By GRAZIA Singapore

#GraziaGameChangers: Tang Tee Khoon On Classical Music’s Accessibility

"Deep thought is vital to make proper good change."
The violinist Tang Tee Khoon founded Chamber Music and Arts Singapore to broaden the reach of chamber music, and support the emotional well-being of children and youths
Tang Tee Khoon is wearing a Bottega Veneta dress, Versace shoes, and a Bottega Veneta bracelet

The violinist Tang Tee Khoon founded Chamber Music and Arts Singapore to broaden the reach of chamber music and support the emotional well-being of youths and children.

WHAT DOES THE TERM “GAME CHANGER” MEAN TO YOU?
When I was first given this invitation, I was actually a bit taken aback. I thought, how am I a game changer? I realised that it’s not something that the individual would use to describe themself, but it’s a term placed on the individual because of others’ perception of you and of what the current trend is. And I find it hard to say that I set out to be a game changer. If I were to define it, I would say when there is a tide, and you’re trying to change that tide, but you don’t wade in thinking you’re going to be a game changer. That’s not the end game. But when you see that tide, and you think, “That’s not a positive thing for society, and I have to do something about it.” So a game changer in my mind is someone who wants to change the tide and has the strength to inspire others to come along.

HOW WOULD YOU SAY YOU’VE PLAYED YOUR PART TO BE A GAME CHANGER IN YOUR INDUSTRY?
I’ve always focused on identifying that tide and then finding ways to build or to adjust the current system, to tweak it ever so little every day. It’s building a very strong team, getting people close to you who also see that tide that they don’t see is very positive and they want to work together. Even though people have seen that result, I’m still very focused on it because that work is not done. That structure is still ongoing, and there’s a lot of mindset shifts needed.

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE HIGHLIGHTS AND MAJOR CHALLENGES OF THAT JOURNEY? HOW DID YOU OVERCOME EACH HURDLE?
The attendance at our concerts and events, the change in how audiences interact with our musicians and artists, and community organisations catching on to the fact that these programmes are good for their beneficiaries, so there’s a change of mindset from when we first started, nine years ago. We need to raise funds to provide this content and programmes to communities, because their budget is always very small. We still have a long way to go, but it makes me happier to do what I do, because I feel less alone. It used to feel like advocating to a brick wall, but now people are starting to see the benefit of what we do, so I feel I made progress.

For the highlights, I think it’s really been our concerts for children. It’s been so well subscribed. The interest in it is always there and it’s growing, because we can tell it’s not always the same crowd. I also appreciate our relationship with the special-needs and high-needs communities and those from more modest backgrounds. When we work specifically with special-needs and high-needs children, we have about 10 to 15 children per session, so the work is much more intimate, and you can go much deeper than, say, a public concert for children, which serves 180 to 200 kids and parents. But when you go into a smaller setting, where we send in two artists, it’s like experiencing music and arts with them. So seeing how concerts for children have blossomed, and also now in the community, whether it’s public events or private engagement sessions, all of that has been just really encouraging.

For the challenges, for us, it’s fundraising. And to overcome that, it’s about finding one by one people similar to you, so when you gather them, you start to build more momentum and you grow that relationship with them. And if they have the financial power to give, then they can see the change through what we do at CMAS. Whether individuals, companies, or volunteers, it’s all about like-mindedness, and you slowly build this gravitas. So when we’re talking about the tide coming towards you and you want to change it, you need some kind of mass to move against it step by step, so you need people to come together, because it’s not something you can do alone.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT YOURSELF, YOUR MOTIVATIONS AND YOUR FIELD THROUGH THAT PROCESS?
Rather than learning about myself, I think it’s more about how I have grown through this process. If you have a rock and there is water dripping on it, there will be changes after a very long time. I’m now in my late 30s, and I did my first passion project at 25. You don’t start off with that amount of grit, determination or resilience, and I think all of that builds up over time. Instead of what I’ve learnt about myself, I think about how I’ve grown. I manage myself and ensure that I’m always able to push my boundaries and fulfil my potential each day.

What I have learned about the field, which has been quite eye-opening, is that I’m not alone. Maybe I was more alone back when I first started. But now it’s less so, because I see more musicians coming out being creative in a way that helps others experience what they love. So I will say that I am more relaxed and happier seeing that I’m not alone in this mission.

WHAT ARE SOME CHANGES YOU’D LIKE TO SEE IN YOUR INDUSTRY AND HOW WOULD YOU SEE YOUR ROLE IN INFLUENCING IT?
I was at an engagement session and we shared our observation and feedback as arts groups on the ground. I wanted to get to the core of how the general public tends to think, and from my observation, they don’t put a financial value on music or the arts. When a coffee costs $7, there’s a number attached to that product, but when you listen to a music track, they don’t immediately relate to that in dollar amounts. And so it becomes entrenched in society that music and arts are not being paid for. If you order a coffee, you couldn’t pay by offering to sing a song. But if our product and what we’re able to provide society doesn’t have a dollar value next to it, how can we survive in the same world that functions by currency? It’s a huge thing to influence: we’re talking on the scale of decades, and it’s not just one organisation, but it includes the education system and society.

Also, while I think we’re going in a good direction, I’d caution against designing experiences for the sake of just being unique and different. It has to bring light and some kind of enlightenment to one audience or five or 200. I would say be cautious because in the end, you really need to find out what you can do. Plenty of people can do something quite different, out of the box and cutting edge, but if it becomes empty, the emptiness will hit you later on.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE YOUR PURPOSE?
My purpose is really to fulfil and maximise the potential I have, and not just for me, but for the people around me, because a loss of human potential is the biggest problem. We have so many that just get chucked out when they’re considered useless. People don’t give every individual that ability to fulfil their potential; rather, they want them to fit into a mould that fits their purpose, and I think that is really a pity.

WHAT SHOULD THE NEXT GENERATION OF GAME CHANGERS ASPIRE TO BE?
To what they should aspire to be but also to do, I think they need to think very deeply. They have to have deep, meaningful thoughts and really consider what they want to do about that. It’s not that, “I want to be a game changer, therefore I do this,” but it’s more that you need to really think about what is not working, and why, and whether you have the solution. What is it that you want to change? Something that is not working, that you want to make good? Or can you bring something good that replaces that? Whatever it is, deep thought is vital to make proper good change.

PHOTOGRAPHY ZANTZ HAN
STYLING GREGORY WOO
ART DIRECTION MARISA XIN
HAIR SHA SHAMSI, USING KMS
MAKEUP WEE MING, USING DIOR BEAUTY
STYLING ASSISTANTS YULIA SEE AND VANESSA GRACE NG

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