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History of music therapy in Singapore

Music Therapy Milestones in Singapore

This timeline depicts a historical record of events, achievements and significant “firsts” related to music therapy in Singapore. Only those in bold are AMTS events or achievements directly related to AMTS.


• First Malayan music therapist, Louise Cheng, returned to Singapore after completing her studies in music therapy at the University of Kansas, USA.

1980s – 1990s

• Music therapy programmes started at AESN (now APSN)* (Eudora Chiu) and Rainbow Centre (Audrey Ruyters^, in 1991).

• In 1989, first known journal article on music therapy in Singapore[1], authored by Louise Cheng, published in Singapore Journal of Education. • In 1996, May Goh^was awarded scholarship by National Council of Social Services (NCSS) to study music therapy.

• In 1997, first known chapter on music therapy published in a book about special needs in Singapore[2], by Audrey Ruyters-Lim^.

• In 1998, the first music therapy private practice Music Matters (Xueli Tan^) was established.

• In the late 1990s, Audrey Ruyters-Lim^gave a presentation about music therapy to the Psychiatry Department of National University Hospital.

• On November 10, 1999, Xueli Tan^gave the first known public presentation about music therapy, titled Music, Besides Listening … The Use of Music in Music Therapy at the National Library (Stamford Road) for their Wellness @the Courtyard series.


• On May 30, 2002, Xueli Tan^gave a presentation about the Music Therapy Profession to MEP students and teachers at Ministry of Education’s (MOE)Music Elective Program Music Camp.

• At the 10thWorld Congress of Music Therapy 23-28 July 2002, first known Singaporean poster presentation by May Clulee née Goh^and Audrey Ruyters-Lim^: “Incorporating Visual Structure into Music Therapy for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder”, in Oxford, England.

• In 2003, first Singaporean music therapist awarded PhD degree (Dr Patsy Tan^, USA).

• In 2004, first known music therapy workshop presented by May Clulee née Goh^and Audrey Ruyters-Lim^at the 8thWorld Down Syndrome Congress, in Singapore.


• Music therapy programme began at Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA) School (Chen Hsueh-lien^).

• Presentation of first known music therapy research conducted in a Singapore hospital: “Musical Experience of a Pre-Lingual Teenage Cochlear Implant Recipient in Singapore”, by Dr Patsy Tan^at the American Music Therapy Association Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, USA.


• Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) began offering an elective introductory module in music therapy, taught by Ng Wang Feng^, for Music Diploma students.

• Music therapy programme began at St. Andrew’s Autism Centre (Clara Chong^).

• Loi Wei Ming^awarded scholarship by NCSS to study music therapy.

• Xueli Tan^awarded Arthur Flagler Fultz Research Award (largest music therapy research award given out by American Music Therapy Association).


Association for Music Therapy (Singapore) (AMTS) formed on September 19, 2007, with 11 founding members.

• –“Music to the Ears”,first music therapy programme in Southeast Asia for the hearing-impaired was established inSingapore General Hospital (SGH). Dr Kate Gfeller(University of Iowa, USA) was invited as the visiting expert for the launch.

• Music therapy services made available to the following clients populations in institutions:

• Hospitalised children at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) (Melanie Kwan^).

• Patients with burns, heart and lung transplants, and haematological conditions at SGH (Dr Patsy Tan^and Charissa Tan).

• Persons with dementia at Alexandra Hospital (now Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH)) (Melanie Kwan^).

• Palliative care patients at Dover Park Hospice (first intermediate and long-term care (ILTC) institution to offer music therapy services) (Melanie Kwan^).


First public talk in Mandarin by AMTS (Dr Patsy Tan^) at Teochew Poit Ip Huay Kuan (新加坡潮州八邑会馆) as part of public outreach efforts.


• First issue of “Music Therapy Times”, the AMTS annual newsletter circulated to public as part of outreach efforts, published in December 2009 (Dr Patsy Tan^as editor).

• First public talk in Malay by AMTS (Gurpreet Kalsi) at Radin Mas Community Centre.

• First music therapy presentation at MOE’s Art and Music Education Conference (Loi Wei Ming^).

• Music therapy services made available to the following clients populations in institutions:

• Hospitalised women with cancer at KKH through SingHealth “Arts for Health” grant (Melanie Kwan^).

• Thye Hua Kwan Moral Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC) (David Khlentzos).


Inaugural Music Therapy Day (subsequently an annual public outreach event) was graced by Dr. Clive Robbins (USA), a co-founder of Creative Music Therapy approach.

