Choo Hwee Lim



Choo Hwee Lim (b. 28 September 1931, Singapore–d. 12 May 2008, Singapore)1 was an important figure in the development of choral music and opera in Singapore. An accomplished baritone singer and music teacher, Choo spotted, encouraged and nurtured once-unknown music talents and gave them opportunities to shine.2 A co-founding director of the Singapore Lyric Theatre (now Singapore Lyric Opera), Choo played an instrumental role in developing the production of what is regarded as Singapore’s first homemade English language opera, Bunga Mawar.3 Choo also produced two popular opera and classical music radio programmes for the FM92.4 radio station.4 For his contributions to the music scene in Singapore, Choo was conferred the Cultural Medallion for Music in 1992.5

Early years
6
The 1950s marked Singapore’s musical advance and emergence from the cultural wilderness. Local child-talents in piano and violin were showcased at public concerts, and their performances surprised even discerning ears.7 Public performances also threw the spotlight on talents who might otherwise have remained in obscurity. Choo was among these discovered talents.8


Choo was a self-taught musician. His interest in music developed when he took on the role of singer and conductor of the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Double Male Quartet. He later conducted the Geylang Methodist Church Choir and Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Choir in the late 1940s and early 1950s.9

On 23 January 1953, the Singapore Teachers' Training College (now the National Institute of Education) had the audience applauding many times during their presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore at the Victoria Theatre. For many in the audience, it was their first exposure to light opera. Pinafore also introduced audiences to baritone Choo Hwee Lim, whose potential and talent were already evident then.10

That same year, Choo played Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner, a leading role in the opera The Mikado. There were no understudies for the leading parts, which made Choo “a particularly valuable young man” at the time.11

In May 1954, the Musical Society flew in four famous singers and a pianist from Europe to sing the St Matthew Passion for the May Music Festival.12 Bass soloist Choo was given the honour to perform at the festival with expectations that he would rise to the occasion.13

At age 28, Choo gave his first solo recital at the Chamber Ensemble's first musical soiree at the Cultural Centre. His recital on 28 February 1960 included Italian arias, German lieders and modern British songs.14

Career15
Choo began his teaching career at the Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) in 1951 and he brought his two loves with him to the school: music and badminton.

Choo was awarded a Ministry of Education scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London, UK, where he studied from 1956 to 1959. While in London, he won prizes for singing and opera performances, such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. Choo graduated with majors in singing, conducting and teaching.

After graduating, Choo returned to his teaching position at ACS where he started the ACS military band and the first school orchestra in an English language school. Such was his foresight for music education and development in Singapore. He also became a specialist inspector of music with the Ministry of Education for four years.

In 1967, Choo left the teaching service to focus on his musical activities and the teaching of music. Although no longer in the school system, he continued contributing to the development of music education by introducing the Choral Excellence Scheme in secondary schools and junior colleges in 1988.

Artistic contributions16
Choo played an instrumental role in the cultivation of music in Singapore in four areas:

(1) Stage performances and productions
Choo sang German lieders and solo parts in many oratorios and cantatas in Singapore, the United States and Britain.17 From the 1990s, Choo enlarged his repertoire and progressed from singer to producer.18 Together with his partners at the Singapore Lyric Opera, Choo developed and produced opera productions like Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus and Giuseppe Verdi's La Traviata.

In 1997, Choo invited composer Leong Yoon Pin to write the music for what is regarded as the first made-in-Singapore English language opera, Bunga Mawar.

(2) Identifying and nurturing young talents
Choo nurtured talents like award-winning choral director Toh Ban Seng;19 eminent singer and conductor Lim Yau, and well-regarded baritone William Lim.20


Choo’s detailed Straits Times review of ACS’s performance of the musical Oliver displayed his nurturing side as a teacher and mastery of music and stage work. Not only was Choo’s review full of encouragement for the casts, the accompaniment, and the director, it also contained professional inputs on areas for improvement.21

Choo especially sang praises for one outstanding performer in the musical: “My biggest bouquet goes to Lim Yu Beng as Fagin. Here is a rare talent that should be encouraged to develop further. Yu Beng held his character from start to finish with consistency.” Almost 25 years later, Lim was awarded best actor in the Life! Theatre Awards 2005.22

(3) Pioneering and/or leading music groups
Choo helped establish the ACS Philharmonic Orchestra in 196223 and the ACS Military Band in 196624 He also co-founded the Singapore Lyric Theatre (now known as Singapore Lyrics Opera) in 1990. It was Singapore’s first arts company dedicated to opera and would play an important role in providing training to aspiring singers and cultivating the interests of Singaporeans in opera through performances and productions. From 1980 to 1985, Choo was also conductor for the National University of Singapore Choir.


