Kelly Tang

Singapore Infopedia

by Koh, Angeline


Kelly Tang Yap Ming1 (Dr) (b. 1961, Singapore–), better known simply as Kelly Tang, is a prolific and versatile composer whose works cover various genres ranging from classical and jazz to cinematic and popular music. His myriad compositions have been performed by internationally renowned orchestras, military and jazz bands, as well as student groups participating in the Singapore Youth Festival. Also a career educator, Tang was appointed Dean at the School of the Arts in 2011.2 For his contributions to the local music scene, Tang was conferred the Cultural Medallion for Music in 2011.3

Early years4
Tang’s love affair with music began at an early age. At six, his banker father and teacher mother sent him for piano lessons. In his secondary school days at the Anglo Chinese School, he played the tuba in the school band.

The young Tang did not find the tuba particularly interesting to play as there were not usually many parts in a musical composition that involved the instrument. However, this lack of activity turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it gave him the opportunity to observe what the other musicians in the band were doing and how all the parts fit together in a musical composition.

Tang began writing songs even as a student. His love affair with music grew and he went on to helm a Christian gospel pop group. He also played bass guitar while in Anglo Chinese Junior College and later on in the army band.

Artistic development5

With the support of his parents and younger sister, Tang enrolled in a music degree course at York University in Toronto, Canada. In 1982, during his first year as an undergraduate at York, Tang met and was greatly influenced by Srul Irving Glick, his first music composition teacher. Glick's kindness and nurturing personality, as well as his deep passion for music and humanity made a lasting impression on Tang, who told himself, "This is the kind of composer I aspire to be like".6 Tang would later pursue his postgraduate studies in the United States, obtaining a master’s in composition at Northwestern University in 1991 and a PhD in music from Michigan State University in 1995.7

Tang’s early musical training began with the classical piano but he also became intrigued and fascinated by the diverse musical styles that surrounded him during his growing-up years in multicultural Singapore. While it was in Singapore that he was exposed to Chinese opera, and Malay and Indian songs, it was only at York University that he fell in love with Indian Carnatic music and learnt to play the mridungam (an Indian two-sided drum).

Tang is a highly prolific and versatile composer whose works cover various genres. In the span of 20 years, he has created some 60 musical pieces.9 Some of Tang’s notable classical compositions include: Apocalypso, which was commissioned for the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra for their premiere at the Singapore Arts Festival in 2000; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, which was performed by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in 2010; and Montage: Three Movements for Jazz Piano & Chinese Orchestra, performed by jazz musician Jeremy Monteiro together with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra in 2010.

Besides orchestral music, Tang has also composed pieces for wind bands such as the Desford Colliery Brass Band (UK), the Ensemble Contemporain of Montreal (Canada), the Queensland Conservatorium Wind Orchestra (Australia), the United States Marine Band and the Singapore Armed Forces Central Band. He has also composed jazz pieces that have been performed by the Jeremy Monteiro Trio band as well as Grammy winners Ernie Watts and Randy Brecker.

Tang has composed music for other genres as well. One of his works has been performed by the T’ang Quartet as the musical score for the Australian feature film Feet Unbound (2006), while another piece has been used as the symphonic score for a Cantonese opera presented by the Chinese Theatre Circle in 2007.

Tang started his teaching career at Raffles Junior College before moving on to teach at Northwestern University and Michigan State University.10 As a young teacher in the 1980s, Tang was mentored by composer Leong Yoon Pin. The late Leong, also known as the father of Singapore’s composers, taught Tang lifelong lessons and gave him the advice that “underneath whatever musical construction we put up, the foundation has to be very strong”. Tang now repeats this piece of advice to his own students.11

Inspired by Leong’s dedication, Tang went on to mentor trainee teachers in musical excellence at the National Institute of Education (NIE), where he served as Assistant Professor of Music from 1996 to 2011.12 Among Tang’s graduates are Benjamin Lim Yi13 and Benjamin Yeo,14 both of whom have gone on to become composers and educators as well.15

After leaving NIE in 2011, Tang continued pursuing his passion for educating future generations of musicians in his role as Dean at the School of the Arts.16

Wife: Tan Mui Tin.
They have two sons.

