Hi, I’m Lee Philip, a 4th year double bassist at Peabody. I’m the lucky guest-blogger here because I’m writing from Singapore, where I’m studying as an exchange student at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music. The Singapore exchange is a new feature at Peabody this year, and they intend to continue offering it for the next several years. It turns out, they are offering their students the potential to have a really great experience out here.
So, here I am in Singapore. Yes, it’s really hot. It’s been a good place to spend a semester though - there’s a wide variety of food, much cheaper than you’ll find anywhere in the US, and it’s a great school. No, they do not allow gum; it’s kind of weird - something about the King sitting on some chewed gum, throwing a temper tantrum and banning it forever. It keeps the city really clean, though. Singapore is the cleanest and safest city I’ve ever seen.
I originally decided to come study here because I’d heard interesting things about the conservatory here a few times, and when this opportunity was suggested to me, I thought it’d be good for me. A semester in Singapore, a country known for its strict laws and firm work ethic, almost seemed like the ideal opportunity to prepare for a busy Spring semester that will include my senior recital, several auditions, and a performance of the 2nd Bottesini Concerto on the Karr/Koussevitzky bass. So, I got the go-ahead from my teacher and “the exchange committee” and I made arrangements to go.
I mostly expected to do my own thing here: stay out of people’s way, get good grades, and practice. I spent last summer in Japan as part of the Pacific Music Festival, so I did have some experience in a foreign culture. However, I was concerned about the fact that I didn’t know much about the kind of musical instruction I’d be getting out here. Like I said, the exchange program is brand new this year; a pianist and I make up the first group of students Peabody has sent to Yong Siew Toh for a semester, so it was hard to gauge what type of instruction we would be getting. It wasn’t until I had gotten settled and spent some time here that I realized that this exchange program, the Singapore exchange, is really a unique opportunity for Peabody students to become acquainted with the growing classical music scene in Asia.
While most people know that Asian musicians have been establishing themselves as leaders in classical music as soloists or as principals of major US and European orchestras, I was not aware and would not have expected that at some point, Asia might end up becoming the center of the classical music industry. Asian countries seem to be pushing a lot of money toward the arts, and many Western musicians are moving East to take advantage of it. The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s starting salary is comparable to that of a 2nd tier US orchestra, and the cost of living is much lower. Within the last 6-7 years, Singapore has opened up the Esplanade Complex (the $350M home of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra) and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (offers full tuition room and board to almost all of its 200 students).
In August, I asked my teacher here, Guennadi Mouzyka principal bass of the Singapore Symphony, about subbing with his orchestra. He kindly set up an audition for me with the music director, and last week I was hired to play an all-Strauss program with Principal Guest Conductor Okko Kamu. It was my first professional orchestra experience and a great one: I played the 4th part of Also Sprach Zarathustra on a boomy 5-string Pollman. While I was there, I was offered at least one more concert with them (I was disappointed to have to turn that down), and 2 weeks ago I was offered a two-week gig with the Bangkok Opera playing “Die Walkure” (I was very disappointed to have to turn that one down). That isn’t enough work to just pick up and move out to Asia, but it’s nice to know that there are jobs to be had and money to be made over here.
I know that, at first, studying Western classical music in Singapore might sound like as good of an idea as asking Paris Hilton for tips on running for president, but really, it’s a solid opportunity for which I’m thankful I’ve taken advantage. This is my last week here.. aside from my last two finals, I’m going to try to squeeze in my first game of cricket and one last Chinese steamboat chili hot-pot buffet. I’ll back in Peabody Bassland on Thursday. Thanks for reading!