By: Mdm Hong Hua Tuan
(Mrs Ong Kah Kok)
The Telok Ayer Church Hokkien Choir was born after Dr John Sung's evangelistic meetings in 1935. It was at this time too that the Minister of TA Church, the Rev. Hong Han Keng, had finally found the man who could start the church choir. He was Herbert P. C. Wu, the younger brother of Madam Goh Cheng Leng, the interpreter at Dr Sung's meetings. His elder brother, known to all of us in the church as Goh-Sian-Si (i.e. Mr. Goh), had been a member of the church for along time and so was his family.
The church leaders, Chng Che Cheng, Lim Un Tien and Kho Khoon Yan were greatly pleased at Herbert Wu’s appointment as the Choir Director.
Herbert Wu had recently come from China to work in Singapore, leaving his family behind. Having been offered a room for which he could rent had certainly relieved him of his problem of looking for a place to live. So he moved in to room 1 in the church building. Here he met Liew Choe Hoon who had, months earlier, moved in to room 3.
There were altogether 5 rooms being rented out, and they were all next door to the Parsonage on level 3 of the building.
David Khoo was from Penang. He and Herbert had met before and had become close friends. He often visited Herbert at weekends, and often would sleep over.
David was a great help to the choir. In fact, he was the pianist initially and even tried to give us lessons in sight-reading.
The Choir practice was held on Saturday evenings. On the first night, attendance was surprisingly very good. Amongst the Sopranos were:
Su-Lan Hua Kiok
Kim Chwee Hua Tuan
Chong Toh Teck Kim Kee
Soo Guat Geok Joo
Phang Hoe Chi Toh Yan Neo
Amonst the Altos were:
Lim Geok Kheng
Amongst the Tenors were:
Yap Chin Choon
Yap Huat Thuan
Lim Ng Leng
Tan Boon Yan
And amonst the Basses were
Liew Choe Hoon
Ong Say Cheong
Hong Tiong Eng
Soh Teow Seng
Everybody seemed to know everyone! After introducing himself, Herbert then introduced David Khoo as the pianist and Liew Choe Hoon his assistant.
Hand printed copies of “O Lord How Manifold” were then distributed – and so began our first choir rehearsal with David as the pianist. – but Hua Teck took over as the pianist later on.
We sang mainly in English as most members were English school students. But we also sang in Hokkien as we could read the romanised Hokkien Hymnals. We practiced singing Hymns! And more Hymns! As we were told to lead the congregation in singing.
Liew Choe Hoon was a man of a few words – But he was a man of action! He was our constant provider of music sheets and song sheets. He would painstakingly draw the music score, copy the music, the words, and finally cyclostyled and print the sheets. It was a laborious job! And messy too! There was no copying machine then.
But it was a labour of love. He used his own funds to pay for all the materials that were used. I later learned that it was he who had planned and paid for the choir stalls in the sanctuary. It was his passion for music that had made him do what he had done!
Liew produced good clear song sheets and we depended a great deal on his song sheets. We sang “Count Your Blessings” in Hokkien from the song sheets as it was not found in our Hymnal.
After many months of singing from the song sheets, the church finally bought us Anthem Books!
The choir had come a long way and doing well! In the meantime some members had left. New members came in. They were Lily Loh, Eva Loh, Soh Lay Tin, Hong Hua Ngoh, Hong Hua Khim, Geok Kiaw Chi and A-Khio amongst the ladies and amonst the men were Teo Kok Thuan, Anthony Khoo, Tay Tiong Thiam, Bobby Chan, Tio Seng Chin, Teng Ping Ming, Goh Peck Suan, Harry Fang and Teng Peng Lam.
Since 1937, we had lots of people coming from China. Amonst them was Teng Ping Ming who had come to teach at the Tao Nan Chinese School in Coleman Street. He was a good Tenor. From the Yap family from China came Yap Un Han, Bass and Yap Un Pho, Tenor
At this time the TA Choir was at its peak – with good strong voices all round. Then copies of the Messiah were purchased. And we covered most of the choruses in the Messiah.
In Sept 1939 the T. A . Choir was invited by Dr. H. B. Amstutz of Wesley Church in Fort Canning to sing at its evening service. When Dr Amstutz was pastor of Wesley church, he had arranged for the evening service of the first Sunday of every month to be broadcasted.
So when The TA Choir went to Wesley church that first Sunday of Sept 1939, the choir was on the air, singing “And the glory of the Lord” from the Messiah. It was a new experience for us. What a glorious event!
The came the war. The choir stopped all practices. Liew Choe Hoon had moved away from the church. Other members to had moved away from their homes to live elsewhere. But they all came back to attend the Sunday Service.
During the war many of our church members came to find refuge in the church. Many members from other churches also came to find refuge here.
One Sunday, when the service was going on, the siren rang! The service went on while the congregation knelt and prayed. Suddenly there was a thunderous bang! The church building had been hit!
When the service was over, we learnt that a bomb shrapnel had hit the church building, causing 2 of the 4 plates handing on the pulpit wall to fall. But no one was hurt! All because the Japanese had planted 2 big guns on the roof top of the church building.
In 1946 Herbert bought a house in Still Road in preparation for the arrival of his wife and family from China. The Choir now had 2 additions in Goh Yee Sian and Goh Yee Bee, both Sopranos. At this time a good number of members had left.
Liew Choe Hoon continued to produce more song sheets. This time he produced “The Heavens Are Telling” from “The Creation” by Hayden. This number was well received! And the choir sung it with great gusto!
Liew Choe Hoon got married in 1948. But he remained an ardent member of the TA Church Choir.
The 1950s saw Singapore in turbulent times! But most of the members had remained in the choir and Herbert Wu still led the choir every Sunday in spite of the havoc around. I remember singing my parting number with the choir, “Worthy is the Lamb” from Messiah. I’m glad I grew up with the choir under such fine leadership in Herbert Wu and Liew Choe Hoon!