Lecture: Tong Soon Lee, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology at Emory University


April 8, 2011 - 12:00pm

Peranakan Music and Multiculturalism in Singapore

With a mix of Chinese and Malay heritage, the roots of the Peranakan communities can be traced back to 17th century Malacca.  Beginning in the 1980s, and especially since 2000, Peranakan culture has been represented in the form of restaurants specializing in their cuisine, revival of Peranakan plays, permanent exhibits of their architecture, dress, household paraphernalia and crafts in museums, and participation in State events.  Such efforts complement, and indeed constitute the broader State’s effort to create interests and concern on local heritage, thereby affirming the community as an integral part of the State’s conception of a national culture.

Historically and in Singapore today, Peranakan musical practices in Singapore are markedly syncretic.  Forms of music practiced by the Peranakan community include Peranakan hymns and translations of English hymns in the Peranakan patois for Catholic masses, English and Malay popular songs, and the traditional Malay dondang sayang vocal genre.  Yet, much of the State’s representation of Peranakan cultures is inclined towards nostalgic and reified perspectives of “authentic” Peranakan identities, which deemphasizes their hybrid musical practices and belies the state of anxiety the community faces in affirming a sense of who they are in the Singapore context of multiculturalism.  In this presentation, I would like to explore the different ways in which Peranakan musical cultures underscore the changing dynamics of Peranakan identities and of national identity in Singapore.

Tong Soon Lee joined Emory University in the autumn of 2001. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh (PhD 1998; MA 1995) and University of Durham, UK (MBA, 2002; BA Hons., 1993). He holds an Advanced Certificate in Asian Studies (Pittsburgh, 1998) and also the licentiate diplomas in piano performance from the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM, 1993) and Trinity College of Music, London (LTCL, 1990). Prior to joining Emory, Tong Soon was a Lecturer in Music at the University of Durham (1998-2001). Tong Soon's research focuses on Southeast and East Asian music, with particular interests in Singapore and the musical practices of diasporic Asian communities. He conducted field research on Chinese street opera in Singapore for his doctoral studies with the support of the International Dissertation Field Research Fellowship (1997), under the supervision of Bell Yung and René T.A. Lysloff. A research award from the British Academy (2000) enabled further study in this area and his book, Chinese Street Opera in Singapore, is published by the University of Illinois Press (2009).

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