Performance issues: Bach’s Chaconne, Partita no. 2 BWV 1004, solo violin

(To listen to the interpretation closest to my personal musical ideal, scroll down to the video of Gidon Kremer.)

The Chaconne, after almost three hundred years (since 1723), remains one of the greatest works ever written for solo violin. It is thought to have been composed in mourning after the death of Bach’s wife; the opening section, played in a suitable manner, can sound very much like one weeping in sorrow, complete with the sniffing and choking of the giant chords. The protagonist stops crying for a while and goes on to brood at great length and depth on the tragedy, his musical utterances expounding sublime beauty of body and character even in death, and suffering periodic relapses of sorrowful outbursts (the distribution of intensities possibly conforming to some power law of nature).

The temporary switch to the major key in the middle of the piece is often described simply as a kind of respite from the depressing mood of the rest of it. That may be true, but I do not think this description does it full justice. I think it goes deeper: it is a reminiscence of the wonderful time spent in each other’s company in life, made so much more beautifully poignant by the ever-present chromaticism.

Such is the narrative and sound world I have conceived for my own playing of the Chaconne, helped in no small way by insights gained from performances of diverse character given by the great violinists of the world. I will mention some of the ones I found remarkable (Heifetz, Kuijken, Kremer, Gitlis), along with my personal opinions. The discourse will focus on larger-scale musical form and take a brief excursion into how acoustics can affect the music; for a rigorous monograph of the gory bar-by-bar details of technical challenges of the Chaconne and how different editors and performers have dealt with them, the attention of the reader is drawn to the doctoral dissertation by Carmelo de los Santos at the University of Georgia.

We start with Jascha Heifetz, whose performance is widely regarded as one of the reference interpretations of the Chaconne. It is the epitome of the romantic bravura style with luscious vibrato and big slides to high notes. Few other players pull off this style as spontaneously as Heifetz.

Jascha Heifetz

Additional insights into Heifetz’s Chaconne can also be had from a video of a Heifetz masterclass, where he emphasizes to the student the importance of bringing out the melody in the chords, something prone to neglect when one is caught up getting the notes to play clearly and in tune.

Three-dimensional mountains

Heifetz’s rendition has great authority in the community, but there is one aspect of it where I do prefer alternative interpretations. You may be surprised that it has little to do with his romantic style per se, which I think is one of the various musically legitimate ways of playing Bach in our era, although I don’t play that way myself. My main complaint is more basic: essentially that it stays almost uniformly loud and dramatic throughout, causing the mind to be gradually desensitized to the diverse and more subtle nuances of the music.

Although the melody does come forth clearly even in the chordal sections, because of the constant loudness it lacks the ‘third-dimensional’ contour. You can think of it as a flat landscape with a small hill or two here and there, versus a Himalayan mountain range. You can trace a convoluted and geometrically pleasing path on a flat surface but it remains two-dimensional, but it is a different matter (and perhaps more exciting) traversing deep river gorges and ice cliffs. One can imagine that a vast flat desert stretching as far as the eye can see can be equally awe-inspiring, but one might prefer mountains, especially when the notes of this particular work are themselves in constant undulation spanning the low and high registers of the violin.

Bach Chaconne Partita BWV 1004 first line score multiple stopping violin

(Reproduced from the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe, available at IMSLP)

Take the first 8 bars (above) for example, where the melody is in the top line. Heifetz himself shapes it a bit more than the student in his masterclass; in the student version there is no discernible emotional high point at the top B flat in bar 7 besides the fact that it reaches the maximum pitch, and Heifetz doesn’t complain about it. Perhaps it could be argued that the pitch itself does the job and there is no need to make it go louder or slower, but I feel that pitch, dynamics and tempo could be synergized into a potent expressive force. One must of course guard against overdoing it and losing the momentum of the music, especially as it has only just begun. The word for it is understated, defined in the dictionary as ‘presented or expressed in a subtle and effective way’.

Intonation and temperament

Having less to do with interpretation and more related to technique is that many of Heifetz’s notes are out of tune. Not catastrophically so, but with sufficient frequency and amplitude that it gets distracting. This is exacerbated by the abundance of chords and arpeggiation, where intonation is especially important. The violin, as an instrument that allows the player to adjust pitch in infinitely small gradations, offers the possibility of playing pure-sounding intervals in which the frequency ratio between two notes is a rational number and the pitches exactly coincide with those in the harmonic spectrum, in contrast to the slightly less pure-sounding equal temperament (found on modern keyboard instruments for example) where the notes within an octave are snapped to equidistant intervals. Heifetz is out of tune even with respect to equal temperament; I just think that there is so much potential for the music have more of the sonorous quality by nailing those rational ratios in many more of the chords and arpeggios, certainly not a very tall order for one of Heifetz’s calibre. Accurate intonation in a solo violin piece also helps the listener to mentally reconstruct the harmonic structure when there is only a single line of notes. For all these criticisms, I do play much worse than Heifetz.

Baroque interpretation

We move on to the performance of Sigiswald Kuijken, an example of the ‘original’ version performed with a Baroque violin in Baroque style that is rarely listened to nowadays. It is truer to the dance that is the Chaconne, and less intense yet deeply contemplative and ethereal. I have no complaint about Kuijken; his interpretation is distinct from mine, but he convinces me. Presumably there are others who would say the opposite with Kuijken versus Heifetz. The bottom line is probably that it is a matter of individual musical taste; I admit I’m biased.

Sigiswald Kuijken

Gidon Kremer, my favourite, masterfully adapts Baroque musical form and elegance to the incisive and powerful timbre of the modern violin in an interpretation that is intense at times and ethereal at others, getting quite close to the narrative proposed in the beginning. Surprisingly, Kremer’s recording is hardly ever mentioned in online forums discussing the best versions of the Chaconne, while Heifetz usually appears at or near the top of the list.

Nevertheless, there are numerous details of articulation, dynamics, rubato and other parameters that I would play differently from Kremer, and I might even play them differently at different times. These details are often subtle and interdependent and are best conveyed by the universal language of music itself, assuming that I ever play it well enough to make a convincing recording. The more important thing is that a given performance flows—evolves—musically and emotionally from beginning to end.

