One Small Voice: Dennis Lee

Published on 2 August 2016

A regular participant of Singapore’s National Day Parade, Dennis Lee talks about his long affair with the country’s most celebrated annual event.

INTERVIEW BY DAPHNE ONG

I first participated in the National Day Parade (NDP) in 1981. I was a participant with the Singapore Soka Association (SSA) that first time. Thereafter, my involvement in NDP was as a staff member of the SSA — I have taken part in the parade more than 18 times, and in consecutive years since 2005!

Working on such large-scale productions has been quite a learning experience. Every NDP is a good opportunity for each person to bring forth and display his or her innate potential. Each time, we experience what unity is all about when we witness multiple groups of people working together with one common purpose — to create the best show.

On top of getting to work in the parade every year, there are so many amazing people I have collaborated with over the years, including creative director Dick Lee, costume designer Yang Derong, choreographers Zaini Tahir and Samantha Kan, just to name a few.

The most memorable year of my NDP involvement was 2012. We were managing a contingent of 640 participants, each with a live pyro torch in hand. The fiery pyro would ignite in front of them, and we saw how each participant overcame their fear to put up a most spectacular and memorable item. They all displayed strong unity and took great care to avoid accidentally firing off their pyro at the wrong time. The participants also had to face other challenges, such as synchronising their timing during each rehearsal and show.

For more than 30 years, we have had so many participants in our NDP items, some have even participated more than 15 or 20 times. It is quite common to find SSA members who have participated in the NDP an average of five to eight times.

What keeps us going every year? It’s the common belief and common goal that we at SSA share. Moreover, we have a good mentor to guide us — Dr Daisaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International; he is a humanistic philosopher, peacebuilder, educator, author
and poet.

When I think about what inspires SSA to take part every year, I feel that at the most fundamental level, it is our wish to contribute towards building a humanistic nation through gratitude and appreciation. I believe that is how each participant feels as well.

On my part, I am grateful to be able to live in such a peaceful country, Singapore, which we call home. We are also honoured and thankful to the NDP committee for the trust they have placed in SSA, and for inviting us year after year to contribute to the parade.

The NDP is always a celebration of our peaceful independence. Therefore, it is a show by the people, for the people of Singapore. It is an expression to the world of how we enjoy living in such a peaceful country.

DENNIS LEE is currently the division director of programme and community relations for the Singapore Soka Association, a Buddhist non-profit organisation established to promote understanding and practice of Buddhism. Prior to his current appointment, Lee served as the Association’s director of arts and culture community programme for more than 23 years until October 2015.

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