Maarten Bauer: Eramus Experience in Singapore

8 februari 2023

There is always a wide spectrum of reasons that brings a student to pick his exchange location, it can be a teacher, a dream city or in the case of Maarten the vicinity of his ancestral Indonesian culture.

Maarten is a composition student spending the year in Singapore attending the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YST). This small school, with roughly 200 students, is the perfect place for musicians who like to learn in-depth an instrument in a competitive environment. It offers to students a lot of classes and exams and weekly recitals, making it an extraordinary place for many people’s ideal ERASMUS experience.

The Gamelan and the Indonesian roots
Although his family had to flee Indonesia because of their vicinity with

Western (Dutch) culture, Maarten held tight to his traditions and used Singapore as a star base for his explorative trips to Bali, Indonesia and Java. During his time as a student at YST he could partake in Gamelan classes, a traditional percussion instrument significantly spread throughout the Southeast Asian region. The ancient melodies, the instrument’s sonorities, and the close way of making music with a group were his preferred tools to reconnect with his Indonesian roots.

The 3 hours a week of gamelan classes have been the centre of his activities and made up for some difficulties Maarten experienced.

Social life in Singapore is hard. Almost everybody is participating in Singapore’s competitive ‘I wanna be number one’ culture. Therefore, work and studying are strongly prioritised over social activities. As an exchanger, it can be hard to find some social distraction, because most Singaporean students have strong obligations towards their families and friend groups leaving little space for newcomers. Nevertheless, Maarten found some nice musician friends to have dinner with in a huge food court and go out for some cooling ice cream. ‘’My gamelan classes were my social activity in which we just played music together and had a laugh at how ridiculously difficult some music was.’’

Art in Singapore
Maarten explains that Singapore’s art scene is still on its way to becoming as vivid as in European countries. Most art is seen as a symbol of wealth and status or as a means to portray a national identity. Contemporary music in Singapore is hard. People generally prefer Mozart and composers born after 1900 are believed to be too avant-garde and too dissonant to program in concert halls. ‘’I often felt a kind of disgust experienced by people, even fellow musicians, in Singapore when talking about contemporary music or telling that I am a composer. Often they would denounce contemporary music as too experimental even before they heard a single note.’’ Luckily, apart from the few concert halls, there is a small underground scene. For instance, after widely asking, Maarten could find some interesting multidisciplinary events near the area of the museums in Marina Bay. The scene has some potential, but culturally Singapore must still develop more depth and respect for the arts. With the extremely high cost of living, only an orchestra job will pay enough to afford the high rents and food prices or you need to write popular classical music that supports the government’s agenda; as for an independent artist, unfortunately, it’s hard to have enough opportunities to make a stable living.

Back in The Hague
"I am extremely grateful to have received the opportunity to come to Singapore and experience living and studying on this small, but oh-so rich island. However, if you ask me if I want to stay longer, I have to confess that I am glad to leave Singapore because I will live in Bali for two months. Indonesia is where a part of me is from, where my heart and soul are happy because of my personal connections and the rich culture.’’ Once Maarten will be back in the Netherlands, he will quickly make up for all those shortcomings and finally get back to the “everyday surprising” Dutch weather, to his friends and family, or perhaps to his new Gamelan band, and to cooking some new Indonesian recipe in the occasion of a rehearsal with friends. Because, after all, in every trip or experience we have, there is always something that we can bring home, and what Maarten told me about his perspective on making music as a group, was very nice and meaningful:

“You don’t need to be a musician to make music, you just need people to play their parts, and the hard part won’t be to play the music, but to be with so many people together”
“Music is being together, talking through the music. Bringing good food to the gathering and jumping in and out the rehearsal. No rehearsing just spending time making music”.
Maarten Bauer