Renowned cellist Gerald Teo would not be where he is in life today if not for the fact that he decided to, ironically, quit band when he was in Secondary One. “During band practice, a student leader gave me a clarinet and simply told me to blow as hard as I could,” laughs the 36-year-old co-founder of The Teng Company. “I obviously failed to produce a decent sound without any guidance. My lips were even swollen after two hours of trying! That was the first and last time I played a wind instrument. That was also what made me decide to quit.”
This experience, however, led Gerald to join the school’s Chinese orchestra instead. There, he learnt to play the cello, and eventually became so skilled at it that he went on to perform for the People’s Association Youth Chinese Orchestra and the Singapore National Youth Orchestra after completing his secondary school education. Despite his passion for music, Gerald’s early ambitions were the same as those of his generation. Apart from the typical fields such as medicine, law and business, he also considered following in his father’s footsteps and becoming an engineer.
He ended up as a teacher but quit the job after three years to pursue his musical interests. Today, more than 20 years after he first picked up the cello, Gerald is highly accomplished and has performed at high-profile events attended by the Prime Minister and the President.
In 2004, Gerald and his friends competed in the Singapore National Chinese Music Competition under the group name The Teng Ensemble. After they took home the first prize, they went on to establish The Teng Company that same year. The musicians have since brought their esoteric brand of music, which harmonises traditional and contemporary elements, and is highly evocative of nature, to cities such as Melbourne, Shanghai, Seoul, Manila, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. Though he has left the education system for some years, Gerald’s teaching days are far from over. Apart from performing at numerous events every year, The Teng Company also focuses on musical research and education. It currently conducts pre-school music programmes, grades examinations for Chinese music, and offers scholarships for talented young musicians.
“Grooming the younger generation and inspiring others to appreciate our art form is what I love about being an educator. It is very fulfilling to watch your students performing beautiful music on stage and enjoying it in the process,” says Gerald. The company also published QI — An Instrumental Guide to the Chinese Orchestra in August 2005. Gerald pointed out that they would soon be publishing an update and extension of this book, which he believes will be a “game changer” in the industry, not just in Singapore but worldwide.