SINGAPORE - Pioneer musician Alexander S. Abisheganaden, perhaps the most important guitarist in Singapore history, died peacefully at St Luke’s Hospital on Friday, aged 97.
He is survived by his wife Eileen Wong, 93 and his two children, singer and actress Jacintha, 65, and Peter, 63.
News of the passing of the “father of the guitar” was greeted by a chorus of eulogies on social media.
Jazz pianist, singer and composer Jeremy Monteiro said on his Facebook page: “Singapore has lost one of its most important musicians, national treasures and Cultural Medallion recipients.”
Theatre educator and director of Intercultural Theatre Institute Thirunalan Sasitharan quoted Shakespeare’s Hamlet on Facebook, “Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest,” adding: “Good night, Uncle Alex.”
Born into an Indian Lutheran family of nine children in Singapore in 1926, Abisheganaden’s illustrious career as musician, composer and educator was kickstarted by the singing of hymns and Christian songs.
He made his debut on stage as a singer in New World amusement park in Jalan Besar at just six years old, before teaching himself to play the guitar – the instrument that would make his name – at 15.
During the Japanese Occupation, it was this instrument that saved him, allowing him to play in an Indian orchestra for the Azad-Hind radio station.
His singing talents also prompted the Japanese to enlist him to sing Japanese folk and propaganda songs over the radio, a service which made sure his family was kept in relative safety.
Post-war, he became first a teacher, the principal of several primary schools, then the Inspector of Schools at the Ministry of Education, all while playing double bass for the Singapore Junior Symphony Orchestra, which had agreed to loan him the instrument if he paid for his own formal lessons.
A project initiated by the Ministry of Education in the early 1970s established him as a classical guitar maestro: To keep teenagers away from the use of recreational drugs, then Minister for Education Goh keng Swee got Mr Abisheganaden to teach classical guitar on television.
The resulting 26-episode television programme titled Music Making With The Guitar raised the profile of classical guitar in Singapore imme...