By Siew Jey Ren (13S03R)
The night’s vocabulary of sighs was scarcely audible within the vaulted confines of the Esplanade’s Concert Hall as the events of the evening drew to a close.
Centred on the theme of “Peace, Love, and a Better World”, the annual concert of the Raffles Institution Choirs featured a varied repertoire of sacred music and folk-inspired music, drawing a full house to the Theatres on the Bay that evening. The event was but a prelude for their forthcoming tour of Europe, but it did not disappoint. For the thronging Rafflesians and expectant members of the public present for the programme, a resounding chord was struck as the choirs endeavoured to “bring about a better world through music”.
In accordance with the concert’s idealistic note, the first half of the programme presented sacred music and songs of peace in the languages of their composers. Under their esteemed conductor, Mr. Toh Ban Sheng, the Raffles Voices (Years 1-4) made the first appearance with a harmonious rendition of the swedish Sommarpsalm, or Summer Hymn. Whilst initially dwelling on the traditional domain of sacramental music with pieces such as Le Crucifix, translated from the French, and Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, translated from the German, there was a subtle transition to contemporary music by composers hailing from the four corners of the earth, with the familiar lyrics of Let There Be Peace on Earth and Heal The World resonating with the common theme within the hearts of the audience. Indeed, the diversity of a repertoire with music both old and recent thus united thematically was a major selling point.
Subsequently, the Raffles Chorale continued the programme with the Latin pieces Sanctus and Caritas Et Amor, both hymns from Christian liturgy. Beyond the euphonious vocals, occasional instrumental accompaniment and physical arrangement added concordance to the performance, eliciting a rousing ovation after every piece. Following up with a series of comparatively recent pieces, the Chorale sang Hear My Prayer and Alleluia, ending on a high note with I Can Tell the World’s strong rhythm.
A drastic change followed after the 20 minute intermission, with the Raffles Voices returning onstage with an arrangement of the folk-inspired El Hambo. Responding to the ritualised cues of Mr. Toh Ban Sheng, the Raffles Voices combined vocals with exaggerated physical movements for an unintended comic effect on the audience, which stood out in stark contrast to the soothing tranquillity of the Basque Lullaby. Talented soloists carried the day in Kaisa isa Niyan, translated from the Filipino. The Raffles Chorale followed the thread of folksongs with the spanish Suite de Lorca in four parts and an astounding rendition of the popular local song Rasa Sayang and the Lullaby from Itsuki, a Japanese folksong. Dogalen a Mabaso, a Maranao folktale commissioned and premiered by the Raffles Chorale, was a story told in song. The grand finale of the programme was Better World, which saw the best from the two choirs come together in a medley of song, featuring seven soloists from both sides. The great expectations of the audience at the end of the programme were dented, for there was discordance between the keys sung by the soloists, but nevertheless it was a functional and thematic finish to a largely stylistic performance.
But one cannot forget the actual finale to the combined choirs’ concert, the stirring arrangement of the Institution Anthem saved for last after the official ending of the programme. Truly the Rafflesian spirit was awakened in the majority present in the audience that night, for many rose in salute of the school song. Mr. Toh’s prior statement that he hoped this last song would also be the most exciting one was fulfilled, as old boys in the audience described it, in spite of all else, as the high point of the concert.
Thereafter, Loh Wen Ye (13S03R), formerly the vice-chairperson of Raffles Voices and currently a member of the Raffles Chorale, summed the concert up in having no singular climax, for every piece was distinct in its own right and separated from the others. There must be beauty in the combination of discontinuity and unity, and the noble, yet common, theme of the concert spoke volumes of the healing universality of music.