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Charles Lazaroo

Pioneer composer and arranger of multicultural music.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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Good, better, best
Never let it rest
Till your good is better
And your better, best.

– Lyrics from National Productivity Campaign 1982 theme song Good, Better, Best. Composed and arranged by Charles Lazaroo.

Charles Godfrey Lazaroo was synonymous with the composing, arranging and playing of music in Singapore for the majority of his 60 years. He was a pioneer in blending musical influences from the four major cultures in Singapore, and was instrumental in establishing and guiding many music education programmes, including those of the Young Musicians' Society. Having served long and significant careers in music education and entertainment, Lazaroo received the Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Gangsa) [Public Administration Medal (Bronze)] in 1973 and the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) in 1980.

Born in 1923 in Singapore, Charles Lazaroo grew up as the only one among a household of five children who was sent for piano lessons by his mother. This proved to be very fortuitous as Lazaroo would come to be a hugely significant contributor to the development of Singapore music, who wrote thousands of music arrangements for radio and television. He was described as a music genius who was both efficient and reliable.

Lazaroo's piano lessons revealed him to be an immensely talented pianist, and he went on to play the piano in many settings and ensembles in his early years, including in the instrumental trio Tiga Sakawan, where he and his bandmates played popular Malayan and Indonesian tunes in a Western style.

In the ‘60s he was continually in the public eye and popular with vocalists and bands who consulted him about musical arrangements for the popular Talentime series and many other radio and television shows. In 1972, he was a founding member of the National Dance Company, and served as its music director, touring with the company internationally to countries such as USA, Russia, Australia and Hong Kong.

Later, he served as chairman of the Music for Everyone Advisory Committee from 1975 to 1979, and he served as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Instrumental Music from 1979 until his passing. His advisory roles extended to many organisations, including being the president of the Singapore Youth Festival Committee, and he remained actively involved with the Ministry of Culture's programmes for many years.

Although he retired as a specialist inspector of music and as director of the Extra-Curricular Services Centre (Music) at the Ministry of Education in 1980, Lazaroo continued his involvement with the arts and music in Singapore. The same year, Lazaroo contributed to the organising of the Singapore Festival of Arts, and composed the music for Temasek in Dance, a dance drama covering 700 years of Singapore's history. In 1981, wanting to preserve some of his musical output, Lazaroo released a jazz album The Exotic Touch Goes East with fellow pianist David Ng, featuring traditional Asian tunes interpreted through jazz.

In 1982, he again was a contributor to the Singapore Festival of Arts, and he worked on the music for Samseng and the Chettiar's Daughter, an adaptation of The Beggar's Opera. 1982 would also see the creation of probably his most widely heard composition— the National Productivity Campaign's theme song Good, Better, Best, which was regularly played over the radio and television.

The next year, in January 1983, after many years of being an arranger and composer of music for Radio Television Singapore, Lazaroo decided to come out of his official retirement and joined the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation as a director of music. By then, his musical reputation and legacy had already been firmly forged, and his influence on Singapore music was felt widely.

For his lifelong and significant service and contributions to music education and music in Singapore, Lazaroo received the Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Gangsa) [Public Administration Medal(Bronze)] in 1973 and the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) in 1980.

In March 1983, shortly after completing a day of rehearsals with the Singapore Broadcasting Company Orchestra, Lazaroo suffered a fatal heart attack. In honour of his life’s work and passion, his family requested that all donations made towards his passing be made to the Singapore Cultural Foundation Fund.

Timeline

21 Aug 1923

Born in Newton, Singapore.

1930

First played the piano at age 7.

1930 to 1936

Attended Raffles Primary School, Singapore.

1933

Joined the Children's Orchestra.

1937 to 1941

Attended St Joseph's Institution, Singapore.

1946 to 1949

Graduated from Raffles College with a Diploma of Arts.

1949 to 1953

Founding president, Singapore Musicians' Union.

1949 to 1950

Teacher, Raffles Institution, Singapore, until the '50s.

1950

Arranger and composer for Radio Television Singapore sometime in the '50s.

1952

Married at age 29.

1953

Received his licentiate (LRSM) from the Royal Schools of Music.

1959 to 1962

Teacher, Beatty Secondary School, Singapore.

1959 to 1969

Band leader and arranger, Radio Television Singapore's Talentime.

1960 to 1968

Appointed Inspector of Schools by the Ministry of Education, Singapore, from sometime in the '60s till '68.

1963

Teacher, Siglap Secondary School, Singapore.

1965

Teacher, Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School, Singapore.

1965 to 1967

Vice Principal, Swiss Cottage Secondary School, Singapore.

1968 to 1968

Principal, Yusof Ishak Secondary School, Singapore.

1970 to 1980

Specialist Inspector (Music), Ministry of Education, Singapore.

1970

Board member, National Theatre Trust.

1970 to 1980

Director, Extra-Curricular Services Centre (Music), Ministry of Education, Singapore.

1972

Founding member and music director, National Dance Company.
Composed music and lyrics for Multiplicity for the Singapore Youth Choir.

1973

Awarded the Public Administration Medal (Bronze).

1975

Composed the Suriram Suite.
Composed children's operetta Lionisle for the Education Ministry's Children's Choir.

1975 to 1979

Chairman, Music for Everyone Advisory Committee.

1979

Composed Pop Mass for the 1979 Festival of Choirs.

1979 to 1983

Chairman, Instrumental Music Advisory Committee.

1980

Contributed to the Singapore Festival of Arts.
Retired from civil service.
Awarded the Public Service Star (Silver). Retired from government service.
Composed the music for hour-long dance drama, Temasek in Dance, for People's Association's anniversary show.

1981

Released jazz album The Exotic Touch Goes East with David Ng.

1982

Involved in the musical arrangement for The Samseng and the Chettiar's Daughter at the Singapore Festival of Arts 1982.

1983

Joined the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) as music director.

29 Mar 1983

Passed away from a heart attack at age 60.

1985

Tribute concert for Charles Lazaroo by the Singapore Youth Choir, conducted by David Lim.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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