Professor Tan Sooi Beng

sooibeng   Professor(VK6) [Music Dept.]

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  • 1990 Ph.D.(Music), Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
  • 1980 MA (Music), Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, USA
  • 1978 BA (Music) with Distinction in All Subjects, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA


  • 2004 - 2018 Professor of Ethnomusicology, School of the Arts, USM
  • 2016 - 2021 Executive Board Member of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM), UNESCO NGO.
  • 2018 - 2019 Program Chair, 45th ICTM World Conference, Bangkok, Chulalongkorn University, July 2019.
  • 2017 - 2020 Executive Board of the Asia Pacific Society for Ethnomusicology (APSE).
  • 2017 - 2019 Advisory Board, Research Project, Cultures of Occupation in Countries of Southeast Asia, Nottingham University, UK.
  • 2018 - 2020 Senior Advisor, Research Project, Site and Space in Southeast Asia, University of Sydney, Australia.
  • 2011 - 2016 Editorial Board, Ethnomusicology, Journal for the Society of Ethnomusicology, USA
  • 2011 - 2018 Advisory Editorial Board, Asian Music, USA.
  • 2017 - 2019 Editorial Board, SEMEO-SPAFA, Bangkok.
  • 2002 - 2018 Editor, Wacana Seni, Journal of Arts Discourse, School of Arts, USM.



Tan has taught courses on non-Western music including the Music of Malaysia, Theory in Ethnomusicology, World Music, Gamelan Ensemble and Research Methods at USM. She has 8 Ph.D and 14 MA students from Malaysia, Japan and Indonesia under her supervision. They have worked on topics ranging from the music of the indigenous people, popular music, educational methodologies for teaching music in the schools, community theatre and Malay, Chinese and Indian performing arts.



  • 2014-2018 Peranakan Chinese Performing and Visual Arts of Penang: Cultural Adaptations from the Malay, Thai, Indonesian and European communities (Research University Grant RUI, USM 20015-20016)
  • 2015-2017 Documentation of the Potehi Puppet Theatre of Penang (External grant from George Town World Heritage Incorporation 2015-2016)
  • 2014 -2015 Puppet Theatre “Potehi” in Southeast Asia: Moving People, Adaptation, Conflict and Creativity, Asian Public Intellectuals (API) Collaborative Grant; Co-Researcher, Project headed by Dr. Kaori Fushiki, Tokyo together with other researchers from Indonesia, Taipei and Singapore.
  • 2009-2013 Steering Committee, Sustainable futures for Music Cultures, Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia.
  • 2011 “Articulating Modernity on Popular Music of Southeast Asia”, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, Leiden,
  • 2007-2011 “Documenting and Packaging the Multicultural Traditions of Penang: Piloting Creative Ways to Promote Cultural Tourism That is Sustainable”, Geran Universiti Penyelidikan, USM, 2007-2011.
  • 2009-2010 The US Ambassador's Award for the “Preservation of Bangsawan, a Traditional Malay Performing Art”, The US department of State Overseas Federal Assistance Awards.
  • 2008-2009 “Community Theatre for Social Change: A Documentation of its Development, Approaches, Methods and Achievements”, The Nippon Foundation Fellowships for Asian Public Intellectuals (API Fellowships Program), 2008-2009.



Tan has published 11 books, 2 monographs and numerous articles on the multicultural performing arts and music of Southeast Asia. The significant ones include:

  • 2017 The Music of Malaysia, The Classical, Folk and Syncretic Traditions (co-author Patricia Matusky), 2nd edition, SOAS Musicology Series,London and New York: Routledge.
  • 2017 The Potehi Glove Puppet Theatre of Penang: An Evolving Heritage (co-authored), Penang: George Town World Heritage Incorporated.
  • 2017 “Malay Women Singers of Colonial Malaya, Voicing Alternative Gender Identity and Modernity”, in Vamping the Stage, Female Voices of Asian
  • Modernities (Music and Performing Arts of Asia and the Pacific, Edited by Andrew Weintraub and Bart Barendregt, Honolulu, Universiti of Hawaii Press.
  • 2016 "Performing Community, Identity and Change; the Chinese Dragon Leaps to the Beat, In Mohd Anis Md Nor and Kendra Stepputat (editors), Sounding the Dance,
  • Moving the Music, Choreomusicological Perspectives of Maritime Southeast
  • Asian Performing Arts, SOAS Musicology Series, London and New York: Routledge.
  • 2016 “Cosmopolitan Identities: Evolving musical cultures of the Straits-born Chinese of pre-World War II Malaya”, in special issue -- Emergent Soundscapes: musical pasts, transnationalism and multiple identities (co-editor Nancy Yunhwa Rao), Ethnomusicology Forum 26/1.
  • 2016 Emergent Soundscapes: musical pasts, transnationalism and multiple identities (co-editor Nancy Yunhwa Rao), special issue, Ethnomusicology Forum 26/1.
  • 2015 Cultural Engagement and Ownership through Participatory Approaches in Applied Ethnomusicology, in Svanibor Pettan and Jeff Todd Titon, The Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology, New York, Oxford University Press.
  • 2013 Longing for the Past: the 78 RPM Era in Southeast Asia (Dust-to Digital 2013, co-authored, Edited by David Murray)
  • 1993 Bangsawan: A Social and Stylistic History of Popular Malay Opera. Singapore: Oxford University Press, First Edition.




The Society of Ethnomusicology (USA) Bruno Nettl Prize (joint award) for Longing for the Past: the 78 RPM Era in Southeast Asia (Dust-to Digital 2013, co-authored, Edited by David Murray)


Fellowship on “Articulating Modernity on Popular Music of Southeast Asia”, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, Leiden.


The US Ambassador's Award for the “Preservation of Bangsawan, a Traditional Malay Performing Art”, the US Department of State.


