Quek Ling Kiong



Quek Ling Kiong (郭勇德) (b. 1967, Singapore–) is a percussionist and the resident conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO). Winner of the National Art Council’s Young Artist Award in 2002 and recipient of the NAC Cultural Fellowship in 2013, Quek is committed to spreading his passion and knowledge of music to budding young musicians. As the SCO’s conductor, he has also helped the orchestra gain a wider appeal among the masses.1

Early life and education
Quek was born in a kampong (Malay for “village”) in Telok Kurau. His father was a mechanic while his mother was a housewife. Born the eldest of four children and his parents’ only son, Quek loved playing on the toy drum when he was a child. Although he did not come from a musical family, he began entertaining his family and friends with solo drum performances from the age of five.2

Quek attended the now-defunct Mattar East Primary School, where he learnt to play string instruments such as the pipa (a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument). When he entered Dunman High School, he was placed in the school’s Chinese orchestra, which was led by Chinese orchestra pioneer Tay Teow Kiat. Tay later became one of Quek’s most important mentors.3

In the school orchestra, Quek started with the liuqin, a Chinese plucked string instrument that resembles a mandolin. However, he disliked the instrument and soon gave it up, becoming the orchestra’s storekeeper instead. During his third year in the school, Quek was asked to resume playing with the orchestra and given a choice between the drums and the dulcimer (also a string instrument). He picked the drums and, through furious practice, became adept at playing percussion instruments.4

After graduation, Quek pursued a diploma in business administration at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, but continued to be part of the Dunman High School Chinese Orchestra. He helped train the students and performed with them in concerts. At the same time, he became a member of the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation Chinese Orchestra, which was conducted by Tay. Subsequently, Quek worked as an administrator in a music centre while teaching music and conducting ensembles in secondary schools as a freelance instructor.5

Formal musical training
It was only in 1994 that Quek, then 27 years old, decided to pursue formal studies in music. He quit his job as an administrator and flew to China to audition for admission into the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. It was not an easy decision, as his father had just been retrenched and there was pressure on him to hold a stable job so as to financially support his family. Lying to his family that he had been posted overseas for work, he left for China three months before the auditions so he could undergo music lessons to prepare himself. His risky move paid off: he won a place in the Shanghai conservatory.6


With scholarships from the NAC, Lee Foundation and the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, as well as financial assistance from friends, Quek spent the next three years at the conservatory pursuing his first formal qualification in music. There, he studied Chinese percussion under maestro Li Min Xiong and Western classical percussion under Xue Bao Lun, and explored other forms of Chinese percussion with virtuosos such as Li Zhen Gui, An Zhi Shun and Zhu Xiao Lin.7

Following his graduation in 1997, Quek secured the position of percussion principal with the SCO, which was formed the same year.8

Career in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra
In the SCO, Quek was given many opportunities to shine. His percussion solos were often well received. A 1999 review in The Straits Times described his solo performance in A Well-matched Fight as being “extremely vivid and fiery”.9 Another performance that year, Night Thoughts, was said to be “spectacular”.10

After a few years, Quek began considering a career in conducting and started attending conducting workshops in Australia and Europe. The SCO also believed that he had the potential to be more than a star performer. In 2003, Quek was appointed as the orchestra’s first-ever conducting assistant. The next year, the SCO promoted him to assistant conductor, and made him the conductor for the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra (SYCO), which had come under the SCO’s management in 2003.11

With an NAC bursary and a scholarship from the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, Quek left for Zurich, Switzerland, in 2006 to pursue further studies in conducting. After obtaining his diploma in advanced studies from the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (Zurich University of the Arts) the following year, Quek was appointed resident conductor of the SYCO and became associate conductor of the SCO in 2008. On 1 January 2013, Quek took on the post of resident conductor at the SCO. Besides conducting the SCO, he has also conducted orchestras in other countries in Asia and Europe.12


In June 2014, Quek led a 4,557-strong Chinese drum ensemble – the world’s largest – at a performance for the Singapore Sports Hub’s open house. The players comprised members from the SCO, schools, community clubs and clan associations.13

Education and outreach
Since his appointment as SCO’s assistant conductor in 2004, Quek has been very active in music education and outreach. He introduced and choreographed many programmes that have expanded the SCO’s audience base. These include the annual Mother’s Day Concert, the Young Children’s Concert series, Lunchtime Concert series and the Caring Series concerts. Public response to these concerts has been excellent, as they are crafted to suit their target audience.14

To introduce Chinese orchestral music to new audiences, Quek has incorporated popular music into the SCO’s repertoire. Past Mother’s Day concerts, for instance, have featured Hong Kong Cantopop stars Frances Yip and Adam Cheng, as well as local “Broadway Beng” Sebastian Tan, singing popular tunes accompanied by the SCO.15

