Keat Hwa Band's Path To Excellence

By Iylia De Silva

September 2023 FEATURE
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Tang Chia Hoe

LET’S TAKE A nostalgic journey back to my school days, a time when bustling classrooms were alive with the enchanting melodies of trumpets, clarinets, flutes and drums...

These melodic currents possessed an irresistible charm, drawing my gaze to the rehearsals taking place on the field. As a devoted Keat Hwa student, I yearned to be part of the ensemble—I wanted to play the clarinet. Regrettably, due to my lack of discipline and a twist of fate, I ended up being assigned to play drums instead, while others got to realise their musical aspirations.

At the heart of this awe-inspiring school band lies a visionary conductor, Tang Chia Hoe, a former electronic keyboard player turned band conductor. From the moment Tang joined the band as a student in his senior years, he fell under the spell of the instruments’ organic sounds, a stark contrast from the electronic melodies he was accustomed to. Immersing himself wholeheartedly in practice, he left an indelible impression that compelled his coach to foster his potential. To lead the entire team effectively, he had to master every instrument. Thus began his profound passion for live music, ultimately leading him to start coaching in 1991.

Over the years, under Tang’s expert guidance, the Keat Hwa marching band underwent a metamorphosis —evolving from a conventional concert band into a world-class marching ensemble. Their performances soared to unparalleled heights, marked by an imaginative fusion of customised costumes, choreography and music, each carefully crafted to encapsulate their chosen themes.

Fast forward to 2016, Tang found himself steering Keat Hwa’s school band. He led them to claim the prestigious World Championship of Marching Show Band (WCMSB) awarded by the World Association of Marching Show Band (WAMSB).[1] The composition he weaved was a unique tapestry inspired by the saga of Bruce Lee, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Tang is a one-man crusade, meticulously planning the coordination of every aspect: music, choreography and composition. His dedication not only sculpts the overarching theme but orchestrates the coordination, resulting in a captivating symphony that blends skill and artistry.

Picture this scene: The Keat Hwa school band takes the stage and the audience is instantly captured by the vibrant fusion of Chinese-themed melodies that echo Bruce Lee’s childhood memories in Foshan, China. As the performance progresses, the tempo shifts, mirroring Bruce Lee’s move to Hong Kong, where he fell in love with the infectious beats of the cha-cha, skillfully incorporated into the band’s repertoire.

But the symphony doesn’t stop there. The music gradually decelerates, portraying the sorrow accompanying Bruce’s departure for the US to pursue his dreams. Yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the rhythm picks up again, reflecting his triumphant success as a Hollywood star. The audience is enraptured, traversing through a musical odyssey that sings the life story of the martial arts legend.

The Malaysia World Band Competition (MWBC) & Malaysia National Band Competition (NATCOM) 2022, photo by Laser Production.

These exceptional performances have also put in accolades like the esteemed Sadler Golden Shield Award from the John Philip Sousa’s Foundation —an international prize recognising high school, youth and international marching bands of world-class excellence.[2] These triumphs stand as a testament to the maestro’s dedication and the entire band’s diligent efforts.

Tang’s description of their championship victory paints a poignant picture – a moment etched forever in his memory, made even more significant by the inclusion of his own son in the team. Coaches from far corners of the globe celebrated their success, united by their mutual passion. Parents, headmasters and students converged, which elevated the celebration to an unforgettable crescendo. It was indeed a proud moment as they competed against strong and impressive opponents like Taiwan and Indonesia.

With coaching experience spanning three decades, the journey undertaken by this mentor extends far beyond the realm of music; it encompasses the nurturing of young minds. His pursuit of perfect synchronisation and expressive movement underscores students’ need to internalise emotions. One of his guiding principles is that the symphony of hard work and unwavering determination should harmonise with the essential lesson of embracing constructive criticism and mastering emotional control.

The road to success is, however, not without its share of challenges. Insufficient instruments and the post-pandemic struggle of student recruitment tested the Keat Hwa band’s resilience. Yet, as their journey continues, Tang remains unshaken in his belief that perseverance and hard work will drive them toward greater victories. With the band’s recent accomplishment as first runner-up in the Malaysia World Band Competition (MWBC) and Malaysia National Band Competition (NATCOMP) Street Parade Competition in 2022, along with the band’s upcoming 60th anniversary, Tang envisions an encore performance on a grand scale.

Apart from his role as a consultant, Tang currently provides training to educators within the Daya Music Education Alliance in China.

The story of this school marching band is not just one of melodies and harmonies. It is a tale of passion, persistence and unity—resonating through time, inspiring generations to march to the beat of their dreams.


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Iylia De Silva

is a law graduate from the University of London. Balancing work and play, she savours every moment by indulging in her passion for food, languages, music and engaging with people from diverse cultures.