Wind bands soldier on for love of music

While wind bands are often thought of as the lesser cousins to orchestras, the number of such bands in Singapore has grown over the years, providing more choices for music lovers here.

Today, the scene includes semi-professional wind bands – Singapore Wind Symphony (SWS), the Philharmonic Winds (Philwinds) and Orchestra Collective – with at least 30 community and alumni bands and more than 220 of such bands in schools.

Though the community seems to be thriving, the bands that spoke to The Straits Times say they have been struggling to stay afloat.

Philwinds used to receive $130,000 a year as part of the Major Company Scheme, but has stopped receiving such support over the past two years.

Philwinds general manager Lionel Lye, 36, says: “In recent years, the conditions have been getting stricter and understandably so. Funding is still available, but perhaps not as easily obtained.”

Mr Kok Tse Wei, director of performing arts at the National Arts Council (NAC), tells The Straits Times that “even as NAC continues to support groups such as wind bands, we also encourage them to diversify their sources of financial support – whether from patrons or the community – to complement government funding”.

Wind bands also receive government support through other NAC project grants and subsidies, on a project-by-project basis.

Mr Kok says bands can consider applying for charity status, which makes them eligible for the Cultural Matching Fund, where the Government provides dollar-to-dollar matching for private donations to the culture sector.

The option of becoming a charity is, however, not easy for these groups, which are mainly volunteer-run. “Of those who are most passionate about wind music, not many may have the complementary financial and administrative acumen,” says Mr Lye.



WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall, 1 Esplanade Drive

WHEN: Monday, 7.30pm

ADMISSION: $11 to $14 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

INFO: Festival Winds, organised by the Band Directors’ Association (Singapore) and co-produced by the Licha Stelaus Productions, is back for a second year. It is a musical experience for students (secondary school and above) to perform with one another. Audiences can catch their favourite band directors such as Dr Leonard Tan from the National Institute of Education in action.


WHERE: Esplanade Concert Hall

WHEN: Dec 29, 7.30pm

ADMISSION: $15 to $25 from Sistic

INFO: In this year’s edition, The Philharmonic Winds is collaborating with the Lee Wei Song School of Music, which is well-regarded for producing pop stars in Singapore. Principal Jay Lim will present a ballad and lead his team of four singers in various popular hits, orchestrated for The Philharmonic Winds.

SWS had previously obtained charity status, but maintaining it was the challenge, says Mr Johan Ezran, 31, who juggles his post as chairman of the SWS’ board of directors and his full-time job as a teacher.

The group had accrued debts and eventually needed to stop its main band operations for six months as it reassessed the band’s future.

As of early September, however, the band has started again and is gearing up for a new season of music-making at its new home in Goodman Arts Centre.

Attracting corporate sponsors and private patrons to wind bands has been a challenge.

Wind bands are unfavourably compared with orchestras and tend to be perceived as unprofessional and only “educational” or “developmental” in nature.

“Band music has always been treated as the lesser relative of classical, orchestral music,” says Mr Karn Watcharasupat, 20, from the pioneer executive committee of local community band, Da Capo Symphonic Winds. It was set up in 2017 by six graduating students from a number of junior colleges.

He adds: “Wind bands tend to be perceived as a start or intermediate step for a musician.”

Despite their struggles, wind bands have continued to fly Singapore’s flag in overseas band festivals and competitions such as the World Music Contest (WMC) in Kerkrade, Netherlands.

Singaporean wind bands such as SWS, Philwinds, the National University of Singapore Wind Symphony and Mus’Art Youth Wind Orchestra have participated in the competition, often dubbed the Olympics for wind bands, and all have brought home gold medals in recent years.

Many community groups say they may struggle with funds for putting on concerts or with finding space for rehearsals, but at the end of the day, having a group to create music with is worth the effort.

Da Capo Symphonic Winds was envisioned as a place for those graduating from post-secondary institutes to continue playing with others in the same life stage as them.

“Keeping the band scene alive allows young people to explore more music and themselves at the same time,” says Mr Karn.

“It’s not just about me, myself and I, but rather about listening to more than 50 other people in the band and adjusting to one another. It’s a way of letting go of our egos and making harmony.”

Philwinds’ Mr Lye hopes those who have benefited from their band experiences in school will “remember their years in band fondly and donate to support” these bands.

“In doing so, they help keep the band scene growing for the later generations of bandsmen and bandswomen.”

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