Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kim Rockell on Rondalla

Kim Rockell and Joe Peters

Joe Peters and his TREMOLO WALL

Kim Rockell delivering his paper in Tagum, Mindanao, Philippines during the 3rd International Rondalla Festival

Kim Rockell is a PhD student at the University of Cantebury in Christchurch, New Zealand. His dissertation is on rondalla in the Australian diaspora. With a grant from the New Zealand Foundataion,  Kim was able to do research trips to Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines. An excerpt of his report in NZASIA Newsletter is quoted here for the benefit of rondalla musicians in the Asian region.

Kim Rockell writes:
Fieldwork commenced in December, 2010 with a trip to Singapore. Here it was possible to observe the operation of the “quadrant” concept of Singaporean multiculturalism, and the position of migrant workers from regional, developing countries within this model. The researcher was also prompted to reflect on the geographical position of Singapore within the expansive, Malay world. In terms of the arts, it became clear that the Singaporean government is currently committed to developing arts and arts education. This is, in part, in response to the perceived criticism of a lack of creative thinking in Singapore-educated population.
The highlight of time spent in Singapore was meeting ethnomusicologist Dr Joseph Peters. Dr Peters not only developed the first rondalla in Singapore, but also the first brass band. His current rondalla, which is based at the University of Singapore and predominantly made up of students from mainland China, performed at the 2011 International Rondalla Festival. In addition to his important work on rondalla, which he is currently developing into a kind of pan-Asian tremolo orchestra for the performance of Western music, Dr Peters is now mainly concerned with the preservation of Southeast Asian sound systems. These musical systems, which he refers to as “sonic orders”, are under attack from the dominance of Western tonal systems. Peters has developed a system for measuring global, sonic emissions. He estimates that in most parts of the world today more than ninety percent of musical, sonic emissions are based on a western system. Just as introduced species can cause environmental damage and threaten local wildlife, instruments introduced from Europe such as the piano and guitar, have destroyed much of the fragile, Asia-Pacific, musical landscape. Paradoxically, the piano may also hold the key to aiding preservation. Peters drew the researcher’s attention to the recently developed “fluid-piano” which can be re-tuned, even during performance, to a variety of intervals and scale systems.
Dr Peter’s current work with rondalla is centred on improving instrument quality and he has developed several new proto-types. The tremolo orchestra he is developing will also include seats for pipa, sitar and gambus representing the Chinese, Indian and Malay worlds respectively.
During the researcher’s time in Singapore, Dr Peters was extremely generous with his time. The researcher was able to conduct interviews, photograph Dr Peter’s instrument collection and attend a rondalla rehearsal at the University of Singapore. At Dr Peter’s invitation, the researcher also attended the 2010 National Chinese Music Competition at the Singapore Conference Hall. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

FIESTA RONDALLA 2012 Features the Legendary Gerry Soliano

FIESTA RONDALLA 2012 Salutes Gerry Soliano - the first Band Director at NUS

Tue 28 Feb, 8pm, UCC Theatre, Kent Ridge Campus, Free Admission

A concert by the NUS Rondalla, a member of NUS Centre For the Arts, featuring music on tremolo and plucked stringed instruments of Spanish and Filipino origins. It was established in 1981 and is still the only one of its kind in Singapore. Fiesta Rondalla is part of the ExxonMobil Campus Concerts (EMCC) presented by NUS Centre For the Arts.

NUS Rondalla marks their 30th year with a special highlight – a tribute to the late Mr. Gerry Soliano, the first Band Director of the University of Singapore Military Band (USMB) which was formed in 1968, with the support of university’s Vice-chancellor, the late Dr Toh Chin Chye. The USMB was renamed the NUS Symphonic Band and is currently known as the NUS Wind Symphony.

This tribute to Mr. Soliano will be done in a multimedia musical “The C-10 English Pantun Show” which tells of how the pioneering students of the band, together with their well loved band director, Mr. Gerry Soliano, made an old chemical storage room (Room C-10) into the first dedicated space for music in the Bukit Timah campus. The combined forces of the C10 Alumni, Gunong Sayang Association and the NUS Rondalla will stage this under Dr. Joe Peters, the Founder and Musical Director of the NUS Rondalla.

