The Professor at my Music College in Singapore, LaSalle College of the Arts was a Dr John Sharpley.
I just checked up on my alma mater and boy has it grown up! When I was at LaSalle (1990-1992), it had only just started up as a tertiary college for Art and Music, and the modest premises were in an annexed block attached to St Patrick’s Secondary School, a boarding school for boys. (Incidentally, my brother Peter went to that school, having won a scholarship to study there as a boarder). When I was there, there was only one class of students in each of the 3 years offering Music. Now, as you can see for yourself on its website, LaSalle has moved premises to its own state-of-the-art buildings, and boasts a wealth of courses using the best technology and facilities available. If I ever visit Singapore again, I must make a beeline for LaSalle and see for myself how it has come on in leaps and bounds since its early days in the 1990s. I’ll be a Stranger in Paradise.
But I digress. As I was saying, my Music History, Analysis and Composition teacher was Dr John Sharpley. If music teachers were Doctor Who, then John Sharpley would be David Tennant. I absolutely adored John. He had a way of teaching that wasn’t really telling you anything but instead showed you how to see things. I likened his teaching style to giving us the outer pieces of a jigsaw puzzle i.e the border, which when put together became the frame. It was up to us then to find the rest of the pieces and fill in the picture.
John also had a unique way of marking exam papers. He would start from 100% and deduct points for innacuracy or incorrect answers. But he also ADDED points if he felt the answer had more details than required. I recall one History exam where I scored 106%, whoo hoo!
John also encouraged his students to be creative with their assignments. One assignment he gave us was to analyse Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, which I proceeded to do so on 9 sheets of paper. Using the given block of music to analyse as the centrepiece, I taped 8 more A4 sheets around it. On each sheet I wrote out my analysis of the piece, concentrating on one musical aspect at a time. I analysed the structure, orchestration, patterns in meter changes, phrasing, I even analysed the length of breath of the horns/oboes! My finished analysis was folded up to look like a stack of A4 papers (my first handmade book?!). John was delighted at my innovative approach, and I think I started a trend amongst my fellow classmates!
Another trend I started at LaSalle was the use of miniscule hardcover notebooks to take lecture notes. While others used A4 notepads, I used fat little A7 notebooks. See, I was using Tablets way ahead of anyone else. And I even developed my own semi-legible shorthand. I say semi as some of my classmates found my scribblings impossible to decipher!
I remember one year a few of us were invited to John’s home for dinner. He lived in a condominium block which I recall seemed to be made predominantly from concrete – it was grey, and shaped like an “O” looking down from above, with a central space in the middle. I can’t remember much about the interior of his condo, but the views were spectacular and I remember feeling very privileged to be in John’s inner circle.
John Sharpley is a Composer of Music, and when I was his student, there was a time he needed someone to copy his musical drafts onto manuscript paper. I volunteered for the job. I remember the evening I transcribed his draft sketches onto large A3 manuscript sheets…it was the time my parents were away up north for the funeral of my maternal grandfather. I had parked my Mum’s car at our church’s carpark in Johor Bahru, Malaysia, and had taken the bus across the Causeway to Singapore to LaSalle. After a day at college, I was on my return journey when the lights went out all over Singapore and Johor. Traffic was at a standstill, so I walked the 2 miles or so across the Causeway back to Malaysian soil. Apart from the lights from vehicles, the whole land was in darkness. I later found out that the National Electricity Grid, which fed Singapore too, had gone down.
Anyway, I managed to get to my parked car safely. And somehow, very carefully, managed to drive home safely. Back home, without any electricity and a deadline (tomorrow) looming, I lit some candles (ooh, how romantic!) and settled down to transcribe John Sharpley’s music.
When I handed John the manuscripts the next day, back in college, he raised his eyebrows at the sight of several wax drips on the paper, but passed no comment about that. I got paid $100, my first paid transcription job.
It would be interesting to do some research and find out what my fellow alumni (class of 1990-1992) are up to these days. I’ve lost touch with them all…but if you’re out there and you’re reading this, please do contact me here! Gillian Tan, Chok Shuk Yin, Kannie Kee, Penny Tan, Dawn Eng, Patricia Lim, Jerome Tan, Paul Liang, Jill Ng-See, etc (Of course, you won’t know me as AlyZen Moonshadow, that is my professional name…but if you read between the lines you’ll know who I am).
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