Gidon Kremer

Acoustics and architecture

This particular performance, at the church of St. Nikolaus in Lockenhaus (see German-language documentary about its conception), is also a positive example of the critical but often neglected role of the acoustics and architecture of the music-making venue. I will digress a little bit here but will subsequently explain how this is specifically relevant to Bach’s works for solo instruments.

The sound of the violin or any other non-electrically amplified instrument for that matter is not a product of the instrument in isolation; it is a product of the instrument interacting with the room it is played in. One of the most fundamental considerations is reverberation, which is a function of room size, surface reflectivity, instrument loudness, note length and other variables. Play fast notes in a small room with overly reflective walls, and multiple sounds bounce around uncontrollably in a resounding but unintelligible mess. Put a single violin in a large hall covered with absorbent curtains, and even a fortissimo gets snuffed out of existence the moment it is played. But if one finds just the right conditions, one can create a sound that is clearly articulated yet sonorous.

I have found from my own experience of a room with an optimal combination of parameter values that contrary to what people say about the reverberation covering up your mistakes, it doesn’t necessarily do so, even with the fastest demisemiquaver passages in the Chaconne with a reverberation of two or three seconds. The secret is in the loudness, not the length, of the reverberation: there are combinations of room size and reflectivity where the reverberation is long enough to feel good but soft enough not to interfere with articulation. You can still hear those mistakes clearly, and it actually makes it more obvious when you’re out of tune, and therefore encourages more accurate intonation, because adjacent notes overlap just the right amount and the ear is able to superimpose them for comparison. Indeed, for Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo instruments, this overlap has another positive musical effect: it helps pseudoharmonize the music that has a predominantly monophonic texture. Of course, the optimal room size and reflectivity change with the average volume of the instrument and with the number of instruments.

What about architecture? When there is visual stimulus that complements the auditory, the performance envelopes the consciousness more completely and makes for a more fulfilling experience. It does not have to be opulent baroque architecture; it can be glass and concrete, but it has to be inspiring in design. A concert stage with curtains in the background, for example, may have highly justifiable practical acoustical rationale but does not come across as inspiring architecture to me. But it doesn’t mean that a good design cannot be dead simple. A bare concrete room with a few simple pieces of hanging art nicely spotlighted, for example, can feel infinitely profound; the idea is to create synergy, not distraction.

Computer programming

Back to the music itself, there is an article in The Strad where Ida Haendel shares her views on interpreting the Chaconne. One of her suggestions is to never slow down for the purpose of accommodating difficult notes. Sure, if you can handle it, but I think it is acceptable within reasonable bounds if it remains musically coherent. In fact, sometimes slowing it down makes it both easier and more dramatic, as can happen at large cadences with chords spanning all four strings. For an amateur like me, it makes the difference between a bad-sounding, out-of-tune performance (or giving up the piece altogether) and a performance that still sounds good and musical and inspires people. The thing to remember is not to keep doing the same thing throughout the piece—no matter how musical the individual instance, relentless repetition would make the emergent musical structure robotic, like looping or matrix algebra in a computer programme.

Haendel offers good reasons for minimizing embellishment, but my main argument for minimization is more closely related to the mood of the Chaconne in particular, rather than to more general arguments about Baroque performance practice. Simply, if we hear the Chaconne as a sad and tragic piece, then one wouldn’t have the desire to add trills and hula hoop turns all over the place. One of the instances in which this is most starkly demonstrated is the perfect cadence right at the end (below): in the video above, Kremer plays it without a trill (although he used to trill it in recordings made earlier in life), imparting a sinking feeling of finality, driving it ‘right into the ground’ as Haendel describes her take on the ending. Adding a trill won’t make it frivolous, but it does lighten it a bit, and this might work well depending on one’s overall conception of the music. I do it without the trill.

Bach Chaconne Partita BWV 1004 score ending violin

I play the final cadence without a trill.

There is hardly right or wrong; it is more important for one to come up with an interpretation that one believes in and has a powerful urge to convey to the audience. Even then, I don’t think I can please everyone; there will always be someone who doesn’t like it, and this is what ultimately makes music beautiful and timeless. I will leave you with one more performance worth listening to, by Ivry Gitlis. Although out of tune like Heifetz, its idiosyncratic and rugged ‘mountainous’ soundscape make up for it. In his words (quoted on his Wikipedia page), “don’t be so polite with the music, it’s like in love!”

Ivry Gitlis

Bach on the Biggest: the real BWV 565

A review of J. S. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue BWV 565 played by Robert Elmore on the largest organ in the world (also see Wikipedia article) as recorded on Bach on the Biggest.

As one would expect of anyone given command of such huge forces, Robert Elmore has no qualms about drawing the 32-foot (and probably 64-foot) artillery and legions of higher registers—the depth and power is visceral, way beyond even that of Notre Dame, St. Paul’s or Passau. You are starting to imagine an enormous blob of sound devoid of any structure whatsoever, but nothing could be further from the truth. The antidote is in the articulation. Deciding which consecutuve notes to join smoothly or separate with a momentary break is a fine art, especially in organ music, whose characteristic ‘equilibrium’ tones make articulation even more crucial for the transmission of the musical message. Elmore does a spectacular job that draws inspiration from but transcends Baroque articulation tactics, imparting to the music a great deal of momentum from beginning to end. I have heard players fudge up the rhythm and pulse of polyphonic Bach on much smaller organs by drawing too many fat stops and failing to articulate with the utmost discipline, to the point that the notes are all but indiscernible, so Elmore gets double credits not letting that happen even at such high power settings.

Most players regulate their tempo quite cautiously according to Baroque performance practice, with restrained rubato at the few ‘legal’ spots. Not Elmore. When it is time to make a statement, Elmore liberally slows time down to make it; when it gets to the virtuosic runs he floors the accelerator and takes the listener on a roller coaster ride, at times a runaway roller coaster. At those speeds, one begins to perceive the emergent and magnificent large-scale shape and form of the passage rather than the individual notes which one can nevertheless hear are dexterously fingered. The listener is swept away by a hurricane, rather than having to psychologically drag the music behind him as is often the case when the music is played note-by-note like an etude. This instrument is big but certainly no pushover (pun intended) when it comes to agility. The acrobatics this monster is capable of are truly impressive.