• Publication of first music therapy study on dementia in Singapore[3], in Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, co-authored by Melanie Kwan^.

• Xueli Tan^ awarded Presidential Research Fellowship at University of Iowa (USA).


AMTS becomes a member of the World Federation of Music Therapy (WFMT).

• Inaugural Music Therapy & Healthcare symposium “Global Evidence of Efficacy” with three visiting experts from the USA: Dr Debra Burns, Dr Joanne Loewy, and Dr Deforia Lane presenting on the research foundations that form the evidence base of clinical practice. The symposium was hosted by 4 hospitals (KTPH, KKH, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital).

• Music therapy services made available to the following clients populations in institutions:

• SGH (Neurology ward) (Dr Patsy Tan^ and Christal Chiang).

• Singapore Association for Mental Health* (Germaine Yong).

• Introductory music therapy elective module became a core module for Music Teaching (Diploma) students; and two additional introductory electives were also offered to Music (Degree) students at NAFA.


• “Music and the Special Child – Musically Motivating Developmental Milestones in Special Education and Early Intervention”, the first music therapy symposium with a focus on special education with visiting experts, Dr Katrina McFerran (Australia) and Elizabeth Schwartz (USA).


• First Medical Music Therapy Day, an annual public awareness campaign in hospitals, hosted at a local hospital (KKH).

• Patients at St. Andrew’s Community Hospital (SACH) gained access to music therapy services (Ng Wang Feng^).

• First music therapy presentation at MOE ExCEL (Excellence through Continuous Enterprise & Learning) Fest (Ng Wang Feng^).


First publication documenting the development of the profession in Singapore[4], published in Music and Medicine, co-authored by 8 AMTS members.

• First publication detailing the development and outcomes of medical music therapy services, including research, within a healthcare cluster in Singapore[5], published in Music and Medicine,co-authored by 4 AMTS members.

• First music therapy research collaboration (poster presentation) between an acute medical institution and ILTC facility at the Conference for the International Association of Music and Medicine: “A Study on the Reasons of Music Therapy Referrals by Doctors in Neuro-Rehabilitation Wards in Two Singapore Hospitals: Singapore General Hospital and St. Andrew’s Community Hospital”, presented by Christal Chiang, Dr Patsy Tan^, and Ng Wang Feng^, in Toronto, Canada.

Dr Katrina McFerran (Australia) and Dr Grace Thompson (Australia) as speakers for “Music Therapy, Young People, and Families with Special Needs”, the first music therapy symposium focusing on youth and families.

• Dr Cheryl Dileo, Director of Arts and Quality of Life Research Center at Temple University (USA), was the first music therapy expert to be formally invited as keynote speaker for the Singapore Palliative Care Conference.

AMTS-Lee Foundation Professional Education and Training Development Fund was launched to support training costs for professional and student members.


First Guided Imagery and Music Training in Asia conducted by Dr Denise Grocke, who established the music therapy programme in Australia in 1978, and Carolyn van Dort (Australia).

• Senior citizens supported by AWWA’s Health and Senior Care Services gained access to music therapy services (Chi-Yen Chang).

• Dr Xueli Tan^, first Singaporean awarded Assistant Professor of Music Therapy position (USA).

• First known chapter on music therapy published in an anthology featuring reflections of Singaporeans spanning four generations, who have influenced the arts scene post-independence[6], authored by Ng Wang Feng^.


Inaugural local music therapy conference on Early Intervention and Special Education with pre-and post-conference training by visiting experts, Dr Amelia Oldfield (UK), Dr Petra Kern (USA) & Dr Vicky Abad (Australia).

• Dr Xueli Tan^, first Singaporean to be appointed Editor of Journal of Music Therapy.

• Expansion of music therapy services to more community settings and hospices: • Apex Harmony Lodge (Germaine Yong). • St. Joseph’s Home (Germaine Yong). • Assisi Hospice (Tammy Lim). • Yishun Community Hospital (Dementia ward) (Eta Lauw).


First presentation to MOE Special Education Branch & Principals of Special Schools on the role of music therapy in special education by AMTS representatives.

• AMTS celebrated decade milestone with more than 30 professional members since its formation.

• Patients at Institute for Mental Health-Child Guidance Clinic gained access to music therapy services (Melanie Kwan^).

• AMTS Supervision Fund was launched to support supervision costs for professional members.

