Leong Yoon Pin (1931-2011)

Leong Yoon Pin (1931-2011)


Leong Yoon Pin (1931 – 2011) was a composer, conductor and educator. Described as the doyen of Singapore composers, Leong was well known for his choral compositions, many of which were locally commissioned and performed by both amateur and professional choirs. His compositions were often infused with a local flavour. Leong was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1982.

The son of an electrical goods dealer and housewife, Leong was a self-taught musician, learning to play the piano at 16 and the guitar at 17. He only started formal lessons when he was in his 20s, under the tutelage of Noreen Stokes, a renowned South African pianist based in Singapore. In 1951, Leong started learning the bassoon with a scholarship by the Singapore Music Society. Around the mid-1950s, he received a teaching scholarship from the Education Department (now Ministry of Education) to study music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. After graduating in 1958, Leong returned to Singapore and was employed by the Teachers’ Training College as a music lecturer. Under a scholarship from the French government, Leong went to Paris to further his compositional studies with Nadia Boulanger from 1966 to 1967. Boulanger emphasised the importance of drawing from one’s own background when creating music, and this later became an inspiration for Leong to compose works infused with an Asian flavour. Almost a decade later in 1975, Leong won a British Council Commonwealth Fellowship and undertook postgraduate studies in music education at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Although he wore the many hats as a composer, educator and conductor, Leong was best known for his musical compositions. His first official work was the composition of the school anthem for the now-defunct Winstedt Primary School. His works included symphonies and tone poems such as Episodes in Journey to the West (1983), which was inspired by the Chinese folk tale of the same name, operas, a piano concerto, choral and many other instrumental works. Leong was also very well known for his choral works such as Street Calls(1997), Dragon Dance (1988), Pedlars and the Soprano (1999), Like a Rapid Stream (1981), and Love Quatrains (1993).

As a conductor, Leong founded and conducted the Rediffusion Youth Choir in 1953 and later the Metro Philharmonic Society in 1959. During the 1970s, he formed the Singapore City String Orchestra, and this, along with many similar instrumental groups established during that period, revitalised the orchestral music scene in Singapore. In 1977, Leong was appointed the first resident conductor of the Singapore National Orchestra formed under the National Theatre Trust. In 2000, he was appointed as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra’s first composer-in-residence. Leong was the first composer to have his compositions recorded on a compact disc as part of a National Arts Council’s programme that was launched in 1993 to keep a record of outstanding local works.

For his contributions to Singapore music, Leong was honoured with the Cultural Medallion in 1982, the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) in 2005, and the COMPASS (Composers & Authors Society of Singapore) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

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