Velocity per se is one thing; acceleration and deceleration—change of speed—heighten the excitement even further. Just like the adrenaline rush of a jetliner accelerating down the runway to takeoff speed, it is the speeding up and slowing down of music that heralds impending emotional regime change. Marry this with the immaculate articulation described above, and this performance of BWV 565 comes alive like an improvisation, not a precomposed work.

One of the most famous photographs (of 9 of the 33,114 pipes) of the world’s largest organ (the man is holding a pipe). Image linked from

Baroque performance practice brings forth the spirit of the music as conceived by the composer in the cultural circumstances of the time, but another hallmark of great music is its amenity to interpretation over the ages. Although the author deeply appreciates Bach on period instruments with period performance practice, music making is not all about conforming to stylistic convention all the time; it is about communicating to the audience and making them feel your way and go away with memories of a beautiful and coherent work of art. Elmore, too, brings out the best of the instrument on hand. That instrument is the biggest in the world, and it sounds as if it is the biggest in the world. Furthermore, it sings with that extra piquancy and spice because the pipes are slightly out of tune with one another—I call it a probabilistic temperament. There is another time and place for the exquisite Baroque sound.

BWV 565 turns up so frequently in all kinds of multimedia that I usually cringe when I hear it, but this performance had the opposite effect. The 565 is arguably about drama and grandeur, and Elmore doesn’t attempt to subdue it with a veil of Baroque elegance. Bach would be amazed or horrified, but certainly not unmoved, if he walked in.

Other recordings of the organ: 1 | 2

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Other resources by the author

Singapore’s oldest organ
Singapore’s only Danish organ
image gallery of organs around the world

Singapore’s answer to Notre Dame de Paris

Bevington and Sons 1912 organ of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Singapore

The great organ in the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Singapore, before it closed for major reconstruction in 2013. Photo: Yangchen Lin

This article is dedicated to Robert Navaratnam and Alphonsus Chern, without whom it would not have been possible, and through whose kindness and passion for their art I partook in many unforgettable experiences.

The text below is adapted from my 2005 paper in The Organ magazine, with additional photography and links to multimedia, about the organs of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in Singapore. As back issues of magazines are generally difficult to find, I decided to make my writing available online to let more people know about this very special instrument.

* * *

The ‘Singaporean organ’

[text from The Organ 334:8--10 with edits and updates]

Singapore is a small tropical island state with only eleven functional pipe organs. Like the cosmopolitan population, however, these instruments constitute diverse styles. Despite having been a British Crown Colony until 1959, Singapore boasts not only English but also German and Danish instruments with romantic, neo-baroque and eclectic tonal concepts. Welch (1988) provided a brief account of most of the organs in Singapore; see also my complete survey of organs in Singapore in 2005 (go to p. 4 if your browser fails to auto-scroll). In the present article, the organs of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd are examined for their architectural and musical significance.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd bevington navaratnam organ facade ruckpositiv Singapore

The decorative Rückpositiv added by Robert Navaratnam. Part of the original Bevington & Sons (1912) façade is visible behind. Photo: Yangchen Lin

The organ in the west gallery stands out in several respects. Although the Klais installation of 2002 in the Esplanade concert hall (McVicker 2003) might be considered the ‘industry standard’, the cathedral instrument possesses artistic traits that are less conventional. Welch (1988) suspected that the organ was the Cavaillé-Coll orgue de choeur exported to Singapore (Eschbach 2003), but cathedral records subsequently revealed that the organ was built in 1912 by Bevington & Sons of London. The non-extant Cavaillé-Coll instrument has been traced to the French missionary church of Saints Peter and Paul.

Asymmetry is a key aesthetic element of the façade that is not seen elsewhere in Singapore. Only the symmetric central section, typical of organs of the period, is Bevington’s work. The left and right sections of the façade were constructed by Robert Navaratnam, the sole organ builder in Singapore and titular organist at the Cathedral, using the limited resource of pipes that could be salvaged from the war-looted Hill, Norman & Beard (1931) organ in the Victoria Memorial Hall (Singapore). These sections accommodate stops added by him in the 1990s. Navaratnam served his apprenticeship at Emil Hammer (Hemmingen); German influence can be found in the decorative ‘Rückpositiv’ and the tonal modifications discussed later.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Navaratnam organ pedal bass flute Laukhuff

Tuning scroll on the Pedal Bass Flute 8 (Laukhuff replacement). Photo: Yangchen Lin

Although the manuals and pedals have been replaced, the Cavaillé-Coll-style reversed console is original and unique in Singapore. [The original Bevington manuals had been replaced with those from Victoria Memorial Hall. Subsequent to this article, they were again replaced due to wear and tear.] Due to collapsed lead tubing, the Bevington tubular pneumatic action has been converted to electro-pneumatic and direct electric action (see Jonathan Tan’s article for details). Navaratnam was responsible for reviving the organ from its unplayable state in the 1970s to the lively musical instrument of today.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Organ electro-pneumatic action Robert Navaratnam

Robert Navaratnam fixing a cipher in the direct electric action of the Trumpet 8 the pipes of which are hidden behind the Krummhorn 8 also on direct electric action. Photo: Yangchen Lin

Expectedly, an abundance of unison tone and lack of harmonic corroboration is observed in the Bevington specification. The ‘principal chorus’ on the Swell is softer but brighter than that on the Great because the Open Diapason possesses a fuller tone than the quasi-diapason obtained by drawing both the Gedeckt and Geigen on the Swell. Contrary to usual practice is the employment by Bevington of the Cornopean as the only reed where a Trumpet or Oboe would have been generally deemed more appropriate. In this case, however, the hornlike Cornopean blends more readily with the flues in the absence of mixtures.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Navaratnam organ stop list

Disposition as of 2005, compiled by Yangchen Lin from interviews and historical documents. Reproduced from the magazine article.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Navaratnam organ stops

Physical layout of the stops as of 2005. Diagram: Yangchen Lin, reproduced from the magazine article.