“Community Theatre in Asia”, the Nippon Foundation Fellowships for Asian Public Intellectuals.


Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Faculty of Arts, Monash University.

l994 - l995

Commonwealth Academic Staff Fellowship at School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.


Jaap Kunst Prize for Outstanding Student Paper published in Ethnomusicology.



  1. Performance of George Town Heboh – Streets Alive, Community Theatre by Young People, Lebuh Acheh, and Town Hall, in Conjunction with George Town Festival, 7 July 2012.
  2. Performance of Ceritera Carnavon Street,  Community Theatre by Young People, in Conjunction with the Greening of Georgetown by Think City and the Penang Municipal Council, Carnavon Street, 29 January 2011.
  3. Performance of River Meets Ligh’, in conjunction with World River Day, Community Theatre,  Sungei Pinang Lorong Kulit, March 12, 2011 and George Town Festival,  7 July 2011.
  4. CIMB Bank Community Link Award for Community Theatre Project and performance of Opera Pasar at Lebuh Carnovon, George Town, 2008.
  5. HSBC in the Arts Award for Community Theatre Project and performances of  Ronggeng Merdeka, at community spaces in Armenian Street, Balik Pulau, Air Itam and Butterworth, 2007.


  1. Member of Curating Team, Heritage Celebrations and Intriguing Instruments, George Town Festival, Penang, 2011-2013.
  2. Panel of Judges, Central Judging of Instrumental Ensembles, Singapore Youth Festival,  2009-2013.
    Panel of Jury, Taiji Traditional Music Award, China Conservatory and Taiji Foundation, Beijing,
    October 23-26, 2012.


  • Public Lectures, HKAC Art Shop Inspiration Series and the Lingnan University 50th Anniversary Inter-Disciplinary Lecture Series on Culture and Society, Hong Kong 26-30 March, 2018.
  • Plenary Speaker for Panel on Traditional Arts and Regionalism, International Conference on the Performing and Visual Arts, Cultural Centre, Universiti Malaya, January 9-11, 2018.
  • "Towards a Humane Activist Approach in the Study of Music and the Performing Arts", 2nd International Music and Performing Arts Conference (IMPAC2016)22-24 November, 2016, Empowering Society: Transdisciplinary Research in the Performing Arts.
  • "Building Sustainability through Community Engagement, Education and Diversity", 1st International Music and Performing Arts Conference (IMPAC2014)
  • Forum on ‘Music, Mediation, and Environment’ National Taiwan University, Taipei, 4-6 May 2012.
  • Universiti Putra Colloquium on Music Research, ‘Music and Mind’, May 30 to Jun 1 2013.
  • 3rd International Conference on the Performing Arts as Creative Industries in Asia (PACIA), ‘New Territories and Old Traditions’, 26-28 June 2013.
  • ‘Pop Nasyid in Malaysia: Islam, Modernity and Globalization’, Symposium of the International Musicological Society, organized by the Musicological Society of Australia, International Association for the Study of Popular Music and the International Council for Traditional Music, 11-16 July 2004.


  • Musics Matter! Ethnomusicology and its Socio-political Relevance Today, University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna, 28-30 September, 2017.
  • Recording Industry 78-s Era, National Taiwan University, 27-28 November. 2017.
  • Revitalizing Traditions, Community Engagement, and Sustainability at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Paper presented at the Asian Wings Leaders Summit for Higher Education in Arts, Taipei National University of the Arts, 19-21 Dec. 2016.
  • Sustaining Musical Cultures in Malaysia: The Roles and Strategies of the Cultural Researcher, Roudtable organizer and panelist, 4th Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia (PASEA), Cititel, Penang, 31 July-6 August 2016.
  • ICTM Colloquium on the Plucked lutes of the Silk Road, Shanghai Conservatory, 19-23 October, 2016, Roundtable panelist on "Confluences and Contrasts in the Performance Practices, Aesthetics and Contexts for the Plucked lutes of the Silk Road".
  • "Building Cultural Sustainability at the Unesco World Heritage Site of George Town", Roundtable panel on the ICTM quadrennial report to UNESCO on activities related to safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, and discussion on further prospects', ICTM World Conference, 14-23 July, 2015, Astana, Kazakhstan.



Musical director and composer of community street theatre for young people. Tan runs and directs advocacy workshops for children and USM students. Based on research with communities in George Town, the young people create their own music and plays, which culminate in street performances for the diverse communities. Selected performances include Wayang Potehi, 2017, Wayang Chulia (2015).'Ko-Tai Penang' “Kisah Pulau Pinang” (2010, 2017),“Opera Pasar” (2008), "Ronggeng Merdeka" (2007).

2005-2017. Panel of Judges, Singapore Youth Festival, Instrumental Ensembles, Ministry of Education, Singapore Conference Hall, The Singapore Republic Polytechnic Theatre and The School of the Arts (SOTA).

2015-2017. Penang State Museum Board of Directors.


  1. Curator of Exhibition on Bangsawan: Staging Modernity, Petronas Gallery, Petronas Twin Towers, 17 April - 8 June, 2003.


  1. Member of Editorial Board of Ethnomusicology (Society of Ethnomusicology), USA.
  2. Member of Editorial Board of Asian Music (NY, USA).
  3. Member of Editorial Board of the Ethnomusicology Forum (United Kingdom).
  4. Member of Editorial Board of Tirai Panggung (Universiti Malaya, KL).
  5. Liaison Officer for Malaysia, International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM).
  6. National Representative for Malaysia, RILM, USA.
  7. Member of the Advisory Board of the International Music Trust Fund, Europe.
  8. Editor-in-Chief, Wacana Seni, Journal of Arts Discourse.
  9. Member of Advisory Board, Penang Museum.


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