UNESCO-NIE Centre for Arts Research in Education (CARE)

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Name of Author: 
Phan, Ming Yen
Thesis (M.A.) National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
Dairianathan, Eugene
Year of completion: 
Country of Research Data: 

This thesis seeks to address two questions. What would an exploration of the colonial past of Singapore yield in terms of understanding present artistic practices, specifically Western classical music, that are a legacy of that past? How did music function for a group of people who were living away from their home? Although Western classical music has enjoyed a high profile in the Singapore arts scene, its practice and performance remains a site for the contest of cultures, as evident following the opening of Singapore's new performing arts centre, Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay last year. Much of this is brought out in the first chapter. Yet, the study of Western classical music practice and practices in colonies of the British Empire during the 19th century seems to have been an area that few had or have ventured into. It seems that the colonial past of the 19th century (and early 20th century) had been forgotten in a post-colonial world. Of the few accounts that have emerged, their silence on certain aspects of the past are remarkable for what they conceal as much as reveal. The second chapter examines the nature of these silences and what has been hidden and highlighted. Chapter three makes a detailed examination of selected events which reveal how music was viewed and why its practice and performance was deemed important to the European community of colonial Singapore. These events (as well as silence and acts of silencing) reveal how music, specifically Western classical music, served to reinforce and reassure the identity of members of this community. Finally, in breaking through some of these silences, this work also pose questions about the role Western classical music continues to play in former colonies and invites possibilities for further research.

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