Phoon Yew Tien



Phoon Yew Tien (b. 21 August 1952, Singapore–),1 is a pioneer Singaporean composer. Initially trained in Chinese orchestral music, Phoon was subsequently educated in Western classical music. Phoon is a prolific composer and is Singapore’s most recorded composer.2 For his contributions to the music scene, Phoon was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Music in 1996.3

Early life and career
Born in Singapore in the early 1950s, Phoon grew up listening to radio broadcasts as they were one of the few forms of entertainment available at that time. In particular, he enjoyed listening to popular music sung by Chinese artistes such as Zhou Xuan and Gu Mei.4


Phoon came from a humble family. His father was a signboard painter and although Phoon had harboured thoughts of learning the piano, he kept it to himself as he knew it was not within his family’s means.5

Phoon attended River Valley Primary School6 and subsequently Queensway Secondary School.7 He was in the school’s Chinese orchestra and played the di zi, or Chinese flute. He was so well versed in the instrument that he later gave di zi lessons to students from the Chinese orchestras of several secondary schools.8

In 1968, Phoon joined the newly formed National Theatre Chinese Orchestra. Subsequently, the 19-year-old Phoon was selected to join the Youth Chinese Orchestra at the Ministry of Education’s Extra-Curricular Activities (ECA) Centre. He was the orchestra’s principal flute player and he could also play the sheng, a Chinese free reed wind instrument.9 In 1970, Phoon went to Lucerne, Switzerland, to represent Singapore at the International Festival of Youth Orchestras.10

While in Switzerland, Phoon was exposed to many different Western musical instruments and was immediately drawn to them. Upon his return, he decided to take up the piano and the flute.11 To make up for lost time, Phoon practised hard and spent as many as 10 hours a day playing the piano. Since his family could not afford a piano, he would practise at the ECA Centre or at his relative’s house. In just three years, Phoon managed to attain a Grade Eight in piano, flute and music theory from the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music.12

In the 1970s, Phoon came under the tutelage of the late respected musician, Leong Yoon Pin. Through Leong, Phoon was exposed to Western classical music and started to compose his own music. From 1977 to 1979, he won the distinguished prize in the National Song Writing Competition for three consecutive years for his works: Our Song (1977), Nanyang University (1978), and Song for Workers (1979).13

In 1980, Phoon won the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) scholarship and left for the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane, Australia, to study the flute.14 During his time in Australia, Phoon found that he enjoyed composing more than playing the flute. Since he could not drop his flute degree, he decided to do an additional degree in music composition as well.15 His talent for composing was affirmed as he won the prestigious Dulcie Roberston Prize in composition thrice in 1980, 1981 and 1983 for best composition.16

Phoon returned to Singapore at the end of 1983 and became assistant conductor of the People’s Association Chinese Orchestra.17 In the meantime, he continued to compose and arrange music.

In 1984, shortly after he returned to Singapore from Australia, Phoon won the Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize for Composition with a piece entitled Autumn.18

From 1984 to 1999, Phoon lectured at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and was Head of Music at NAFA from 1993 to 1996.19


Artistic career
Phoon enjoyed the popular music of the 1950s and appreciated the arrangements and orchestration of these pieces. However, popular music then was considered of lower standard than classical music. Therefore, a proper orchestra would not play such pieces. To Phoon, however, the only distinction where music was concerned was whether it was a piece of good music or bad music.20


In the 1980s, when Phoon was still studying in Australia, recording companies would approach him to rearrange some old popular music whenever he came back to Singapore for the holidays. When Phoon returned to Singapore after his studies, he continued to receive such requests. He agreed to these requests as he felt that some of the old songs from the 1940s and 1950s were actually very good compositions and could be played many times without getting tired of them. He also enjoyed rearranging the music out of a sense of nostalgia.21


Phoon was a highly sought-after composer. He received many requests from a variety of organisations and groups, such as the former Singapore Ministry of Culture, People's Association, National Arts Council and the Performing Rights Society (Singapore), to compose commissioned musical pieces for various occasions. The pieces he wrote ranged from symphonic works to chamber music, popular songs and Chinese orchestra music. He usually composed a few pieces in a year.22

Phoon has been a regular participant of the Singapore Arts Festival since 1984, composing music for various festival performances. The annual festival has also given him the opportunity to work with renowned local artists like Lim Fei Xian, Goh Lay Kuan and Tan Swie Hian and Kuo Pao Kun.23 He composed the music for festival dance performances such as Tang Huang (1985), Nu Wa (1988), The Homing Fish (1993) and for theatre productions such as Liao Jiu (1990), Kopi Tiam (1985), The Oolah World (1984) and Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral (1995).24

In 1997, Phoon was invited to compose music for the Mandarin television serial Grandpa’s Meat Bone Tea.25

In recognition of his talent and contributions to local music composition, Phoon was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Music in 1996 and the Local Serious Music Award by the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS) in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2004.

