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Choo Hwee Lim

A central figure in the development of choral music and opera in SIngapore.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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Choo Hwee Lim was an instrumental figure in the development of choral music and opera in Singapore. Starting as a teacher at Anglo-Chinese School in the ’50s and ’60s, Choo made major contributions to the Singapore choral music and opera scene in myriad ways since then—as a host of radio programmes on opera, as a vocal teacher, as an accomplished baritone singer, as a conductor of various choral groups, as a founding member of the Singapore Lyric Opera, and as an all-round music educator who initiated the Choral Excellence Scheme in Singapore schools. In 1992, Choo received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to music in Singapore.

Born in 1931, Choo Hwee Lim was a self-taught musician who began his choral music career as a young singer and conductor of church choirs, leading the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Double Male Quartet as well as conducting the Geylang Methodist Church Choir and Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Choir in the late ’40s till the early ’50s.

Choo took his interest in choral music to the classroom when, as a young man in 1951, he joined the teaching profession. Teaching at the Anglo-Chinese School, he became not only a passionate badminton coach who led the school team to win many titles, but also a dedicated music educator.

In 1956, he received a Ministry of Education scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London, UK where he graduated with majors in singing, conducting and teaching. During his time in London, Choo received prizes for singing and performed in operas such as Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

Upon his return to Singapore in 1959, Choo resumed his career as a teacher in Anglo-Chinese School and initiated the establishment of the Anglo-Chinese School marching band and orchestra, of which he was also the music director. This establishment of Singapore’s first school orchestra in an English-language school would reflect Choo’s foresight for music education and development in the years to come.

During this time, Choo also started performing in public concerts, recitals and broadcast recitals, and gained a reputation as a singer of German lieder. Besides being a sought-after oratorio baritone soloist, Choo also sang in the amateur English-language choral group Singapore Musical Society.

In 1964, Choo became a specialist Inspector of music with the Ministry of Education. Four years later, he retired from his career in education to concentrate on developing a full-time musical career. Even though he officially ended his education career, Choo continued to contribute his services to Anglo-Chinese School and remained a dedicated coach to the school’s badminton team for the next decade.

Choo dived into music. Ever passionate about education, he opened a music school and became a strict and demanding music teacher who was known as a perfectionist, and whose students would include the eminent singer and conductor Lim Yau and well-regarded baritone William Lim. Seeing a need for properly qualified music educators in Singapore, Choo also founded the Singapore Music Teachers Association, contributing to the increase in the standard of music education.

In 1988, Choo introduced the Choral Excellence Scheme that was implemented in secondary schools and junior colleges. The following year, he started serving as the chairman of the Choral Advisory Committee with the Ministry of Education, a post he would hold till 1996.

Besides his efforts in music education, Choo also scripted, produced and hosted two popular opera and classical music radio programmes for the then Singapore Broadcasting Corporation’s FM92.4 radio station. In 1980, he became the conductor of the National University of Singapore Choir, bringing the choir on a tour of USA in 1985.

Choo’s passion for opera never went away, and he produced operas in Singapore during this time. In 1990, together with Lim Yau, Toh Weng Cheong and Leow Siak Fah, he founded the Singapore Lyric Theatre (now Singapore Lyric Opera), Singapore’s first arts company dedicated to opera. The pioneering opera company would be instrumental in the development of Singapore’s very young opera scene, providing training to aspiring singers and opportunities for Singapore arts audiences to attend opera performances through its regular opera productions.

Together with his partners at the Singapore Lyric Opera, Choo developed and produced Singapore’s pioneer Western operas, including Singapore’s first Western opera Bunga Mawar in 1997, which featured compositions by pioneering Singapore composer Leong Yoon Pin.

In 1992, Choo received the Cultural Medallion for his contributions to the development of choral music and opera in Singapore. He continued pursuing his musical passions until ill health forced him to take a less prominent role in his various capacities from 1998.

In 2008, Choo passed away at age 76.

Profile image of Choo Hwee Lim courtesy of National Arts Council.

Timeline

28 Sep 1931

Born in Singapore.

1939 to 1949

Attended Anglo-Chinese School.

1945 to 1956

Vocalist, Kampong Kapor Methodist Church Double Male Quartet.
Conductor, Geylang Methodist Church Choir.
Conductor, The Straits Chinese Methodist Church Choir, Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

1950 to 1953

Attended Teachers’ Training College.

1951 to 1956

Teacher, Anglo-Chinese School.
Badminton coach, Anglo-Chinese School.

1955

Conductor, The Straits Chinese Methodist Church Choir, Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

1956 to 1959

Attended Royal College of Music, London, UK on a Ministry of Education scholarship. Majored in singing, conducting and teaching.

1957

Received Mario Grisi Prize for singing.

1958

Received Exhibition Prize for singing.

1959 to 1992

Badminton coach, Anglo-Chinese School.

1959

Received Ricordi Prize for opera.
Received Clara Butt Prize for singing.
Returned to Singapore.
Founded Anglo-Chinese School marching band.

1959 to 1967

Teacher, Anglo-Chinese School.

1961 to 1983

Scriptwriter and presenter, FM92.4 radio station, Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.

1962

Co-founded the Anglo-Chinese School Philharmonic Orchestra.

1964 to 1967

Specialist Inspector of Music, Ministry of Education.

1966

Founder and choir conductor, Singapore Music Teachers Association.

1967

Opened music studio. Became full-time music teacher.

1967 to 1968

Secretary, Singapore Music Teachers Association.

1969 to 1971

President, Singapore Music Teachers Association.

1980 to 1985

Conductor, National University of Singapore Choir.

1981

President, Singapore Music Teachers Association.

1985

Received The Sunday Times Coca-Cola Sporting Achievement of the Month award.

1986

Received Long Service Award, Ministry of Community Development.
Member, Vocal Music Advisory Committee, Ministry of Community Development
.

1988

Introduced the Choral Excellence Scheme in secondary schools and junior colleges.

1989 to 1996

Chairman, Choral Advisory Committee, Ministry of Education.

1990 to 2008

Co-founder and director, Singapore Lyric Theatre (now Singapore Lyric Opera)

1992

Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to music.

12 May 2008

Passed away at age 76.


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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