The TK Band had its roots in the school bands of the former Tanjong Katong Secondary Technical School (now Tanjong Katong Secondary School) and Tanjong Katong Girls’ School (TKGS). Started separately in 1965, the TK Tech Band called itself the Tanjong Katong Brass Band with only 26 members, while the TKGS band had about 30.
In 1967, both bands performed together, marking the beginning of their long and close relationship. Later that year, they were formally combined to form one band, with Ms Irene Joseph as the founder who became instrumental in the band’s development. This is the band known today as the TK Band.
In the first of this three part interview series, The Band Post spoke to various alumni members of the TK Band, namely Gaius Lee (GL), Lawrence Siao (LS) and Lim Mong Kin (LMK), and their current resident conductor Jovan Neo (JN).
TBP: When did you join TK Band?
GL: In 2008.
LS: I joined in 1985.
LMK: Way before all of their time.
TBP: How will you describe the TK band of your time as compared to the current one?
LS: There are certain things we try to keep the same. One is the playing of Belphegor, where we either start or end with it in every performance. We want our current students to know that it is our signature tune.
The other is the change in marching styles. We used to do the British styled marching, with all the sharp turns, but we had to keep up with times and switch over to the style from Drums Corps International (DCI). We also changed our green and yellow uniform after 30 over years, which was worn from 1967 till 1998.
I remembered there was a 1970s documentary titled “The Makings of the Band” produced by the Radio Television Singapore (now Mediacorp) which featured TK Band and another band. In 2012, OKTO also did a feature for the marching bands in Singapore which also showcased TK Band.
When the recruits join the band, we will always show these two videos to help them understand our rich history. We have definitely evolved throughout the years in our management and culture.
JN: I think something that we do today is that we still bring the band back to its roots. Every batch of members that join the band will be taught the history of the band starting from Ms Joseph’s time. I think, no matter how much we have evolved, we are still the same from the senior to the current generations.
TBP: Why did you join band out of so many ccas?
LMK: For me it was natural because I came from a secondary school band. I came to TKGS for my Pre-U (now called JC), and I was scouted and asked to join.
GL: I wanted to have some sort of music training so I joined the band.
LS: I actually did not want to join the band. My friend pulled me into it.
TBP: Did you feel you (Lawrence) made a good choice?
LMK: Of course! He is so devoted; band is like his entire life!
TBP: How did Ms Joseph play a big role in TK Band’s history?
LS: After the British left Singapore, ECAC (now CCA office) supplied teachers to teach a few schools, and Ms Joseph was one of the teachers being posted to TK to teach the band.
JN: Ms Joseph was actually not musically-trained at first but she loved music. When the opportunity came for her to become a music teacher, she jumped on it and started learning the piano. She started teaching the band and even handled the marching aspects despite being new at them.
LMK: She was actually more into singing.
JN: I think she made a huge impact because of the legacy she left us with.
In 2006, we launched the Irene Joseph award in her honour, which is a monetary award presented to students every year in recognition of their contributions to the band. Ms Joseph actually gave us money to initiate it.
LS: It has been going on for 10 years now, and Gaius is one of them.
TBP: You (Mong Kin) won the best drum major award in 1975, what do you think about the achievement?
LMK: Honestly, it was unexpected. It was a pleasant surprise. In terms of skills, I thought no way they would pick a lady because you need a lot of strength as the mace head was very heavy.
I was lucky enough that my senior trained me before he left for further studies. I remembered that Ms Joseph would leave me alone to practice until the end of the day before we group together for a combined practice.
I suppose it was a double victory for the band for that year because we also won the mace of honour.
TBP: How would you describe your time in TK Band?
LMK: It was one of the happier times I had in school.
We trained very hard on Tuesdays and Thursdays for music practices, and on Saturdays for outdoor formations. During Ms Joseph’s time, she would divide the music practices into sectionals, and outdoor training into groups led by a leader. The ratio was four students to one leader, and we learned the steps from them.
Ms Joseph would sometimes travel and come back to share her ideas and new formations with us. We did not have a computer software in the past so everything was plotted and drafted on paper. We would try the formations in the field and make corrections again and again.
We had a rule known as “8 steps to 5 yards” which helped to cut down irregularities in movement. Basically, within 5 yards, one can only walk 8 steps; and this taught us to be more uniform as a band.
We also learned that our feet should be lifted up at 90 degrees and our toes should be pointed. Girls were in short skirts and boys were in shorts; so from afar, with knee length socks and gutters, we will look uniformed. This was our trademark back then.
GL: I remembered two things from band, the first was hard work, and the second, learning to adapt to changes.
LS: Band was fun.
During my time, school was still having double sessions. We would practice in the morning, and attend classes in the afternoon.
The band people were always sticking around each other, and I do think that I am closer to bandmates than my own classmates. I recalled that Minister Lawrence Wong was my from my school batch, but I did not know about this until I recently flipped my school magazine.
LMK: It is almost like a cult, ha-ha!
In the band, everyone works hard. We always encourage each other and bond together through the meals after band.
We are like a family.