(4) Public education
Choo was attributed to have educated a whole generation of opera listeners in Singapore through his two popular radio programmes of opera highlights on FM92.4. He was known not only for his fantastic taste in his choice of music but also for the way he could explain in simple terms what made each piece beautiful and what to listen for in each piece that was played.25


Other contributions26
Music was not all that Choo was passionate about. For more than 12 years, Choo coached the ACS badminton team and led the Under-17 team to win 12 consecutive Schools National B Division badminton titles.27


Described by ACS’s vice-principal as one of Singapore’s “unsung sporting giants”, Choo was the unanimous choice of the panel of judges for the Singapore Sports Council (SSC), Coca Cola and The Sunday Times Sporting Achievement of the Month Award in 1985.

Low Fatt Fai, a former student of ACS who nominated Choo for the award, said that ACS’s badminton success story bore ample testimony to Choo’s technical and tactical know-how. According to Low, apart from coaching the boys to win, Choo also made it his responsibility to imbue in the boys the qualities of sportsmanship, determination and diligence. Choo was fiercely committed to the psychological and mental development of the students under his charge and aimed to build the complete sportsman.

Award-winning choral conductor Toh Ban Sheng, who studied under Choo for two-and-a-half years, succinctly describes the impact the maestro had on people by saying, “I learnt more than music itself. I learnt great humanity from a generous elderly man. He was a brilliant and an inspiring teacher".28


Education29
1939–1949: Anglo-Chinese School.
1950–1953: Attended Teachers’ Training College.
1956–1959: Royal College of Music, London, UK on a Ministry of Education scholarship. Majored in singing, conducting and teaching.

Career
1945–1956: Vocalist, Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Double Male Quartet.
1945–1956: Conductor, Geylang Methodist Church Choir.
1945–1956: Conductor, The Straits Chinese Methodist Church Choir, Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
1951–1956: Teacher, Anglo-Chinese School.
1951–1956: Badminton coach, Anglo-Chinese School.
1955: Conductor, The Straits Chinese Methodist Church Choir, Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
1959: Returned to Singapore.
1959–1967: Teacher, Anglo-Chinese School.
1959–1992: Badminton coach, Anglo-Chinese School.
1961–1983: Scriptwriter and presenter, FM92.4 radio station, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
1964–1967: Specialist Inspector of Music, Ministry of Education.
1967: Opened music studio. Became full-time music teacher.

Performances30
1953:
Played Captain Corcoran in HMS Pinafore.31

1953: Played Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, The Mikado.32
1954: Bass singer, St Matthew Passion.33
1956: Mozart’s Coronation Mass.34
1960: First solo performance, Singapore Chamber Ensemble First Musical Soiree.35
1991: Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
1997: Leong Yoon Pin’s Bunga Mawar, the first made-in-Singapore English language opera.

Awards
1957: Awarded Mario Grisi Prize for singing.
1958: Awarded Exhibition Prize for singing.
1959: Awarded Ricordi Prize for opera
1959: Awarded Clara Butt Prize for singing.
1985: Recipient of The Sunday Times Coca-Cola Sporting Achievement of the Month award.
1986: Long Service Award, Ministry of Community Development.
1986: Member, Vocal Music Advisory Committee, Ministry of Community Development.
1992: Awarded Cultural Medallion for contributions to music.

