Jennifer Tham Sow Ying



Jennifer Tham Sow Ying (b. 1962, Singapore–) is best known as the conductor of the Singapore Youth Choir (now the SYC Ensemble Singers, or SYC-ES), which she has led since 1986. Trained as a composer, Tham has been actively involved in educating young musicians and local audiences on contemporary choral music. Tham has also sought to foster deeper cultural exchange and peace between nations through choral music, especially in her capacity as an elected board member of the International Federation for Choral Music.1 For her contributions to the local music scene, Tham was conferred the Cultural Medallion for Music in 2012.2

Early years
3

Tham was actively involved in choir throughout her teenage and young adult life. She started singing with the Methodist Girls’ School choir, then joined the Anglo-Chinese Junior College choir before moving on to the Singapore Youth Choir (SYC) at the National University of Singapore.

The eldest of three children, Tham’s taste and talent to come up with unconventional ideas in music were nurtured in a home that was always filled with music. Her teacher father Tham Tuck Onn’s enjoyment of a wide and diverse range of music – from Shirley Bassey and Doris Day to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky – inspired her interest in music. Her school principal mother, Anna Tham, instilled in her the art of giving. Leading by example, Tham’s mother cultivated in her a tenacity of doing with all her heart anything that she finds worth doing.

Singapore was in a recession when Tham graduated in 1985. Although music made her feel most alive, the thought of making it her vocation did not cross her mind. She took on a job as an administrator at the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and later as a programmer at the former Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Throughout this time, she continued singing with the SYC after office hours. Tham eventually took over the leadership of the choir in 1986.

By 1989, Tham had plunged full-time into freelance choir conducting when the Ministry of Education launched its school choral programme and choir conductors were in demand.

Artistic development4
Tham met her husband Albert Yeo, general manager of the Young Musicians’ Society, at the SYC. In 1991, the couple left for Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. He pursued studies in biology while she planned to pursue a master’s degree in business administration.

Everything changed, however, when Tham found out that the university was starting a new music department. It was also about this time that she received the Young Artist Award for music by the National Arts Council. It was no surprise then that Tham chose to study music instead. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music and Composition in 1995.

After graduation, Tham chose to return to an uncertain future in Singapore even though she was offered jobs in Canada. Tham wanted to see what she could do to champion choral arts in Singapore. “I felt I had something to do, something to offer and give back to the people, the society which had given me so much,” she said in a press interview years later.

Developing choral music5
Through talent and tenacity, Tham changed the landscape of choral music not only in Singapore but globally. In 2004, the SYC-ES reinvented itself as a contemporary ensemble under Tham’s baton.6 As conductor of the choir, Tham mapped out a vast expanse of choral works and gave local composers a stable stage for their compositions to be showcased. Tham also conceptualised a comprehensive range of choral repertoire that spanned over 800 years of musical history and genres from all over the world.7

Under Tham’s direction, the SYC-ES has garnered acclaim both locally and at international choral festivals, including in countries like the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Wales.

Tham’s work worldwide – including her role as an elected board member of the International Federation for Choral Music – has served to foster deeper cultural exchange and peace between nations through choral music.

Inspiring the next generation
8
Tham believes that the future of choral music is in the student chorister. Besides conducting and programming musical performances, she also directs nine school choirs. Through her work in schools, Tham hopes to infuse young singers with her own enthusiasm for music and the expressive medium of voice.9


Tham has influenced the pedagogy of choral conducting and choir practice not only in Singapore but also internationally. She has helped to develop academic and degree choral music modules and has created platforms where educators and choir conductors can better their choral practice.

In 2012, Tham was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Music, Singapore’s most prestigious art award. Her award helped change public perception and enabled amateur musicians and choir singers to feel that they were no longer regarded as hobbyists but as artists in their own right.10 Hundreds of budding artists who benefited from the musical and technical foundations Tham laid have been inspired to pursue professional careers in the arts and music.

Tham believes that “whoever stands in front of a performing arts group in school needs to be mindful that they are ensuring the future of the arts in Singapore, either by creating a future for practitioners, or by creating an audience for the future.” As such, she is “mindful when I stand in front of a school choir that I have quite a big responsibility”.11

Family12
Husband: Albert Yeo.

Education13

Methodist Girls’ School.
Anglo-Chinese Junior College.
1985: Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Sociology, National University of Singapore.
1995: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music and Composition, Simon Fraser University, Canada.

Career
14

Choir member, Methodist Girls’ School.
Choir member, Anglo-Chinese Junior College.
1981: Choir member, Singapore Youth Choir (SYF).
1985: Programmer, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
1985: Administrator, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent).
1986: Conductor, SYC Ensemble Singers (SYC-ES, formerly SYF).
1989: Full-time freelance choir conductor.

