The Happy School

HD video with sound

4 minutes

Song adapted from “The Happy School” by Foong Tae Lum

Music rearranged and performed by Uncle Daniel

Cast included alumni of The Happy School, Residents of Bedok-Punggol Reservoir and Tricia Chee

Created with the support of PAssion Arts  


Songs are stories. Embedded in their form are rich narratives, oral histories etched upon the canvas of time. They are a way of discovering, a way of celebrating and a way of reaffirming. In Singapore, most schools have their own individualised school songs. National Day songs are also uniquely commissioned and performed on the special occasion of the nation’s birthday. Songs are agents of time, they take us back, reanimating fragments of the past, evoking and affirming a kind of remembrance. An old school song takes us back. The National Day song, in all its pop cheer, hopes to bring people together.

Chun was keen to explore songwriting and songs as a way of remembering, a casual and slightly perfunctory mode of recording histories, countering institutional methods of remembering which privileged formal practices and sleek finishes. As non-object manifestations, songs were interesting material for the artist to consider, given their enduring presence despite (or because of) their lack of a physical form.

As part of his investigation, he conducted a series of songwriting workshops alongside prominent street busker, Daniel Tan, in a local community centre. While interviewing them about their stories, a nostalgia for the carefree sentiments of their childhood continuously surfaced. Over the course of the workshop, the participants wrote and performed a song that chronicled their time at The Happy School, now a relic of the past. The Happy School was established in 1946, at Geylang, providing free education to the poor living around the vicinity. It was generously supported by the Happy World Amusement Park that assisted in fundraising to construct a two-storey school building.

In the music video that Chun has produced, the backdrops and sets are drawn from the participants’ song lyrics, resurrecting the façade of the school as they remembered. The same stretch at Geylang where the school used to occupy is now considered a red-light district, hinted by the video’s prevailing red tones. Contrasting with the lyrics of a jolly school experience, the visuals that Chun composes is devoid of any sense of rose-tinted sentiment, stripped of schmaltzy. Instead, it feels dark and haunted, taking on a rather otherworldly presence, demonstrating a different dimension to remembering.