Forum: Fostering arts education in Singapore's 'new normal'

I am delighted that the Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation (AP), which started on March 29 and will last till next month, is under way.

It was suspended last year because of the pandemic, but resumed this year due to the efforts of the Ministry of Education's Arts Education Branch (MOE AEB).

Lasting more than a month, the AP involves tens of thousands of secondary school and junior college students from more than 500 Chinese orchestras, concert bands, string orchestras and choirs (via online judging of recordings), as well as Malay and Indian ensembles. All events are held in accordance with safe management measures.

Although large-scale live performances cannot take place due to the pandemic, schools have taken various measures to allow students to continue pursuing their passion for the performing arts in a safe environment. These include submitting recordings, reducing the instrumentation or even tailoring the repertoire.

The tremendous efforts of the officers at the MOE AEB in designing and coordinating safe management measures for the performance venues should be commended.

The pandemic will eventually pass, and the MOE, schools and instructors will need to reflect on how to restart the AP under the "new normal". I would like to offer a few suggestions:

First, the AP could leverage technology to allow students to participate in the production of performances on more platforms, both online and offline.

The AP could be broadcast on more social media platforms, to share local music and works with audiences at home and abroad.

It could even explore using "likes" as part of scoring and assessment of the performances' popularity, to boost supporters' interest and interaction.

Second, school orchestras could deepen their engagement with young local composers and students talented in composition to produce a sizeable bespoke repertoire.

Besides exposing students to pieces with a Singaporean character, schools would also allow students to showcase their talent in composition and build up a repertoire unique to the school.

Every year, the AP sees a number of newly commissioned compositions by young local composers.

The AEB commissioned Wang Chenwei to write the Chinese orchestra set pieces for the junior college and primary school categories in 2011, 2015 and 2016.

Diana Soh, a 2015 Young Artist Award recipient, and Phang Kok Jun and Lee Jinjun, graduates of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, have likewise been commissioned to compose set pieces.

AEB's practice of commissioning set pieces has also spurred musical groups to commission their own choice pieces - such as 14 new compositions by Terrence Wong and three by Daniel Yiau for this year's concert band AP.

Third, instructors could consider more comprehensive artistic education when training school orchestras via online and digital platforms.

Besides learning to perform, students should also learn music theory and understand the background of the musical works and their composers. This would stimulate the students' imagination to interpret the music with greater devotion.

The AP is an indispensable part of arts education.

Beyond cultivating students' ability to appreciate and create beauty, it also hones their intellect, especially the gestation and development of their creative talents.

The benefits of the arts in the education system are immeasurable.

I hope that students will perform with courage at the upcoming Singapore Youth Festival AP. May beautiful musical notes spread their wings and touch people's hearts.

Terence Ho Wee San