I’m thoroughly disgusted with the Sing50 concert, and there are S$1.3m reasons why

You might have seen the headline already and thought, hmm, well done, supporting local music! The headline’s innocent enough: “$348k boost for home-grown music“. Wow! More money for starving musicians! Excellent!

The only problem? This.

The first initiative by the fund will be to buy 50 Steinway-designed Lang Lang pianos, at $26,000 each, for use at the Sing50 concert on Aug 7, which is organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times.

After the concert, the pianos will go to 50 primary and secondary schools for music education and choir practices.

Wait, what? 50 STEINWAY PIANOS??

If you have no idea what a Steinway is, here’s a short summary. A Steinway is a piano that sounds so good, most prestigious concert halls carry them. For example, the Esplanade Concert Hall has four Steinways that probably sound like God himself designed them.

Do any of the schools actually need the Steinways? And why 50 GRAND PIANOS, for —-‘s sake? Do any of them have concert halls as well designed as the one in the Esplanade?.. (A comment below pointed out that these may not be grand pianos, but upright pianos which are still double the price of a very good Yamaha upright. Thanks, Josephine!)

Here’s an idea: buy 50 pianos from a local company, and support a Singaporean business. Instead of China’s Lang Lang, brand the pianos with a local pianist’s name, and support a Singaporean musician (I randomly did a Google and found this lovely award-winning pianist, Abigail Sin).


(I’m a wee bit pissed off now, yes.)

OK, maybe I don’t have the complete picture, and maybe having Steinways in schools will actually help home-grown music. Somehow. But here’s the thing — home-grown musicians are making sacrifices and suffering for their art, and they’re only getting very minimal support for it.

The family that scrimps and saves just so their beloved daughter can study music — they could use S$1.3m.
The rock band that’s good enough to play at overseas festivals, but can’t because they have to work at their day jobs — they could use S$1.3m.
The entire local music industry that few people pay attention to — it could use S$1.3m.

It’s true that “home-grown music” is getting some funding. But S$1.3m is a huge pile of money to most Singaporeans, and getting 50 Steinways that will probably end up being underutilized just sucks. And where’s the remaining S$1m gonna come from? I HOPE MY TAX MONEY ISN’T GOING TOWARDS THAT.

Cost of 50 Steinway pianos is — S$26,000 x 50 = S$1,300,000
The fund currently has S$348,000.
Shortfall is — S$952,000.)

Let me make a point in a more civilized manner.

The general elections in Singapore are coming soon, and our social media feeds will soon be full of GE-relevant articles and essays. But discussions about politics shouldn’t just be contained to election periods. All of us need to be politically aware and active so that we don’t end up having shit like this our taxpayer monies misused, or having policies enacted that few of us actually are happy with.

Everything is political. If we appear apathetic about our politics, politicians can and will assume that they can get away with anything, because no one’s watching, and no one cares.

I hope the Sing50 concert planners do something to redeem themselves. If they have big budgets to play with, perhaps they could spend the money in ways that actually help the nation. Perhaps I should complain less and actually contribute more.

Ah, I’m a musician, perhaps I could play for the concert!

sigh pie
The Sing50 concert FAQ


Oh. Sigh pie…


I realize that some of this money comes from well-intentioned individuals and private companies. Generosity is a lovely thing, and anyone who gives a gift from the heart should be lauded. I am not finding fault with these generous donors. If you’re someone who contributed to this fund with the intention of helping local music, thank you. There are just so many other better ways to support home-grown music, and that’s what gets my goat.

Edit 2:
Let me be very clear about this, since some people seem to be misreading my writing. I’m not blaming the government for this. (The Sing50 concert people are the ones being a bit silly.) I’m implying that the power structures of our country allow for this kind of wastage, and that these structures exist because too many people are apathetic about politics. Everything is linked, but these links are very often invisible even to the people who use them.

Edit 3: See my follow up post here. People are misreading my post, and it’s bothering me. As far as I know, no taxpayer money is being wasted here.

I’m thoroughly disgusted with the Sing50 concert, and there are S$1.3m reasons why

30 thoughts on “I’m thoroughly disgusted with the Sing50 concert, and there are S$1.3m reasons why

  1. At $26k each is not a grand piano. Most likely is an upright. Don’t think Steinways carries any grand at only $26k.
    True, whether it’s a grand or an upright, 50 units is a big number, could have just use Yamaha best upright for half the price!

  2. I think 50 Steinways in schools is a pretty good way to spend the money. If each school has 2000 students, that’s 100 000 young people who may have the chance to listen to or play a quality instrument. The actual number will be much less of course but going through schools is probably one of the best and fairest ways to spend money on music. Supporting “the family that scrimps and saves” and the “rock band” – that will always raise questions about who to support. And “the entire music industry” – honestly, our music industry is not so small that $1.3m will make a big difference.

    The money is coming from sponsors: http://news.asiaone.com/news/singapore/sing50-concert-gets-more-sponsors-mapletree-rws-zurich-insurance

    1. I’d be pretty happy if that happens, honestly. But I don’t see it happening. How many schools have pianists able to bring out the potential of these instruments? And most schools don’t have very good sound systems. The cost-benefit balance just doesn’t seem right to me.

      I would have been much happier if the donations went to fund grant schemes under the NAC. Obviously these schemes aren’t perfect, but I think most of us would trust the NAC to know what to do with the money.