The C10 Alumni is a growing group of USMB musicians who were under Mr. Gerry Soliano’s directorship (1968–1973). They have been making music for more than forty years. Leading Peranakan musicians from Gunong Sayang, Mr. Victor Goh, Mr. Frederick Soh, Mr. Deron Amos Ling, and the Bibik and Adek Troupes, accompanied by NUS Rondalla, will perform pantuns in English, fusing NUS’ past and present with Singapore culture.

The pantuns (in English) were crafted by Gunong Sayang Association President, Mr Victor Goh, from words and verses written by Mr Chia Tech Suan and Mr. Surinder Singh from the C-10 Alumni. There will also be an accompanying screen show done by Mr Victor Pang, an AV-IT professional and tutor of NUS Radio Pulze. The musical arrangement is done by Dr. Joe Peters.

The English Pantun is a work-in-progress in a bid to make the art of Malay “patois” pantun more accessible.

Pantuns are poetic couplets or quatrains that form the bedrock of several Malay and Peranakan musical forms: dondang sayang (musical events for courtship), bangsawan (vaudaville music and dance presentations), asli (native song) and dikir barat (music and movement). Pantuns were used in everyday speech in the early Malay courts in the Straits of Malacca. This art form was the purveyor of Malay adat (customs) and adab (manners). The music and poetry adopted emblematic musical styles that convey messages through sindir (indirect reference), ibarat (comparisons) and kias (analogies). The Peranakan communities in the littoral states (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand) of the Straits continued this pantun tradition till modern times in various musical forms: bangsawan, dondang sayang, dikir barat, keroncong and the other allied song forms asli, inang, joget, rongeng, etc. In Malaysia the Peranakans in Malacca and Penang do it to a very high standard. Gunong Sayang follows the Malacca form. Among the Malays the Minangkebao communities in Selangor and Johor, pantuns are used even in speech. In Indonesia, pantuns are strongly used in Pandang and Acheh. There are similar variations in Java and Sunda. Allied forms can be found in Thialand (rumwong), Vietnam (Do Ca Tai Tu) and Sri Lanka (bilal).

Mr Soliano’s rare 1953 French violin will also be featured in a special arrangement of the traditional Shaker song, Lord of the Dance, Ms. Zhong. Mr. David Wang will perform as soloist on the violin. It is an instrument with much history behind it, as Gerry Soliano performed on it during his itinerant musical tours. and as the legendary band leader at Raffles Hotel.

The first half of the concert will also feature a varied programme of musical favorites led by Ms Linda Zhong Yi, the Assistant Conductor and Tutor for Filipino instruments in the NUS Rondalla. Much of the first half of the evening will be focused on arrangements and/or solo performances by key members: Mr Bill Sheng Yuan, who is the Tutor for the Spanish instruments and music arrange; Mr David Wang Yuanzhi, who is the Mandolin Tutor, a Spanish Laud player and the solo violinist in the ensemble; Mr Tian Hongyu, the Double Bass Tutor, and the immediate past President of the NUS Rondalla. He is away on a student academic posting

To read more on NUS Rondalla refer to the following:




Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tribute to Dr. Toh Chin Chye

Dr. Toh Chin Chye, as we have discovered recently, in many unusually long and sustained news reports of his life and times, is a man of the people. These copious reports are a direct contrast to the deafening silence about him since the 1980s. What nobody spoke or wrote about was his cultural hopes for the nation, and this was manifested at the University of Singapore where he was Vice-Chancellor (1968-1975). In 1968 he launched the University of Singapore Military Band (USMB). It led to the birth of an extensive extra-curricular music and dance programme in the 1970s and beyond. But lurking behind his mind was the need for a cultural renaissance from the ground.

I first met Dr. Toh in person in 1967 when he came to St. Joseph’s Institution to preside over the Founders Day celebrations. He presented to me the highest award in the school that year for my activities in music. Upon entering the University of Singapore in 1968, I discovered that he had remembered meeting me, and he wanted me to work with Mr. Gerry Soliano, the legendary bandleader at Raffles Hotel, whom he employed to set-up the first formal music activity at SU.

