School Bands in Singapore
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School Bands in Singapore are made up of student musicians who perform music together. In Singapore, the school band is a Co-Curriculum Activity (CCA) that can typically be found in Primary Schools, Secondary Schools, and Junior Colleges. Being outside classroom school activities, CCAs act as an integral part of the students’ holistic, well-rounded education, and are aimed at nurturing student qualities, and preparing them to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing world. As with other CCAs, the programmes in Singapore school bands follow the Ministry of Education (MOE)’s CCAs guiding principles of building team spirit and responsibility, being broad based with opportunities to specialize, being responsive to inculcating national values and skills, as well as promoting social integration.
Generally, there are no admission criteria into Primary and Secondary school bands, although bands in Junior Colleges may prefer experienced players. The relaxed admission criteria allow students who were not given the opportunity for an education in music, or whose families could not afford musical instruments a chance to pick up a new skill.
Generally, the average size of school bands is around 60 members. Some bands may even go up to 100 to 160 members.
School bands are usually a sight at ceremonial events within the school or at public performances outside the school as they provide the music for different occasions. In addition, school bands also participate in competitions at both local and international music festivals. As students undergo the process of rehearsing in the band, either for foot drills or music drills, the disciplined routines allow them to learn the values of discipline, teamwork, responsibility and commitment. As they participate in competitions, students also learn to celebrate their achievements while maintaining humility or even to accept defeat in good grace. These are experiences that members of the school bands gain through the programme.
As such, school bands act as platforms that develop potential young musicians, among which a significant number of whom would have gone on to pursue a professional music career. There are amateur and semi-professional bands and orchestras, national bodies such as the Singapore Youth Orchestra (SYO), or even professional organizations as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) in Singapore that students can go on to involve themselves in. The number of students who continue to pursue professional music careers after their experience in the school bands can perhaps be an indicator of development in the area of culture and arts scene of Singapore.
The musical standard that Singapore school bands have reached today can be exemplified in the recognized international competitions and events that some school bands have been invited to participate in. One example would be the Sydney Olympics Games Opening Ceremony held in Australia in 2000, when six school band members were selected to participate in the international band display item.
School bands in Singapore are coordinated by the professional association, the Band Directors’ Association (Singapore) (BDAS). The first School Band Directors Convention was held on 29 August 1990, and subsequently in the years 1995, 2001, and 2004. The BDAS lays out a set of objectives for the band directors, primary for the purpose of developing and improving the band programme, curriculum, supervision and instruction.
In 1965, the Ministry of Education first launched the Band Project as part of the Extra-Curriculum Activity Programme (ECA) (renamed as Co-Curriculum Activity or CCA in 1999) in both Primary and Secondary Schools. It was aided by the directive given by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who instructed that the formation of school bands should be considered a "high priority". At its beginning, the project began with only 4 brass bands in aided secondary schools, and 9 Bugle and Fife bands in Primary Schools that were mainly functioning under the banners of the Boys’ Brigade and Boy Scouts. Within six years, the number of school bands rapidly increased to 77 brass bands in secondary schools and 78 Bugle and Fife bands in primary schools in 1971. As of the year 2000, 44 primary schools, 132 secondary schools and 14 junior colleges have their own school bands, and in that year, 12,000 students were in the band movement. This number translated to around 27.5% of students taking part in the CCA music in the year 2000 being in the bands. Thus, the school band movement has been evolving since its inception in 1965, with an increase in both the number and quality of school bands over the years.
The government then started school bands with the original purpose of developing group discipline, esprit de corps and a sense of national identity among the students who joined the band as their ECA. Schools bands would also contribute to school spirit and enhance the school programme on ceremonial occasions. In addition, the government took the general musical poverty of most citizens in the 1960s into account, and wanted to establish school bands so as to give schooling children a start in musical interest.
Challenges faced in the early beginnings of the Band Project included the shortage of band instructors and teachers for the school bands. Such challenges were overcome with in-service training and scholarships to encourage those who were interested to go into music teaching.
Despite the challenges, in 1990, 25 years after the Band Project in Singapore was launched, the ECA centre estimated that about 20,000 students would have once been members of school bands, and would have benefited from the school band movement.
Singapore Youth Festival
Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) is an annual event organized by Singapore’s Ministry of Education to celebrate the achievements of youth in their Co-Curriculum Activities (CCAs). It serves to highlight all activities that take place in every school and that contribute in one way or another to the total development of the students. The annual event engages students from schools across Singapore, who are involved in all performing arts, sports and uniformed group CCAs. It is an event that usually starts in April and culminates in a month long celebration in July.
SYF was first launched in 1966. The opening ceremony was held at the Jalan Besar Stadium in 1967. Initial activities in the early festivals only included music and dance, but it gradually extended to field sports, art forms, and later, mass displays.
The SYF Central Judging was later introduced in 1968. It continues to be an annual event during which most schools' performing arts groups compete at their respective levels. In 1968, three years shortly after the Band Project was launched, school bands started to compete at the SYF Central Judging. Till today, the CCA Branch of the Ministry of Education organises the Central Judging of Concert Bands (Primary Schools, Secondary Schools and Junior Colleges), Central Judging of Display Bands (Secondary Schools) and the Assessment of Marching Bands (Secondary Schools) in alternate years. The involvement of school bands in the annual SYF is evident, as 117 secondary school bands and 14 junior college bands with 7,709 participants were involved in the SYF Central Judging of Concert Bands in 2001.
- "Ministry of Education, Singapore: Education System: Secondary Education: Co-Curriculum Activities." At: http://www.moe.gov.sg/education/secondary/cca/ Accessed 7 April 2008
- "CCA Guidelines and Grading Scheme for Secondary Schools Revised – MOE Press Release 11 Jan 2003." At: http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/press/2003/pr20030111a.htm#ANNEX Accessed 9 April 2008
- Dr. Tay Eng Soon, Senior Minister of State for Education. Speech at the opening of the First School Band Directors’ Convention. 29 August 1990.
- Mr. Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary-Delegate. Ministry of Education & Ministry of Manpower. Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the 4th Band Directors’ Convention. 11 August 2004.
- Mr. Mohamad Maidin Packer Mohd, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education. Speech at the official opening of the 3rd Band Convention. 1 August 2001.
- "Constitution of the Band Directors’ Association (Singapore)." At: http://www.bdas.org.sg/files/docs/BDAS_Constitution.pdf Accessed 8 April 2008
- Singapore Youth Festival ’67 – ’76 10th Anniversary. Singapore Youth Festival Steering Committee 1976.
- Mr. Sidek Saniff, Minister of State (Education). Speech at the official opening of The Second School Band Directors’ Convention. 29 August 1995
- Inche Mohd. Ghazali Ismail, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education. Speech at the 5th Anniversary Dinner of School Band Project at Hotel Equatorial. 6 February 1971
- "History of SYF." At: http://www.singaporeyouthfestival.sg/Introduction/HistoryofSYF/tabid/55/Default.aspx Accessed 8 April 2008
- "Co-Curriculum Branch- Band." At: http://www3.moe.edu.sg/ccab/musicdance/Webpages/Band/Band%20home.htm Accessed 8 April 2008