Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).


David Lim Kim San

Key architect of music education and administration in Singapore.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

I tell everybody they should sing. Singing is a very important part of one’s life—it is healthy and strengthens your lungs. When I go for walks I sing folk songs to myself as part of my exercise.

David Lim Kim San is a key architect of music education and administration in Singapore. He founded the Singapore Youth Choir, and initiated many music programmes in Singapore schools that have had a lasting and profound impact on the Singapore music scene. For his valuable service to Singapore music, Lim received many awards including the Public Administration Medal (Bronze), the Cultural Long Service Award, and the COMPASS Meritorious Award. In 1979, he became the first ever recipient of the Cultural Medallion for music.

Born into a Methodist Peranakan family in 1933, David Lim Kim San grew up with parents and sisters who loved singing. During World War II, the family took shelter from the bombs in the basement of the Cathay building for a week, and his parents—especially his mother—would keep their spirits up by singing hymns. This was a very significant experience for Lim, as he saw how his family found solace in music amidst the terror of war, and this triggered his passion for music.

When Lim entered Telok Kurau Primary School, he followed his passion and took music as a first subject. Moving on to Victoria Secondary School, he was mentored in music by Benjamin Khoo and Paul Abisheganaden, who guided and grew Lim’s interest and talent. Lim would go on to pursue a career in teaching, and attended the Teachers’ Training College, graduating with a specialisation in music.

Lim joined the Singapore Music Society, and often took the role of impresario for courses and in-house concerts. He was also a member of the Chamber Ensemble and Singapore Music Teachers’ Association and was involved in the musical productions of the Young Musicians’ Society.

Later, working at the Ministry of Education (MOE) he co-founded the Combined Schools Choir—renamed the Singapore Youth Choir in 1964—with Benjamin Khoo and served as conductor of the choir from 1968 for the next two decades. Under his leadership, he built up a respectable choir in spite of the displeasure of his students’ parents regarding the long hours the students spent on something their parents deemed as unnecessary. The choir received international recognition when they competed in the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales in 1974, placing first in the youth section and second in the open section. This was vindication of the Lim’s and the students’ efforts, and is the most memorable event of Lim’s varied career in music. Later on, Lim would also be regarded for founding and training many junior college choirs throughout Singapore.

During this period, in 1969, he also became the head of the MOE Music Department, and pioneered the primary school instrumental teaching programme and initiated the school band movement to great effect. Dr Goh Keng Swee—then finance minister of Singapore—called on Lim to spearhead an initiative to form school bands in Singapore schools. Lim gathered 28 teachers from various secondary schools to attend an 18-month course, effectively forming a teachers’ band where they learnt the ins and outs of being and running a band. The initiative was hugely successful, resulting in these teachers returning to their schools as band teachers and instructors, and in the formation of 10 secondary school bands.

Besides these commitments, Lim was also influential in the development of the Singapore Youth Orchestra, and also served as general manager of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. He was also involved in the management of the Associate Board of the Royal School of Music examinations, Association of Southeast Asian Nations Band Symphonic Workshop, and the Lyric Theatre.

In 1979, in recognition of his many significant contributions to music in Singapore, Lim received the very first Cultural Medallion for music in the year of the award’s institution. He would go on to receive several other awards, including the Public Administration Medal (Bronze), the Cultural Long Service Award, and the COMPASS Meritorious Award.

Now retired from the Ministry of Education, Lim continues to be driven by his all-encompassing passion for music, leading the Glowing Years Ministry—a choral group for seniors that he founded—and serving as the honorary executive director of the Young Musician’s Society.


7 May 1933

Born in Singapore.


Attended Telok Kurau Primary School.

1946 to 1953

Attended Victoria School.

1953 to 1955

Graduated from Teachers' Training College with a Certificate in Education, with a specialisation in music.

1959 to 1963

Teacher (English, Geography and Music), Bartley Secondary School.

1961 to 1966

Teacher, Cantonment Primary School.

1964 to 1967

Visiting music teacher, Ministry of Education.


Co-founded the Combined Schools Choir (later renamed the Singapore Youth Choir) with Benjamin Khoo.

1964 to 1968

Assistant Conductor, Singapore Youth Choir.


Secretary and Member of various sub-committees of Music and Dance Presentations, Singapore Youth Festival.


Attained the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music Performing Diploma in Singing from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
Completed the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music grade 8 in piano.


Hon. Secretary, Young Musicians' Society.
Attained the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music Teaching Diploma in Singing from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

1968 to 1986

Conductor, Singapore Youth Orchestra.

1968 to 1980

Specialist Inspector in Music, Ministry of Education.


Head of Music Department, Ministry of Education.
Headed the school band initiative for Ministry of Education.

1969 to 1988

Member, Organising committee, National Day Parade.


Received Pingat Berkebolehan (Efficiency Medal).

1970 to 1972

Studied educational broadcasting in Australia on an Educational Broadcasting Colombo Plan Scholarship.


Studied the Japanese education environment for three months on a Music Education Scholarship.
Organising official of the Singapore Teachers' Choir and Singapore Youth Choir’s participation in the Tees-side International Eisteddfod, UK. The Singapore Youth Choir placed fourth in the Youth Section.


Conductor, opening and closing ceremony choir, 7th Southeast Asian Peninsular Games.
Composer, the 1st Southeast Asian Peninsular Games Theme Song.
Organising Secretary, The Sound of Music.


Singapore Youth Orchestra competes in the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod, Wales, and is placed first in the Youth Section and second in the Open Section.

1974 to 1977

Organiser, Singapore Guitar Festival.


Organiser and performer, Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I.

1977 to 1978

Organising Secretary, Singapore Festival of Arts.


Received Cultural Medallion for contributions to music.

1980 to 1996

Chairman, Young Musicians' Society.

1981 to 1985

General Manager, Singapore Symphony Orchestra.


Studied the Japanese music education programme in Hamamatsu for three months on a Yamaha Foundation Scholarship.

1985 to 1992

Specialist Inspector in Music, Ministry of Education. Pioneered the instrumental teaching programme in primary schools.


Received Pingat Pentadbiran Awam (Gangsa) [Public Administration Medal (Bronze)].


Member, Music Advisory Committee, Ministry of Community Development.

1988 to 1992

Member, Organising Committee, National Music Competition.


Received the Guinness Stout Effort Award with Singapore Youth Choir.


Received the Cultural Long Service Award.

1992 to 1994

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


Led the Teachers Choir in a performance at the XII Semana Choral International De Alava, Spain.


Received the Long Service Award, Ministry of Education.


Chairman, Organising Committee, Singapore Youth Chinese Orchestra.

1997 to 2004

Executive Director, Young Musicians' Society.


Founder, Glowing Years Ministry, a senior choral group.


Received the COMPASS Meritorious Award, Composers and Authors Society of Singapore.

2004 to present

Honorary Executive Director, Young Musicians' Society.


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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