In the process of working on the band, I discovered he had other plans, foremost of which was to set up a Music Department under the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Two legendary musicians, Dr. Lucrecia Kasilag from the Philippines and Professor Frank Callaway from the University of Western Australia, were invited to advise and write a report for this. Both these persons became my mentors.

It was an exciting time personally for me as a student leader in musical activities on campus. I took Dr. Toh’s offer of a job and stayed on at SU after graduation to further assist with the development the extra-curricular programme, and also to help with the administration of the pending Music Department. It was established in 1972. Very sadly things did not develop according to plan. Dr. Toh left SU in 1975. The Music Department was closed by 1978. I left in the same year for higher musical study at the College of Music at the University of the Philippines. It was my choice to go there and not to USA or UK. I was in pursuit of knowledge that Euro-American did not have. How could they when a place like the Philippines was struggling to create this knowledge.

Dr. Toh had a profound effect on me because he taught me, through his deep nationalism, that the route to becoming a multicultural nation is not easy. If it was difficult for other disciplines then it must be doubly hard for music. I majored in Political Science, which ironically again, was closed down in my final year. Culture was an important component of nation building. It was Dr. Toh’s legacy in initiating the Music Department, so that music and musicians could have a professional platform to study musical phenomenon and respond to nation building.

His choice of Kasilag and Callaway from this side of the world, and not the default tendency to reach out to Euro-America, was innate wisdom as a statesman of a multicultural state like Singapore. Dr. Toh’s vision for music was to first understand the local needs and then work out to the peripheries of the abstract. Not to start with the abstract and always stay irrelevant. The report recommended balance between East and West - but there was no blue print to achieve it. This is where the fault lines were. This was the confluence where knowledge had to be created.

Professional musical experience of Singapore at that time was narrow. The method and accreditation of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music was the only formula that people could and would understand. The aggrandizement of music as a profession was neither the policy nor the principle. Singapore did not have an abundant manpower base then, so it was not something that was up front in discussions. It was meant to be small but focused.

The lecturers employed for the Music Department were all Asian but trained in Britain and USA. It was a middle point to start and which Dr. Toh agreed. But, it turned out to be a shadow dance of mismatched ideas and personalities. Many times I was caught in the middle of diplomatic discords between the music staff and him. It was unfortunate that all sides saw this not as a set of developmental problems that needed deep methods and a time frame to solve, but as a zero-sum football game, where the musical football had no design, no designer, and the referee and the lines-persons had no reference point to make crucial decisions. No effort was put into this. The department had 12 students and they did music as a minor subject – and that was all that was produced.

Running parallel to the department was an ever growing and popular extra-curricular progamme that worked entirely on enthusiasm, and fully funded by the university. Thus, the closing of the Music Department did not generally make any impact. But it did to me.

The Kasiliag-Callaway Report was and still is one of the finest that was done, but incomprehensible as a document if it had produce results immediately. Copy and follow was (and still is) the only method we know for music. To maintain the balance between East and West, there was no place we could go to copy and follow. So, the report lay there as a document that was gradually forgotten. I decided that I would follow a private path to try and understand the dynamics of the East-West divide in music. It seemed to be the sacred spot where things could fall out of balance. Someone has to work on this patch.

I continued with the extracurricular music and dance programme, but launched a parallel (silent) track for my professional music research and training. I planned to follow the precepts of that Kasilag-Callaway Report. I read for a Masters in Music at the famed College of Music at the University of the Philippines, and wrote a PhD thesis at the University of Western Australia where Callaway played a central role in developing the curricula. I consciously decided to stay away from Euro-American music colleges. The total span of time it took me to do this by myself was 21 years.

I did this because I knew that Dr Toh had something in his mind but could not paint the full picture then – I know now how much time and effort is needed to be able to even express in words the true nature of the East-West problem in music, before working on the issues and solutions of sustainability, relevance, and comprehension of the fundamentally different musical systems in Singapore. Musical culture must define national territories. If people ask me why I did this at the expense of a career somewhere else, I say it was due to the after effects of a scolding I got from Dr. Toh.

