Saturday, August 03, 2013

48th National Day 2013 Special Music Posting: Radio Singapore Orchestra 1945 - 1991


This posting is specially designed to showcase and honour members of our radio and television orchestra, the music-makers who accompanied the choirs, the classical soloists and vocalists.  The group started as a Radio Orchestra became the Radio Television Singapore (RTS) Orchestra and bloomed into the Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) Orchestra. The article and photographs are provided by Mun Chor Seng who is a guest writer. Thank you Mun.

After the National Day Parade, the Radio Orchestra took part in the multi-cultural variety show at the City Hall Steps in 1963.
The Radio Orchestra, at it was known then, was formed in 1945.  The string section that predominantly made up the orchestra was filled by expatriate musicians.  In 1959, the Malayanairs was born but it produced music that went out of vogue. 
Inche Yusof Ishak, the Yang di-Pertuan of Singapore together with Mr. S. Rajarathnam (Minister of Culture) and Mr. John Duclos (Director of Broadcasting) met Mr. Gus Steyn and Radio Singapore Orchestra members  in the Radio Auditorium.
More musicians playing woodwind and brass instruments were added to provide a more versatile combination under the leader of the orchestra Mr. Dick Abel.  They provided recorded popular and classical music for transmission to all the section of Radio Singapore.  Some of the programmes featured then were:

a) Tiga Sekawan, and

b) Rayuan Sukma, included mainly Malay and popular instrumental numbers for 15 to 30 minutes programmes for all the radio networks.  Three to six musicians were involved for the above programmes.

c) Latin Six, a programme that was mainly music from Latin America.

d) Music Viva,  a classical programme mainly involved with Chamber Music, for violin, cello and piano.  During that time I heard over the English Network the complete work of Beethoven's Trio in B-Flat Major, "Archduke" Op. 97.  Such programmes were mainly broadcast over the weekend in the late evening.

e) The Malayanaires, with augmentees where local Malay and Mandarin and Indian singers were involved in the 30 minutes programme recorded for the respective sections.

The Malayanairs, as the new orchestra was known, started with only 9 musicians.  It had to be augmented when the need arose to serve the four different radio networks which closed down at 11 pm nightly.
Launching of the Suara Singapura service of Radio Singapore by Inche Yusof Ishak, the Yang de-Pertuan of Singapore with the finale item of the programme on stage.
 On 1 July 1960, commercial advertising was introduced on radio.  There was a higher demand for the radio orchestra for sponsored programmes which brought in extra revenue and audience participation.  The radio orchestra was then lead by Mr. Gus Steyn who was performing in the Broadcasting House in Caldecott Hill as well as outside venues such as the Cultural Centre, Victoria Theatre, Singapore Badminton Hall and City Hall Steps etc.

In 1963 with the introduction of television, the same orchestra was known as the Radio and Television Singapore (RTS) Orchestra.  The musicians then were Mr. Gus Steyn (piano), Mr. Ahmad Jaafar (Saxophone), Mr. Valentine Otega (Baritone), Mr. Reynaldo Lanchica (1st Alto), Mr. Olimpio Galaura (Trumpet), Mr. Lano (Trombone), Mr. Winston Filmer (Double Bass) and Mr. Rofino Solinao (Drum).  

In order to cope with the normal output for radio, it also had to bear the additional responsibility to provide additional music backing for the major live television shows.
A sponsored radio programme held at the Singapore Badminton Hall.
 On 19 Jan 1965, Gus Steyn gave his farewell performance as leader of the RTS Orchestra at a Chinese Variety show in Victoria Theatre.  At the end of the show, he was garlanded by members of the audience and gave a short speech.  Mr. Loo Koon Fun from the Chinese Programme Section presented a memento to Mr. Gus Steyn on behalf of the management of Radio Singapore.

In 1965, Mr. Ahmad Jaafar was the Deputy Director of Radio Orchestra.  He took over as leader in 1966 and as conductor of the orchestra from 1967 - 1982.  During that period, he established himself as a fine music arranger and composer for theme music for radio and TV productions.

When the station was converted into Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) in February 1980, the total number of musicians was increased to 31.  With those numbers, they could be divided to form two or three groups of smaller orchestras to meet the needs of the rapid bookings of the radio and television services of SBC.  Should the need arise, these musicians could be pooled together to perform as a concert orchestra.

Gus Steyn (left) with fellow musicians taken in Radio Auditorium of Broadcasting House.
 In 1980, SBC played host to the visiting Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) Orchestra which performed successfully in Singapore.  In April 1981, the RTS Orchsestra paid a reciprocal performance in Angkasapuri in Kuala Lumpur under the title of "Puspasara" featuring the full RTS Orchestra in Concert. 

According to the Puspasara programme, which was distributed to the audiences then, there were 31 musicians featured.  It was divided into 4 different sections, strings, brass, woodwinds and rhythm & percussion. 
                Chinese TV Variety Programme featuring Miss S.K. Poon at the new TV Singapura Studio.
The SBC Orchestra then featured the following musicians: Strings: (1st Violins) - Wong Eit Sun, Braulio Bacsafra Jr, Chow Kum Leng & Quek Peng Hoon, (2nd Violin) Adams Lin Jui Fang, Yeo Teow Meng, Leslie Lim Wave Houng & Tan Kok Hwa, (Viola) - Julai Tan & Ng Boon Eng, (Cello) - Tham Chaik Kong & Patricia Wei. Brass: (1st Trumpet) - Jimmy Fong Pak Lee, (2nd Trumpet) Olimpio Galaura, (3rd Trumpet) Lit Woon Cheong, (1st Trombone) - David Chen Chao Hor, (2nd Trombone) - Tonni Wei Shi Ren, (3rd Trombone) - Louis Castillo.

