Singapore National Youth Orchestra



The Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) is made up of young musicians from various schools across Singapore, from primary to tertiary levels, including students in international schools. The orchestra is managed by the Ministry of Education and aims to provide its student members with “an exemplary orchestral experience and the highest quality professional music education and training”.1 The SNYO regularly performs at the annual Singapore Youth Festival and participates in international music festivals. It also serves as a co-curricular activity in schools.2

The SNYO is not affiliated with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), although it has been often been mistaken as its youth wing or as a combined-schools band.3 Although the SNYO in its present form only came into being in 2001, the orchestra’s roots can be traced to the early 20th century. 

Origins
The SNYO originated from the Singapore Children’s Orchestra started by E. A. Brown in 1930. Brown, then choirmaster and organist at St Andrew’s Cathedral, organised an orchestra comprising children aged between 11 and 16 years old, with most of them playing the violin.By 1935, the Children’s Orchestra had been reorganised into the Singapore Young People’s Orchestra, still under the baton of Brown.The orchestra gave regular concerts known as Children’s Concerts at the Victoria Memorial Hall, which were a feature of the local entertainment scene until the outbreak of World War II.6

Postwar years
The orchestra was resurrected after the war and renamed Singapore Junior Symphony Orchestra (SJSO) in 1946.7 The SJSO was conducted by Glan Williams, a Welshman who was appointed master of music in the Department of Education of the colonial government.8 In the 1950s, the orchestra, which had come under the aegis of the Department of Education, was conducted by Paul Abisheganaden, and in the 1960s by Benjamin Khoo.9 The orchestra was known as the Singapore Youth Symphony Orchestra between 1962 and 1964, and renamed the Singapore Youth Orchestra (SYO) in 1964 when it came under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Education.10


Under the Young Musicians’ Society and University of Singapore
In 1968, the Young Musicians’ Society was established by the Ministry of Education to coordinate and direct its music education programme.11 The society managed the SYO from 1969, which operated under the name Combined Schools Orchestra in 1970 before reverting to Singapore Youth Orchestra the following year.12

One of the SYO’s major milestones in 1971 was a trip to Lausanne, Switzerland, to participate in the International Festival of Youth Orchestras,13 with well-known violinist and music teacher Goh Soon Tioe as conductor.14  At the time, most of the SYO members were also members of the Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra.15

However, the SYO was later plagued with various problems, including a lack of funds for instruments, lack of rehearsal venues and insufficient trained wind players. Membership also began to dwindle. In 1975, Goh stepped down as conductor due to poor health.16 By 1977, the SYO had disbanded.17

However, the SYO regrouped in 1979 as part of the University of Singapore’s symphony orchestra under the baton of Paul Abisheganaden.18 When the SSO was formed in 1978 as Singapore’s first professional orchestra, the SYO became a feeder orchestra for the SSO, with many SYO members going on to play in the SSO or receiving SSO scholarships to further their musical education.19

Under the Ministry of Education
Just two years after it came under the University of Singapore, the SYO experienced another change in management. In 1980, the Ministry of Education took over the management of the SYO, and recognised participation in the SYO as an extra-curricular (later co-curricular) activity for students.20 With the change in management, some of the older SYO players resigned, citing disagreements with the new management style.21

Following its reorganisation under MOE, the SYO was led by music director and resident conductor Vivien Goh, daughter of Goh Soon Tioe.22 Under her leadership, the SYO continued to grow and became an internationally acclaimed youth orchestra, participating in international music events.23 It also commissioned and performed works by local composers such as Phoon Yew TienLeong Yoon Pin and Lim Chin Tiong.24 Goh spent almost 10 years at the helm before resigning in1989, citing the members’ lack of commitment as the main reason for her departure.25 She could not resolve the issue of the members’ frequent absenteeism from orchestra practices.26

Goh’s resignation was a shock to many in the SYO and the local classical-music circuit. Her last performance was at the SYO’s 10th anniversary concert in April 1990.27 Lim Yau, then assistant conductor of the SSO and chorus master of the Singapore Symphony Chorus, took over as SYO’s music director and principal conductor.28

Becoming a national youth orchestra
In 2001, the SYO had a new chairman and new management board, and was renamed Singapore National Youth Orchestra to reflect its status as the premier national orchestra for young musicians in Singapore. Author Edwin Thumboo, who was also an SNYO board member, referred to the change as giving the orchestra “its proper name”. Priscylla Shaw, chairman of the board, said the “national” designation in the name of the orchestra added prestige and recognised the orchestra’s rightful status as a national entity.29

By this time, the SNYO had in place a rigorous structure for its members. Students typically join the SNYO at nine years old as trainees, before becoming members when they turn 12 years old. SNYO alumni members are aged 25 and above.30

Joining the SNYO has many benefits for budding musicians. Not only does the orchestral training inculcate in them a passion for music, it also stretches them and widens their abilities. For instance, most SNYO members join the orchestra with only the ability to play the piano, but may be directed to learn other instruments to fill in gaps in the orchestra. Once a member is seen to have an aptitude for the other instrument, the person is given two-and-a-half years of training in that instrument.31

Some SNYO members have gone on to join the SSO. Well-known string ensemble T’ang Quartet is one of its alumni.32

Music directors and conductors

1965–1970: Paul Abisheganaden (music director and resident conductor).33
1970–1975: Goh Soon Tioe (music director and resident conductor).34
1979–1980: Paul Abisheganaden (music director and resident conductor).35
1980–1990: Vivien Goh (music director and resident conductor).36
1990–2002: Lim Yau (music director and resident conductor).37
2002–2005: Robert Casteels (music director and resident conductor).38
2005–2010: Lim Soon Lee (music director and resident conductor).39
2011–2012: Darrell Ang (music director).40
2011–2014: Tan Wee Hsin (resident conductor).41
2014–present: Leonard Tan (principal conductor).42