Dr. Toh saw music as something that came from within a society. Music cannot be done in void. It had to have a following. There is a systemic principle in music like in all other aspects of life and work, and it was his hope that the professionals would find that equilibrium. He scolded me, in front of my administrative colleagues at a staff function, when I tried to get him to see the Music Department’s point of view. What he said in that scolding actually marked a turning point in my thoughts about music and its future: “Joe, don’t let these foreigners come and stuff things down your throat”.

He was a politician by instinct and nature. No musician would have seen the study of music, in that day and time, as something other than what Euro-America was doing. I pondered long and deeply on why he would say such a thing when he employed these foreigners. When I went to the Philippines for studies, instead of USA or UK, where I discovered that this struggle for relevance and independence, within a rapidly globalizing and homogenizing sonic environment, was a colossal problem. There were serious efforts by students, staff and the followers of music battling this East-West issue. I saw shades and layers of many other problems in the search of the East-West equilibrium in musical culture and expression. I realized that the effort to prevent erosion and extinction of musical systems had to be scientific, collegiate and generational.

I explored the Philippines for what it was worth, their traditional and tribal musical cultures, and their high capability in the expression of Western music. Most of all I had the honor and luck to meet and work with the legendary ethnomusicologist, the late Emeritus Professor Jose Maceda.

I returned to Singapore in 1981. SU became NUS and the music extra-curricular programme was institutionalized as the only sanctioned musical activity on campus - but still without credit. At the same time, I saw other local tertiary institutions going ahead with professional music programmes, albeit on the lines of the old “tried and tested” formula. It was disheartening, but my job became a platform to perform a new juggling routine as I marched privately towards a PhD – in further pursuit of the issues raised in the Kassilag-Callaway Report calling for balance in local and foreign course elements.

I found comrades in the growing ASEAN network where quite fortunately I became a regular representative for Singapore. One of the projects that made me see the “wedge in the door” for a PhD topic was the ASEAN Composers Forum on Traditional Music. It was the brainchild of Dr. Ramon Santos, the Dean of the College of Music, a student of Professor Maceda, and my teacher in the “Music of the Philippines”. In 1993 that project came to Singapore and for the first time I was able to bring together the major traditional music groups representing the fundamentally different musical systems in Singapore for ethnomusicology scrutiny.

By 1993 I had a topic based on a new concept “sonic orders” - which I invented to solve a minor musical diplomatic tussle between the Philippines and Malaysia on some overlap in objectives in two ASEAN composers projects. In 1998 I got a bonus when the ASEAN Sonic Orders was approved and funded. This project went parallel with my my PhD in 1999, where "sonic orders" became the test bed for my ideas on how to prevent “things being stuffed down my throat”. I said a silent "Eureka" when I received the PhD. The Vice Chancellor of UWA came hunting for me during the garden party, quite incredulous how I could have written a thesis on a subject like that. I reminded him that Prof. Frank Callaway was there at UWA.

Then, by a sheer coincidence, SMU invited me to teach a course called “Music East and West”. For eight years (2000-2007) that course provided me a way to test my timeline music education principles based on "sonic orders", some allied laboratory applications and procedures, and the sonic environment measuring and analysis techniques and software. The fundamental thesis in my PhD was that we could develop the right pedagogies to sustain and make relevant our musical culture through a process of understanding music, by a measuring principle and tool, music is emitted from radio, television, recordings and performances. Until we have a systemic mentality in music education and a systematic approach to research and training, I think we will be caught in a “hentak kaki” syndrome - changing and adapting, but staying rooted to one spot with only the background moving and changing.

This long and winding career I had, is my response to Dr. Toh’s scolding. No “foreigner” could or can stuff anything down my throat now. As he is laid to rest, I am at a point where I am going to apply these ideas within some Asian countries. I will always be grateful to Dr. Toh Chin Chye.


