Fox is simply amazed that Mindef will reject a request for an NS deferment from an exceptionally musically talented born and bred Singaporean but foreigners under the Foreign Talent Scheme who are under 27 (the cut-off age for NS) and take up Singaporean citizenship
May 15, 2006Teen talent's bid for deferment to pursue music studies rejected
Top US school wants him but he can't defer NSBy Maria Almenoar
ONE of the few Singaporeans ever offered a prestigious music scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in the United States, may have to pass up the opportunity of a lifetime.
Violinist Ike See, 17, has applied to the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) a second time to postpone his two-year national service stint and pursue his dream of being a top musician.
Said the son of a pastor and a retired teacher: 'I understand that serving my nation is important and I will do so eventually, but this is a dream and an opportunity of a lifetime.'
In an e-mail statement yesterday Mindef said: 'Mr Ike See was earlier not successful in his application for deferment. His family has recently put in an appeal and the appeal is currently under consideration.'So far, it is understood only two other Singaporeans have attended the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia - violinists Siow Lee Chin and Kam Ning.
All students who are accepted to the school receive a scholarship which covers their tuition fees, totalling about US$28,500 (S$44,000) a year for four years.
The youngest of four children, Ike started playing the violin when he was 3 1/2 years old.
His first music performance was in kindergarten.
Said his mother, Mrs I.S. See, 55: 'We were more nervous than him. Despite his music teacher telling him he wasn't ready, he approached his kindergarten teacher and just went on stage and played.'
When he was 10, he took his first music examination, skipping the first seven grades and aceing the final grade in the violin.
By 14, he had obtained six music diplomas, all with distinctions. He has also bagged the National Violin Champion prize in three categories.A former Raffles Institution student, Ike practises three to four hours a day and puts in another one to two hours on the piano - his other favourite activity. He is a member of the Singapore Youth Orchestra and became its concert master - the leader of the orchestra - in 2004.
Said Ike, who also enjoys reading and playing tennis: 'I didn't have as much free time as other teenagers but because I love playing the violin, it wasn't much of a sacrifice to me.'
Having applied to six music schools in the US, Ike decided not to continue his studies under the Raffles Programme where he would qualify for Raffles Junior College and pursue his A levels next year.
He spent the early part of the year preparing for auditions and a month auditioning in the US.
He was also accepted by other prestigious schools like Juilliard, the Peabody Conservatory of Music and the New England Conservatory, but he was ecstatic to receive a call from the Curtis Institute's president, Mr Gary Graffman.
Ike did not pass the auditions for Curtis two years ago, when he applied in Secondary 3.
Earlier this year, he applied again and after two rounds of auditions was one of the 44 students accepted for the term starting in September.
In an e-mail reply, Curtis Institute dean Bob Fitzpatrick, who saw Ike's auditions earlier this year, said: 'He brilliantly played excerpts of the Glazunov Violin Concerto and two movements of a Bach solo sonata with great flair, confidence and musicianship.'
As a former student of the Integrated Programme, Ike did not take O levels last year.
Said Mrs See: 'Of course, I'm worried about him. After all, he has no academic certificates except his PSLE, but this is what he wants to pursue and we support his decision.'
For Ike, paper qualifications mean nothing if he is not allowed to pursue his first love of music.
Said Ike: 'I'm hopeful I will get the deferment but if after appealing as many times as I can, I'm still rejected, one option is to finish my NS first and then reapply to Curtis.
'But who knows what my level of skills will be then and whether they will accept me?
are exempted from NS. The sheer hypocrisy of the system.
This raises the question: are local talents less valued than foreign talents in Singapore? Fox suspects so. In fact, given cases like these, he finds the claim by the Singaporean government, that the overwhelming presence of foreign 'talents' is necessary to make up for the dearth of local talents, to be somewhat dubious. Perhaps, Fox will discuss the issue of foreign talent some other time and why he thinks that local talents may not be properly developed and utilised in Singapore.
In any case, Fox advocates that Ike See be exempted from national service given his exceptional talent. Yes, that's right - exempted. Anything extraordinary about that, apart from Ike See's musical talent? Not really. After all, the ex-foreigners in Singapore's national football team were also exempted from NS on account of their footballing abilities despite the fact that they qualify for NS in terms of their age. Realistically speaking, forcibly confining an individual of Ike's gift to Singapore is waste of talent. Drafting him into a combat unit does little good to the country's defence and may even harm Ike's prospect especially if he were to break his arm/fingers; even if he were to enter the MDC, he would be just deprived of the necessary musical coaching and training that he needs to develop his gift.
Rather than the normal NS, perhaps an alternative NS can be made for Ike See. For example, rather than serve 24 months of NS continuously, he could be made to do 2 months of national service - like public performances and music workshops to train other musicians- in Singapore every year until he clears his 24 months. To be fair, Ike See should probably not expect to be paid professional rates while he does his NS.
Singapore has precious few world-beaters. Ike See certainly possesses the potential to be one in music. Fox can only hope that good sense will prevail and that the government will recognise that Ike See is an exceptional talent and warrants exceptional treatment.