Sing50 fund to help local musicians outside of piano project: manager

A festival-goer shows off the Singapore flag at Urbanscapes festival. 

The Sing50 fund isn’t just about providing musical instruments, the fund’s manager said Thursday following criticism that its first initiative to promote Singapore music would be to purchase 50 Steinway-designed Lang Lang pianos.

Local musicians Yahoo Singapore spoke to earlier this week questioned why the fund’s reported initial purse of $348,000 would be used to buy the pianos when there were better ways to support the local music scene.

According to AsiaOne, the pianos will be used at the Sing50 concert on August 7 and then go to 50 primary and secondary schools for music education and choir practices.

In response to queries from Yahoo Singapore, Colin Goh, executive producer of the Sing50 concert and manager of the Sing50 fund, explained that the fund’s main aim is to carry the purpose of the Sing50 concert beyond 2015 and extend its reach into the community.

“The Fund is a private sector initiative and was created to find ways to develop a wider knowledge of and appreciation for Singapore’s rich heritage of music and song,” he said.

Among other things, the fund would “provide musical instruments, instructors and learning materials to schools, and hold an annual vocal competition featuring Singapore songs old and new,” he added.

Goh, who is also chief executive officer of The Rice Company, a non-profit organisation managing the fund, pointed out that the 50 pianos would be one of the highlights of the Sing50 concert, which is organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times.

“In brainstorming this, the concert organising committee felt it would be worthwhile if the pianos used for the concert would be given to schools which wanted them to promote music among their students,” he explained.

Steinway Gallery then came forward to support the idea and offered 50 Steinway-designed Lang Lang pianos for the concert and schools, he said.

“The pianos are being offered at cost, and Steinway Gallery is not making a profit from providing them,” he noted.

He added that Steinway Gallery would also be offering a range of support for the concert and the schools receiving the pianos, and donating $50,000 to the Sing50 Fund.

Support for local musicians

Goh also said the fund intends to help local musicians.

“Aside from the schools piano project,” he said, “the Fund aims to support Singapore musicians, as an additional source of funding to promote their home-grown music”.

The newly set-up board of trustees for the fund “will consider opportunities to complement the various existing efforts to support Singapore’s growing music industry”, he added.

Aside from questioning the purchase of the 50 pianos, local musicians wondered why the money was not being used to pay performers.

Isa Foong, 26, musician in local band sub:shaman, said, “$348k is a lot of money. If one was so inclined it would be able to fund 73 bands at $5k each to help in the recording of music.”

“How can that kind of money be spent, yet the people who are going to play such prestigious instruments not be paid and/or fed?” he wondered.

Mohamed Hanis, 28, a musician, echoed Foong’s sentiments, saying that it didn’t make sense to say the fund was meant for the promotion of local music.

“What really grinds my gears is the fact that they [Sing50 concert organisers] openly call for performers, and not just to perform but audition to be able to perform, and these performers will not be paid, not even a small token sum? They're just provided meals,” he said.

About the criticism, Goh said a key feature of the Sing50 concert is the involvement of a wide section of the community.

Amid their call for choir singers, rappers and musicians for the concert, he said they were encouraged by the response “from many who want to be part of this Singapore celebration and are not expecting payment”.

He said, however, “We will explore ways to make participation in the Sing50 concert a good experience for all performers.”

Since fundraising began on 17 January, $368,00 has been raised for the Sing50 fund as more organisations have come forward to support the initiative, according to the fund manager.

The amount is $20,000 more than the reported initial purse of $348,000 raised from three individuals and 12 organisations.