The manual divisions and Bourdon 16 are fed by two reservoirs arranged in series, the second acting as a booster and backup. Bevington pipework stands on the original Kegellade while the newer pipes are planted on unit chests. Flutes alternate with strings to minimise acoustic interference. Pitch layout in the Swell is opposite to that in the Great, with the more acute stops situated at the front. This reduces the risk of the Swell upperwork being excessively attenuated by enclosure and the position of the swell box at the back of the chamber. However, the brightness of the German Cymbel and mutations allows for their placement in a rearward extension of the swell box. The opposing pitch layouts of the Great and Swell may also account partly for the abovementioned brightness of the Swell ‘principal chorus’ compared to the Great.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington organ rohrquinte swell organ

Old Klais pipes of the Rohrquinte 1 1/3 in the Swell extension. Photo: Yangchen Lin

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd organ Mixture IV Navaratnam

a close-up of the small and bright Mixture IV (old Klais pipes). Photo: Yangchen Lin

With the stops added by Navaratnam, the organ is one of the most versatile in Singapore. Solo possibilities are increased by the Krummhorn and the quint and tierce mutations all of which are gifts from Klais Orgelbau. The two octave-quint mixtures transform the romantic chorus into a neo-baroque plenum for the benefit of repertoire and modern-day congregational singing. One of the stops rescued from the Victoria Memorial Hall is the Bombarde 16 [originally named Trombone, being less assertive within the larger instrument there] which substantially reinforces the weak pedal department. This stop, originally on 10″ of wind, has been refitted with thinner Laukhuff tongues. [Subsequent to this article, the ageing Bombarde was replaced with all-Laukhuff pipework.] Despite the support of a pedal reed, however, a Principal 16 is needed to produce the true Gravität so prized by J. S. Bach.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington organ pedal bombarde pipes

The Pedal chamber dominated by the Bombarde 16 (lighted) which has since been replaced with new Laukhuff pipes (three of which can be discerned towards the left, being shinier and of smaller diameter giving rise to a brighter complement of harmonics). Bourdon 16 at upper right; Bass Flute 8 behind the Bombarde and just inside the façade. In the extreme foreground is the Mixture IV of the Great division. Photo: Yangchen Lin

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington organ pedal Bombarde 16 resonator

Resonators of the old Bombarde 16. Photo: Yangchen Lin

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Navaratnam organ reed Bombarde 16

Bombarde 16: block, tuning wire, wedge, shallot and weighted tongue. Photo: Yangchen Lin

The coexistence of pipes from several schools (see disposition) results in a spicy, unblending tonal structure that may not appeal to some organists. However, in order to appreciate such a tonal structure, one only needs to consider the robust and dramatic sound of the symphony orchestra whose components were never ‘voiced’ to blend together. Anton Bruckner, whose monumental symphonies are based on organ textures, relied on the contrasts between orchestral instruments to promulgate musical ideas. Notwithstanding the tonal disjunction, the Bevington portion comprising the oldest playing pipes in Singapore can be heard in its original state except the Cornopean stolen during the war and the Swell Gedeckt 8 whose cork stoppers have disintegrated and been replaced with metal caps. The present Möller Cornopean, donated by The Diapason contributing editor Robert Coleberd, is the only specimen of the American Classic style in Singapore.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington Swell organ

The Swell box with shutters visible at upper left and a glimpse of the pipes of the Great division behind them. The quaint mitred resonators of the Cornopean can be distinguished. Photo: Yangchen Lin

Complementing the main instrument is a choir organ built in 1994 in the north transept. The case is the only complete example of Navaratnam’s work. Werkprinzip elements are present in the façade in the form of Brustwerk, Oberwerk and diminutive ‘pedal towers’. These, however, do not reflect the internal layout. Reminiscent of mediæval organs are the flat placement of pipes and the arrangement of pipe mouths in horizontal lines. The case has a triangular roof and stands on four stilts, much resembling the traditional kampong (village) houses found along the rural coasts of Southeast Asia. This scheme saves space, aids sound projection and achieves a pleasing synthesis of Europe and the Far East.

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Choir organ stoplist

Disposition of the choir organ as of 2005, compiled by Yangchen Lin. Reproduced from the magazine article.

Being the only acoustical space in Singapore containing two organs, the Cathedral is the only place where antiphony is possible. Magnificent effects can be created by juxtaposing the two sound masses emanating from opposite ends of the nave. Furthermore, the nave is the most reverberant among the Singaporean churches possessing pipe organs. Antiphony was recently demonstrated by the author and the cathedral organist in an unusual performance of the Introduction of Léon Boëllmann’s Suite Gothique. The Grand-Chœur sections were played on the gallery organ in alternation with the Récit sections played on the choir organ. It re-enacted an electrifying performance by Olivier Latry, Titulaire, that the author had witnessed in the organ loft at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris (see a photo of the organ’s interior).

Olivier Latry playing mass at Notre Dame Paris organ

Olivier Latry at Notre Dame, Paris. Photo: Yangchen Lin

Cathedral of the Good Shepherd Bevington organ console Singapore

As close as it gets to Olivier Latry at Notre Dame: cathedral organist Alphonsus Chern at the reversed console of the great organ of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Singapore’s equivalent of Notre Dame. Photo: Yangchen Lin

Just as Singapore as a nation has grown from cosmopolitan roots, the organs of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd have evolved into a harmonious amalgamation of diverse tonal origins heralding the emergence of the ‘Singaporean organ’ alongside the English, German, French and other organ building traditions. The ‘Singaporean organ’ is capable of making great music under the command of great musicians, and is worth preserving as an element of Singapore’s kaleidoscopic cultural heritage for the enjoyment of future generations.


I am indebted to Robert Navaratnam, Father Adrian Anthony (cathedral rector) and Alphonsus Chern for their assistance.

Other resources

documentations by Jevon Liew | Wikipedia
Facebook page for the cathedral organ
recording by Alphonsus Chern

organ of the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission, Singapore
review of Bach on the world’s largest organ
my image gallery of organs around the world


Literature cited

Bevington & Sons Work Book 1905-1931 (Birmingham City Archives MS1963).

Eschbach, J. 2003. Aristide Cavaillé-Coll Vol. 1: Compendium of Known Stoplists Paderborn: Peter Ewers.

McVicker, W. 2003. Dream palace. Choir and Organ 11(3):30–35.

Welch, J. 1988. Organs in Asia. The American Organist 22(7):42–50.

The best way to get expert judgement is not to ask the expert?

