We had an exclusive interview with Yang Ji Wei, Executive Director and Dr Samuel Wong, Artistic Director and Pipa player of TENG Ensemble.
Both Ji Wei and Samuel started their music journey with the School of Orchestra (CCA) when they were in ACS Primary School. Samuel joined under friends’ influence during that moment when he was only 12 years old and Ji wei was in his primary 4 education. Eventually both of them became friends when they met during their Secondary school days.
As Ji Wei’s passion in music grew, he took up lessons in Sheng. The Sheng, a multi-reed mouth organ, is one of the oldest Chinese reed wind instruments. Subsequently he went to compete in various competitions and won many awards.
Ji Wei was awarded the prestigious Shell NAC Arts scholarship. Thereafter, he attained his music degree in China with Sheng performance. Samuel on another hand was awarded his scholarship from Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (Assocation) and he obtained his PhD in Ethnomusicology from the University of Sheffield in 2009.
Day Job as Educators
Being in the educational sector, becoming a professor is usually the next step upon graduation in a music school. As Samuel and Ji Wei were graduated with musical degrees, their career path is to become music educators. Ji Wei was also a conductor in various schools such as Raffles Instition, Raffles Junior College, Catholic High, Temasek Polytechnic and more while Samuel was teaching n SIM, Laselle as well as SOTA.
The TENG Ensemble…
The TENG Ensemble was born accidentally and somehow everything moved forward together as a team.
2008 is the year when TENG initially ‘started’. The first series of performance was held during the national museum night festival where the team wanted to do something accessible for the young generation yet expose them with multi cultural elements. In fact, the TENG Ensemble is made up of friendships as the team came together because of similar interests in music. Great receptions were received with success when they started jamming and dapping with electronics.
‘We never thought the ensemble will survive. We must have been doing something right in that very first performance.’ said Dr Samuel.
Teng Ensemble’s Challenges
Time was a challenge as the team juggled between teaching and rehearsals. Individual team member’s work schedule was the crucial part. They had to reject quite a couple of invited overseas performance even when one member couldn’t make it for the trip.
In 2012, the team realised that they have accumulated quite a number of fans and supporters through the private commercial performances which they had performed. Requests had been made by the supporters for TENG Ensemble to perform more often but unfortunately during that time Teng only perform for private events therefore it was only for those who are invited.
The first official public concert called ‘Su’ was arranged because of the gained popularity. Recital studio with 200 seats was booked for the concert in partnership with Spectrum Series. They continued to organise concerts in 2013/2014. All tickets were sold out.
Full time into TENG Ensemble was the next option after the team had sat down and discussed about their future directions.
Inspirational Stories behind TENG Ensemble
The TENG team wanted to change mindsets and perception about what Chinese music was actually about when they first started. Today, TENG has evolved and grown with a mixture of East and Western ensemble influence with a context of traditional and contemporary vortex.
TENG ensemble was here to break stereotypes of the views on traditional Asian music and instruments. People see TENG as a dynamic ensemble with passion rather than one with an old body. The barriers of what we audience usually perceive as we see – the usual scenario of traditional instrumentalist, old people playing their instruments is not happening within TENG but rather a very young team with vibes.
Just last year in 2015, the TENG Ensemble was being mentioned by our Prime Minister during the national day rally for being one which “injects new elements into traditional culture and created something uniquely Singapore”
Personal Advice to Those Who Wants to Pursue Music
Do it only if you have passion to last and push through. There are different types of job in Singapore and usually Arts will be first to go when faced bad economy.
Being a musician, is something very enjoyable especially when one is doing something they love every day. There are also a lot of obstacles and what they required to have will be the tenacity to persevere through with inner fire.
One key message regards to the supporters we have from Singapore is that the music that we do is not just for Singapore but international audience. It has been proven that TENG Ensemble did 2 recitals in Hong Kong and the people from Hong Kong were very supportive, tickets were sold out. Some of the audience even teared as they listened to some of the nostalgic pieces.
They thought those local pieces are only applicable to Singaporeans but to their surprise it is also very parable to them.
Other Upcoming Plans
Teng Ensemble is planning to tour more cities next year to bring out our Singapore music to international platforms.
Happening later 12th of August 2016, 730pm at the Esplanade theatres, the TENG Ensemble is back once again to perform for everybody.
Stories from an Island City – directed by one of Singapore’s foremost theatre and film directors Glen Goei, the concert will bring to life ten Singaporean stories through a multidisciplinary showcase of music, dance and film. They will launch their second album, also titled Stories from an Island City, at the concert. It is a milestone for them as the platform is 4 to 5 times bigger than the recital studio. Currently they have already sold more than 90% of the tickets.