    2. 100000 young people who may have the chance to listen to or play a quality instrument , im sorry to poke your logic but will those 50 pianos last that long ? All the schools have to do is to arrange music outing to Esplanade Concert Hall .

      1. Steinway pianos are so expensive because each of them are hand-made using high quality materials..(you can wikipedia it!) It will last long if the instrument is kept in the right environment.. I’ve been to a music conservatory overseas and they were still using antique steinways in their practice rooms. Still works fine… Steinway pianos are already so expensive.. the issue is that why they have to spend on pianos that were designed for lang lang? I supposed these pianos were specially custom-made for lang lang to suit his preferences (correct me if i am wrong!).. and lang lang is not a local musician too..

        I have to agree with Mr Seah that placing steinways in schools is a waste because students will be under utilising the instruments.. If the pianos are placed in the school hall (i supposed non air-conditioned) the humidity level will damage the pianos very quickly (i think..). In short I guess the funds could have been better used… The money can be used to commission hundreds of new works by local musicians/composers.. Or to fund music schools like NAFA, SOTA, Yong Siew Toh.. Have more community shows.. etc etc… Just my two-cents worth! 🙂

  3. If you know the state of pianos in schools, you know that pianos don’t last very long in school as schools do not scheduled budget for maintenance. Students literaty wack the pianos. Spending money on hardware is not the way to go, software maybe, but spending on the people is the way to go.

      1. I expect that the Steinways are finicky instruments that need regular and expert tuning to maintain the qualities that justifies the piano’s high cost. Most likely, regular students will never get to touch the piano, as it will be treated as a school treasure, a white elephant. That’s what happened in my school. We had a grand piano sitting in the my school foyer in secondary school. It was beautiful but the students were not allowed to touch it let alone play it. Big lot of good it did.

  4. This Sing50 concert is run and organised by private companies, why on earth do you have to drag the government into it? Surely you should be yelling at the greed of private companies instead?

    Strange. Nowadays anything wrong immediately it’s the government’s fault. Very short sighted.

    1. Hi, curious! Thank you for challenging my views, debate is (sometimes) good.

      I’m not sure if you caught the last paragraph of this post (I added it awhile before your comment):
      “I realize that some of this money comes from well-intentioned individuals and private companies. Generosity is a lovely thing, and anyone who gives a gift from the heart should be lauded. I am not finding fault with these generous donors. If you’re someone who contributed to this fund with the intention of helping local music, thank you. There are just so many other better ways to support home-grown music, and that’s what gets my goat.”

      (Small quibble: I used the word “some” above because the newspaper article reports that the BULK of the initial sum came from private individuals and companies — but the “bulk” doesn’t mean “all”.)

      Also, I’m not blaming the government. I don’t know if there’s any line in my post that seems to do so. Please let me know if there’s something that looks like me blaming the government, because I certainly did not intend to do anything like that.

      What I DID mean to imply is that the Sing50 organizers are LINKED to the powers that be — not JUST the government, but all individuals who have real power (whether through government or not) in our country. I’m one of those people who, from reading The Straits Times and from observing the people involved, think that the PAP and SPH have very close links. These are not official, sanctioned links, but there are links nonetheless. And I suspect that a change in our politics would break those links.

      Just consider what would happen to SPH were the PAP to disappear from our government. If the WP formed the government, for example, how would ex-PAP man and current SPH chairman Dr Lee Boon Yang react? If people were more politically active, and less apathetic, I think we’d see much less of this kind of thing happening. Those in power (and not just in government!) would need to be more accountable to the mob. (Whether or not this is a good thing is another debate altogether.)

      It IS short sighted to blame the government for everything. But I’m not doing that. I’m just pointing out how wasteful I think this act of spending is.

      1. There’s also the issue of how many “private companies” are controlled, directly or indirectly, by the PAP (e.g, through Temasek/GIC). It’s a bit hard to think of a company as “independent” when its Board and executive management are loaded with current or former MPs, and/or it has these entanglements.

    2. Hmm… I wonder if there is any people from the government as the shareholder in those “private” companies…

  5. Thanks for the article. Read carefully, it’s a Steinway DESIGNED piano, meaning it’s not even a real Steinway. And $26k for it is way overpriced for something that is probably made in YOU-KNOW-WHERE-LANG-LANG-IS-FROM.

    1. You seem to really know your pianos, thanks for the info! I’ll also take your judgement that these things are “overpriced” to hang on to my disdain for Sing50. Heh.

  6. Seems like you have a bone to pick with the establishment in whatever they do that do not agree with your myopic views. Can’t you be a little less narrow-minded and see the potential in this – that the seeds and curiosity for music will be planted in the young minds where these 50 pianos are donated. Perhaps it is the future of music in Singapore that is the focus here?

    1. Hahahahahahahahaha…. Your a joke… Go to schools and see how many students are allowed to touch the grand pianos let alone play it…

    2. Dear Anonymous, I’ll reply to your last question first. The future of music in Singapore is getting a boost from schemes that the NAC is overseeing. The last I checked, I think they disbursed around S$26m to arts companies (not just music). That’s a good thing to happen. It’s not nearly enough, but it’s a step in the right direction.

      There are many other ways to focus on the future of music in Singapore, and other people have written about it — see for example http://sarahchengdewinne.com/blog/2015/01/20/50-steinway-pianos-heres-5-other-ways-to-promote-homegrown-music/

  7. You are missing one point, they are actually now auditioning piano players for SG50 and guess what NO PAY OF COURSE. But hey all will have a chance to play on a great piano that true support for the music community!!!!!

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