In our personal and public lives, we are often faced with the possibility of events that are unlikely to happen but will have catastrophic consequences if they do; we have heart attacks, collapse of banks, earthquakes, Space Shuttle disasters, and invasive species precipitating ecological meltdown, just to name a few. We cannot ignore these events, and it is important to make the best estimates of their probabilities of occurrence in order to formulate judicious and ethical risk-management policies. This is a formidable challenge because the rarity of these events makes it impossible collect enough data within a reasonable time horizon to arrive at statistical estimates, especially if the potential consequences are grave enough to necessitate urgent preventive measures. Furthermore, empirical investigation may be altogether impossible unless we make happen the very catastrophe we are trying to avert.

Space Shuttle Challenger, 28 January 1986. Photo: NASA

When we are thus stuck between a rock and a hard place, expert judgement may have to serve as a substitute for quantitative data; this was the focus of two seminars given by Mark Burgman, Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Melbourne and Director of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Risk Analysis, at the Cambridge Conservation Seminar series and Cambridge Public Policy seminar series.

One of the first messages to hit home from Mark’s empirical research with human subjects is that there is no correlation whatsoever between how expert a given person is perceived to be by his or her peers in a given discipline and how good his or her actual judgement is of a given problem in that discipline. People assess the expertise of their peers based mainly on age, appearance and number of publications, but there is no correlation of one’s judgement with any of those criteria. Indeed, there is no known way to pre-segregate people who would deliver good and bad judgements of a given problem.

Mark’s studies also show that groups containing a mixture of experts and non-experts collectively make judgements with lower bias and higher precision than individuals, as long as the group is not too large. Equal weighting should be given to everyone’s contribution; although the perceived experts may have more experience and context-awareness, they also have a higher tendency to be overconfident. The empirical results show that their judgements are no less error-prone than those of the novices. Furthermore, it was found that no individual, expert or otherwise, performed consistently across different problems within the same discipline.

Such teamwork can be a powerful tool for practitioners in diverse disciplines, all dealing with problems embedded within complex dynamic systems from ecosystem conservation to business dynamics, where numerous factors interact with one another through a convoluted topology of causal feedback loops. One can only hope to arrive at the best possible solution when all stakeholders in the problem at hand partake in the discussion from beginning to end. It is because this allows the problem to be tackled from diverse and complementary perspectives and provides ample opportunity to reconcile conflicting objectives, in order to arrive at the best possible understanding of the problem and a consensus that everyone truly believes in. This, you would probably agree, is preferable to a situation where disputes cannot be resolved and have to be put to the vote. There are numerous voting systems but, as Mark highlights, none of them is completely satisfactory and there is no known perfect solution. True democracy is an illusion, although it doesn’t work too badly in practice.

Linked from

Mark walked us through the basic nuts and bolts of group-based expert judgement using a very simple but highly illustrative example of estimating, or judging, the number of beans in a jar. Unlike a real-world rare extreme event, this setup was amenable to experimental manipulation. A judgement is first obtained from each individual in the group. He advocates four subsidiary questions for the individual:

1. What is your highest estimate of the number of beans?
2. What is your lowest estimate?
3. How confident are you that the actual number lies within those limits?
4. What is your best estimate of the number of beans?

This four-step process has been found to elicit the most accurate estimates from individuals—Mark welcomes ideas on how to do even better.

Next, one can improve the estimates by obtaining a consensus from multiple individuals. This is done by incorporating the innovative four-step process above into what is known as the Delphi Method. After each member of the group has independently given his or her answers to the four questions, the answers are collated and shown to the whole group. Each member is then asked to revise his or her personal answers given the collated figures, and the whole sequence may then be repeated again. This has been empirically shown to yield even more accurate estimates. Furthermore, the variation in inputs from multiple individuals with different cultural and educational backgrounds gives an idea of how robust and reliable the estimate might be. This is reminiscent, albeit tenuously, of a ‘sensitivity analysis’ of the robustness of mathematical model predictions in the face of parameter uncertainty. Despite the real-world importance of determining the degree of sensitivity of predictions to parameter uncertainty, sensitivity analysis is rarely done or required even by peer-reviewed ecology journals.

Conservation could benefit from group-based expert judgement, since ecological data are often scarce and incomplete and the nonlinear behaviour of complex ecosystems makes low-probability high-risk events inevitable. Mark’s take-home message is that expert judgement should be accorded the same reverence as scientific data, but it should be harnessed in a systematic way that minimizes bias and maximizes precision rather than being a haphazard question-and-answer session. The complementarity of quantitative data and expert judgement in turn feeds nicely, I think, into the system dynamics framework for simulating and solving complex nonlinear problems in many disciplines.

I am grateful to Mark Burgman for permission to communicate his research and hope it will be of value to my readers.

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Horizon scanning in nature conservation

Bird Photography with Antonio Vázquez

My past few months in the photographic department had been distinctively anthropogenic, spent in the tubular labyrinth below the capital city of the world. For days I had navigated the endless subterranean seas of living human bodies and formations of ceramic and cast iron almost venerable enough to be geological, searching for those elusive points in space and time for my upcoming London Underground Photo Exhibition. The end of January saw the completion of this mission, freeing up camera time for something different. There could hardly be a better time than this to be offered an opportunity to return to my early interest in wildlife photography.

It was a great privilege for me to join the acclaimed Spanish photographer Antonio Vázquez and his son-in-law Raúl Rodríguez for a bird photography session at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust’s Welney Wetland Centre in Norfolk. It does not really need mentioning that Antonio has had a remarkable career decorated by prestigious awards and a long list of books. In this brief biography there is a funny anecdote about getting his first camera that is a testimony to his commitment right from the outset.

Antonio’s grandfather, though not a photographer himself, infected young Antonio with a love for nature and animals by showing him beautiful pictures. Later on, Antonio was inspired by the great Spanish naturalist and filmmaker Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente who tragically died in an air crash while doing what he loved in Alaska. Why photography and not video? It is a matter of personal preference, Antonio says, to capture the special moments in still life, and I happen to identify with this. I also find it heartening that he is a wholly self-taught photographer, which in some ways gave him more space to explore and develop his own unique style, the very thing I am struggling to do myself.

At Welney, the recent snowmelt and subsequent rainstorms had brought upon a great flood that inundated all but the biggest hide. Strong winds were whipping the water into white-capped waves decidedly uncharacteristic of wetlands—just what we needed for some dramatic pictures. We wasted no time deploying the weapons systems.

