YST Forum Series
In Search of Singaporean Sounds – Navigating Musical and Cultural Confluences. 

As Singapore’s arts scene matures, musicians are moving away from older models of emulating the West, and increasingly engaged with developing an individual voice. Born and (not completely) bred in Singapore, Churen Li and Chen Zhangyi have pondered over the role that their Singaporean-ness plays in their approach to the art form that they are trained in, which, historically, operates under a Western paradigm. With reference to Yayoi Uno Everett’s taxonomy of musical transference/synthesis/syncretism, they explore possible resonances between Singaporean music and the dynamism of Singlish, while discussing some of the issues relating to identity, diaspora and syncretism through a lecture-recital centred on Singaporean piano music.


Drawing on their embodied knowledge as insiders to this musical and cultural phenomenon, YST faculty explore some of the issues relating to identity, diaspora and syncretism through a lecture-recital centred on Singaporean piano music.


27 OCT 2020

Telling Stories: Performers(') Present
International Artistic Research Symposium 2019  
Intersections in a Triple Concerto for erhu, ruan, and percussion
CHEN ZHANGYI, presenter
with LIKIE LOW (erhu), EMILEA TEO (zhongruan) & YURU LEE (percussion)

My Concerto for Erhu, Ruan, Percussion, and Ensemble 《三人行》(travelling trio) was an exploration of the group dynamics within a trio, the interplay of instruments from diverse traditions, and interweaving threads of musical narratives. Written for the Yong Siew Toh (YST) Conservatory Orchestra for a tour programme titled “Intersections”, it was juxtaposed with music by Vaughan Williams and Walton
in light of the bicentennial commemoration of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in Singapore (1819).

This paper presentation examines the unique circumstances that made this composition possible within the Singaporean musical landscape, and an auto-ethnographical approach reflects upon the collaboration and the contexts of cultural and musical confluences. Conversations and interviews with the conductor and soloists shed light on the collaborative process, examining the intersections of the various spheres of musical interaction between composer, instrument, soloists, conductor, orchestra, and musical cultures.

23 OCT 2019

A different version of this paper was also presented at the

International Conference on Musical Intersections in Practice 2019. Churchil College, University of Cambridge.
Presented by the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble
Reimagining Nature through Music
CHEN ZHANGYI, presenter

As the confluence of cultures within Singaporean and Asian contexts has informed much of my dramatic music, the theme of nature has been a rich resource of inspiration within my instrumental music. Climate awareness, connection to poetry and the presence of identity are some of the sub-themes that arise from a number of these works, ones that take inspiration from nature.


Written to raise awareness for climate change, global warming, and their potentially catastrophic ramifications, Clima (for solo piano) was based on the uncharacteristic cool weather brought about by the monsoon surge in 2018 - a rare occurrence in equatorial Singapore.


Turning to text, poetry about nature, flora and fauna serves as another important interdisciplinary connection to music creation. In Rain Tree (for orchestra), Ho Poh Fun’s poem provided images of the ubiquitous and tropical tree and scenes of Singaporean weather. Kitaro’s Koi, a poem by Hongkong-based Dr Eddie Tay, gave me the creative impulse in creating the percussion concerto A Carp Emerges. In a choral setting of a translation of the Tamil poem Water by KTM Iqbal, the poet ponders the upon the various guises of water, appreciating its clarity and beauty as well as appreciating its powerfully grave potential to take lives.

Finally, as a reflection of identity through Singapore’s national flower, Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’, my violin concerto Vanda features a musical fusion of the two parent orchids. The hybrid Vanda ‘Miss Joaquim’ was named after the horticulturist, coincidentally resonating with Joachim the dedicatee of Brahms’ violin concerto.

4 DEC 2020

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The Art Song Platform – Art Song out of the Concert Hall
(Goldsmiths, University of London)
'I Possess No Address’ – The Cycle of Song.
12 FEB 2021
Beyond Performance_ Embracing Creative a
SEA Music Academy Online - Teaching Music Goes On(Line) 2020
Beyond Performance: Embracing Creative and Collaborative Elements in Music Teaching

17 NOV 2020
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Asian Composer’s League

Eclecticism in an Chamber Opera Trilogy 
CHEN ZHANGYI, presenter
20 OCT 2018
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SNU International New Music Conference & Workshop

Musical Inspirations of Nature, Vernacular Culture and Exploration  
CHEN ZHANGYI, presenter
22 FEB 2018
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Yale-NUS College, Urbanisms Conference 2016 

"Rojak-ness" in Singaporean Music

CHEN ZHANGYI, presenter

A local delicacy that involves an eclectic mix of fruits, vegetables and fried foods, Rojak is often used to describe the cultural diversity that is quintessentially Singaporean. It also serves well as an analogy relating to local concert music, which is marked by the diverse musical idioms and sound worlds. I argue that Singaporean concert music of the last 50 years broadly deals with three issues: traditional culture of various ethnicities, urbanism unique to Singapore, and international influences. This paper will explore a cross-section of the local music literature to demonstrate the range of local concert music, supported with additional musical illustrations from my own work.


The musical works of pioneer local composer Leong Yoon Pin had forged a strong sense of local identity in his iconic choral works such as Street Calls, Dragon Dance, and Lenggang. As a student of Nadia Boulanger, Leong was encouraged to find inspiration within his own culture and background. However, the current musical landscape in urban Singapore offer composers the liberty to pursue and create individual paths without being tied to a single “Singaporean style.” The wide spectrum of “Singaporean styles” is what makes concert music in this pluralistic city sound.

1 APR 2016

Filmer, A, & Chen, Z. (2021). From Intersections to Crossroads: Navigating Interactions between Performers, Researchers, and Composers. Centre for Intercultural Musicology at Churchill College, Cambridge University. Retrieved from

(Forthcoming) Khoo, H. L., De Jong, K. & Chen, Z. (2021). Getting to the Heart of Why Students Struggle: Motivation in Conservatory Music Students. Asian Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.
Chen, Z. (2019). Intersections in a Triple Concerto for Erhu, Ruan, and Percussion. Conference Paper delivered at International Conference on Musical Intersections at Churchill College, Cambridge University.

Chen, Z.  (2016). The Viola as Ariadne? From Choral Work to Viola Concerto. The Journal of the American Viola Society, Spring 2016, 32)