Do you know that SCDF has its own band?
Formed in 2002, the SCDF Combo band has been providing music performances at major events such as the SCDF Pride and Care Day Ceremony, Singapore-Global Firefighters & Paramedics Challenge (SGFPC), at the Home Team Festival and at various awards ceremonies. In 2009, the combo band was revamped and the name updated as the Music and Performing Arts Club (MPAC) to aptly reflect the members’ love and passion for music and performance.
Senior Warrant Officer (SWO1) John Curren
Leading the band is Senior Warrant Officer (SWO1) John Curren from the National Service Training Centre (NSTC) at Civil Defence Academy (CDA). SWO1 John was seconded from the Singapore Armed Forces in 1993 and subsequently transferred his service to SCDF in 1996. Throughout his career, SWO1 John has served as the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) training rescuers, and as Deputy Platoon Commander supervising platoon training in the Basic Rescue Training Branch.
Since the formation of the Combo band two decades ago, SWO1 John has been an active member and contributed greatly to the band’s success. As the current manager of MPAC, he oversees the recruitment and training of talents, as well as ensuring high-quality performances by the MPAC at events.
Rescue 995 spoke to SWO1 John in this exclusive interview as he shares his experiences of being part of MPAC.
Rescue 995: Share with us about the Combo Band which you were actively participating from 2002 to 2009. How did the concept of the band come about and what was its purpose?
SWO1 John: It all started with one person who wanted to put together a band of musically talented career officers with strong passion for music, to perform at SCDF events and ceremonies. He was none other than our former Commissioner (Comr) James Tan. The Combo Band started off initially by providing music entertainment during events such as the Rota Commander Course Graduation Dining-in Ceremony and various other awards ceremonies, and slowly expanded to performing at more events as it gained popularity and support from within SCDF.
The SCDF Combo band singing a joint medley with the Police band. The SCDF Combo band members are in long orange sleeves while the police band members are in black jackets.
Rescue 995: How many members were there in the beginning and who was leading the band?
SWO1 John: When the combo band first started, there were only about 8 to 10 members who were mostly career officers from various units and fire stations. Our band leader then was Captain (CPT) Jaffar Wahid.
Rescue 995: What was your role in the Combo Band back then?
SWO1 John: I was a singer, singing evergreen songs. I also assisted with recruiting musical talents for the Combo band.
Rescue 995: What events did the Combo Band perform for, and which ones were the more memorable ones that sticks with you up till today?
SWO1 John: We performed mostly at SCDF Appreciation Dinners and Award Ceremonies. The most memorable performance for me was the performance at a market area near Nee Soon East Community Centre where we were invited by former Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs, Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee. During our performance, we attracted a large crowd of ‘heart landers’ and they thoroughly enjoyed our music.
SWO1 John (first row second from right) with Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee (first row third from the right), Former Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Home Affairs, CPT Jaffar Wahid (first row first from right) and Deputy Commissioner (DC) Ling Young Ern (back row first on the left).
Rescue 995: Given your vocation at SCDF then, and your commitment in the band, how did you manage your time at work and performing for the band?
SWO1 John: Band practices and rehearsals for performances were mostly held after office hours at SCDF Headquarters. Back then, I was fortunate to have very supportive colleagues and supervisors who would allow me to leave my workplace earlier so that I could spend the next few hours of the day rehearsing with the band members the songs and performances for upcoming events.
Rescue 995: We learned that successful local artists such as Fauzi and Aliff Aziz were once part of the band. How was it like working with them and in what way did they also contribute to the band’s overall success?
SWO1 John: Fauzi joined in the early years of the Combo Band while Aliff Aziz joined after MPAC was established. Both had immense talent and were recruited into the band upon their enlistment into the SCDF. Although they were celebrities then, they remained humble and professional, focusing on team success and achievements. Moreover, the SCDF Combo band and MPAC provided them a platform to continue honing their singing and performing skills while serving their National Service with SCDF.
Rescue 995: What do you miss most about being part of the band?
SWO1 John: I truly miss singing evergreen songs with the old-timers, who have since retired. Whenever I hear those songs, it will bring back fond memories and wonderful moments that I enjoyed with my friends and colleagues.
Rescue 995: What happened to the band after 2009?
SWO1 John: After former Comr James Tan and CPT Jaffar Wahid retired, the band’s concept was revamped to also include Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) and they now form the main bulk of members supporting MPAC. In 2009, the MPAC was inaugurated with strong support from former Director of National Service Training Institute (NSTI), Colonel (COL) Ng Chee Kiang. Organising band rehearsals became easier and more efficient with the opening of the Music and Dance Studio in NSTI.
The band under MPAC performing at the Home Team Festival in May 2017
Rescue 995: We hear that you briefly led the SCDF Combo band before the inauguration of the MPAC in 2009. Share with us your experience leading the band in its transition from Combo band to the establishment of the MPAC.
SWO1 John: To be honest, I was very apprehensive about taking over the Combo Band at first because I had no professional training in music. However, our Deputy Commissioner (DC) Ling Young Ern, who was a pianist with the band then, encouraged me to helm the band so that we can keep the music alive. Unlike the SCDF Combo band which was made up of mostly career officers, MPAC required me to adopt a more “fatherly figure” approach to guide and nurture the NSFs. One challenge we faced was when our talents had to leave the band when they reached their Operational Ready Date (ORD). This resulted in a perpetual cycle of having to source for new talents and renewing the band’s repertoire to ensure MPAC’s succession, which requires a lot of time, determination, and effort.
Rescue 995: How has the band evolved under your leadership?
SWO1 John: It’s been 12 years so far and I have only had wonderful memories with the talents in MPAC. I must give special mention to my colleague “Maisya” (singer in the MPAC) who has been through thick and thin with me all these years. NSF talents are a vibrant lot, and they are constantly evolving and renewing themselves so the music platform never becomes old and dated. Moving forward, we are planning to revamp the MPAC framework to give it a formal structure and to explore more ways to recognise and acknowledge every member’s contribution to the band.
SWO1 John (standing in the middle) and his band members after a music performance
Rescue 995: What do you enjoy most about being the band leader in MPAC from 2009 till now?
SWO1 John: What I enjoy most is the camaraderie, dedication, and teamwork of the band. Everyone in the band knows that it takes the contributions of every member in the band to make MPAC work. I am extremely grateful to all the talents that have served MPAC, and they deserve most of the credits in bringing MPAC to where we are today.
MPAC receiving a token of appreciation from Mr Pang Kin Keong, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) after performing at an MHA lunch party
Rescue 995: What were some of the memorable performances for MPAC?
SWO1 John: We received a request from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to play for the Sultan of Brunei and his family who were visiting Singapore in 2014. It was a last-minute request where we only had 2 days to prepare, but we managed to pull it off and deliver a wonderful performance in the end. The royal family enjoyed it and even complimented our performance. That was truly a proud moment for all of us in the MPAC family!
Rescue 995: Last but not least, if an officer wants to join the band, what are the criteria and requirements?
SWO1 John: All are welcome to join the band as singers and performers. All you need is a strong passion in singing and commitment to the band. Sometimes, we invite officers to join us as sessional singers for one or two special performances. Apart from performances, we may also work with other officers who are involved in special events or projects such as during the production of SCDF Workplan music videos and songs.