Photographs by Natalia Chioang from the Photographic Society
For any reviewer, the first step to objectivity is paying out of one’s own pocket for the concert ticket. The next is to go for said concert out of one’s free will. Both these conditions were satisfied when I attended Rejoice! A Celebration of Music – performed by the Y1-4 and Y5-6 Guitar Ensembles – on the 31st of May. Now if you expected that to be a handle for a horrendous review to come, be mistaken – it was a night of good music played in a relaxed atmosphere that certainly lived up to its tagline. Even those attendees strong-armed into coming by their friends were visibly enamoured by the tunes.
To be honest, first impressions left me slightly disappointed. Instead of guiding guests into the RI Auditorium, the ushers were busy exploiting the modicum of free time posing for photos. Perhaps that explains why people were still shuffling in until the concert commenced at 7.45, that is 15 minutes late. To make matters worse, the emcees (more about them later) started the show in an awkward manner and the lights crew seemed unable to decide if they wanted the hall illuminated or not. Thankfully, my doubts about the concert’s quality were cleared with the opening song, Handel’s La Rejouissance, played strongly and expertly by RJGE’s Year 6 batch.
The Year 6s were soon joined by the rest of the ensemble who then performed Slavonic Dance No. 8 and Mountains in Autumn in a rousing display that held the audience’s rapt attention throughout. That the guitar could be used as a percussion instrument at opportune moments surprised many in the audience. Most impressive, was that the guitar’s full range was utilised to produce a harmonious, full bodied sound, debunking the myth that the performance would be monotonous if not boring.
As this was a combined concert, the Year 2 Ensemble then took to the stage, performing Mizuiro no Waltz and Maroon 5’s Payphone. Despite stumbling a couple of times, the conductor Mr Francis Sta Maria managed to bring the boys together completing the songs to resounding applause from the audience. Their choice of pieces also showed that the use of the classical guitar was not only restricted to classical songs, albeit with a few exceptions…
…like Soul le Ciel de Paris, played by the Year 5 batch, where it was evident that the guitar could not replicate the smooth melody as sung by an accomplished French vocalist. On the other hand, the following classics I Will by the Beatles and Right Here Waiting by Richard Marx were brilliantly executed, as was Aquellos Ojos Verdes, a Spanish song performed by the Y1-4 Ensemble.
Never failing to surprise, RJGE’s EXCO then performed a pre-intermission medley of cartoon theme songs decked out in colourful dresses, a clear contrast from the all-black uniform of the full Ensemble. The small group performances continued after the break, with RIGE’s EXCO playing Brazillian Streetdance. RJGE continued their fashion show with hip clothing to a medley of Jay Chou songs and more elegant wear while playing a medley of movie soundtracks. The vocal accompaniment to many of the songs added to the feel-good lounge mood of the concert.
Perhaps the most professionally executed pieces of the night were Year 1-4’s SYF songs Allegro, again by Handel, and Rainbow Overture, a song specifically written for Guitar Ensemble. Not to be outdone RJGE performed Colours of the Wind from Pochohantas. (Ever the self-conscious reviewer, I am definitely running out of things to say by now)
Before the Ensembles could come together for a final song together, there was much confusion in an act whereby the conductor Mr Gaspar was ostensibly kidnapped and an actor took his place in an attempt to conduct the ensemble to little success. While this reviewer is cognizant of the Ensemble’s desire to show some appreciation to their hardworking conductor, the self-indulgence in this effort lacks true meaning insofar as it alienates the audience, leaving many bewildered.
This theme of self-indulgence is recurrent throughout the concert. For example, the emcees fall over laughing at their own jokes, most of which were inappropriate to the occasion. The vocalist during the encore performance, who was pretty good by the way, was a character entirely foreign to this reviewer as well as the person sitting beside him. But these are minor problems – as a concert billed as a celebration of music and with only a month after the SYF to prepare and rehearse, I would call it an excellent performance.
They say that ‘music calms the savage breast’, a claim that in most contexts would seem like utter rubbish. Not here though. RI and RJ Guitar Ensemble’s combined concert brings out the unique character of each Ensemble, showing that beyond the gaffes and lame puns, Guitar Ensemble is brilliant at what they’re supposed to be good at – bringing great music to our ears.