School Bands in Singapore - History


In 1965, the Ministry of Education first launched the Band Project as part of the Extra-Curriculum Activity Programme (ECA) (renamed as Co-Curriculum Activity or CCA in 1999) in both Primary and Secondary Schools. It was aided by the directive given by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who instructed that the formation of school bands should be considered a “high priority”. At its beginning, the project began with only 4 brass bands in aided secondary schools, and 9 Bugle and Fife bands in Primary Schools that were mainly functioning under the banners of the Boys’ Brigade and Boy Scouts. Within six years, the number of school bands rapidly increased to 77 brass bands in secondary schools and 78 Bugle and Fife bands in primary schools in 1971. As of the year 2000, 44 primary schools, 132 secondary schools and 14 junior colleges have their own school bands, and in that year, 12,000 students were in the band movement. This number translated to around 27.5% of students taking part in the CCA music in the year 2000 being in the bands. Thus, the school band movement has been evolving since its inception in 1965, with an increase in both the number and quality of school bands over the years.

The government then started school bands with the original purpose of developing group discipline, esprit de corps and a sense of national identity among the students who joined the band as their ECA. Schools bands would also contribute to school spirit and enhance the school programme on ceremonial occasions. In addition, the government took the general musical poverty of most citizens in the 1960s into account, and wanted to establish school bands so as to give schooling children a start in musical interest.

Challenges faced in the early beginnings of the Band Project included the shortage of band instructors and teachers for the school bands. Such challenges were overcome with in-service training and scholarships to encourage those who were interested to go into music teaching.

Despite the challenges, in 1990, 25 years after the Band Project in Singapore was launched, the ECA centre estimated that about 20,000 students would have once been members of school bands, and would have benefited from the school band movement.

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