Joe Peters

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Brief Curriculum Vitae

Brief Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Joe Peters (B.Soc. Sci., 71, S'pore.; M.M., 81, UP; PhD., 99, West Aust.)
Full Name: Dr. Joseph E. E. Peters
Mailing Address: 126 Jalan Chempaka Kuning
Tel/Fax: 65-64460979. SKYPE: graduate_class
Past Work
Dr. Peters has had a dual career at the National University of Singapore (1971-2009): first, as one of the prime individuals who developed a large music performance programme (1971-1993), and then as Associate Director of Multimedia services and applications (1993-2009). He has seved as musical director of many organizations including the Singapore Sceneshifters, and was founder and director of the NUS Electronic Music Lab and the NUS Rondalla. Between 192 and 2009 her was Singapore’s representative to many ASEAN music projects including being the Chief-Editor and Director of the “Sonic Orders in ASEAN Musics” field-to-laboratory ethnomusicology project, and the Inaugural Co-Chairman of the ASEAN Korea Traditional Orchestra. Between 2000-2008 he taught a music-elective (Music East and West) at the Singapore Management University, where he designed a Sonic Orders Laboratory and tested the basic principles of his new area of work - Timeline Music Education Library(TMAL Pedagogy). Between 2009 and 2011 he served as External Music Examiner for the University of Wales, and in 2016 he served as External Assessor for Music at the Singapore University of Social Sciences. 

Current Work at Nakhon Phanom University (NE Thailand)
He has joined NPU from October 2017 as a music education specialist to help launch a music department under the Faculty of Education. The Music Department will function from August 2018. He will teach two courses: Timeline Music Annotation Library (TMAL) Pedagogy and Tremolo-Strings using a Heuristic Group Music Pedagogy. He is also teaching English for Thesis and Abstract Writing for Graduate Students at NPU. 

Current Work at Sonic Asia Music Technologies
He is currently the Chief Musicologist of Sonic Asia Music Technologies.   He developed and is extending and expanding music studies in two areas: 1. TMAL pedagogies and technologies. TMAL is the art and science of delivering information (text, audio commentary, graphics, multimedia and internet linkages) to nodes on the sound timeline of the music. This pedagogy is part of his larger work in measuring, monitoring and modeling world sonic environments. TMAL has been the focus of his research for his Masters, Ph.D and Post-Doctoral work. His special mix of skills from his Deal-Career - in Music and AV-IT -  has enabled the development of this technology in music education: 2. Tremolo-Strings - his endeavour to establish this 3rd arm of string music (the others being plucked and bowed) based on his experiences with the Philippines Rondalla. He is Founder of the National University of Singapore Rondalla (Web Link: https://cfa.nus.edu.sg/learn-explore/talent/music/nus-rondalla). Currently, he is developing the SingaporeTremolo Strings with newly designed instrument-families Tremolos with 14 and 10 strings and Mandolin-Strings. He developed a Hueristic Group Method for Tremolo music to facilitate performance-based,  and self-paced active music education.

Related Work and Membership in Associations
Singapore Liaison for ICTM (International Council for Traditional Music); Committee Mixte member of RILM (Repertoire International for Music Libraries); Advisor to MusicSG, a digital-music database at the National Library Board in Singapore;a former member of the Arts Resource Panel, National Arts Council of Singapore; and, Advisor to the Singapore Indian Orchestra, Peoples Association of Singapore. He has professional links with ISME (International Society for Music Education); IASA (International Association for Sound and Audio Visual Archives); IAML (International Association for Music Libraries): Laon Laon (Forum for Ethnomusicology Centers), University of the Philippines; APSE (Asia Pacific Society for Ethnomusicology); Latitude 35 South (Argentina). where he is the Asian Coordinator; and the International Rondalla Congress (Philippines).

AV-IT Career
In his AV-IT career, he has published an AV Product Evaluation Measure under the Audio Engineering Society (Web Link: ). It is being used at the National University of Singapore for internal AV product evaluation. In his work as Associate Director of Multimedia at the National University of Singapore, he managed AV-IT services and applications, including the technologies that supported the Singapore-MIT Alliance and a number of specialised medical laboratories. He pioneered the adoption of video conferencing technologies at NUS.

Publications and Papers: Refer to the page on this blog:  https://thesonicenvironment.blogspot.com/2014/08/list-of-papers-and-publications-by-dr.html