RTM/SBC joined production of TV variety programme which took place at Angkasapuri, KL, Malaysia.
Woodwinds: (1st Alto) Reynaldo Lachica, (2nd Alto) Celso Lachica, (1st Tenor) - John Lee Boon Eng, (2nd Tenor) -  Leonard St John Fernandez, (Baritone) - Valetine Ortega. Piano & Synthesizer -  (Organ) - Terrence Cyril de Souza.  (Guitar) - Danny Lim Ai Koon, (Drums) - Louis Soliano, Piano & Synthesizer -  Charles Godfrey Lazaroo, (Bass Guitar) -  Winston Malvern Filmer, (Percussion) - Tan Chin Boo. 

(Leader and Conductor) -  Ahmad Jaafar and (Deputy Leader) - Rufino Varella Soliano. The stage production was by Mr. Vernon Palmer and the stage management by Mr. Steven Lee with Miss Mini Fok Wei Ya as the compere. Orchestrations by: Ahmad Jaafar, Iskandar Ismail, Charles Lazaroo, John Lee and Sam Gan.

National competition  - Asia Broadcasting Union (ABU) Popular Song Contest at Studio 5, TV Singapore.
 Mr. Ahmad Jaafar was honoured with the Pingat Pentadbiran Awan (The Public Administration Medal) award in 1969 and the Cultural Medallion in 1981 for his contribution to music to Singapore.  He retired in 1982 and passed away in 2009.

Rufino Soliano took over the leadership of the orchestra from 1983 till he retired in 1994.

In Jan 1987, Christopher Dainel, a graduate of Boston's Berklee College of Music was appointed as the new Director of the Orchestra.  By the early 1990s, the Radio Singapore Orchestra was disbanded.

If members of the Orchestra and their families are reading this article please write in. Let us know!

Images and article by Mun Chor Seng: Copyrights Reserved.


DK said...

Thanks for the article Andy.

Unfortunately the orchestra in RTS was disbanded when Media Corp took over.Very sad day for musicians. Cannot imagine a radio and tv station without an orchestra.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

How true DK. There should be a Media Corp Orchestra. Or perhaps the SSO should also have affiliations to Media Corp. Anyone?

PETER CHAN said...


Would like to know why they shut down the orchestra in the 90s? Budget cut? Introduction of piped music?

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Peter. These questions are interesting because as far as I can remember we have lost a great orchestra with a very talented team of musicians.

How I long to watch on Channel 5 now, with its HD telecast, a radio and TV orchestra playing National Day songs and our own local hits both from today and yesterday.

Perhaps some readers out there can provide the answers. Or maybe Media Corp can?

PC said...


I read in the blog about orchestra, a certain Olimpio Galaura, his daughter was once a good friend. She's a Philipino and comes from a nice family. I last heard in mid-70s they were staying near the Balestier area. her father looked after her well. She joined a prominent airline company and we lost contact after that.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks PC for the information. It is nice that blogs bring memories and even people back together again as long as we use this media form in a positive manner and respect how we use it.


Musician Ahmad Ja'afar (b. 1919, North Sumatra, Indonesia - d. 23 May 2009, Singapore) was the lead conductor of Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) Orchestra for over a decade. The respected composer of more than 60 Malay songs including all-time favourites such as Selamat Hari Raya, Ibu and Bunga Tanjung, he was conferred the Public Service Star award in 1970 and Cultural Medallion in 1981 for his great contribution to the world of Malay music.


Gus Steyn

He: "left for Singapore in 1958 where he began working for Steering Radio Muzik on Singapore TV. He moved to Australia in 1962 playing in night clubs there and then moved to Malaysia in 1966 and began working with the RTM (Radio Television Malaysia) Orchestra."


i am not in Spore. have not been back there since my parents and i left way back a long time ago, about early 70s. i had gone to London UK then to Canada.
hopefully one day in the near i will visit it. who knows ! i never even thought I would be talking about Spore , and now after all these times,
i find your blog and am now reminiscensing about those days.
much thanks to you to rekindling the flame that have long since been smothered.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thanks Matt for writing. I will put up a few postings soon about Matt Tan who was with Fried Ice. He got interested in many of the postings especially those that featured our 60s bands and past happenings.

MATT TAN said...

Lovely to see all these happy days, reminiscent of my younger days as part of S'pore's music scene (60-70). Good job !!!
PS: if you leave me your email, we can get in touch.


In his three and a half decades in the broadcasting business, Vernon Palmer held many posts - from technician, to radio producer, news reader, stage director, and controller of television. He retired in 1982.



Thank you for the wonderful
Record of all the leading musicians and bands. You have brought back most of them from my school days. It was great to bring back to my memory. Thank you for your effort and time.

Will see you next month.


Sent from my iPhone

Unknown said...

Interesting read ... My dad is jimmy Fong. The trumpeter.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you for visiting Catherine. If you wish you can write about your dad's experience with this famous orchestra and I shall post it on the blog. We should remember people who make Singapore what it is today, in the field of music or otherwise.

Unknown said...

My dad David Chen (2nd Trombone in SBC)often puts up these pictures in his facebook.He is still in contact with many musicians. My dad told me Orchestra was disbanded because of new technology/less risk by using recorded background music and he transfered to the music library in mediacorp for some time before retiring.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you Katherine for an interesting piece of information.

He might know John Lee and Leo Fernando; the former a family friend and the latter a neighbour.

Would love to be in touch with your dad. Tell him I'm still in touch with Larry Lai and Mun Chor Seng.

henri gann said...

Great article Andy and I am reading it years later. Will do well to reprint some of these articles. Now I understand better why you are thinking of putting it all together in a book. Save me the first copy of the first edition :)