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Chester Tan: The most famous Singaporean musician you never knew

Many have heard his music at the airport, shopping centres, retail stores and even MRT stations in Singapore. No, we’re not talking about Richard Clayderman or Kenny G, but Singapore’s composer and instrumentalist Chester Tan. It’s okay if you don’t recognise his name — he’s one of Singapore’s most successful musicians no one has heard of.

Chester Tan: The most famous Singaporean musician you never knew

Musicians Chester Tan and Bevlyn Khoo. Photo: Warner Music Singapore

Many have heard his music at the airport, shopping centres, retail stores and even MRT stations in Singapore. No, we’re not talking about Richard Clayderman or Kenny G, but Singapore’s composer and instrumentalist Chester Tan. It’s okay if you don’t recognise his name — he’s one of Singapore’s most successful musicians no one has heard of.

That is partly because Tan has decided to stay remarkably low-key, even though he has released seven albums — his Piano Spa series — in the past 10 years and sold more than 70,000 units across Asia, including Japan and copies across Asia, including Japan and South Korea, which is quite a feat for any local musician. Tan has also been awarded some of the most prestigious prizes in the Singapore music community: At the annual COMPASS Awards, he has bagged gongs for Top Local Composer – Instrumental for four years running (2011 to last year) and took the Young Composer Of The Year award in 2011. And yet, this is a guy who is so under the radar even his friends don’t recognise his music.

“I believe a lot of Singaporeans have heard my music, but they probably do not know they are listening to music by a local composer,” Tan told TODAY. “A lot of friends even mistake my songs for compositions by (popular pianist) Kevin Kern or other piano artistes from overseas.”

But if there is one thing the 40-year-old has learnt about music in the past decade, it is that “piano instrumental music is timeless”. “Even after 10 years, the compositions still sound fresh, unlike pop music genres,” he said.

Nevertheless, Tan, who began playing the piano when he was six, said he wishes to spend the next few years exploring different instrumental music styles and perhaps try his hand at writing music with “a more upbeat pop feel”. This may be why he has teamed up with Singaporean pop singer Bevlyn Khoo on his latest album —the seventh instalment of his Piano Spa series. The album features 30 songs on three discs, 10 of which were co-written with Khoo. “Bevlyn is an experienced songwriter who understood the musical style I was looking for,” he explained. “Her compositions are melodious and catchy, and it has been a great delight producing her songs. What she did was hand me her completed piano tracks and I listened and added instrumental arrangements to them.”

Khoo is best known for singing the songs featured in popular TV dramas The Little Nyonya and An Enchanted Life, as well as having a string of critically acclaimed albums such as The People I’ve Known and Feel About You. “I have always been enthralled by the idea that music is a universal language, so when Chester raised the idea of a collaboration, I jumped at it,” she said in a statement. “It’s a new exploration for me in creating stories without the use of any spoken language and I’m glad that Chester and I have a newfound chemistry.”

Tan, who is also a photographer anda tech blogger, has big dreams for the local instrumental music scene. Even though he acknowledged that it is difficult for instrumentalists to make a living in Singapore, he wishes to encourage more young people to explore the genre and support local instrumental musicians.

“I hope to grow a local community of instrumental pop musicians (with pieces that are easy to listen to), be it piano, guitar or violin,” he said. “I would like to help these people create relaxing music for others to enjoy and de-stress. I want shops and malls to play local instrumental music, instead of Kevin Kern, Yiruma or The Piano Guys.”

Whether that will be a reality, only time will tell. And perhaps, in time, more people will be able to recognise Tan’s works when they hear them in public spaces in Singapore.

Piano Spa 7 is available in stores now. For more information, visit http://piano-spa.com

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