I had the honour of being interviewed by SG Music, Singapore’s premiere website on all music happenings. Check it out here! Thank you SG Music!
Interview Contents can be found below:
Albert, welcome back to Singapore! It’s been about a year since our last interview and in that time you’ve completed a year of graduate studies in conducting and music pedagogy at the Zoltán Kodály Pedagogical Institute of Music (Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music) in Hungary. How did the year go? Was everything up to your expectations, and was there anything that you did not expect but was pleasantly surprised by?
It has been a very fruitful year! I had a fabulous time learning from accomplished teachers and schoolmates alike. I enjoyed very much, lessons in conducting, methodology, voice, piano etc. all taught by excellent musician-pedagogues. The way solfège lessons were taught was particularly new and refreshing for me. Theoretical aspects of harmony, form and analysis are learnt via seamless integration with practical work involving sight-singing, ear-training, keyboard harmony skills, sing & play and part-singing.
It was interesting how most teachers ‘spoke the same language’ when it came to music. I guess this is one of the pros of being in a country where generations of musicians have undergone the same rigorous music traditions. I was very surprised to experience excellent weeklong, full-day Dalcroze seminars at the Kodály Institute. The director of the institute, Dr László Norbert Nemes is evidently an open-minded and far-sighted man to arrange such workshops for his students.
Life in Hungary was fabulous. The institute is located in Kecskemét, a family-friendly little town c.a. 1hr15min by train from Budapest. Temperate climates, clear blue skies, fresh vegetable and dairy produce, fantastic gourmet desserts near school and a balanced lifestyle of work & rest all year round were extremely therapeutic. The space, tranquility and music stimuli were probably the catalysts for several new compositions. Life and studies in Hungary definitely exceeded expectations!
Many musicians are hesitant about taking a year or two away from their on-going careers to pursue further studies abroad in the fear that they may lose their current networks and not be able to re-establish themselves in the scene after they return from their studies. This fear is of course balanced against the potential for self-improvement that (hopefully!) comes about through the studies. Now that you’ve done the year away and are now back in Singapore, how do you feel? Do you feel that you are better off now for having made this choice? What would your advice be to other working musicians considering further studies abroad?
I think you are spot-on in articulating the concerns of many freelance musicians considering sabbaticals since there are generally no official avenues to seek help in settling back home. I mentioned in my first interview with SG-Music that studying at the institute was an obvious choice for me and having this sabbatical has definitely done much good for me! Different musicians have different priorities and needs so I guess it boils down to one’s mindset and personal preferences in planning finances and work arrangements. I was psychologically and financially prepared to not return to any of my previous work although I am very lucky to have generous, understanding colleagues who held the fort at work in my absence and are helping with transitions for my return.
Having now experienced and studied the music education system in Hungary first-hand and up-close, what are some of the areas that you think Singapore schools and music educators could learn from Hungary?
For me, being ‘musically educated’ encompasses being able to listen to, understand and think about music. ‘Music literacy’, the ability to read and notate music, while not a prerequisite, is a helpful contributor of such education. I believe Singapore urgently needs well-structured, singing-based music lessons that works towards musically educated Singaporeans as best as we can within the limits of curriculum time.
Hungary has benefited from having a music curriculum that spans from preschool to college level. E.g. right from first grade, primary school teachers can teach music concepts and theory via a stock repertoire of folksongs that are taught to all preschoolers. There is also some flexibility for music educators’ personal preferences for repertoire – textbooks are guidelines and it is not compulsory to bulldoze through the material from cover to cover.
Kodály and his colleagues were the reformers of music education for Hungary and one guiding philosophy is that ‘only art of intrinsic value is suitable for children’. We can certainly adopt and adapt this as well as other ideas and philosophy. I think music should be chosen primarily for its quality and aesthetic value but covering all genres, styles or epochs, be it pop, rock, contemporary art music, folksongs or classical works. While there are certainly good pop music out there, how much curriculum time should it take up in music lessons? In general, I think there is little satisfaction to be gained in promoting music that is easily understood and/or are already widely known on mass media. Teachers should be the spokespersons for the finest music literature, bringing it to as many students as possible and opening up horizons and minds through music that they might otherwise never know.
However, I think Singapore is heading in the right direction as we are starting to see better-trained, full-time music teachers not only in Music Elective Programmes but also in the General Music Programmes. Music is a specialist subject requiring specialist training, lesson preparation and delivery. We need well-trained, inspiring musician-pedagogues in our schools – who should ideally be practicing musicians with a good sense of aesthetics and can teach musical concepts through practical-based, engaging music-making lessons.
There are certainly many other things we can adapt and learn from Hungary’s strong music traditions and excellent music education system but there is no such thing as a perfect system. On the other hand, there are some aspects where Singapore is actually quite ahead e.g. use of technology in music classrooms.
What plans do you have for re-establishing yourself in the scene in the coming months? Are you looking to revive old networks, or will you be taking the next stage of your career in a different direction from before?
Hahaha. I haven’t really had time to think about that having just finished some composition projects. I am always keeping a lookout for interesting projects and possibilities, and you can be sure whatever it is I do, it will always be music-related.
Do you have any other insights or observations from the time you spent at the Kodály Institute that would like to share with our readers?
I was re-inspired by teachers and schoolmates to have joy, appreciation and respect for music, music-making and fellow music-makers. Hopefully I can inspire others and readers in the same positive way!