Since 2020, the Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) has been releasing a monthly series for our Musings section, Composer of the Month! The Composer of the Month is Muhammad FIRDAUS. He is a composer, conductor and multi-instrumentalist going to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts in Conducting at the European Academy of Fine Arts.
Interviewer: DR POW Jun Kai
Tell us about your musical training/education background?
I started playing the drums at 5/6 years old, where I played in my dads combo band performing for Malay weddings. The music he performed ranges from Malay pop to Hindi Pop and English pop. I had no formal musical training but was taught by my dad to listen and play by ear. Improvisation was his most valuable lesson to me till this day.
During secondary school, I played on the euphonium and French horn. There I was very much determined to lead a band of my own to perform my own music. So I wrote simple arrangements for the clarinet and percussion section for fun. I eventually gathered enough courage to arrange for a symphony orchestra based on the famous Japanese folk tune “Sakura”.
After secondary school, I went to NAFA for 1 semester which I then dropped out of because I knew classical music was not what I wanted to do. Nevertheless the valuable knowledge and skills i gained through that 1 semester made me a much better musician and writer. I then took up several ethnic music courses and seminars which really widened and broadened my vision of who and what I wanted to be.
I next pursued conducting exams and took a graded Diploma in conducting from the London college of Music in 2011. This was the crucial step that opened new windows for me to pursue music as a full time career. I went on to further my studies with a First Class Honours in Music and Sound from the University of West London.
What music have you composed recently?
I had the opportunity to write several new works for my degree program, and came up with a short music film titled Spring among other works, to create more Malay Traditional Music repertoire based on the traditional 5 genres. I put up my work “Spring” for an online competition called the Petrichor Music Competition under animation music and was selected and one of the semi finalist.
My most recent work was performed by Impressions of Nanyang Arts title Alunan Nusantara celebrating the music of the Malay archipelago based on the genre of zapin and inang and also the opening number titled Dayung, a piece that tells the story of Singapore. Another piece that I was commissioned to write was for Reverberance, a Chinese wind and percussion ensemble during their annual Chinese new year concert where I had the opportunity to conduct my own piece titled Merinai Kasih based on a Malay traditional Syair (poem).
What music are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am taking a break from writing as the fasting month is coming and I am busy preparing my school band for the Annual SYF with a piece based on a traditional Chinese poem called Flowing Stream.
What music have you conducted, or enjoyed conducting?
I’ve conducted symphonic band and pop pieces in school. I have also conducted Malay Traditional/Classical Music with my own orchestra the Orkestra Sri Temasek, but my favourite by far is conducting music from different ethnicities and works that combines East and West elements.
An example will be an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but written and adapted to the Malay Traditional genres and style of playing. Curating and directing the music to reflect the style of Vivaldi whilst incorporating traditional beats is definitely challenging and very much intriguing for any musician to perform and conduct.
Share with us your forthcoming MFA in Conducting At EAFA and crowdfunding information.
I am very excited to be selected for this program as I was informed that I would be the first ever Singaporean to be a part of!
The program is one of a kind as it has various modules covering conducting music from classical, opera and big band, to studio conducting and recording technologies! It's a full time program that will be held in Bulgaria and Vienna for a year.
I hope to share Malay Traditional Music with the institution and bring this musical tradition to an international stage. I also hope to promote Singaporean composers and music. To this end, I have planned my concert recital repertoire and can't wait to share it with my professors!
As any graduate program goes, funding it on my own is tough. As such I have applied for scholarships and grants to help me support my studies. As of now I've created a crowdfunding campaign to help me secure my spot in the college to pay the deposit of €3000. As of date I have successfully collected $160 from the site and some private loans. I really hope that I could get the help of my friends out there to help me realise my dream to better myself and to continue contributing back to the community in sharing the beauty of ethnic music.
Once again thank you CSS for interviewing me and your support in my endeavours!