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Mar 19, 2015

School Bands - Cultural Life of Singapore

At what age can a schoolboy in Singapore join the school bands?

Few schools had school bands 50 years ago and the primary school I attended on completion of the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) in 1961, did not have a school band.

Young children in Singapore who love music to play with musical instruments is the best opportunity to join the school band.

School Bands in Singapore are made up of student in the band CCA who perform music together with their respective instruments.  In Singapore, the school band is a Co-Curriculum Activity (CCA) that can typically be found in Primary Schools, Secondary Schools, and Junior Colleges.  Being outside classroom school activities, CCAS act as an integral part of the student's holistic, well-rounded education, and are aimed at nurturing student qualities, and preparing them to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world.  As with other CCAs, the programmes in Singapore school bands follow the Ministry of Education (MOE)'s CCAs guiding principles of building team spirit and responsibility, being broad based with opportunities to specialize, being responsive to inculcating national values and skills, as well as promoting social integration.

In the above photos (including the archived photos on this blog with courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore and other contributors), Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew speaking to school band members during Telok Ayer Community Centre's seventh anniversary celebration in Hokkien Huay Kuan on 3 June, 1967.

Presentation of baton to drum major of Tampines Primary School in 1980.

A Malay band leading the welcoming procession through a narrow village path to Changi Tamil School during Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's tour to Changi constituency on 19 May, 1963.

In 1965, the Ministry of Education first launched the Band Project as part of the Extra-Curriculum Activity Programme (ECA) (renamed as Co-Curriculum Activity or CCA in 1999 in both Primary and Secondary Schools.  It was aided by the directive given by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who instructed that the formation of school bands should be considered as a "High Priority".

Singapore's 500,000 school children in 1970 have come to accept band playing, marching and drill activities as an important aspect of their extra curricular activities.  This could be seen on school fields, public parks or on the concert stage.

The government in introducing this programme in the schools, had recognised the fact that group discipline and a sense of national identity could be gained by students participating in bands as an extra curricular activity and the positive influence on public morale when school bands are heard and seen performing at outdoor functions and music festivals to entertain everyone in Singapore.

The Music Department of the Ministry of Education was charged with the responsibility of forming and training bands, and undertook the challenge to form the bands in schools.

This was an encouragement for other schools which were wary of embarking on an expensive experiment to benefit the students.

It was a costly school expenditure for musical instruments, an unusual extra curricular activity for schools in this part of the world.

Financial assistance from the Government was supported and this was the greatest contributing factor to the success of the school band project 50 years ago.

Government schools as well as Government-aided schools received substantial subsidies for purchase of instruments as well as uniform.

Training was provided free, given by bandmasters and bandsmen paid from Government funds.

The school brass band members during the 15th anniversary celebration of Tanjong Katong Girls' School on 12 March, 1968.

The primary school band stole the show at a National Cadet Corps Parade at Queenstown.  The 60-strong Hua Yi Primary School Band, Singapore's champion primary group of musicians was given rounds of applause, some of it coming from the flats overlooking the parade ground.  To the strain of stirring militia music, the boys and girls average age of 9, stepped out in style in a performance that lived up to its reputation.  The event on 5 July, 1969.

A petite 1.47 metres Miss Tan Chay Ee, 15, and the smallest of them all was the best when she won the drum-major award trophy and mace.  Chay Ee presenting the band from Outram Secondary and Kim Seng Technical School stood out among 15 other drum majors and majorettes at the inter-secondary school band competition finals at Kallang Theatre.  Picture shows Chay Ee, clutching her drum major award trophy and mace, was chaired by her band friends during the competition on 2 July, 1977.

PM Lee Hsien Loong in his school band

In the 1968 National Day Parade on 9 August, 1968, PM Lee Hsien Loong played the euphonium marching with the Catholic High School band at the Padang.

[There was a heavy downpour that August 9.  The then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had to decide whether to proceed with the parade or to postpone it.  He decided to proceed, for to do otherwise would have implied that Singaporeans were not resilient.  My mother, my brother Hsien Yang and I watched with pride from the windows of my father's office in City Hall as Hsien Loong marched past]
Source:  Straits Times 2 August, 2009.  "The march of a confident nation" by Lee Wei Ling.

National Day Parade 1969 third rehearsal at the Padang - Combined School Bands of Catholic High School and Raffles Institution, led by Drum Major Lee Hsien Loong on 27 July, 1969.

On National Day,  9 August, 1969

The National Day Parade 1968 at Chinatown

The Bugle and Fife School Band

Many years later, Singapore had her first All Girls Bagpipe Band .

Band Performance at the MacRitchie Reservoir

Pioneer generation Singaporeans, please share your fond nostalgic memories during your primary, secondary and junior college bands in Singapore over the decades.  Thanks for sharing our memories to celebrate Singapore50!



Blogger Unknown said...

James, I was in the school band in 1972. Playing the trumpet. It was an outdoor band. I couldnt coordinate my steps when I was playing a tune. Used to get hit lightly by the band instructor. I finally decided to quit the band and join the school newsletter as a staff writer. I think i joined the band because the uniform looked smart. Little did I know that there was a lot of discipline involved. Didnt regret leaving the band though.

March 19, 2015 at 2:50 PM  
Blogger Lil'O said...

Hi there,

Interesting article. Do you know anyone that was in a school band? Or that is in one currently?

I am writing from a television production company called Make Productions about an exciting opportunity for musicians in Singapore. We have been commissioned by Okto channel to create a series based on a community orchestra in Singapore.
We are trying to build this orchestra out of musicians from around Singapore aged between 8 and 80 who can play an instrument but who have never played professionally or in an orchestra. The series will follow the orchestra as it is trained and directed by the famous Jason Lai, and there will be a build up to a final grand performance.

I was wondering whether you had a contact email for yourself or for any musician that would be interested in participating.

Here are a few links to explain the project further:

Thanks a lot !!

Olive Faure from Make Productions

June 19, 2015 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm Sharin & I was in the Hua Yi Pri Sch band. This year marks our 50th anniversary & we're celebrating this commerative event on Sat 7 Nov. Hua Yi Primary School Band was formed in 1965 as a military marching band with about 30 members. Despite being a small band, we strived to perform at our best in every of our performances. With dedication & hard work, our band has achieved as the top 3 bands in every band competitions. The band performed regularly at community functions and school concerts, as well as over the air and on television. It had been amongst the top three bands in the annual band competition for 12 consecutive years from 1967 to 1978. The band also won the Best Drum Major Award from 1973 to 1978. I was one of the best drum majorette in the year 1975 & 1976. The band had been on good-will tours to West Malaysia to perform in the Penang Music Festival & Malacca in 1974 and even in Brunei in the year 1976.
The band switched to playing concert music from 1979. We were awarded silver plaques in the 1980 and 1984 Indoor Primary School Band Presentations. To further prove how significant the school band was, it was even featured on the old bird series of the Singapore’s fifty-dollar note. Hua Yi Primary School Band has come a long way to achieve such an honour.

August 22, 2015 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Nice article: ) It utterly suits for these who are interested in education of Singapore

September 1, 2016 at 9:52 PM  

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