Contributions
1959: Founded Anglo-Chinese School marching band.
1962: Co-founded the Anglo-Chinese School Philharmonic Orchestra.
1966:
Founder and choir conductor, Singapore Music Teachers’ Association.
1966: Founded Anglo-Chinese School Military Band.36

1967–1968: Secretary, Singapore Music Teachers’ Association.
1969–1971: President, Singapore Music Teachers’ Association.
1980–1985: Conductor, National University of Singapore Choir.
1981: President, Singapore Music Teachers’ Association.
1988:
Introduced the Choral Excellence Scheme in secondary schools and junior colleges.
1989–1996: Chairman, Choral Advisory Committee, Ministry of Education.
1990–2008: Co-founder and director, Singapore Lyric Theatre (now Singapore Lyric Opera).



Author
Angeline Koh


References
1. Tribute.sg. (2012). Choo Hwee Lim. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Choo+Hwee+Lim
2. Toh, B. S. (2010). The Accidental Conductor. Singapore: Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, pp. 66–70. (Call no.: RSING 782.5145092 TOH)
3. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, pp. 92–93. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
4. Tribute.sg. (2012). Choo Hwee Lim. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Choo+Hwee+Lim
5. National Arts Council of Singapore. (2012). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Music. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://nac.gov.sg/art-forms/music/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-music
6.
Tribute.sg. (2012). Choo Hwee Lim. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Choo+Hwee+Lim
7. Vic Mem’s Theatre. (1954, March 12). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Presto. (1953, January 28). There’s money in music now. The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, pp. 92–93. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
10. Full marks for this talent show. (1953, January 24). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Presto. (1953, November 25). This ‘Mikado’ is great fun. The Singapore Free Press, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. 5 world stars at festival – Flying from England and Holland. (1954, March 18). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Vic Mem’s Theatre. (1954, March 12). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. 'Star' of musical soiree will be baritone Choo. (1960, February 25). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, pp. 92–93. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); Tribute.sg. (2012). Choo Hwee Lim. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Choo+Hwee+Lim
16. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, pp. 92–93. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR); Tribute.sg. (2012). Choo Hwee Lim. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Choo+Hwee+Lim
17. An all choral concert society. (1961, November 1). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Choo Hwee Lim: From singer to producer. (1991, February 25). The Business Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Toh, B. S. (2010). The Accidental Conductor. Singapore: Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, pp. 66–70. (Call no.: RSING 782.5145092 TOH)
20. Singapore Lyric Opera. (n.d.). William Lim: Baritone. Retrieved from Singapore Opera website: http://www.singaporeopera.com.sg/profiles/williamlim.html
21. Choo, H. L. (1981, August 6). Right step towards ‘total’ education. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. FLY Entertainment. (n.d.). Male Artiste: Lim Yu Beng. Retrieved from Fly Entertainment website: http://fly.com.sg/fly-artistes/fly-male-artistes/lim-yu-beng/
23. ACS Independent. (2013, July 25). Philharmonic Orchestra: Our history. Retrieved from http://cca.acsindep.edu.sg/philharmonic/about-us/our-history/
24. ACS Band. (n.d.). A brief history. Retrieved from http://acsband.8m.com/history.htm
25. The Mad Scene (2010, August 8). Operas, Musicals, Classical Music in Singapore. Retrieved from http://the-mad-scene.blogspot.sg/2010/08/national-day-special-singers-of_08.html
26. Singing Choo’s praises. (1985, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 26. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Lee, W. W. (1987, April 24). ACS soars to 12th straight title. The Straits Times, p. 36. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Toh, B. S. (2010). The Accidental Conductor. Singapore: Armour Publishing Pte Ltd, pp. 66–70. (Call no.: RSING 782.5145092 TOH)
29. Tribute.sg. (2012). Choo Hwee Lim. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Choo+Hwee+Lim
30. Purushothaman, V. (Ed.). (2002). Narratives: Notes on a cultural journey: Cultural medallion recipients 1979–2001. Singapore: National Arts Council, pp. 92–93. (Call no.: RSING 700.95957 NAR)
31. Presto. (1953, January 28). There’s money in music now. The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Presto. (1953, November 25). This ‘Mikado’ is great fun. The Singapore Free Press, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Vic Mem’s Theatre. (1954, March 12). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. At last night's concert: Worthy tribute to Mozart. (1956, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. 'Star' of musical soiree will be baritone Choo. (1960, February 25). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. ACS Band. (n.d.). A brief history. Retrieved from http://acsband.8m.com/history.htm



The information in this article is valid as at 11 February 2014 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. 

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