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The Art of Jennifer Tham

A documentary on the Cultural Medallion recipient and beloved choral conductor


Published: 5 Mar 2021

Time taken : >15mins

The Art of Jennifer Tham

Producers: Michelle Yeo, Eleanor A. L. Tan, Gavin Lim, Emily Moh

Video reproduced with permission from Void Deck Films

The film documentary The Art of Jennifer Tham by director Gavin Lim, is part of a research project supported by the National Arts Council. Entitled A Life Measured in Song: Jennifer Tham, the research explores the professional life of Young Artist and Cultural Medallion recipient Jennifer Tham. It focuses on Tham’s musical and educative journey from 2004 through 2020 as she pursues her Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies at the Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

Approximately 20 minutes long, the film documents Tham’s journey back to school in Vancouver. Filming there was completed shortly before the COVID-19 situation became dire globally and in Singapore with the performing arts industry among one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. With the cancellation of concerts and disruptions to filming content, Lim turned his focus to Tham’s and SYC Ensemble Singers’ rehearsals of Curious and Curiouser, a work Tham wrote for the choir, and which would have been premiered in their August 2020 concert. Safety measurements in place, these rehearsal scenes which took place at Esplanade Recital Studio, can be seen interwoven into the film documentary.

Lim featured excerpts of the following works in the film documentary:

i. Hoh Chung Shih, Birth and Death

ii. Emily Koh, homemade recipe: char kuay

iii. Diana Soh, O-PEH-SOM

iv. Diana Soh, Vak

Jennifer Tham was awarded the Cultural Medallion by President Tony Tan Keng Yam on 17th October 2012 at the Istana. Tham received the Inaugural Young Artist Award in 1992. Photo credit: National Arts Council

Artist Bio

Jennifer Tham, Conductor

Jennifer lives in the world of possibilities—the countless ways in which a theatre of voices can offer a word, a thought, a sound. She directs the SYC Ensemble Singers, a choir devoted to the work of living composers; and brings the same contemporary sensibility to school and university choirs, and the choirs she has been invited to conduct, in France, Hungary, Japan and Taiwan. She has given workshops to choral conductors and pedagogues in Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Poland on rehearsal games that prepare their ensembles for performing contemporary music.

Jennifer taught choral conducting at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, and has chaired and spoken on panels on repertoire and programming at conferences and symposia in Argentina, Denmark, Estonia and Sweden. For the International Federation for Choral Music, Jennifer co-coordinates the Asia Pacific Working Committee and the Asia Pacific Youth Choir. She represents Singapore on the World Choir Council, and has been on jury at the World Choir Games and other festivals in Asia, Europe and America since 2003.

In 2012, she was conferred the Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s highest arts accolade, by the President, Republic of Singapore, for her role in shaping the nation’s cultural landscape.

A Life Measured in Song: Jennifer Tham

The research probes how receiving the Cultural Medallion (Music 2012) has spurred Tham’s personal growth and shaped future aspirations for herself and for the choirs she leads. It also documents her continued commitment to serving the wider musical communities in Singapore, regionally and internationally.

This study explores how Tham’s values, beliefs, and aspirations inform her personae as conductor, composer and educator, particularly in her championing of new compositions. It was her advocacy for new works that led to the initiation of the series Living Music to motivate and rejuvenate the creativity of composers, and to stimulate public interest in choral music.

The research maps the educative process of how Tham’s engaged conducting has stimulated collaborations and conversations with guest conductors, which have in turn, offered new challenges. Her collaborations with local school choirs, international ensembles, and composers offer opportunities for cultural exchange. It is about placemaking—finding and making a place, creating an identity and a voice for Singapore choral music.

The desire to continually learn has spurred Tham to pursue the Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (Music) at SFU. Tham returned to school in 2018 where her studies have given her more opportunities and new avenues to explore the interdisciplinary art forms such as visual art, poetry and movement.

Her gift of communicating through music has become more evident, whether it be to the novice or the professional. She recognises that not everyone has the luxury of music lessons to equip them with skills or understanding. Thus, her commitment to offer them a place in society, through music as she believes that music belongs to everybody and this is a responsibility Tham takes seriously.

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