Learning > Inspiration

Violinist, 93, is oldest performer at NDP

Jan Lee on 22 Jul 2018

The Straits Times


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Veteran violinist Julai Tan may be 93, but continues to perform at two or three events per year.


And his drive to keep performing has landed him a sweet gig, one which will see him play for his largest audience yet at this year's National Day Parade (NDP).


The career musician is performing at the parade for the first time.


Mr Tan, who participated in the two-day We Love Jazz Party music festival here last year, was approached by NDP music director Sydney Tan after he was featured in a Straits Times article as the oldest Singaporean jazz musician.


Mr Tan, who said he never turns down a chance to perform, said he was very happy when he was asked to play for this year's parade.


He will be performing a Bach piece, Air On The G String, and will be accompanied on the organ by jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro.


At his three-room HDB flat in Farrer Road, the soft spoken Mr Tan lights up when he talks about the violin. He calls the instrument his first love.


He said: "When I was six, there was an Indonesian boarder staying at my house who played the violin. I was taken in by the sound and stood by the door watching him play."


At seven, he began learning the violin at a music school but his music education was disrupted by the Japanese Occupation.


Mr Tan's wife of 40 years, Madam Ng Siew Lan, 74, said: "During the Japanese Occupation, there was not enough food so he played at restaurants for food and not money."


The war eventually ended, but Mr Tan never received a formal music education again.


Instead, he honed his skills through performances.


Mr Tan, who joined the Singapore radio orchestra in the 1950s, performed with the BBC orchestra from 1964 to 1967 in London before returning to Singapore in the late 1970s.


In 2010, he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 15th Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass) Awards.


Said Mr Tan: "I think the violin is an instrument with a soul. When I play it, it can convey messages back to me."


Madam Ng, who jokes that Mr Tan loves his violin more than her, is looking forward to his performance.


She said: "I'm happy for him that he is still capable of playing and I'm very proud and honoured that he will perform this year at his age."


Although the audience at the NDP will be the largest he has played to, Mr Tan is not nervous.


He said: "I feel great. The more people there are, the more excited I am."


Mr Tan, who has no plans to retire and is open to other performing opportunities, hopes his NDP appearance can help to inspire others, especially the elderly.


He said: "I hope to inspire them and show them that they can still pursue their passions."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.


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