During the SCO’s children’s concerts, Quek not only conducts but also gamely dresses up in costume, acts and sings. After the concert, he and the musicians mingle with the audience and sign autographs. A reviewer of a 2013 children’s concert complimented Quek’s creativity and energy, recognising that few conductors are as multifaceted as him. Quek believes that these concerts are important for piquing children’s curiosity in music and motivating them to pick up a Chinese instrument.16

Through the Caring Series, Quek has brought the SCO’s music to hospitals and hospices to serve as music therapy for the sick, and to underprivileged and special needs groups to give them an opportunity to appreciate the arts.17 Believing in the transformative power of music, he has even showcased some of these individuals in the SCO’s concerts. In 2011, Quek and his assistants began working with a group of mentally impaired youth from the Thye Hua Kwan Moral Home for Disabled with the aim of using music to improve their communication skills, hand-eye coordination and basic learning techniques. After a year of training, these young drummers debuted at the SCO’s Mother’s Day Concert in 2012.18

Other activities
Being a multitasker, the energetic Quek is also involved in various musical activities outside of the SCO. On top of his conducting duties at the SCO and SYCO, Quek is the conductor of the Chinese chamber ensemble, Ding Yi Music Company. In addition, he teaches drumming classes in community centres and is an adjunct teacher at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and the School of the Arts.19


Award and recognition
Quek won the NAC’s Young Artist Award in 2002 and received the NAC Cultural Fellowship in 2013.20



Author
Stephanie Ho




References
1. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Singapore Chinese Orchestra. (n.d.). Quek Ling Kiong – Resident conductor. Retrieved from SCO website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/resident-conductor/
2. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
3. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Lwee, M. (2003, July 19). I want to die on stage. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Tan, B. H. (1986, July 24). Dunman drums to another beat. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Tan, B. H. (1986, July 24). Dunman drums to another beat. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
6. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
7. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra. (n.d.). About us – Conductor. Retrieved from SYCO website: http://www.syco.com.sg/about-us/conductor/
8. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra. (n.d.). About us – Conductor. Retrieved from SYCO website: http://www.syco.com.sg/about-us/conductor/
9. Chua, S. L. (1999, June 21). Star Wars’ entry, but light-speed pace a bit too much. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Chua, S. L. (1999, December 6). Fly high. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Tan, S. E.  (2004, January 30). Passing the baton. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; I want to die on stage. (2003, July 19). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Chinese Orchestra. (n.d.). Quek Ling Kiong – Resident conductor. Retrieved from SCO website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/resident-conductor/; Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra. (2013, June 12). Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra turns 10! [Press release]. Retrieved from SYCO website: http://www.sco.com.sg/media/singapore-youth-chinese-orchestra-turns-10/
12. Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra. (n.d.). About us – Conductor. Retrieved from SYCO website: http://www.syco.com.sg/about-us/conductor/; Singapore Chinese Orchestra. (n.d.). Quek Ling Kiong – Resident conductor. Retrieved from SCO website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/resident-conductor/
13. Vasko, L. (2014, June 29). SCO breaks two world records. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Guinness World Records. (n.d.). Largest Chinese drum ensemble. Retrieved from Guinness World Records website: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/29343-largest-chinese-drum-ensemble
14. Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra. (n.d.). About us – Conductor. Retrieved from SYCO website: http://www.syco.com.sg/about-us/conductor/; Singapore Chinese Orchestra. (n.d.). Quek Ling Kiong – Resident conductor. Retrieved from SCO website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/resident-conductor/; Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
15. Ong, A. (2006, May 15). Well-watched. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, T. (2008, May 5). Suave as ever. TheStraits Times, p. 53. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Toh, W. L. (2012, May 10). Broadway Beng serenades mums. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
16. 喜看郭勇德 ‘指而优则演’. (2013, December 14). 联合早报 (Lianhe Zaobao). Retrieved from Factiva; Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
17. SGH patients treated to concert. (2007, January 20). The Straits Times, p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Minister serenades hospital patients. (2011, October 13). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Music with a healing touch – Ren Ci Hospital and the Singapore Association for the Visually Handicapped. (2012). Hua Yue, (1), 10. Retrieved from SCO website: http://www.sco.com.sg/wp-content/uploads/app/sco-1st-issue-newsletter-2012_1372044511.pdf
18. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Quek, L. K. (2012). 特殊的满堂彩. Hua Yue, (2), 3. Retrieved from SCO website: http://www.sco.com.sg/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Newsletter-2nd-issue-2012.pdf
19. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). Musical dreams come true for conductor Quek Ling Kiong. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Singapore Chinese Orchestra. (n.d.). Quek Ling Kiong – Resident conductor. Retrieved from SCO website: http://www.sco.com.sg/sco/resident-conductor/; Ding Yi Music Company. (n.d.). Conductor – Quek Ling Kiong. Retrieved from Ding Yi Music Company website: http://www.dingyimusic.com/our-family/conductor.html
20. Nanda, A. (2013, June 24). The L!fe interview with Quek Ling Kiong: Making musical dreams come true. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.





The information in this article is valid as at 11 February 2015 and correct as far as we can 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
Community and Social Services
Personalities
Arts

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