A view of the great flood from the main hide at Welney Wetland Centre. Photo: Yangchen Lin

Antonio Vázquez with the Nikon D3x and 600mm f/4. Photo: Yangchen Lin

Antonio prioritizes on fast autofocus with no teleconverter, and achieves full control over the position of the active AF sensor in the viewfinder by manually toggling the four-way button on the D3x rather than relying on the camera’s automatic 3D tracking. Copyright Antonio Vázquez

I had intentionally travelled to the UK without what I affectionately called my ‘intercontinental ballistic missile’ (400mm f/2.8), my priority in the UK being scientific research. Antonio said that the 400mm f/2.8 was the best supertelephoto of all, surpassing the 600mm f/4 by a slight margin in terms of image quality (and of course, speed). I resolved to take it out more often in the future and savour its legendary sharpness and colour. For now, my armament ranged from 16mm to 200mm, and I set about doing the kinds of photography appropriate to those focal lengths.

Pochards swimming at Welney Wetland Centre

Atlantic Fleet: an attempt to evoke the magnificent lyrical turbulence of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2. The 70–200mm f/2.8 is not inadequate for birds provided one does not attempt to apply it in ways for which it has not been designed. Photo: Yangchen Lin

I was also curious to hear Antonio’s opinion on 800mm supertelephotos, Nikon having recently introduced their latest incarnation of the 800mm f/5.6. He feels that it compresses, or flattens, the perspective too much for birds at the usual distances, but is great for large oceanic waves. In an ongoing photographic project on coastal storms, he uses the 600mm with the 1.7-magnification teleconverter to get into firing range.

Nikon D3x | 600mm f/4. Copyright Antonio Vázquez

Raúl is Antonio’s disciple and enjoys using the Nikon D800 with the 200–400mm f/4. Juggling a career in the transportation industry with family commitments with young children means that he is unable to go all out with developing his own photographic art at the moment, but he follows Antonio and learns all he can.

Raúl Rodríguez with Antonio Vázquez. Photo: Yangchen Lin

The golden light prized by Antonio. Copyright Antonio Vázquez

Sunset at Welney Wetland Centre with Antonio Vázquez. Photo: Yangchen Lin

It was dusk when we finally packed up and headed home. As the rolling landscape out the car window steadily receded into darkness, we contemplated the future of photography. Antonio fears that photography may eventually cease to be a profession. With the advent of the Internet, photographers are no longer competing within their respective countries to sell their work, but with competitors from all over the world. As the number of photographs available on any given subject grows rapidly, individuals and organizations are on average becoming progressively less willing to pay the true value of a good photograph and less discerning between outstanding and not-so-outstanding photographs. Antonio now sees countless superlative images offered online for a tiny fraction of the amount invested in getting the shot—in the background research, equipment, logistics and creativity. And there is competition of another kind. Computer graphics have advanced to a point where it is no longer possible to tell a real photograph from a computer-generated image of a watch or a car in an advertisement.

Perhaps all is not lost, however. Antonio recalls a morning in Grand Teton National Park. It was 6 a.m. and –12 degrees Celsius—but 250 photographers were already in position at exactly the same spot, cameras all pointing towards the great mountain ready to freeze that magic moment in eternity. Despite the seemingly hopeless situation for getting anything that isn’t identical to 249 other copies of the same thing, Antonio insists otherwise. He gives an example: the vastly different photographs he and I took today, from the same spot.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Copyright Antonio Vázquez

How (not) to make realistic digital personal Chinese seals

The Chinese New Year is round the corner, and there are few better occasions to appreciate the visual and aural beauty and communicative parsimony and elegance of the Chinese language (as are the characteristics of other great languages). One of its timeless manifestations is the oriental seal, a unique, personal essence of oneself, an object whose physical symmetry adds to its hypnotic attractiveness. Seal carving and usage have a long and fascinating history; read more about the materials science and engineering of seal carving in James Eckman’s article which also has numerous links to more valuable information. The present article will guide you through the main steps in making personal digital seals that look reasonably realistic, using my seals as examples (scroll further down to skip the part about the meaning of my name).

Linked from article at The Telegraph

What does my name mean?

There are often interesting hidden meanings in a person’s Chinese name that appears on a seal. For example, my surname 林 (Lin) means ‘forest’. Albeit by coincidence, I grew up in the shadow of the great Dipterocarp rainforests of Malaya and Southeast Asia and came to appreciate their diversity and grandeur. My first name 揚塵 (Yangchen) is derived from the idiom 塵土飛揚, literally ‘dust-soil-fly-spread’, meaning dust flying everywhere. What? This derivation is only the first level of hidden meaning. The next level of hidden meaning in my name as conceived by my parents is even less obvious, but Ken Rockwell hits home with this statement in his (caution, may be subjective) review of the Nikon D4 (which I do not own):

The Nikon D4 is Nikon’s fastest, tightest professional camera ever made for sports and action photography. It leaves consumer cameras like the D800 and Canon 5D Mark III completely in the dust. — Ken Rockwell

Metaphorically, my parents wanted me to be the Nikon D4, the fastest horse, the Saturn V rocket carrying Apollo 11 into space. It has become one of the great asymptotic challenges in my life, a boundary condition that mathematically cannot and need not be attained but that my parents hoped I would perpetually strive towards.

Instructions for making your own seal

1. Design the seal. Two alternative methods, automatic and manual.

Method A: automatic. Input your name in Chinese characters at this online Chinese seal generator. It offers a variety of typefaces and other options and carves your png seal in two seconds. It automatically adds the character 印 (‘seal’) to make up four characters if your name has three. It’s a really nice programme.

Raw output from the online Chinese seal generator at

Open the resulting png file in Adobe Illustrator. Convert it to vector graphics using Live Trace with the ‘detailed illustration’ preset. The vectorization gives maximum flexibility for subsequent manipulations. Expand the trace and change the colour to one of your choice. The traditionally used seal paste is a luxuriant red obtained from mercury (II) sulphide (HgS).