In 2000, Phoon was appointed by the Singapore government to rearrange the National Anthem. He did seven arrangements for varying ensembles, including a full orchestra, soloist and choir.26

Since 1987, Phoon’s arrangements and compositions have been performed and recorded by musical groups such as the SSO, the Russian Philharmonic, Shanghai Philharmonic, Shanghai Music Conservatory Symphony, Shanghai Music Conservatory Chinese Orchestra, Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and the Kaohsiung City Chinese Orchestra of Taiwan.27

Phoon continues to compose and arrange music and is the head coach of a local music school.28

Stylistic conventions

The genre of music Phoon has arranged and composed ranges widely from works for the symphonic orchestras to theme songs for television serials. When rearranging pieces, Phoon is careful to retain the original flavour of the tune. His new arrangements fundamentally add on to and enhance the original pieces rather than change them.29 Phoon gets his inspiration from Chinese literary works as well as the sights and sounds around him.30

Rooted in traditional Chinese music and trained in the Western classical traditions, Phoon has produced works that show a genuine fusion of Eastern and Western musical elements that result in a true musical metamorphosis.31

Family32
Wife: Phoon Soh Wah.


Awards33
1997: National Song Writing Competition: Distinguished Prize (Our Song).
1978: National Song Writing Competition: Distinguished Prize (Nanyang University).
1979: National Song Writing Competition: Distinguished Prize (Song for Workers).
1980, 1981, 1983: Dulcie Robertson Prize.
1984: Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize for Composition (Asian Composers League).
1996: Cultural Medallion for Music.
1996, 1997, 2001, 2004: Local Serious Music Award (COMPASS).

Appointments
34
1988:
Committee Member of the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts.

1988: Member of the National Arts Council Resource Panel.
1998–2008: Arts Advisor to the National Arts Council.
2003: Composer in Residence for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.



Author
Chor Poh Chin



References
1. Tribute.sg. (2012). Phoon Yew Tien. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Phoon+Yew+Tien
2. Tribute.sg. (2012). Phoon Yew Tien. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Phoon+Yew+Tien
3. National Arts Council Singapore. (2012). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Music. Retrieved from https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/music/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-music
4.
Tribute.sg. (2012). Phoon Yew Tien. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Phoon+Yew+Tien; Phan, M. Y. (1996, February 21). Composer puts own stamp on Chinese songs from yesteryear. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Phan, M. Y. (1996, February 21). Composer puts own stamp on Chinese songs from yesteryear. The Straits Times, p. 5; Choo, S. E. (1984, January 12). Late starter hits high note. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. 潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2011). 潘耀田博客: 报章上看不到的文章 [Pan Yaotian bo ke: Bao zhang shang kan bu dao de wen zhang]. 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局出版社, p. 269. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 PYT)
7. 潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2011). 潘耀田博客: 报章上看不到的文章 [Pan Yaotian bo ke: Bao zhang shang kan bu dao de wen zhang]. 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局出版社, p. 253. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 PYT)
8. Working-class lad savours success as sweet as his music. (1996, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Choo, S. E. (1984, January 12). Late starter hits high note. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Working-class lad savours success as sweet as his music. (1996, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tribute.sg. (2012). Phoon Yew Tien. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Phoon+Yew+Tien
11. 陈婷 [Chen, T.]. (1980, February 8). 三张不同的脸孔一个共同的爱好 [San zhang bu tong de lian kong yi ge gong tong de ai hao]. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau], p. 42. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. 陈婷 [Chen, T.]. (1980, February 8). 三张不同的脸孔一个共同的爱好 [San zhang bu tong de lian kong yi ge gong tong de ai hao]. 南洋商报 [Nanyang Siang Pau], p. 42; Working-class lad savours success as sweet as his music. (1996, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Phoon, Y. T. An Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.phoonyewtien.com/e.html
14. 潘耀田为阿公肉骨茶配乐 [Pan Yaotian wei Ah Gong ruo gu cha pei yue]. (1997, July 5). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Musical ideas flow at eventide. (1987, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 73. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Phoon, Y. T. An Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.phoonyewtien.com/e.html
17. Page 1 Advertisements Column 2: Late start ends in triumph. (1985, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. 李明明 & 霍月伟 [Li, M. M. & Huo, Y. W.]. (1992, April 25). 来自火柴盒的音符 [Lai zi huo chai he de yin fu]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. 潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2011). 潘耀田博客: 报章上看不到的文章 [Pan Yaotian bo ke: Bao zhang shang kan bu dao de wen zhang]. 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局出版社, p. ii. (Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 PYT)
20. 黄匡宁 & 李白娟 [Huang, K. N. & Li, B. J.]. (1996, February 17). 旧曲新编忆从前 [Jiu qu xin bian yi cong qian]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 37; Phan, M. Y. (1996, February 21). Composer puts own stamp on Chinese songs from yesteryear. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. 黄匡宁 & 李白娟 [Huang, K. N. & Li, B. J.]. (1996, February 17). 旧曲新编忆从前 [Jiu qu xin bian yi cong qian]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Phoon, Y. T. List of works. Retrieved from http://www.phoonyewtien.com/e.html
23. 李明明 & 霍月伟 [Li, M. M. & Huo, Y. W.]. (1992, April 25).来自火柴盒的音符 [Lai zi huo chai he de yin fu]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tribute.sg. (2012). Phoon Yew Tien. Retrieved from http://www.tribute.sg/artistprofile.php?displayname=Phoon+Yew+Tien
24. Phoon, Y. T. List of works. Retrieved from http://www.phoonyewtien.com/e.html
25. 李明明 & 霍月伟 [Li, M. M. & Huo, Y. W.]. (1992, April 25). 来自火柴盒的音符 [Lai zi huo chai he de yin fu]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Sing Majulah with pride. (2001, January 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Phoon, Y. T. An Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.phoonyewtien.com/e.html
28. MusArt0020Edu Hut. (2013). Music instructors. Retrieved from http://www.musarteduhut.com.sg/teaching-team.html
29. 黄匡宁 & 李白娟 [Huang, K. N. & Li, B. J.]. (1996, February 17). 旧曲新编忆从前 [Jiu qu xin bian yi cong qian]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Musical ideas flow at eventide. (1987, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 73. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Emmanuel, G. (1984, October 17). A new wave of thought in music.The Straits Times, p. 11; 新加坡作曲家潘耀田作品在北京音乐厅上演 [Xinjiapo zuo qu jia Pan Yaotian zuo pin zai Beijing yin yue ding shang yan]. (2000, October 14). 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Musical ideas flow at eventide. (1987, November 13). The Straits Times, p. 73. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. Phoon, Y. T. Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.phoonyewtien.com/e.html
34. Phoon, Y. T. An Introduction. Retrieved from http://www.phoonyewtien.com/e.html



