Veteran musician and writers' association win Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award

Musician, composer and conductor Lee Yuk Chuan, one of the winners of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award.
Musician, composer and conductor Lee Yuk Chuan, one of the winners of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award.PHOTO: COURTESY OF WILLIAM LEE ONN CHUIN

SINGAPORE - Old stalwarts in the Chinese literary and music scenes in Singapore - the Singapore Association of Writers and veteran musician Lee Yuk Chuan - have been honoured for their contributions over the decades.

On Friday (May 18), they received the Singapore Chinese Cultural Contribution Award from Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at the launch of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre's Cultural Extravaganza.

The annual award, which is now in its second year, recognises an individual and an organisation who have helped advance Chinese culture. The two winners this year were chosen from the 29 individuals and 18 organisations that were nominated.

They received $20,000 each, including $10,000 in cash and up to $10,000 in project funding, as well as a trophy fashioned by sculptor Yeo Chee Kiong from jade and stainless steel.

The Singapore Association of Writers, which was founded in 1970, publishes titles, organises seminars and book launches, and gives local authors the chance to interact with renowned Chinese writers through exchange programmes.

The association's president, Denon Lim, 55, who won the Singapore Point Award in 2003 and was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2014, hopes the prize will help raise the profile of the association.

He noted that more multidisciplinary events - such as last year's Year of Chinese Poetry@SG - and competitions in schools could help raise awareness of Chinese culture in younger Singaporeans.

The other winner, musician, composer and conductor Lee, 85, has spent more than five decades contributing to the choral and Chinese orchestra scene here.

Lee, who graduated from the Royal College of Music, London, with certificates in violin, vocal and music theory, has had an illustrious career. At the age of 20, he conducted the Ershang Alumni Association choir, before co-founding the Metro Philharmonic Choir and leading it on three tours to Malaysia and releasing his first collection of songs in 1982.

The prolific composer, who created Singapore's first full-length opera in Mandarin, titled Lady Lingzhi, received the prestigious Public Service Medal in 2001. In 2012, he was given the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore Lifetime Achievement Award.

"My teachers didn't use textbooks, but told us stories," says Lee, who is president of the Choral Association (Singapore).

"If we teach our children more Chinese songs, their Chinese will improve. You can subconsciously learn Mandarin that way."

He adds: "When you write poetry, you need to have a sense of music in you. Without it, the poem feels hollow.

"And when you write music, you need to have a sense of poetry. That's how you create something that is substantial."

Last year's winners, Han Laoda and the Siong Leng Musical Association, used the $10,000 sum to fund a compilation of xiangsheng works and a Nanyin production respectively.

Veteran architect Liu Thai Ker, 80, chairman of the awards' judging committee, says the final decision to give this year's awards to Lee and the Singapore Association of Writers was "unanimous".

With a nod to the falling standards of Mandarin in Singapore, he told The Straits Times: "Mr Lee Kuan Yew years ago said one thing: He didn't want Singaporeans to be Westerners in Asia. Whether you are Malay, Chinese or Indian, you need to have a good command of language. Singaporeans' command of language is not up to scratch."

Turning to the awardees' "unwavering dedication" in championing the cause of Chinese culture in Singapore, he added: "One of the key factors to generate identity and nationhood is to have heroes. Heroes in politics, military and the arts.

"I hope this cultural award will profile people who will be models of inspiration to younger people."