It was with more than a tinge of sadness that I read the news that Sembawang Music Centre (SMC) would be closing down. Like Beethoven Record House, Sing Music, Tower Records and Today's Music (the little shop at Bukit Timah Plaza) before it, another music retailer in Singapore has bitten the dust, forced out by falling music sales and higher rentals.
I fondly remember SMC's first flagship at the then-unglamourous Sembawang Shopping Centre, then located in the vicinity of duck and fishing ponds (the nearest landmarks were Khatib Camp and Chong Pang Food centre), where the friendly mustachioed face of its proprietor Dave Boo would greet his customers. For classical music, SMC was not a Beethoven or Sing, but it actually tried.
At my first visit in 1991 or 1992, I had bought a Delos CD of Korngold and Ives Piano Trios, not exactly common garden classics . Later, Dave Boo would bring in the entire Chandos catalogue, each CD retailing at just $21. Here, I had my fill of Tippett, Alwyn, Walton and Neeme Jarvi recordings. For Dave, it wasn't just about good business, but about trying to cater to customers' tastes, and sometimes expanding it. Was he naive to have ordered all the rosetted and three star recordings from the Penguin Guide to Classical Recordings, many which would be left unsold? Maybe, but every visit to SMC would mean a hundred or more dollars spent but much listening pleasure.
I remember also getting him to order CDs for the Singapore Symphony Chorus: 40 recordings of Hindemith's When Lilacs Last At The Dooryard Bloom'd (the Robert Shaw recording on Telarc). No problem, Dave Boo delivered them all, and more. He also made a donation for the SSC's a cappella concert and its tour to Penang in 1993. There is an advertisement in the programme booklet, which proudly proclaimed SMC's motto: "Where Music and Good Friends Meet".
When I last visited Sembawang Shopping Centre, now an upgraded modern facility indistinguishable from many such newbies, SMC was no more. I asked a salesgirl at a neighbouring DVD shop about where it had gone, her reply was that she had never heard of SMC. Sad. Where has our history and collective memory gone? SMC, Dave Boo and their iconic shopping bag, sporting images of Cosette (Les Miserables) and Herbert von Karajan, a symbol of Dave's eclectic taste in music, will not be easily forgotten. Till music and good friends meet again.