Latest Posts

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

Eulogy for Uncle Pang

I was pretty much brought up by “3 grandparents”. “Uncle Pang” (no blood relations) was like my 3rd grandparent. My 3 grandparents were pretty much the ones who bundled me up for school and Uncle Pang chauffeured me around most of the time. He worked at our factory during the day, washed, cooked and took care of my siblings and I when the rest of the family were away, took care of the python that decided to take refuge in our house toilet when we returned from an extended road trip visiting relatives, amongst many other things. He was always neat in appearance, courteous and punctual.

Loyalty and a heart of gold

I think it takes a really special personality to be possessed of such dedication and being able to work and be a family friend for more than 50 years. When my grandfather died, he stayed on, took care of my grandmother and my grandfather’s place and even paid for the mortgage and maintenance! When my grandmother was dying, he spent more time than anyone else taking care of her and visiting her at the hospital.


He was reserved, spoke little and despite the hard work, he’s never once complained nor let his family matters affect his work. I only found out about his paranoid schizophrenic brother when I asked to visit him at his home after retirement, and he proposed we meet downstairs at the coffeeshop.

Always thinking for others

I was supposed to visit him this week and when he was hospitalised, he was worried I might pop by and find no one there, so he got his niece to drop me a message to say he’s been hospitalised and that it wasn’t a big deal. I visited him at the hospital regardless and he seemed to be in good condition and good spirits until his shocking sudden departure. He was a Catholic who disliked imposing on others and even upon death, he requested for his ashes to be scattered at Pulau Ubin… I presume it was in part to ensure there was no need for future tomb clearing, niche rental etc.

Uncle Pang Seng Kow.jpg

Uncle Pang, photo taken 9 August 2017

Mr. Pang Seng Kow was born on 29 December 1940 and passed away on the 8 August 2018. His departure made me realise how little I know of the man’s history apart from obvious things like he was born Malaysian and was Hakka like my maternal grandmother. What I know for sure though, was that in word and deed, he was a role model and an old-school gentleman. His funeral was a simple brief affair attended by his long-lost but recently found nieces and nephew. There were no eulogies, no tributes and not even a portrait of him (he was always reserved and never really one for photos). He may have been my grandfather’s employee and de facto live-in family butler but Uncle Pang was to me, more family than family.

Requiescat in pace.