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Vivien Goh

A key contributor to Singapore music education.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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If you play in a group, it could be a lifelong thing to enjoy, whether you are a professional or amateur.

Vivien Goh, born in 1948, is the daughter of Singapore’s first pioneering violinist, the late Goh Soon Tioe. Picking up the violin at age six and studying intensively with her father from age 12, she became one of the first Singaporeans to attain the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music as a 15 year old. Winning a full scholarship later to the Eastman School of Music in the United States, Goh spent four years training in the United States before returning to Singapore after graduation to teach and conduct, making an indelible mark on the Singapore classical music scene. Goh is best known today for her contributions to music education, notably with the Singapore Youth Orchestra, an organisation she spent 10 years grooming into one of the best youth orchestras in Asia.

As the second child of pioneering Singapore violinist Goh Soon Tioe, Vivien Goh grew up with classical music figuring prominently in her early life. Her father had high hopes for his children, and gave Goh a violin at the age of six. Initially a reluctant learner, she soon grew to master her instrument and two years later, she performed with her father in the Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra at the Singapore Badminton Hall.

Needless to say, classical music was a family affair for Goh, with her sisters playing the cello and bassoon and her mother occasionally playing the piano. Adding to this, playing in her father’s string orchestra influenced Vivien’s inclinations as a violinist and constant guidance by her father honed her playing skills. Goh became one of the first Singaporeans to attain the Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music when she was 15.

A top student at the Senior Cambridge Examinations in 1964, Goh eschewed what would have been a successful academic career in pursuit of her love of music. She received a full scholarship to study at the Eastman School of Music, where she worked as a cloakroom assistant so as to attend as many free concerts as she could. While at Eastman, Goh was a leader in her field, playing first violin with the Eastman Honors Quartet. She also became concertmaster of the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra as well as the Eastman Philharmonia, where her concerto performance with Walter Hendl and the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra was broadcast live on Voice of America.

Upon graduating with a Bachelors in Music and a Performer's Certificate in 1969, Goh returned to Singapore and threw herself into teaching. She started her career in music education by giving private violin lessons and also working with the Instrumental Music Programme at the Ministry of Education, conducting group violin lessons in Singapore schools. Continuing to pursue her musical interests outside of teaching, she became conductor of the Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra in 1975 when her father fell ill.

In 1980, she became the music director and resident conductor of the Singapore Youth Orchestra. In the early days, it was a challenge to find enough musicians to form the orchestra. However, a training programme was established with help from tutors from the newly formed Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and the musicians who went through the programme became the foundation of the Singapore Youth Orchestra today.

In her 10 years with the youth orchestra as its music director and conductor, Goh invested her time heavily with young musicians and groomed the ensemble to become a semi-professional orchestra which went on to give successful concert tours in Italy, the United Kingdom and Australia. Her impact on young musicians and the Singapore Youth Orchestra was such that she was called “the woman who made the Singapore Youth Orchestra what it is today” by The Straits Times in 1989.

In 1983, Goh received the Cultural Medallion for her contributions to music.

Goh has continued to work towards the musical education and betterment of young musicians. She serves as director of Fiddling for Fun, providing ensemble playing experience for young violinists, many of whom have gone on to become professional violinists and active amateur musicians in Singapore.

To honour her father’s memory and achievements, she wrote and published his biography Goh Soon Tioe: One Great Symphony in 1992. This was capped off in 2011 with One Great Symphony: Goh Soon Tioe – Celebrating 100 Years, a concert in which she conducted the Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra Alumni at the Singapore Chinese Orchestra Concert Hall. The same year, she established the Goh Soon Tioe Outstanding Performer Award at the National Piano and Violin Competition, which bestows the top violinist in the competition a $10,000 award.

Today, Goh continues to teach violin privately to aspiring musicians. She considers her work with young children her calling.

Timeline

1948

Born in Singapore.

1954

Started playing the violin, gifted to her by her father Goh Soon Tioe.

1956

Performed with the Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra, Singapore Badminton Hall.

1960

Started regular violin lessons with her father at age 12.

1963

Attained Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music at age 15.

1964

Top Singapore student in the Senior Cambridge examinations.

1965

Received the Ellice Handy medal from Methodist Girls’ School for being its top student.
Performs as a soloist with the Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra.
Began studies at University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music under a full scholarship.

1966

First violinist, Eastman Honors Quartet.

1967

Concertmaster, Eastman School Symphony Orchestra.

1968

Concertmaster, Eastman Philharmonia.
Soloist, Eastman-Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

1969

Graduated from Rochester’s Eastman School of Music with Bachelor of Music (B. Mus) and a Performer’s Certificate.
Returned to Singapore.
Performed in a sonata recital with renowned British pianist Kendall Taylor at Singapore Conference Hall.

1970

Violin soloist at Singapore National Orchestra’s Classical Symphony, under the baton of Shalom Ronly Riklis, Singapore Conference Hall.
First Singaporean violinist to play with the Jakarta Symphony Orchestra.

1970 to 1980

Instructor, Instrumental Music Programme, ECA Centre, Ministry of Education. Taught violin at schools such as Anglo-Chinese Junior School, Methodist Girls’ School, Pasir Panjang Secondary School, and Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School.

1 Oct 1971

Recital with pianist Loretta Goldberg, Singapore Conference Hall

1973

Recital with Dorothea Hover, RELC Auditorium.
Attended two-month summer session, Mozarteum, Salzburg, Austria.

1974

Soloist with Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra.

1 Jun 1975

Attended two-month summer session, Mozarteum, Salzburg, Austria.

1975 to 1983

Conductor of Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra.

1976

Documentary on Vivien Goh by Radio Television Singapore

1978

Attended summer session at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana, Siena, Italy.
Began graduate study at Eastman School of Music.

1980 to 1990

Resident Conductor and Music Director, Singapore Youth Orchestra (later renamed Singapore National Youth Orchestra).

1981

Received Frederick Galleghan Fellowship.

1982

Toured with Singapore Youth Orchestra to Rome, Italy.

1983

Received Cultural Medallion for her contributions to music.

1985

Toured with Singapore Youth Orchestra to Lancashire, UK.

1986

Received Goethe-Institut Scholarship.

1987

Performed with cellist sister Sylvia for Methodist Girls’ School’s 100th anniversary at the Victoria Theatre.

1988

Toured with Singapore Youth Orchestra to Perth, Australia.

1992

Wrote and published Goh Soon Tioe: One Great Symphony, a biography of her father.

1992 to 2000

Director, Fiddling for Fun, an orchestra programme for young violinists.

1997 to 2012

Various collaborations with Methodist School of Music.

2000 to 2007

Member of The Chamber Players.

2000 to 2012

Various collaborations with the Celebration Chorus.

2003 to 2012

Various collaborations with the Singapore Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

2011

Established the Goh Soon Tioe Outstanding Performer Award for the biennial National Piano and Violin Competition, where the top violinist will receive a $10,000 award.
Conductor of the Goh Soon Tioe String Orchestra Alumni for the concert One Great Symphony: Goh Soon Tioe – Celebrating 100 Years at the Singapore Chinese Orchestra Concert Hall.


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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