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.
Khoo was from Penang. He and Herbert had met before and had become
close friends. He often visited Herbert at weekends, and often would
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
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.
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
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