Author

Jaime Koh



References
1. Ministry of Education. (2014, December 22.). Singapore National Youth Orchestra. Retrieved from Ministry of Education website: http://www.moe.gov.sg/snyo/
2. Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Background information on the SYF. Retrieved from http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/files/2012/07/syf-2012-snyo-annex-b.pdf
3. Chan, E. C. (1983, March 18). Playing for a new imageThe Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Musical children. (1934, November 16), The Straits Times, p. 12Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Musical heritage. Retrieved from http://www.moe.gov.sg/snyo/musical-heritage/
5. Abisheganaden, P. (2005). Notes across the years: Anecdotes from a musical life. Singapore: Unipress, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 780.95957 ABI); Singapore Young People’s Orchestra. (1938, October 15). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Musical heritage. Retrieved from Ministry of Education website: http://www.moe.gov.sg/snyo/musical-heritage/
6. Abisheganaden, P. (2005). Notes across the years: Anecdotes from a musical life. Singapore: Unipress, p. 136. (Call no.: RSING 780.95957 ABI)
7. Abisheganaden, P. (2005). Notes across the years: Anecdotes from a musical life. Singapore: Unipress, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 780.95957 ABI); Child musicians to give recital. (1948, June 12). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Education. (2015). Musical heritage. Retrieved from Ministry of Education website: http://www.moe.gov.sg/snyo/musical-heritage/
8. Abisheganaden, P. (2005). Notes across the years: Anecdotes from a musical life. Singapore: Unipress, p. 23. (Call no.: RSING 780.95957 ABI)
9. Nanda, A. (2011, September 2). Death of a maestroThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Goh, V. (1992). Goh Soon Tioe: One great symphony. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 106. (Call no.: RSING 787.2092 GOH)
10. Ministry of Education. (2015). Musical heritage. Retrieved from Ministry of Education website: http://www.moe.gov.sg/snyo/musical-heritage/
11. Tan, S. L. (1979, August 21). Society that gave fillip to music and danceThe Straits Times, p. 2Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Chan, E. C. (1983, March 18). Playing for a new imageThe Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Education. (2015). Musical heritage. Retrieved from Ministry of Education website: http://www.moe.gov.sg/snyo/musical-heritage/
13. Chan, T. L. (1985, February 6). A busy year for SYOThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Goh, V. (1992). Goh Soon Tioe: One great symphony. Singapore: Landmark Books, pp. 105–107. (Call no.: RSING 787.2092 GOH)
15. Goh, V. (1992). Goh Soon Tioe: One great symphony. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 107. (Call no.: RSING 787.2092 GOH)
16. Goh, V. (1992). Goh Soon Tioe: One great symphony. Singapore: Landmark Books, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 787.2092 GOH)
17. Sung, B. (1979, June 2). University’s new orchestra looking for proper homeThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Sung, B. (1979, June 2). University’s new orchestra looking for proper homeThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Chan, E. C. (1983, March 18). Playing for a new imageThe Straits Times, p. 13; Kong, L. (1990, April 4). Farewell to GohThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Tan, J. (1980, October 23). Stress on hard work and dedication in the SYOThe Straits Times, p. 11Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Tan, S. L. (1980, October 22). Younger players hold other views on SYOThe Straits Times, p. 11Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Chan, T. L. (1985, February 6). A busy year for SYOThe Straits Times, p. 6; Tan, C. (1983, November 22). She carries on her dad’s workThe Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. 
23. Youth orchestra for Rome festival. (1982, July 1). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Chong, W. H. (1987, February 26). Teacher’s salute to SingaporeThe Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Bose, R. (1989, August 2). Youth orchestra conductor quitsThe Straits Times, p. 18Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Bose, R. (1989, August 2). Youth orchestra conductor quitsThe Straits Times, p. 18; Goh, J. (1989, August 26). Youth orchestra accepts resignation of Vivien GohThe Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. Bose, R. (1989, August 2). Youth orchestra conductor quitsThe Straits Times, p. 18; Kong, L. (1990, April 4). Farewell to GohThe Straits Times, p. 6Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Lim Yau is new conductor of youth orchestra. (1990, March 29). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. Nayar, P. (2001, March 31). Singapore National Youth OrchestraThe Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Nayar, P. (2001, March 31). Singapore National Youth OrchestraThe Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. Nayar, P. (2001, March 31). Singapore National Youth OrchestraThe Business Times, p. 21. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Pereira, A. (1992, November 17). This quartet’s not squareThe Straits Times. p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33. The orchestra through the years. (1989, August 5). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
34. Nanda, A. (2011, August 11). Celebrating a maestroThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Sung, B. (1979, June 2). University’s new orchestra looking for proper homeThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Goh, J. (1989, August 26). Youth orchestra accepts resignation of Vivien GohThe Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Tribute.sg. (n.d.). Lim Yau. Retrieved from https://www.tribute.sg/rewrite.php?displayname=Lim+Yau
38. Shahida Ariff. (2002, November 30). More than just music. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Shetty, D. (2008, July 3). Violin solo for 14-year-oldThe Straits Times, p. 51. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
40. Tan, C. (2012, January 5). Baton chargeThe Straits Times, pp. 4-5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
41. Rochester, M. (2012, April 12). Winds faltered, Strings soaredThe Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
42. National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University. (n.d.). Tan Yur Chaur Leonard. Retrieved from National Institute of Education website: http://www.nie.edu.sg/profile/tan-yuh-chaur-leonard



The information in this article is valid as at 29 September 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.

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