Violinist: Pop music was banned at home

SINGAPORE - That he plays a musical instrument is no surprise - he was born into a family of musicians.

Violinist Chan Yoong-Han, 38, now plays in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, where his mother used to be a cellist.

His father Chan Yong Shing also plays the violin and all his uncles are classical musicians.

The younger Chan said: "Many Singaporeans don't know much about classical music. But it's such a big part of me."

His parents used to hold regular concerts in their apartment in Paya Lebar. As a child, Chan would perform, too.

He said: "Everyone in my family is into classical music, so it's natural for me to take this path.

"It's unfortunate that so few people appreciate its fineness and elegance."

But when he was a teenager, he complained that only orchestral music could be played at home.

He said: "Pop music was banned at home and my father forbade me from listening to it.

"He felt the only way for me to excel in classical music was to constantly listen to it at home."

Chan would secretly listen to pop music on the radio and when he heard a song he liked - such as Take On Me by A-ha - he would record it by placing a casette tape recorder next to the speakers.

He also used his pocket money to buy casettes by the Bee Gees, the Carpenters and Duran Duran.

He "smuggled" them home and hid them under his mattress, listening to them secretly at night.


When his father found the tapes, he would confiscate them.

Said Chan: "Looking back, I'm not angry with my father. He was just afraid I would become more interested in pop music than classical music.

"He himself actually likes pop music. Nowadays, he often listens to songs by Teresa Teng and Fong Fei Fei."

Chan's most memorable performance was at the Victoria Concert Hall in 1991.

He said: "I was only 16 and it was my first big recital. I felt nervous performing in front of such a large audience."

The Victoria Concert Hall is currently under renovation.

Chan is a 2000 Shell-NAC Arts Scholar and a Young Artist Award winner in 2004. He is also in the National Piano & Violin Competition advisory committee.

In 2007, he was concertmaster of the Singapore Festival Orchestra.

He lives in Pasir Ris with his wife - a corporate relations manager - and their four-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.

His daughter is learning to play the violin and the piano.

Chan said: "Whether my children wish to make a career out of music is up to them.

"I wouldn't mind even if they want to pursue pop music, as long as they don't suddenly dress outrageously or do publicity stunts."

What qualities do you have that make you Singaporean?

I'm a mix of both Eastern and Western cultures. I'm Chinese but I play mostly Western classical music. Although my ancestors are from Asia, my family is still very influenced by the British colonial legacy in Singapore.

How would you describe Singapore to a stranger?

We are a melting pot of cultures, the New York of Asia. We are truly a city of immigrants, with people from every nationality.

What are the little quirks you see in Singapore every day?

We complain a lot, from the weather to our Government. I guess it's because we live in a tropical climate and the warm weather tends to make people feel lethargic and irritable. We also have been living in peace for many years, so there are lots of "first-world problems" here.

What food do you miss most when you are overseas?

Economical beehoon with fried chicken wing. In primary school, I used to eat unhealthy chicken wings from the canteen and dunked them in sambal chilli. To me, it's comfort food that reminds me of simpler times.

Your favourite Singlish phrases or words?

Shiok! It can mean many things, such as satisfying, delicious or enlightening. Whatever makes you feel good is shiok.

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