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He's in tune with music for the young

Drumming up a love for music among the young is what Mr Quek, resident conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, loves doing. He is also music director of the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra.
Drumming up a love for music among the young is what Mr Quek, resident conductor of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, loves doing. He is also music director of the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

SCO conductor taking his made-in-Singapore musical for children overseas for first time

A made-in-Singapore series of children's musicals - The Little Adventurer Of Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO) - is going overseas for the first time this weekend.

And the man who created it, SCO resident conductor Quek Ling Kiong, will be conducting one musical in the series with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra at Hong Kong City Hall on Friday and Saturday .

"I have chosen Searching For The Amazing Musical Bow from the series for the Hong Kong debut," said the 48-year-old, who is also playing the character and narrator in the hour-long show. His character will introduce the music and explain the different sounds of the instruments in the Chinese orchestra to children as young as three.

He said the concerts in Hong Kong - as the title suggests - will focus on the erhu, gaohu, zhonghu and diyin gehu, all stringed instruments in the Chinese orchestra that are played with a bow.

Renamed A Musical Treasure Hunt and to be presented in Mandarin instead of English for the Hong Kong audience, the musical is about an adventurer who searches for gold deep in the mountains, but encounters beautiful music instead.

It includes traditional classical Chinese pieces such as Reflection Of The Moon On Erquan, Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight Of The Bumblebee and compositions that Singapore composer Tan Kah Yong wrote specially for the musical.

Mr Quek, who joined SCO as a percussionist in 1997 after completing his undergraduate studies at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music under a National Arts Council (NAC) scholarship, said he started creating musicals for children and young people in 2004.

"That was when I became SCO's assistant conductor and was given the task of creating educational programmes to attract the young to our concerts," he recalled.

He produced many such programmes, including When Mr Forte Meets Miss Piano in 2005, The Magic Baton in 2008 and The Musical Rainbow in 2009.

But the Little Adventurer Of SCO series for children and Voyage To Nanyang series for teenagers - both of which he created in 2010 - proved the most popular, playing to full houses whenever they were staged in the past five years.

Mr Quek said he was invited to take his children's series to Hong Kong after he presented the SCO's programmes for the young to the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra two years ago when he was there as an NAC Cultural Fellow.

In June, the series - which now has four different editions each introducing different instruments - will travel to Jilin in China where Mr Quek has been invited to conduct the provincial Chinese orchestra there in conjunction with its Children's Day celebrations.

A recipient of NAC's Singapore Young Artist Award in 2002, he said it has been his passion introducing music to the young because of a personal experience.

The son of a mechanic, he started playing Chinese music in primary school, but rebelled in secondary school at Dunman High, often skipping classes and refusing to practise with the school's Chinese orchestra of which he was a member. He also did badly in school.

A turning point came in Secondary 3, when he started playing the drum and loved it. He was encouraged by his seniors in school who also tutored him and helped him do well in his O levels.

He went to Ngee Ann Polytechnic, graduating with a diploma in business studies in 1987, but later chose a music career when he went to Shanghai to study percussion from 1994 to 1997 under some of the best teachers in the field, such as Li Minxiong, Xue Baolun and Li Zhengui.

He moved to conducting full-time after a year of advanced studies and workshops in Europe, where he obtained a diploma from the Zurich University of the Arts in conducting under another NAC scholarship in 2007.

The following year, he was promoted to associate conductor and became resident conductor in 2013.

Last month, he was also appointed music director of the Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra.

He said: "I am happy that my children's concert series, a Singapore brand name, has started going overseas and I hope my concert series for young people, Voyage To Nanyang, will follow soon."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'He's in tune with music for the young'. Print Edition | Subscribe