Anglo Chinese School.
Anglo Chinese Junior College.
York University, Toronto, Canada.
Northwestern University, Chicago, United States.
Michigan State University, Michigan, United States.


Educator, Raffles Junior College.
Educator, Northwestern University
Educator, Michigan State University.
1996–2011: Associate Professor, National Institute of Education, Singapore.
2011–: Dean, School of the Arts.


Performed by world-renowned ensembles including:
Ensemble Contemporain, Montreal, Canada.
Mihail Jora Filarmonica, Romania.
Minguet Quartet, Germany.
The Russian National Orchestra, Russia.
The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Poland.

Performed in Singapore by:
National University of Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
Singapore Chinese Orchestra.
Singapore Lyric Opera.
Singapore Symphony Orchestra.
Singapore National Youth Orchestra.
T’ang Quartet.

Choral works sung by:
Anglo Chinese Junior College Choir.
Gaia Philharmonic Chorus, Japan.
Hong Kong Children’s Choir.
Singapore Youth Choir.
The Philharmonic Chorus.
Windsbacher Knabenchor, Germany.

Wind band scores performed by:
Desford Colliery Brass Band, UK.
Philharmonic Winds.
Queensland Conservatorium Wind Orchestra, Australia.
Singapore Armed Forces Central Band.
"The President's Own" United States Marine Band.
Wind Stars Ensemble.

Music presented at prestigious venues worldwide including:
Auditorium di Milano, Italy.
Carnegie Hall, New York.
Cultural Centre of the Philippines.
Hanoi Opera House, Vietnam.
Museum of Musical Instruments, Brussels.
Rodahal, Netherlands.
St. Paul's Cathedral, London.
Sydney Opera House, Australia.
Suntory Hall, Tokyo, Japan.
The Berlin Konzerthaus, Germany.
The Vienna Musikverien, Austria.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space, Japan.
Tokyo Opera City, Japan.

Jazz compositions performed by:
Grammy winners Ernie Watts and Randy Brecker.
Jeremy Monteiro.

Other works
2006: Scored music for the internationally acclaimed Australian film Feet Unbound, which was performed by the T’ang Quartet.
2006: Daffodils, Singapore Lyric Opera Children’s Choir.
2010: My Shadow, Singapore Youth Festival.
2012: Where Go The Boats? Singapore Lyric Opera Children’s Choir
The Wind.

2008: COMPASS Artistic Excellence Award.
2011: Cultural Medallion for Music.

Angeline Koh

1. Chang, T. L. (2011, November, 18). The Arts Awards 2011 / Exclusive from The Istana. Retrieved from;
National Arts Council. (2011). Kelly Tang: Music. Retrieved from National Arts Council website:
School of the Arts Singapore. (2014). Kelly Tang – Dean, Arts. Retrieved from School of the Arts Singapore website:
National Arts Council Singapore. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Music. Retrieved from National Arts Council website:
Nanda, A. (2011, November 19). In their footsteps – It’s payback time for Tang. The Straits Times Life!, p. E8. Retrieved from
Nanda, A. (2011, November 19). In their footsteps – It’s payback time for Tang. The Straits Times Life!, p. E8. Retrieved from
Tang, K. (2013, July 9). Letters. Retrieved from
National Arts Council. (2011). Kelly Tang: Music. Retrieved from National Arts Council website:
National Arts Council. (2011). Kelly Tang: Music. Retrieved from National Arts Council website:
XinMSN News. (2011, November 18). Four individuals awarded Cultural Medallion. Retrieved from
School of the Arts Singapore. (2014). Kelly Tang – Dean, Arts. Retrieved from School of the Arts Singapore website:
Nanda, A. (2011, November 19). In their footsteps – It’s payback time for Tang. The Straits Times Life!, p. E8. Retrieved from
School of the Arts Singapore. (2014). Kelly Tang – Dean, Arts. Retrieved from School of the Arts Singapore website:
The TENG Company. (2010). Lim Yi Benjamin, Composer-in-Residence. Retrieved from
Benjamin Yeo. A Singaporean composer, arranger and an educator. Retrieved from
Dairianathan, E. (2012, March). Farewell to Assoc Prof Kelly Tang. National Institute of Education News, issue no. 79. Retrieved from
School of the Arts Singapore. (2014). Kelly Tang – Dean, Arts. Retrieved from School of the Arts Singapore website:
Nanda, A. (2011, November 19). In their footsteps – It’s payback time for Tang. The Straits Times Life!, p. E8. Retrieved from
National Arts Council. (2011). Kelly Tang: Music. Retrieved from National Arts Council website:; School of the Arts Singapore. (2014). Kelly Tang – Dean, Arts. Retrieved from School of the Arts Singapore websits:

The information in this article is valid as at 4 March 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

Thirunalan Sasitharan


Thirunalan Sasitharan (b. 1958, Singapore–), also known as Sasi, is an actor, art critic, arts educator, activist, former journalist and former philosophy teacher. Besides being an outstanding actor, Sasitharan is one of the foremost thinkers in the local arts community and a leader in some of the most significant arts...

Literary awards and prizes in Singapore


Singapore’s array of literary awards and prizes recognises writers and works of literary merit. The honours are applicable to works in all four official languages of Singapore – English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil – and genres such as poetry and drama. The official recognition of literary achievements serves to encourage...

Paul Tan


Paul Tan Kim Liang (b. 1970–) is a poet and winner of the Singapore Literature Prize in 1993 and 1997 for his collections of poems. ...

Choo Hoey


Choo Hoey (b. 20 October 1934, Palembang, Sumatra, Indonesia–) is the founder and conductor emeritus of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO). He was the SSO’s resident conductor and music director from 1979 to 1996. A master in his field, Choo has gained a reputation for his expert handling of the...

Dick Lee


Lee Peng Boon (b. 1956, Singapore–), popularly known as Dick Lee, is one of Singapore’s best-known personalities in the arts scene. Besides his creative output as a musician, playwright and designer, Lee is also involved in events management and advertising. In addition, Lee sits on the advisory boards of several...

Leong Yoon Pin


Leong Yoon Pin (b. 5 August 1931, Singapore–d. 13 April 2011, Singapore) was a composer, conductor and educator. Described as the doyen of Singapore composers, Leong was well known for his choral compositions, many of which were locally commissioned and performed by both amateur and professional choirs. His compositions were...

Indie music in Singapore


Independent (commonly shortened to “indie”) music encompasses a wide range of musical genres, including rock, pop, metal and folk. Indie music is associated with alternative, non-mainstream productions and forms of distribution. Increasingly, the term “indie music” is also used to refer to musical styles that deviate from the mainstream, popular...

Joavien Ng


Joavien Ng Bong Na (b. 1973, Singapore–) is a dance choreographer whose works have been presented and commissioned by various festivals and performances in Japan, Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, Canada and the United States. Ng has helped pushed the local dance scene beyond mainstream forms towards a multidisciplinary stage. Through...



W!LD RICE is a professional theatre company started in 2000 by actor, playwright and director Ivan Heng. Staging shows in Singapore and abroad, the company brings Singaporean theatre to international audiences and provides a platform for local theatrical talents. W!LD RICE also runs FIRST STAGE!, a programme that aims to...

Desmond Sim


Desmond Sim Kim Jin (b. 1961, Singapore–) is a playwright, poet, short-story writer and painter. He is best known for his short stories and plays that he has penned and staged. His accomplishments include winning the Singapore Literature Prize for Poetry (Merit) for his collection of poems Places Where I’ve...