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May 1, 2014

Young Talents of Every Generation

Six-year-old Lee Pan Hon with his home-made violin in 1956

In 1955, a newspaper reporter was walking through Singapore's Chinatown when he was amazed to see a five year-old boy in a singlet, masterfully playing the violin.

This child was Lee Pan Hon, soon nicknamed "Wonder Boy" by the press. He lived in Sago Lane with his parents, who barely made enough money to buy him clothes. His father, however, realised his son had a natural musical talent, so he presented him with a home-made violin.

Goh Soon Tioe, an Indonesian-born violinist in Singapore, offered to train the boy. He was incredibly impressed by the fact that Pan Hon was able to play songs by ear, even though he'd never had any musical training.

Pan Hon with his teacher, Mr Goh Soon Tioe, at a lesson.  Photo Credit:  The Straits Times

Soon, he was giving solo concerts at Victoria Concert Hall, earning money for his family. His first concert had to be performed in a badminton hall, because the crowds wouldn't have fit into a theatre. Later, he won a scholarship to study music in the UK, where he became the lead violinist of a famous orchestra.

Pan Hon's rags-to-riches story was an inspiration to Singapore in a time when it was still struggling for independence.  Pan Hon's tale continues to be an inspiration. It tells us that with enough talent, determination and luck, a child who starts out with nothing can reach the stars.

The Straits Times, 29 June 1956

Wonder-boy Pan Hon is only six - but he's already a leader of men

SIX-YEAR-OLD Lee Pan Hon, Singapore's wonder-boy violinist, will lead a 42-man orchestra in a concert at the Badminton Hall on July 28.

It will be the child prodigy's first public appearance.

Pan Hon will also play two solos, one of which is written in the second position - the most difficult of the four violin positions.

Eighteen months ago, Pan Hon was a grubby urchin earning a few cents playing Chinese ditties on a home-made violin in Sago Lane.

By chance, a Malayan Monthly reporter noticed him and recognised his exceptional talent.

Fascinated by the boy's promise, one of Singapore's foremost violin teachers, Mr. Goh Soon Tioe, offered him a miniature violin and free lessons.

Now Pan Hon plays excerpts from Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

The delighted Mr. Goh said yesterday:  "Ah Hon may not yet know anything about the ABC - but he was born with a knowledge of doh-ray-mee.

"In fact, that is the only language in which I can converse with him.  In the past 18 months the only words he has ever said to me are:  Good morning."

While waiting to enter Queenstown English School next September.  Ah Hon has started afternoon school.

His father, a knives and scissors sharpener, said that, before he started going to school, Ah Hon practised four hours a day but he now practises only two-and-a-half hours.

When the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra was here last month, one of the musicians and an American newspaper man went to Ah Hon's home and heard him play.

'Very precious'

Afterwards the musician told Mr. Goh:  "You have something very precious in that boy."  And the Los Angeles Times published a story and pictures about him.  [Source:  National Library Board's NewspaperSG and The Straits Times]

The Straits Times, 16 December 1963, Page 9

SINGAPORE, Sun. -  Singapore's wonder boy violinist, Lee Pan Hon, is now making his mark in London musical circles.

Prominent music professors and tutors are heaping praise on the 13-year-old prodigy, who is studying in London on a scholarship.

In the Menuhin School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music where he studies, Pan Hon, according to Mr. Goh Soon Tioe, "has no rival of his age because he is absolutely the best."

Mr. Goh, Pan Hon's former teacher, had recently returned from London where he saw Pan Hon at study and practice.

In a letter to the Straits Times, Mr. Goh enclosed a first report of Pan Hon's work by his present teacher, Dr. Molly Mack, professor of violin at the Royal Academy of Music.  The report reads:  "Pan Hon is a most assured performer of the violin for one so young.

"Here is indeed talent and wonderful musicianship, and my impression after eight weeks' work with Pan Hon, is that with intensive study and hard work, he should become an artist of standing."

Mr. Yehudi Menuhin had this to say about Pan Hon:  "One could go on listening to Pan Hon's playing for hours."

The Straits Times, 5 January 1984

Pan Hon remembers ...

Twenty years' living away from Singapore has just about diluted most of Pan Hon's "Singaporean-ness".

He speaks like an Englishman, owns a lovely cottage in the countryside outside Manchester city, and finds a second helping of roast beef irresistible.  But there are enough tell-tale signs left to show he is still the Singapore boy at heart.

The family ties are there - his parents, the knife stall now moved to People's Park Complex, a sister, a brother ("who also plays the violin, possibly better than I do") and the hand-made violin in the Queenstown flat.

"I miss char kway teow," Pan Hon blurts out.  "The closest you can get in Manchester is sar ho fun.  So I've learnt to cook - my see yeow kai is first-rate."

Judging by his dishes, Pan Hon is Cantonese - and he always makes it a point to speak whenever he can.

"Is Happy World still there?" he asked.  "I saw my first toy violin at a stall and insisted my father buy it for me.  It cost $2, a lot of money in those days."

Happy World, Singapore in the 1960s

But when he discovered that no tunes could be coaxed from the metal violin, his father carved him a wooden one.  And on the pavements of Sago Lane, beside his father's knife stall, a tiny five-year-old played a rendition of old Cantonese songs on his fiddle to the delight of passing tourists.

Young Talents of Every Generation

The tough path taken by Lee Pan Hon for his young talent aspirations over five decades ago in Singapore is very different today.

Singapore is described as the "land of opportunities" for the young talented Singaporeans to realize their ambitions and dreams today.

As a natural meeting point between East and West, Singapore is well-plugged into the latest trends of the world, and the physical and cultural landscapes are natural magnets for global talent. Its unique cultural heritage and diverse population have produced a number of renowned designers, architects, photographers, writers, musicians, artistes and filmmakers.

The Singapore Sound

Making their mark beyond Singapore are musical talents such as Kit Chan, A-do, JJ Lin and Tanya Chua who have also become regional Mandarin pop stars.

For amateurs eager to get a break in the local music scene, Singapore Idol is an excellent platform. Three idols have emerged so far, out of which two, Taufik Batisah and Hady Mirza, have snapped up awards at MTV Asia Awards 2006 and Asian Idol  competition in 2007 respectively. 

The resources of  The Singapore Promise  to learn more about Singapore as a "Global City" to Live, Study, Work and Play.  At present, young talented musicians in schools are identified and provide them with a wide spectrum of developmental platforms so that students have the opportunity to develop their musical skills to their greatest potential.

Please watch "My Family Has A Star" 【我家有明星】TV channel in Beijing, China video on YouTube.

In this talent show "My Family Has A Star" in Beijing, China one of the first people to realize their dreams is a "dancing elf," said Kan Lena.   Her performance as part of an audition in 2011 to discover the talent of the people to vote the "live" audience. Would she be able to realise her dream to be a dancer?  The dance school coach would be able to judge the 7-year-old girl's dancing talents in the presence of the TV audience.



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