Use the Direct Selection Tool to select and remove the square rim, which looks especially digital because the round corners don’t merge smoothly with the straight edges. Replace the rim with a self-drawn one, most straightforwardly accomplished with the Rectangle Tool. I went for a square with thick borders, considerably thicker than the weight of the character strokes, and unrounded corners (see figure below) to convey the kind of authority and formality you’d experience in an Imperial setting.

For the Chinese characters themselves, you may want to square off the ends of the strokes rather than leave them rounded, again to accentuate the feeling of Imperial strictness. I did this by adding rectangles, making sure that the edges were lined up precisely—Illustrator helps by snapping to paths. You may have to subsequently shorten a couple of strokes whose squared-off ends venture so close to other strokes that they appear unsightly and, worse, joined together when viewed at small sizes. Do this by drawing a shape over the part you wish to remove and clicking ‘minus front’ in Pathfinder. Avoid simply drawing white shapes to hide things, as it would be preferable to maintain background transparency to enable the seal to be used over any background.

After Live Tracing, changing the square rim and squaring off the ends of the strokes.

Method B: manual. Look up the seal script for each character in your Chinese name at Using the Pencil Tool in Adobe Illustrator, trace out the characters over their images or just write them yourself. In this case I used rounded caps on the strokes for a less regimental, more artistic air. Avoid perfectly straight and perfectly vertical or horizontal lines. Fine-tune the stroke thickness after you have finished tracing all the characters and grouping the objects (strokes) within each character, so you can judge how it looks as a whole. I went with relatively thin strokes this time to give it some gracefulness, but not so thin that the characters vanish into the pixels at small sizes.

Use the Pencil Tool to draw the smooth irregular boundary of the seal. Then use Live Paint to fill in the shape (e.g. this tutorial). Why not the Pen Tool that’s specifically designed for drawing closed shapes? Because it’s more difficult to make the well-behaved Pen Tool do those warts and dents that impart a handmade feel.

Next, manually and individually position the characters within the shape, focusing on filling the space evenly rather than aligning the characters to one another. Perfect alignment isn’t part of the analogue beauty of prehistoric writing. Refrain from rotating the characters—this could easily detract from the vertical flow of the language. Finally, Object > Expand the characters to turn them into shapes, and use Pathfinder’s ‘minus front’ to punch them out from the seal.

Hand-drawn vector reproduction of Large Seal Script (Zhou Dynasty, 1045 B.C. – 256 B.C.) by Yangchen Lin, based on characters from the database. I also tried to emulate the transverse section of a stone worn smooth over the eons by the rushing waters of rivers and waterfalls in the great gorges of China.

Although the ‘manual’ design looks more hand-carved, both still scream DIGITAL. A little more work on them would make them more consistent with the fact that there were no computers during the Chinese dynasties.

2. Paste the seal into Photoshop. Next up is an ingenious trick I learnt from graphic designer Owen Jones: apply Gaussian Blur to the image and use Unsharp Mask to make the edges hard again. What for? More details can be found at his tutorial for creating a rubber stamp effect. What this trick does is to create the subtle impression of ink being absorbed into the fibres of the paper as the seal is applied (see figures below). You might try tweaking the transparency also but I didn’t do that since seal paste tends to be thick and opaque.

3. The final step is one of the various methodologies to realize what is popularly known as the grunge effect. In essence, one makes a logo look used and worn by infusing a texture—grainy, scratched, brushed—into it by Layer Masking it with a contrast-enhanced photo of a surface with the desired texture. Here’s a helpful video tutorial by YouTube user Digital Yard Sale:

I did an additional step at the end, hiding the textured backgrounds to reveal the seals in their naked glory. The texture photo I used for my seals is from The final results:

The Official Seal of Lin Yangchen (surname is written first in Chinese tradition). Notice the subtle blunting effect of the Gaussian Blur + Unsharp Mask treatment.

The Seal of Lin Yangchen

The strokes are still somewhat too neat to be totally convincing, although that is less obvious at the smaller sizes in which personal seals are usually seen. The particular texturization I used may have been reasonably successful at emulating scratches and abrasions, but it doesn’t go far in the way of simulating the kind of random yet nonrandom irregularities that would be produced by a less than perfectly even seal surface and patchiness in ink colour caused by variations in ink consistency and muscular pressure.

Despite the sophistication of Illustrator and Photoshop, truly realistic effects are very difficult if not impossible to achieve, requiring, ironically, a high degree of manual tweaking. Pressing research and photography commitments prevent me from further work on this. But consolation can be drawn from the excuse that there is no instant robotic substitute for a 2000-year-old seal carved by hand.

Tropical Diversity of the Third Kind

Collecting is an animal desire. Animals from bowerbirds to humans are obsessed with collecting—bottle caps, soft toys, beetles, cars. I am no exception (but employ more sophisticated strategies than bowerbirds when females are at stake); one of my objects of desire has been the postage stamp.

My early collection targeted everything from Australia to Zimbabwe, but one stamp was particularly attractive. It featured a pair of the coconut palms that grew prolifically throughout rural southeast Asia and symbolized the idyllic life of bygone days in the tropical paradise where I had grown up.

actual width of the stamps is approximately 2cm

Sultan Sir Hisamud-din Alam Shah, Selangor. Issued on 12 September 1949. This specimen, inherited from my mother, was the very first of the coconut palm design in my collection.

For a long time, this lonely stamp languished in the album alongside others from across the globe. One day, however, life changed when my grandfather showed me a stamp that had the same design but was grey in colour and had the portrait of a different person on it. And another one that was blue. It began to dawn on me that the coconut palm motif was a theme upon which an astonishing number of variations had been created. In fact, there are over 700 documented variants of design detail, colour, denomination, paper, perforation, overprint and other parameters.

Sultan Sir Abu Bakar Ri-ayatu’d-Din Al-muadzam Shah ibni Al-marhum Al-mu’tasim Bi’llah Sultan Abdullah, Pahang. Issued on 1 June 1950. Postmarked in Kuantan.

Major-General His Highness Sultan Sir Ibrahim ibni Al-marhum Sultan Abu Bakar, the only head of state to be portrayed in military uniform. Issued on 2 May 1949. Postmarked in Mersing.

Small Head Issue is the name by which the coconut palm design is formally known. The Small Head Issues spanned three British monarchs from 1936 to 1957, tracing the convoluted transition of Malaya from a pre-war British colony through the Japanese Occupation to the Cold War era leading up to independence.