Awards and accomplishments15
1992: The Young Artist Award for Music, National Arts Council.
2001: Artistic Director, Asia South Pacific Symposium on Choral Music, Singapore.
2003: Jury, 8th International Chamber Choir Competition Marktoberdorf, Germany.
2004: Guest conductor and clinician, Japan Choral Association Junior Chorus Festival.
2005: 1st Karuizawa Choral Festival, Japan.
2005: 2nd Symposium on Church Choral Music, Indonesia.
2005: Artistic Committee for the 7th World Symposium on Choral Music, Japan.
2005: Busan APEC Choral Festival and Competition, Korea.
2011: Artistic Excellence Award, Composers and Authors Society of Singapore.
2012: Cultural Medallion Award for Music.


Curriculum development16
2001: Asia South Pacific Symposium on Choral Music.
2001–2008: Choral Training and Direction and Directed Studies in Choral Conducting, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
2002: First Aid for Choirs and Conductors, Young Musicians’ Society.
2009: Kodaly Seminar Asia.




Author

Angeline Koh



References
1. Victoria Choral Academy. (2004). Adjudicators: Ms Jennifer Tham. Retrieved from http://www.vca.com.sg/voyage2005/competition/adjudicators.php; National Arts Council. (2012). Jennifer Tham: Cultural Medallion 2012, Music, pp. 2, 6. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/jennifer-tham.pdf
2.
Chia, A. (2012, October 18). Winners’ circle. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. National Arts Council. (2012). Jennifer Tham: Cultural Medallion 2012, Music, pp. 3, 6. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/jennifer-tham.pdf; Huang, L. (2012, November 12). With a song in her heart. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Huang, L. (2012, November 12). With a song in her heart. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. National Arts Council. (2012). Jennifer Tham: Cultural Medallion 2012, Music, pp. 2, 4–6. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/jennifer-tham.pdf
6.
Nanda, A. (2013, August 20). Sing a song of Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Chia, A. (2012, October 18). Winners’ circle. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. National Arts Council. (2012). Jennifer Tham: Cultural Medallion 2012, Music, p. 5. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/jennifer-tham.pdf
9.
Victoria Choral Academy. (2004). Adjudicators: Ms Jennifer Tham. Retrieved from http://www.vca.com.sg/voyage2005/competition/adjudicators.php
10. Huang, L. (2012, November 12). With a song in her heart. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Hong, X. (2012, October 25). We chat with Cultural Medallion 2012 winner Jennifer Tham. Her World Plus. Retrieved from http://www.herworldplus.com/lifestyle/women-now/we-chat-cultural-medallion-2012-winner-jennifer-tha
12. National Arts Council. (2012). Jennifer Tham: Cultural Medallion 2012, Music, p. 3. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/jennifer-tham.pdf
13.
National Arts Council. (2012). Jennifer Tham: Cultural Medallion 2012, Music, pp. 2, 3. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/jennifer-tham.pdf; Huang, L. (2012, November 12). With a song in her heart. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Huang, L. (2012, November 12). With a song in her heart. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Victoria Choral Academy. (2004). Adjudicators: Ms Jennifer Tham. Retrieved from http://www.vca.com.sg/voyage2005/competition/adjudicators.php; Chia, A. (2012, October 18). Winners’ circle. The Straits Times, pp. 6/7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Victoria Choral Academy. (2004). Adjudicators: Ms Jennifer Tham. Retrieved from http://www.vca.com.sg/voyage2005/competition/adjudicators.php; National Arts Council. (2012). Jennifer Tham: Cultural Medallion 2012, Music, p. 2. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/jennifer-tham.pdf
16.
National Arts Council. (2012). Jennifer Tham: Cultural Medallion 2012, Music, p. 5. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/docs/cmyaa/jennifer-tham.pdf



Further resources
National Arts Council CMYAA. (2013, January 21). 2012 Cultural Medallion Recipient: Jennifer Tham. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/AA1O5OHWY4I

SYC Ensemble Singers. (2012, October 17). Congratulations, Jen! Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMwT2z2Uk8w


SYC Ensemble Singers. (2013). Jennifer Tham: Artistic Director/Conductor. Retrieved from http://www.syc.org.sg/#conductors

SYC Ensemble Singers. SYC Ensemble Singers. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/user/SYCEnsembleSingers/videos

SYC Ensemble Singers blog. (2009, November 17). Webisodes: Jen on Choirs, Jen on SYC; Who is Jennifer Tham? Retrieved from http://syces.wordpress.com/tag/jennifer-tham/



The information in this article is valid as at 12 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.

Subject
Personalities
Arts