Lalitha Vaithiyanathan

One can be born talented but it takes the right type of environment to nurture and perfect that talent into a craft worthy of accolades. An example of one such talented person is none other than Mdm Lalitha Vaithianathan.
She is the lady maestro who brought the Singapore Indian Orchestra to great heights. She helmed the Orchestra and Choir as its conductor for almost three decades, making a profound impact in the local musical arena.
Mdm Lalitha was exposed to the music field at a very young age by her mother who was a good vocalist. Mdm Lalitha’s mother was very instrumental in nurturing the musical talents of all her six children. Her 2 older sisters took up Bharatanaatyam while another 2 sisters were vocalists and her brother played the Miruthangam. However, early exposure to quality musicians who thought out of the box led to Mdm Lalitha learning Western music while her other siblings went the route of classical Indian karnatic music.
While the cultural needs were taken care by the mother, their father who had been working for St.Joseph’s Institution as a head clerk, made sure the children were academically strong as well. His admiration for the teaching profession inspired all of his children to become teachers in turn. Mdm Lalitha served in the teaching profession in Catholic Junior College as its chemistry lecturer from 1975 till 2000, a career spanning 27 years. Her world evolved around her passion to teach and learn and constantly challenged herself to break away from the status quo. 


“For the first time, we competed in the National Music Competition in 1979 and we won first place.”

Mdm Lalitha’s contribution to the Singapore music scene was indeed notable. Her mother’s unconditional support to their neighborly radio station at the then Kirk terrace, where she helped to compare, sing etc, must have been an inspiration to Mdm Lalitha herself. She was an ideal role model for the women of her time - balancing family life, career and her passion for music. After the demise of her mother in 1975, the birth of her kids in 1982 & 1983 and her father falling ill in 1983, she used to have Orchestra rehearsals in her home in Hertford Road to accommodate her various roles as a mother, daughter, wife and head of the orchestra. Her ability to multi-task and manage gave her the edge, not forgetting her ever supportive husband and children who have been her pillars of strength. 


“I am one of the first to introduce inter-ethnic music here.”


As her responsibilities and commitments to family increased, she had a tough time juggling her Orchestral responsibilities with that of work & family. Her open mindedness in looking at issues out of the box prompted her to experiment with fusion music. She was one who never regretted her choices despite failure or even when faced with criticisms from fans and news reporters. She took them in stride and continued to push the boundaries. She never gave in nor gave up because of what anyone said. She believed in what she did and had a gift of producing notable compositions. As an educator she believed in life – long education and strongly advocated for the re-training of her orchestra members. Uniting all the members who had joined with different levels of abilities and styles was an uphill task but she was able to bring out the best in each of them. Her tenure in the orchestra enabled her to work with many celebrities like Dr Sidney and Dick Lee to quote a few. She also feels extremely proud to have had performed in many renowned concerts, getting a standing ovation and putting up sell out, full house performances. Indeed, what more can an artiste ask for!

“I did not know where the path would take me but I wanted to reach the top.”

Her countless contributions go a long way, from forming the orchestra to acquiring instruments and performance scores and training the members to meet the required standards. None of this could have been possible, if not for her tenacity, perseverance and initiative. She went out of her way to take bold decisions in looking for composers who suited her needs and never let financial constraints derail her plans.  Her administrative capabilities enabled her to plan and execute her shows with timely funding. She also ventured out to partner with various orchestras to do concerts. She collaborated with the National Symphony Orchestra which had a flavor for both Western & Chinese music. Her participation in many music festivals earned her the reputation of being one of the first to introduce inter-ethnic music here in Singapore. She was never afraid to try new things and remained unfazed by obstacles. She created new compositions by mixing different styles and doing re-arrangements of the music scores. She believed in innovation and looked forward to the challenges in the process. She has taken her troupe to 12 countries around the world including places like Malaysia, India, Sweden, Mexico and Thailand.

“A professional, a female conductor, housewife, mother - I think when I look back I feel happy as a woman.”

When passion is ignited from within, the achievements are infinite. Mdm Lalitha is an exemplary model. She followed her heart and through her passion and enthusiasm brought Indian orchestral music to new heights. She is still looking to outdo her past as she mulls over the grand event as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the orchestra given also the special significance of this being the golden jubilee celebration of Singapore. 50Faces wishes Mdm Lalitha all the best as we also look forward to another signature performance from her troupe. 


A dedication to the pioneers in the Indian community.

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