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Who Cares About the General Elections 2020?

As a young man during my early 20s, I was quite apathetic towards politics and current affairs. After all, I’ve never had to exercise my right to vote (walkovers were very common back then) and my life went on as per norm. No biggie right?

All that changed after I started studying with Mr. Leong Yoon Pin.

He was a principled man who cared deeply about his surroundings and the people around him. The fact that he actually got upset seeing people smoke and harming pregnant ladies with second hand smoke speaks volumes about the kind of man he is. I would often observe folded newspapers on his sea-facing desk during my morning “harmony” (composition) pilgrimages to his Bayshore home. He seems to read the news everyday and is very well versed in current affairs. 

Being ever curious, I asked him “Why would you bother reading the news when it doesn’t really concern us at all?” He was obviously amused (and a little concerned) but patiently replied “Politics, current affairs, policies affect us in more ways than you might imagine”. That morning, he proceeded to tell me stories about how rare it was for Singaporeans to study overseas during his time, and how he thought he was  followed by “mysterious men” in Singapore after returning from his overseas studies, closing of Chinese choirs etc.. Frankly at the time, it sounded more like spy novel fiction than fact! The conversation however sparked a beyond-textbook interest in Singapore’s local history. Henceforth, my habit of daily news reading started as a means of understanding the world and to hear important messages that were being delivered to Singaporeans. When the internet came along, my reading list expanded to include news networks from overseas to get the really interesting stuff I don’t get to read about locally.

“Politics, current affairs, policies affect us in more ways than you might imagine”.

– Leong Yoon Pin

Fast forward to today, I’ve had the privilege of travelling to very interesting countries/territories because of music. I’ve made many good friends who are intellectuals, people who are often the crème de la crème of their own society and witnessed firsthand how politics and policies can shape their craft and the arts and culture in their respective cities. Good politics can uplift, unite and give hope to an entire generation, bring about greater equality between people regardless of the colour of one’s skin, the language one speaks or one’s religious, spiritual or sexual orientation beliefs. The converse holds true when arrogant, tone-death (pardon the pun), foolish people come into power. We see plenty of that in the news as well.

There is no such thing as a perfect system, only trade-offs, where we stand and what we might be willing to give up in exchange for something else. Be discerning, listen to both sides of the story, be rational, calm and assess the veracity and substance of one’s words and actions. Be careful of getting swept up by passion, charisma, group think etc. and please be kind with your comments. Being loud may get you attention, but being gentlemanly and civil is the surest way of commanding respect.

You are not too young nor too old to start paying attention to the news, politics or elections. Until a Star Trek future comes to fruition, a future where money is obsolete and humanity is united as a species, I’m afraid artificial constructs such as nationalism will have to do for now. Read, listen, watch, assess and pay attention. YOU, SHOULD care about General Elections 2020. Our future depends on it!

#albertsannotations #votewisely #payattention #currentaffairs #ge2020 #startrek 

WOW! The Arts Are Essentially Non-Essential?!

WOW! Hear hear! The Arts Are Essentially Non-Essential?!

Intellectually, I understand the survey simply brought to the fore, typical Singaporean culture and psyche. After all, we’ve come so far together (economically) because of a heady mix of ingredients – big doses of pragmatism, utilitarianism, legalism with a pinch of elitism. Nothing wrong there and I’m really not anti-establishment. I’ve travelled extensively for artistic work overseas and with each new city and culture I encounter, I’m ever more grateful to be born in Singapore. My observation is that in general, local Artists do lead a far more comfortable and stable life as compared to some of our counterparts overseas. Thank you very much.

Emotionally however, it did hurt to have my calling and my profession (one I take great pride in), be labeled as ‘non-essential’. It is an uncomfortable proposition, however seemingly logical the non-essential label may be. Artist colleagues from across disciplines, were similarly and understandably outraged and/or upset.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Source:

A pragmatist can hardly dispute Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a (rough) guide to the determination of one’s well-being and happiness. Indeed, in the face of a global pandemic, the Arts and Artists can be seen as non-essential for one’s physical survival. But it is the Arts and the Artists i.e. the thinkers, the philosophers, the poets, the dancers, the actors, the musicians etc. i.e. the creatives who define who we are, what we are as a species… Artists who are often the conscience of society and perhaps best illustrate whether we are sentient beings who are truly living and are hopefully beyond just base instincts.

I shall not dispute the veracity of the survey since that’s not the main point of this piece. But the article and infographic really does come across as being a tad offensive and certainly in poor taste. Perhaps the writers, editors and powers-that-be who are involved in this little Sunday Times article might’ve done better if they had been a little more involved in the Arts – e.g. read Shakespeare, participated in drama, and learnt to empathise, step into another person’s skin before committing to these graphics and words on a national newspaper. Was the “Top 5 Non-essential jobs” really, absolutely essential to conveying your intended message?


For those of you who agreed with the article and/or contributed to the statistics, you may perhaps want a rethink of what and who helped you get through the pandemic – the animators of cartoons that helped babysit the kids for you to provide some peace whilst working from home; the composer and musicians who made the music that brought you comfort in times of grief and/or energy whilst working out; the writers, actors, directors and other creatives that power Netflix. Send a prayer and a thought of gratitude to Artists because it is this bunch of people who provides the intangible, spiritual nourishment and comfort in times of crisis.

Perhaps the Arts are non-essential for survival, but they are certainly essential in defining who we are, what we are as a nation, hopefully teach us how to be kinder and to move forward together as a species, homo sapiens made up of the same cosmic star dust…

Albert Tay, Composer-Conductor Educator.

P.S. “The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them…Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.” – Winston Churchill, April 30, 1953 Royal Academy Banquet.

A Tapestry of Sacred Music Arvo Pärt’s Passio: St John Passion in the Dark

It was an amazing experience to be invited by the Esplanade to perform in “A Tapestry of Sacred Music“. This annual music festival is presented by the Esplanade and sees some of the most colourful performances of spiritual-religious music by equally colourful performers. This year, I had the privilege to be part of this huge festival as chorus-master, preparing the Schola Cantorum Singapore for Arvo Pärt’s Passio.

The concert was fully subscribed and the Esplanade Concert Hall was packed with an appreciative audience. The choir and I had a really good time studying in depth, Pärt’s music and delving deep into this poetic music and text that speaks of the spirit behind one man’s ultimate sacrifice.

A big thank you to the Esplanade for inviting and hosting us so wonderfully, and a big shoutout and thank you to The Straits Times (ST Life 17 April 2019) and 938NOW DJ Eugene Loh’s live radio show for the wonderful coverage on this event.

A Tapestry of Sacred Music 2019 Arvo Part Passio

Photo Credits: Albert TAY