Tay Teow Kiat is a renowned local conductor of Chinese orchestral music, with an extensive and highly esteemed presence in the Singaporean musical scene. He is a pioneer who has made outstanding contributions to the education and development of local Chinese music scene and has a wealth of experience in developing and training Chinese music orchestras and concert planning. Tay’s conducting style is known for its rigour, precision, and passion, and has a place in the Chinese orchestral music scene.
Tay received his PhD in Art Studies from Beijing Normal University. He is currently the President of the Singapore Chinese Music Federation and the Emeritus Music Director of Ding Yi Music Company. Furthermore, he also serves as the Music Director of the City Chinese Orchestra, the Dunman High Performing Arts Centre, and Reverberance, a Chinese wind percussion ensemble.
In a music career spanning half a century, Tay has travelled all over China as a guest conductor and judge in music competitions. In 1985, he was invited to conduct the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra, becoming the first Singaporean to conduct a professional Chinese orchestra in China. Later, he was invited to conduct various professional orchestras as well as the orchestras of various music academies in Tianjin, Shanxi and Shandong, among others. He also often served as a judge of Chinese music competitions in China, and in 2007, he was invited to be a judge of the National Instrumental Music Competition organised by China Central Television. All these demonstrate the industry’s deep respect for Dr Tay. In an article titled “Tay Teow Kiat & Chinese Music” written by China’s late renowned music conductor Piao Dongsheng in his 2003 book “50 Years Chronicles of Chinese Music”, he wrote: “In Singapore, everyone calls him ‘Zheng laoshi. Although a teacher, he is highly recognised in Singapore; he is also very well-known in the music industry in Southeast Asia and China . There are few who do not know Zheng laoshi. This not only reaffirms Tay’s highly respected status in Chinese music circles overseas, but also emphasises the important role he played in the education and development of the local Chinese music.
In 1980, Tay took over the training and development of the Dunman High School Chinese Orchestra, and under his leadership, the 100-member orchestra has won acclaim both locally and internationally. In 1992, he led them on tour in Beijing and Shanghai, where their high-level performances drew great praise. The authoritative Chinese music magazine People’s Music published an article applauding Tay’s conducting as “natural, unrestrained and free-spirited”. It further went on to quote various musical luminaries who commended the Dunman High School Chinese Orchestra as being “of the highest standard among youth orchestras seen in China”. At that time, the China Nationalities Orchestra Society also held a symposium in honour of the Dunman High School Chinese Orchestra tour, inviting influential figures such as Liu Wenjin, Qin Pengzhang, and Piao Dongsheng to discuss Singapore’s excellence in Chinese music popularisation and education. Tay has also provided training and music consultation to local institutions. Among them, in 2000, he served as the Music Director for the East Zone School’s Chinese Orchestra Development Centre, using the foundation laid down by Dunman High School Chinese Orchestra to improve the performance level for schools in the east zone of Singapore. This proved Tay’s ability and strength in training Chinese orchestras.
Besides this, Tay also founded City Chinese Orchestra, a non-professional orchestra that has more than a hundred members. His motto in training the orchestra is that they are “an amateur group with a professional spirit”, hence, the orchestra maintains a professional-level standard and has been consistently active in the local music scene. From 1996 to 2013, Tay led City Chinese Orchestra on tour in Beijing, Tianjin, Zhengzhou, Changchun and other places, winning rave reviews from audiences.
Tay has spared no effort in his unflagging mentorship of youth groups and has unfailingly promoted the development of local Chinese music over the years. In 2007, he became the Music Director of Ding Yi Music Company to develop the group and genre of Chinese chamber music. In 2017, he became its Emeritus Music Director. In 2013 and 2018, he became President of the Singapore Chinese Music Federation and Reverberance respectively, yet again contributing to uniting local Chinese music groups, and developing Chinese wind and percussion music with youth groups. In 2019, under his leadership, the Singapore Chinese Music Federation joined forces with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre to hold the inaugural Singapore Chinese Music Festival (SCMF), sowing the seeds for the future of local Chinese music. In 2021, SCMF presented nearly 40 programmes and performances in 30 days, both live and online.
Over a storied career of more than half a century, Tay has not only been highly acclaimed by the music industry for his artistry as a conductor, but recognised for his outstanding contributions to the development of local Chinese music. Many batches of outstanding young Chinese musicians look up to him as a mentor figure. Truly, Tay has been utterly instrumental in the vigorous growth and development of the local Chinese music scene.