With orchestra music playing in the background, we sat down and had a conversation with Mr Terence Ho. Even as Executive Director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Mr Terence Ho isn’t solely a man of the arts; in his spare time, the ex-commando also regularly participates in marathons and keeps a close watch on the local sporting scene. And for Terence, his brand new position as one of Singapore’s brand new Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) marks yet another one of these marathons in his career.
A marathon of course, isn’t just an ordinary race. While speed remains of utmost importance to coming in first, as any veteran would tell you, every marathon is a different kind of beast, requiring research, training and careful planning to ensure success. The road towards becoming a successful NMP is similar to that of running a marathon – Terence knows he has to fully comprehend the state of the current scene, while also setting down the foundations and connections necessary to begin building up a scene that is cohesive and capable enough to last the long run.
On why he’s taken up the position, Terence says: “I was first approached 2 years ago during Heng Leun’s term, and I’ve always thought that parliament was one of the best channels to allow me to voice issues and hear more. There are so many traditional arts group and inspiring productions that aren’t being highlighted enough. I understand the amount of red tape that goes into policymaking. If the government puts the bill down then cannot achieve it, and I think one of the biggest ways to convince the government of the value of the arts is when we have personal stories to share about how it’s transformed the lives of people and community. It goes beyond quantity, and it’s really all about touching people’s hearts.”
On why he’s an appropriate person to serve as NMP, Terence elaborates: “I’ve been at the SCO for 20 years and it’s given me the leeway and opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. In fact, the SCO is actually a minor part of my life, and I serve on the board for NAC to decide who gets various grants, whether its theatre or dance, visual arts or literary arts. I read every single proposal, and I do make sure I’m on the ground to see and understand where these groups are coming from, so that my judgment will be objective.”
In his term, Terence aims to bridge the gap between people and government using his wealth of knowledge, in particular, drawing attention to the traditional arts forms. Says Terence: “There’s an issue with how there is no way of defining Singapore Chinese Culture, with so many different organisations and influences both locally and regionally. There needs to be an integrated effort, and I hope I can do something to bring people together and stitch these into a cohesive whole.”
As a sportsman, Terence knows precisely the importance of maintaining excellence, even in the arts, in order to prove that our scene is one to be reckoned with. Says Terence: “In improving the arts, we need to maintain certain standards, and part of charting out the path for that, there must be some level of segregation to distinguish between the good ones and the better ones, like what the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) used to do. You derive top artists from competition; look at Joseph Schooling for example – when you’re out there in the podium, no one is going to care until you win a competition, and then everything will start falling into place.”
Yet, there is strength in diversity, and Terence takes a leaf from his experience working at the SCO as an example: “We must remember that there will never be a single piece that will please all audiences. So that’s why the SCO plays so many different kinds of concerts, and besides chasing artistic merit, we also need outreach efforts to get audiences to come and support you, or you’ll have to do works where the government or sponsors will fund you if you hit their KPIs. We need to reach the global stage, yet also be a people’s orchestra and appeal to the heartlanders and schoolgoing audience, using modern methods like livestreaming so we can reach new audiences.”
He continues: “An arts group needs to be cohesive, and work towards a co-operative aspiration. The best conductors in the SCO don’t give the orchestra every beat, but lead the direction with a very clear vision, and really inspire and engage the orchestra to produce the best work they can. Beyond the technical aspects of performing a piece, what makes one stand out artistically would be a certain musicality, where a concerto can be interpreted differently. Look at Joshua Bell for instance, and how his expressive interpretation of Butterfly Lovers gives new life to it. “
So what exactly will Terence’s speeches revolve around during Parliament? He elaborates: “The arts are supposed to be able to reach out to anyone and everyone. I think the arts can and should be implemented in every agency and ministry, and can play a part in their missions and policies. We need to think about setting up a sustainable ecosystem for the arts, and I’d say the best platform to get that message across to the government bodies is in parliament to raise the issue. The government has the capability and the resources to help, and we just need more responsive and responsible personnel to get the act together. While it may not happen during my term, the voice must be heard.”
Clearing the air about the idea of an ‘Arts’ NMP, Terence explains: “There’s a misconception about how there’s a specific NMP for each sector, and actually, we can speak outside of our ‘sectors’. There is unity in diversity and with nine different NMPs from different backgrounds, we can collaborate and come together as a collective to share from the perspectives of people from various sectors.”
Looking up at the various medals he’s won over the years before returning to a stack of proposals he’s been looking over, Terence concludes with a wistful smile: “This NMP role is just the start of another marathon. I hope that during this tenure, I’ll inspire and transform more people, and leave Singapore a better place than when I first started.”