$348,000. That's a lot of money. It was recently announced on AsiaOne that a fund was launched to, we quote, "preserve and promote Singapore's musical heritage." The fund reportedly adds up to a total of $348k. That sounds good, finally we're giving our history of original music a decent—wait, what's that about pianos?
Yes, it turns out a chunk of that fund will be used to purchase 50 pianos. Not just your average, run-of-the-mill grand pianos. These are Steinway-designed Lang Lang pianos, priced at $26k each. All of this stems from the Sing50 concert that's happening this year — to mark 50 years as a nation. There will be "iconic popular songs, composers, performers and stories that mark the milestones of music in the 50 years since the country gained independence in 1965." But of course. The songs and performers who will be celebrated have not been revealed but it definitely speaks a lot when there's a fund readily available to celebrate the past but does nothing to help the present day. Not to mention, the pianos will also then be given to 50 schools for their own use, to teach students about Singapore songs and cultivate a culture that embraces music.
It's already easy to point fingers at the government about how this money could be used to better the current local music scene. This piece of news has already drawn a lot of ire around social media but what is the fundraisers' perception of music? The person in-charge of curation, Sing50 director Jeremiah Choy, says "a valuable collection of Singapore music that articulates our national identity and celebrates our nation's diversity" will be prepared. What we could take from this issue is that herein lies something we could best describe as 'music primitivism'. We're ready to celebrate the past but in the process, we leave modern progress behind; a certain kind of idealism that insinuates the best days for local music are behind us.
Okay, about the money, why can't we use it to fund new mid-sized music venues? Or give grants to bands to record albums or even tour beyond Asia? Sadly the funds were donated by individuals who probably didn't think of all these factors and that's fine. But it clearly displays a mentality that has given up on any chance Singaporean music could even move forward. It barely recognizes independent Singaporean music as a legitimate and viable artform. What Mr Choy says is even more interesting. He says "This gives us the opportunity to continue promoting and preserving Singapore music and the stories behind them. The Sing50 Fund will support this endeavour."
Their interests clearly lie within songs like 'Where I Belong' or 'What Do You See?'. It doesn't just ignore independent musicians, it's a rejection of everything music stands for other than existing as feel-good fodder for the uninspired masses. Adding it into schools' curriculums will probably make students hate these songs more than the opposite. Who remembers genuinely having fun singing "Count On Me Singapore" or God forbid, played it on the recorder? The Sing50 concert itself is shaping up to be something odd as well. They're looking for people who can either play the piano, an orchestral instrument, be able to sing or rap. Rap. Rap.
This isn't even an argument about "real music vs fake music", it's about respecting the art of making music. Perhaps they didn't explain properly, since 50 x $26k pianos is a lot more than $348k. There's definitely something that's missing here about the fund. Maybe they're getting a special discount, who knows? What matters is what they perceive music to be; they imply that by buying expensive pianos, implementing an appreciation of "local music" into education, it helps nurture an environment that encourages younger people to make music. What they forget is that with the environment already created in schools, it will repel them away from music. You can't just force-feed something into students to make them like it.
There can be so much that can be done for the current music scene. It is unfair to pin it on a few donors who, for all intents and purposes, meant well. I'm pretty sure there's more to this that hasn't been revealed so we can't just blatantly attack them either. In the article, it's stated that "The fund will build on that by introducing local music to younger generations and the community, and to cultivate in them an appreciation for and love of Singapore music." One thing's for sure — we're still far away from defining 'Singapore music' when most of it feels like a forced reminder that we are Singapore, Singaporeans.