• First textbook of music therapy co-edited by Singaporean Dr Xueli Tan^.[7]


The Council of International Music Therapy Advisors (CIMTA) for AMTS was launched in May to provide guidance (projected term: 2018-2020) on the drafting of official AMTS documents for music therapy competencies, curriculum and recommendations for training, code of ethics and standards of practice.They are: • Dr Alicia Ann Clair (USA) • May Clulee née Goh^(Singapore/New Zealand) • Dr Feilin Hsiao (Taiwan/USA) • Loi Wei Ming^ (Singapore/UK) • Dr Katrina McFerran (Australia) • Dr Xueli Tan^ (Singapore/USA/Norway) • Prof Annette Whitehead-Pleaux (USA) • Patients at St. Luke’s Hospital gained access to music therapy services (Isabel Tan).

AMTS was co-organizer of Singapore’s inaugural Grief and Bereavement Conference.

• AMTS Research Initiative, led by Dr Xueli Tan^, formed to facilitate and promote local music therapy research.

• Dr Xueli Tan^, first Singaporean awarded Associate Professor of Music Therapy position (Norway).

First presentation at MOE SPED Conference, “Engaged Learning through Music” by Chow, Eta Lauw, Loi Wei Ming^ and Wang Ruyu.

• First overseas presentation on Singapore Music Therapy and Speech Therapy research, “Efficacy of music for improving language in children with special needs”, co-authored by Loi Wei Ming^, at American Speech–Language–Hearing AssociationConvention in Boston, Massachusetts (USA).

• Publication of first local music therapy assessment tool[8], in International Psychogeriatrics, co-authored by Jane Tan.

• May Clulee née Goh^, first Singaporean to be appointed Peer Reviewer of Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy.


• May Clulee née Goh^, first Singaporean to be appointed Assistant Editor of New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy.

• Dr Xueli Tan^, first Singaporean to be appointed i) Associate Editor of Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, ii) Editor of Music Therapy Perspectives, and iii) to the Advisory Editorial Board of Approaches: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Music Therapy.

N.B. Only institutions that have permanent MT positions have been included, and not project-based/contract work.

  • music therapy services no longer offered
    • information correct as 21 June 2019

^ founding AMTS member [1]Cheng, L. S. (1989). Music therapy in action: A case study of a brain-damaged teenager. Singapore Journal of Education, 10(2), 77-85. [2]Ruyters-Lim, A. (1997). Music therapy. In K. Lyen, E. H.Lee, & J. S. Y. Tham-Toh (Eds.), Rainbow dreams: How to help your child with developmental delay (pp. 266-284). Singapore: Armour. [3]Han, P., Kwan, M., Chen, D., Yusoff, S. Z., Chionh, H. L., Goh, J., & Yap, P. (2010). A controlled naturalistic study on a weekly music therapy and activity program on disruptive and depressive behaviors in dementia. Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, 30(6), 540-546. [4]Kwan, M., Ng, W. F., Chiang, C., Loi, H. M. M., Lee, E., Spears, A., … & Ruyters-Lim, A. (2014). Developing music therapy as a professional allied healthcare discipline: The task ahead for the Association for Music Therapy, Singapore. Music and Medicine, 6(1), 25-30. [5]Tan, L. P. P., Spears, A. M., Kwan, M., &, Chiang, H. L. C. (2014). Music therapy at SingHealth. Music and Medicine, 6(1), 31-39. [6]Ng, W. F. (2015). Being human: Music therapy. In R. F. L. Lee (Ed.), Art hats In Renaissance City: Reflections & aspirations of four generations of art personalities (pp.162-169). Singapore: World Scientific. [7]Whitehead-Pleaux, A., & Tan, X. (Eds.). (2017). Cultural intersections in music therapy: Music, health, and the person. Dallas, TX: Barcelona. [8]Tan, J., Wee, S. L., Yeo, P. S., Choo, J., Ritholz, M., & Yap, P. (2019). A new music therapy engagement scale for persons with dementia. International Psychogeriatrics, 31(1), 49-58.

Current practices in Singapore

Music therapists in Singapore work in acute hospitals, nursing homes, mental health institutes, hospice care, early intervention, special education and private practice.

Music Therapy Research

(MMD) Kwan et al. - Developing Music Therapy in Singapore

(MTP) Lauw, 2016 – When home feels familiar but yet so foreign – The professional readjustment experiences of returning internationally-trained Singaporean music therapists

(MMD) Ng et. al – Using the MOGCLASS in group music therapy with individuals with muscular dystrophy: A pilot study

Dr. Xueli Tan

Music Therapy Training

Not available at the moment

Professional Association Association for Music Therapy (Singapore) AMTS

External Links Facebook - @musictherapysg Instagram - @amtsingapore