orchestra for a performance at the Singapore Festival of Arts. Conducts the Festival Orchestra for the world premiere of this work.43 Accepts a commission from The Straits Times to do a series of 20 sketches of musician characters for publication.44 
1984: Receives the Cultural Medallion Award, Singapore.45 
1985: Symphony in E minor receives its world premiere by the PA String Orchestra. Kam and the PA String Orchestra cut two records for WEA Records, featuring original works specially written for the orchestra.46 Guest conducts the ASEAN Youth Orchestra in Singapore.47 
1987: Becomes an associate (with honours) of the Royal Academy of Music (RAM), London,48 for violin performance and composition.
1989: Emigrates to Toronto, Canada, with his family.49 Opens the Avant Garde School of Children’s Art and Music in Toronto.50 
1992: Sonata Huai Ku is selected for its New York City premiere by the North/South Consonance, Inc., New York. 
1993: Becomes an associate member of the Canadian Music Centre, Canada’s composers’ league.
1994: Presents a solo art exhibition at the Singapore Festival of Arts Fringe.51
1997: Presents art exhibition Kaleidoscope of Rhythm in Singapore.52
1999: Sonata Huai Ku is given its first performance in British Columbia and Ottawa, Canada by daughter, violinist Kam Ning.
2000: Presents art exhibition Metamorphosis in Singapore.53  

2010: The Singapore Symphony Orchestra devotes the first half of the 12 November programme to Kam’s compositions, a momentous day for him. The works include The RiverFantasia of Insects, Kuang Xiang QuThe Surpassing BeautyA Tranquil Night, and Lao Jiang Xing (“The Old General”), with Kam Ning as soloist and Darrell Ang as conductor.54



Author

Eleanor A. L. Tan




References
1. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). About the artist. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/; Koh, T., et als. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopaedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 272. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
2. Composer. (1986, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T., et als. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopaedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 273. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
3. National Library Board. (2008). Kam Kee Yong. Retrieved from NORA; Schoon, J. (1975, July 5). Kee Yong and the young. New Nation, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM); Drumming up interest. (1978, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 6; Composer. (1986, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Chong, E. (1978, July 21). Oriental splendour of Siong Lim Si Temple inspired Kam. The Straits Times, p. 8; Kam, K. Y. (1999, March 12). Celebrate our artistic talents in our own land. The Straits Times, p. 61. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). About the artist. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/
7. National Library Board. (2008). Kam Kee Yong. Retrieved from NORA.
8. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM); Leong, W. K. (1994, June 14). Kam: A musician should like art as much as an artist should like music. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Leong, W. K. (1994, June 14). Kam: A musician should like art as much as an artist should like music. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). About the artist. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/; So much to be done for music here. (1984, November 7) The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; National Library Board. (2008). Kam Kee Yong. Retrieved from NORA.
11. National Library Board. (2008). Kam Kee Yong. Retrieved from NORA.
12. Gifted violinist to give recital. (1967, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 4; So much to be done for music here. (1984, Novemebr 7) The Straits Times, p. 4; Leong, W. K. (1994, June 14). Kam: A musician should like art as much as an artist should like music. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). About the artist. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/; So much to be done for music here. (1984, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
15. String orchestra to make its debut. (1972, August 14). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). As educator. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/educator.php; Composer. (1986, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
18. Schoon, J. (1975, July 5). Kee Yong and the young. New Nation, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). About the artist. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/;
20. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). As educator. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/educator.php
21. Lim, C. (2010, November 12). Music in the blood. The Business Times, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Leong, W. K. (1994, June 14). Kam: A musician should like art as much as an artist should like music. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Koh, T., et als. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore: The encyclopaedia. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet in association with National Heritage Board, p. 273. (Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS]); Akshita, N. (2014, March 31). Baby Tiger distracts violinist mum. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Chance for fame. (1957, April 4). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Leong, W. K. (1994, June 14). Kam: A musician should like art as much as an artist should like music. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. 2 recitals to help violinist. (1959, November 28). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. National Library Board. (2008). Kam Kee Yong. Retrieved from NORA.
27. So much to be done for music here. (1984, November 7). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Gifted violinist to give recital. (1967, November 30). The Straits Times, p. 4; So much to be done for music here. (1984, April 4) The Straits Times, p. 4; Leong, W. K. (1994, June 14). Kam: A musician should like art as much as an artist should like music. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. The theatre. (1966, May 29). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
31. So much to be done for music here. (1984, April 4). The Straits Times, p. 4; The theatre. (1966, May 29). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
33. Violinist’s spirited but uneven playing. (1970, September 19). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
35. Oon, V. (1972, August 12). Orchestra to stage concert. New Nation, p. 9; Such charming chamber music. (1979, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM); Drumming up interest. (1978, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. String concert. (1972, September 4) The Straits Times, p. 13; String orchestra to make its debut. (1972, August 14). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Striking sound images by TOKK Ensemble. (1975, November 27). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Composer. (1986, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM); Drumming up interest. (1978, July 10). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Chong, E. (1978, July 19). World premiere of Kee Yong’s tone poem. The Straits Times, p. 17; Chong, E. (1978, July 21). Oriental splendour of Siong Lim Si Temple inspired Kam. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). As educator. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/educator.php; Music school. (1981, September 18). The Straits Times, p. 14; Composer. (1986, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. Composer. (1986, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
43. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). Selected compositions by Kam Kee Yong. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/composer.php; Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
44. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). History of the painter. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/painter_history.php; Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 59. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
45. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). About the artist. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/; Composer. (1986, August 9). The Straits Times, p. 71. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
46. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). As educator. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/educator.php; Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
47. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
48. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 58. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM)
49. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM); Leong, W. K. (1994, June 14). Kam: A musician should like art as much as an artist should like music. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
50. Kam Kee Yong. (2009). As educator. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Kam Kee Yong website: http://www.kamkeeyong.com/educator.php
51. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, pp. 58–59. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM); Leong, W. K. (1994, June 14). Kam: A musician should like art as much as an artist should like music. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
52. Page 18 Miscellaneous column 1. (1997, September 21). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
53. Kam, K. Y. (2000). Colour and sound. Singapore: Artfolio Space, p. 61. (Call no.: RCLOS 759.95957 KAM); Lye, A. (2000, November 18). Lyrical strokes. The Business Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
54. Lim, C. (2010, November 12). Music in the blood. The Business Times, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2011 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
Kam, Kee Yong, 1938-
Award winners
Violinists--Singapore--Biography
Conductors (Music)--Singapore--Biography
Conductors (Music)
Violinists
Personalities>>Biographies>>Artists>>Cultural Medallion Recipients
Composers--Singapore--Biography
Cultural Medallion Recipients (Music)
Arts>>Music>>Conducting
Music directors
Composers