In a parallel universe, Tang Tee Khoon could have been a glamorous jet-set classical violinist touring European capitals and playing in grand concert halls.
Performing is in her blood. One of Singapore’s most talented chamber musicians, Tang has been playing the violin since she was in primary school and made her concerto debut with the NUS Symphony Orchestra at age 12.
Since then, she has performed at such prestigious venues as Kioi Hall, Tokyo, and St. John’s Smith Square in London and for esteemed audiences like our late president Ong Teng Cheong. Tang has also trained with luminaries Donald Weilerstein in Boston and David Takeno in London and is only the second- ever violinist to be awarded the loan of the prestigious GB Guadagnini violin by the Singapore National Arts Council.
Lately, Tang has eschewed the trappings of personal fame in favour of a higher calling: developing the chamber and classical music scene in Singapore. As the founder and artistic director of Chamber Music and Arts Singapore, she organises public concert series by international and local musicians, and develops programmes for youth. “What I do now has so much range. It keeps me engaged, and I am influencing and touching a lot more lives horizontally than just playing. I enjoy reaching out and building a community,” says Tang.
She recently launched The Glasshouse, a virtual creative sphere featuring a curated series of programmes for children, youth and adults to keep them engaged with music and the arts through the pandemic. One of her biggest motivations is to provide a viable platform for musicians to make a living.
“I know of many who are talented but struggle to make ends meet. You either have to have a public relations machine behind you and become a superstar, or you struggle. So this is something I am passionate about,” she says. A condition of the violin loan was to hold at least one performance a year in Singapore after her post-graduate studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London.
When she realised the chamber music scene in Singapore was “non-existent”, she organised a full-length recital. “I found a love for putting together a team. It was very well received, so I dabbled in setting up a concert series.” By early 2020, she was running 15 to 20 events a year with audience sizes of up to 1,400.
The concerts are also a great way for budding musicians to gain exposure and stage experience. “Many here in Singapore don’t have the opportunity to do solo performances. This platform allows them to hone their presentation skills to prepare them for something bigger in the future,” she says.
Giving up a career rooted in performing music is a sacrifice, she concurs. “I was trained to perform, not write grant applications or balance budgets,” Tang quips. Still, she gets to experience the rush of performing in the concert series. In fact, part of the fun is being able to stay up to date on the latest fashion trends as she has to shop for cocktail dresses, she says with a laugh.
“I’m still playing, and I can still be at the top of my game. But I can’t do my six hours of practice a day anymore and play just for enjoyment.” More importantly, she derives joy and satisfaction from working towards her big- picture goal. “Someone has to be one of the building blocks to nurture the chamber music scene in Singapore.”