Making music fun and accessible for children

Conductor Wong Kah Chun spearheads move to spread the love of music

Conductor Wong Kah Chun leading the children in a body percussion session at The Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru.
Conductor Wong Kah Chun leading the children in a body percussion session at The Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Conductor Wong Kah Chun.
Conductor Wong Kah Chun.

Conductor Wong Kah Chun, 30, wants to spread the love of music to children who may not have easy access to it.

He is spearheading the new Project Infinitude, which will have children here learning to use music for play, expose them to how professional musicians work with visits to art institutions here and have a taste of playing different kinds of instruments.

This is part of his efforts to set up a global music education initiative with the Mahler Foundation, which is founded by Ms Marina Mahler. She is the granddaughter of Austrian composer Gustav Mahler.

Wong is this year's winner of the Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition which was held in Bamberg, Germany, in May. He was the competition's first Asian winner, beating contenders from countries such as Russia, Ukraine and Romania. The competition for young conductors is held once every three years.

Wong's Project Infinitude also involves ground-up community arts movement Superhero Me and students from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore.

It will reach out to 20 children aged five to 12 whom Superhero Me has been working with since 2014. They come from less privileged families or have special needs.

Speaking to The Straits Times in Singapore last week, Wong says he hopes that by giving them access to music in a fun and enjoyable way, the children will develop a deeper love of it and maybe even want to learn how to play an instrument.

This is similar to his own music journey, which started in primary school when his form teacher made him join the brass band. He played the cornet, an instrument similar to a trumpet.

"My own music journey started by chance because my family was not musically oriented or well-todo. I became who I am today because of that," he says.

Since his competition win in May, Wong has been busy with conducting engagements with orchestras all over the world, including debut concerts in China in June and Japan in September.

He will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic later this month as part of a fellowship under its music director, maestro Gustavo Du- damel.

When he is not travelling for work, Wong splits his time among three places: Berlin, Kanagawa prefecture in Japan and Los Angeles.

But given his roots in Singapore, it is natural that he is starting his global music education initiative here.

He hopes to extend it to other children with the help of other partners in the future.

He also plans to expand it internationally and has a dream to set up a cross-cultural orchestra in 2018 made up of a mix of children, emerging musicians and professional musicians from all over the world.

Project Infinitude will be rolled out in three phases over four months and culminate in a public concert on March 25 at community space The Enabling Village.

The first phase, which was completed a week ago, had the children trying out the violin, cello and different kinds of drums. They also played games and learnt to create percussion using their bodies such as by stamping their feet.

Starting this month, the second phase involves excursions to music institutions such as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Singapore Chinese Orchestra.

In the 10-week third phase, which will start early next year, those who are interested can attend music lessons conducted by the university students from Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

The lessons are meant to give them a taste of playing different instruments, such as the violin, recorder and piano. There will also be singing lessons.

This is the first time Superhero Me is working with music in its activities, which usually incorporate visual arts.

Its co-founder Jean Loo, 32, says: "Music is a language that disregards any special needs that you might have. It's okay to play a different beat from someone else, you can still create an interesting song. It's a unifying force."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2016, with the headline Making music fun and accessible for children. Subscribe