Monday, 2 November 2009

Fond Memories of Sembawang Music Centre

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.


Kelvin Lim said...

Delivering good music at an unmatchable value... It would sorely be missed by all.

Steven said...

There was a classical cd shop near khatib camp? I spent 2 years of NS and 5 years of reservice there and never knew!

So is the entire SMC chain closed or just that flagship store? Its so terrible that we can no longer purchase classical cds from retail stores in singapore any more (not that the other stores stock many classical cds).

Vincent4Wang said...

The market for CD sale shrank considerablely recent years, not to mention the 'niche' classical market. Not only Singapore but the entire world. It is sad to see most people dun mind sacrifice quality for convenience. (Same like CD replacing LP?). SACD, probably the last 'mainstream' physical music carrier, barely surviving.
With a collection of around 1500 CDs, I foresee the day when CD or even SACD vanish from market in a not so distant future. By then, would the digital download/streaming service/system be ready for the reproducing quality required by classical music? Who knows, but no doubt now is the best time ever for collecting CD/SACD. And live music is always the best, at least from the fidelity view.