King George V. Issued on 1 February 1936. Postmarked in Singapore.

Black on emerald paper, one of the most enthralling colour schemes. Issued on 1 September 1936.

The venerable design was born in the Straits Settlements during the reign of King George V. Sir Bertram Mackennal created the bust of the king. The stamps were printed in sheets of 100 by De La Rue in the United Kingdom using two separate dies, one for the oval medallion in the centre and one for the rest of the design. The medallion was replaced with that of King George VI in 1937.

A misaligned medallion of King George VI. Issued on 1 January 1938 (some other denominations had been issued in 1937).

The Pacific War commenced with the Japanese invasion of Malaya, which took place about 90 minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbour. Many Japanese overprints were used during the occupation of Malaya from 1941 to 1945. Two of the earliest overprints were known as Chop I and Chop II, containing the expression ‘Malaya Military Government Division Postal Services Bureau Seal’ in Kanji characters and applied using hand-carved wooden chops and steel chops respectively.

Red version of Chop II, applied in April 1942 in either Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. This denomination (40c) was used exclusively in Sumatra which was not part of Malaya. Postmarked in Palembang.

Chop II (1942) on the psychedelic $1 (26 January 1938) on blue paper. Postmarked at Tandjong Balei on the Karimun islands in the Netherlands East Indies.

The rare combination of Chop II (1942) on the $5 (26 January 1938) was for fiscal use only. Before the war, the $1, $2 and $5 (the largest denomination) had been for air mail.

The Okugawa Seal, introduced in Penang on 30 March 1942, was the personal seal of a Mr. Akira Okugawa, with dies made of both ivory and rock crystal.

The Okugawa Seal (1942) on a beautiful olive medallion on emerald paper.

Another example of the Okugawa Seal. The underlying stamp (6 October 1941) was a newer pre-war version printed using a more cost-effective single die for monochromatic denominations; the medallion and its surrounding artwork do not overlap. Postmarked at Serangoon Road, Singapore.

The Uchiburi Seal, the personal seal of an official by the name of Mr. Uchiburi Nobuharu, was used in conjunction with the Okugawa Seal. Mr. Miyazaki Masukan, a civilian overseeing the government’s general matters, authorized the use of both seals.

A neat execution of the Uchiburi Seal (1942).

The first machine chop, bearing the inscription DAI NIPPON 2602 PENANG, replaced the Okugawa and Uchiburi seals in April 1942. DAI NIPPON means Great Japan, and 2602 is the Japanese equivalent to 1942 in the Gregorian calendar. Stamps were overprinted by a Chinese printing press at Chulia Street in Penang.

The Christmas colours of the attractive $2 (26 January 1938, overprinted 1942).

Following a decree to eliminate the use of English, the machine-printed Kanji Overprint was introduced in December 1942 and used until the end of the war. The characters translate to ‘Great Japan Postal Service’.

The Kanji Overprint. The Japanese postmark was introduced in the later part of the occupation; pre-war postmarks had been used initially.

By the end of the war, approximately 60 million Straits Settlements stamps in mint condition remained in stock in London, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney where they had been diverted during the invasion of Malaya. The stamps were overprinted BMA MALAYA (for British Military Administration) under a tender issued by the Crown Agents on 23 March 1945, several months before the Japanese surrender.

A technologically advanced incarnation (1947) of the 10c. The medallion was printed with fugitive ink, which discolours with moisture, to prevent reuse.

One of the relatively small number of Straits Settlements stamps printed after the war to supplement pre-war stocks, with a new but short-lived colour scheme for the $5. The inaccurate positioning of the medallion on this specimen may have been a symptom of general post-war fatigue. The $5 was of sufficient value to exchange for rice and cigarettes. Postmarked in Singapore.

In 1948, the ‘Straits Settlements’ inscription began to be superseded by the names of the individual Settlements, starting with Singapore. These were the very first stamps inscribed ‘Singapore’.

Issued on 1 October 1948.

Yet another change of colour scheme for the $5. Issued on 1 October 1948.

The Small Head Issue was subsequently extended to the Malay states with exquisite portraits of their respective sultans, becoming the first design to encompass the Malay peninsula. To facilitate tearing, the perforations were reduced to 17.5 by 18.0, among the world’s smallest.

Tengku Sir Ibrahim ibni Al-marhum Sultan Mohamed IV, Kelantan. Issued on 11 July 1951.

The small denominations of Kedah were illustrated with a sheaf of rice inherited from earlier colonial definitive stamps. Issued on 1 September 1952.

Tunku Sir Badlishah ibni Al-marhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. Issued on 1 June 1950.

The ensign, or chogan, of Negri Sembilan. The padi stalks represent the nine Minangkabau districts of Negri Sembilan. Issued on 1 April 1949.

Paduka Sri Sultan Sir Yussuf ‘Izzuddin Shah ibni Al-marhum Sultan Abdul Jalil Radziallah Hu-‘an-hu, Perak. Issued on 17 August 1950. Postmarked in Ipoh.

Raja Syed Putra ibni Al-marhum Syed Hassan Jamalullail. Issued on 26 March 1951.

Sultan Sir Ismail Nasiruddin Shah ibni Al-marhum Sultan Zainal Abidin, Trengganu. Issued on 27 December 1949.

With the ascension of Elizabeth II to the throne in 1954, the medallion of King George VI on the stamps of Malacca and Penang was replaced. The portrait of the new queen was derived from a photograph by Dorothy Wilding. This was the final variation of the Small Head Issues, marking the end of the great era begun by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

Queen Elizabeth II. Issued on 5 January 1955.

Queen Elizabeth II. Issued on 1 September 1954.

The Small Head Issue is a masterpiece of graphic design. It strikes a fine balance between elegant simplicity and intricate baroque detail, between curves and straight lines, and between the haphazardness of nature and the grand quasi-architectural symmetry that mesmerizes the eye. It does all of these in the incisive detail of vector graphics, and delivers the package in a deluge of spellbinding diversity.

Photos are of selected specimens from the author’s personal collection photographed by the author. I did the historical research many years ago as a child and failed to note the references; please contact me if you notice factual errors or are able to attribute any of the information to published literature. If you are interested in the philatelic history of Malaya, check out the Malaya Study Group in the United Kingdom.