SSO Ladies' League – The Early Years
After many years living in the Middle East, my husband John was posted to Hong Kong where he was, at last, able to fulfil his passion for music. He was quickly asked to become a committee member for the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, while I joined the Ladies Committee. These two positions were a wonderful way to meet so many other like-minded people, who quickly became friends.
On our arrival in Singapore news of John’s talents had gone before him. No sooner than he was in situ Dr Goh Keng Swee invited John to sit on the newly formed Singapore Symphony Orchestra committee. (No one ever said “no” to Dr Goh!) After several meetings John came home and asked me if I had any good ideas how the all-male team could raise funds. Without thinking I replied, “Form a ladies committee!” and promptly forgot about this matter. After the very next meeting John triumphantly returned home saying he had put forward my suggestion, which had been unanimously carried, and here was a list of ladies who might be interested.
This ladies’ coffee morning I shall never forget! Being new to Singapore society I asked everyone on the list provided, unaware that there were marked divisions among several of the ladies present. Unwittingly I had invited the wife and mistress of a prominent citizen at the same time! It was that morning I saw the skill of the Singaporean ladies in defusing what could have been a disastrous event.
Quickly, friends of each party steered their lady into separate areas of our home or garden so neither saw the other and I, as the hostess, was oblivious to what could have ruined the Ladies Committee before it had begun! It was several days later I was told about the feud between the two ladies.
Happily, with my abject apologies for not doing my homework, a very strong group of friends was formed and the ladies committee was born. The first task Dr Goh set for us was to restore the pipe organ in the Victoria Memorial Hall. This had been badly damaged throughout the Second World War, with pipes stolen as trophies, corrosion, dirt, woodwork and leather straps rotting in the damp atmosphere, and even rats nesting in the vast structure of this once mighty instrument.
Organist Margaret Chen came to our rescue with her extensive knowledge of the intricate working of this king of instruments, ably assisted by my husband. It was Margaret who steered us to engaging the Klais Family of internationally renowned organ builders, which was quickly approved by the main committee. It was then left to the ladies to raise the funds needed.
Here again I learnt an enormous lesson from my Singaporean colleagues – how to convince family and friends, business owners and professional companies that they really wanted to help us restore the city’s now decaying pipe organ! This task was completed by the ladies committee in record time, so other tasks were added. These included repairs to the Concert Hall roof, insurance for the musicians’ instruments, upgrading the string section with finer instruments, refurbishing the recreation area for the orchestra, enhancing the hall with flowers and modernising the ladies public facilities. Once that was accomplished, Margaret asked us to consider broadening our horizon to include introducing musical appreciation for schools, which has grown and grown.
I send my sincerest congratulations to the ladies committee for their vital support and skill in making the Singapore Symphony Orchestra a leading member on the international stage.