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Chase the Dream: Tan Si Pei

Accidental double bassist turns aspiring musician.

Samantha Ng
Samantha Ng

Published: 11 February 2015, 12:00 AM

She was just 13 when she walked into the string ensemble auditions at Nanyang Girls’ High School. She had hoped to play the violin but when the conductor noticed her towering height, she ended up playing the double bass instead.

 

Tan Si Pei (right) when she first started playing the double bass.
Photo credit: Tan Si Pei

 

Almost ten years later, Tan Si Pei is a part-time double bass instructor. Si Pei, who is 1.71m tall, recalled her first encounter with the double bass: “The conductor saw me and said ‘You’re very tall, why don’t you try the double bass?'”

The double bass stands at around 1.8m, so a taller musician can manage the instrument better.

 

The double bass still towers Si Pei despite her impressive height.

 

Although that was not the instrument Si Pei was planning to pick up, she did it.

She said: “I never got to play the violin, sadly and thankfully.”

Her love affair with the double bass was not at first sight, as she did not know what to expect playing the supporting harmony.

“Violinists get to play the melody and the bass is just the supporting harmony. So initially, I wondered why people got to play so many notes while I played so little,” she admitted.

She also struggled with the physical demands of the big instrument.

Si Pei explained: “The thickest string is very thick so you need a lot of strength in your left hand. I only started appreciating the instrument at 16 when I got my own.”

When she was in Secondary 4, she saved $1,400 to buy her own double bass.

 

Si Pei (extreme right) with her double bass teacher Ms Karen Yeo (in black) who is from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
Photo credit: Tan Si Pei

 

Si Pei has been part of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra (SNYO) for six years. She has travelled to Berlin, Aberdeen and Penang to perform with other young musicians.

 

Si Pei (extreme left) performing with the Singapore National Youth Orchestra.
Photo credit: Tan Si Pei

 

Although she has an accountancy degree from Nanyang Technological University, her dream is to be a full time performer whether it is in a small music ensemble or a huge orchestra.

She said: “Wherever it is, as long as it’s part of an orchestra, I’ll want to be part of it.”

For now, she is working as a bass instructor, to fund her music education. However, she knows that her $80 per hour pay will not be sufficient and is looking around for scholarships. She is planning to pursue a Masters in Double Bass performance at Hochschule für Musik “Hanns Eisler” or Birmingham Conservatoire.

Are her parents supportive of her music dream?

Said the 23-year-old: “I must say my parents wished I had an occupation that would provide financial security because after all, my first degree is in accountancy. But I think they have come to a point to see that I’m interested in this field. The reason I stuck with it is because it sustains me.”

She advises those who are looking to go down the music path to be sure in their decision.

Si Pei said: “I think in Singapore, when you choose music, you have to stand alone. People usually wouldn’t think of taking that path. You have to be so sure that this is what you want and you won’t accept anything except going down this path.”


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