Further resources
潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (1997). 潘耀田华乐作品集 [Chinese instrumental works by Phoon Yew Tien]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING 781.62951 PYT)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (1997). 唐璜: 潘耀田舞剧音乐集 [Tang huang: Dance music by Phoon Yew Tien]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Others RAV 784.188 PYT)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (1997). 思念: 潘耀田室内乐作品集 [Reminiscence: Chamber works by Phoon Yew Tien]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Others RSING 785 PYT)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (1997). 阿公肉骨茶: 新视电视电影原声带 / 潘耀田作曲 [Grandpa meat bone tea: TCS telemovie / Music by Phoon Yew Tien]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Others RAV 781.542 PYT)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (1997). 诗人的冥想: 潘耀田管弦乐作品集 [Meditation of a poet: Orchestra works by Phoon Yew Tien]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Others RSING 784 PYT)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2003). 春天里: 潘耀田合唱作品集 [Spring: Choral works by Phoon Yew Tien]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING 782.5 SPR)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2006). 春华秋乐 [Chinese music for all seasons]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: 新加坡华乐团.
(Call no.: Others RSING 784.2162951 CHI)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2008). 万花筒: 潘耀田交响乐作品集 [Kaleidoscope: Orchestra works by Phoon Yew Tien]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Others RSING 784.2 PYT)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2008). 船歌与联想: 潘耀田扬琴作品集 [Boat song and reflections: A collection of yangqin works by Phoon Yew Tien]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Others RSING 787.74 PYT)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2008). 人协岁月: 潘耀田创作及改编作品 [Years with the People's Association: Works and arrangements by Phoon Yew Tien]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Others RSING 784 PYT)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2001). 大合唱“化雨” [Confucius: A secular cantata]. [Sound Recording]. Singapore: UTN Productions.
(Call no.: Chinese RAV 792.48 PYT -[ART])


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2005). 蓦然回首: 潘耀田杂文集 [Mo ran hui shou: Pan Yaotian za wen ji]. 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING 780 PYT)


潘耀田 [Pan, Y. T.]. (2011). 潘耀田博客: 报章上看不到的文章 [Pan Yaotian bo ke: Bao zhang shang kan bu dao de wen zhang]. 新加坡: 新加坡青年书局出版社.
(Call no.: Chinese RSING C818.2 PYT)



The information in this article is valid as at 25 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