by Lorraine Fong (15A01C) and Wilson Chan (15A01C)
Photos by Hee Xin Wei (15S03I)
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer singing loud for all to hear.” And sing loud for all Raffles Chorale did in their annual student-led Christmas production, Vocal Delights: Home for Christmas. Held on the 19th December 2014, the highly anticipated performance featured a diversity of acts which added their own unique touch to familiar Christmas tunes and popular melodies, be it through arranging them in a different style, or even incorporating them into a musical skit. With the Lecture Theatre decked in Christmas lights and the small number of a cappella-style singers on stage, the intimate mood made it easy to forget that there was a larger purpose behind all of it – all proceeds from ticket sales would go directly to their chosen beneficiary, Grace Orchard School.
Emcees Choong Ting Wei (15S06Q) and Anthony Wu (15S06L) opened the event with great energy and cheesy jokes to ease the crowd into the concert. While Ting Wei danced enthusiastically to the popular K-pop group Girls’ Generation’s Genie, Anthony pointed out the incredulity of that dream. The former’s hopes of achieving success in the K-pop arena was introduced as a running gag for most of the comedic banter between the two emcees. However, these type of transitions between each act sometimes felt a bit too forced rather than humorous. Thankfully, they wasted no time introducing Batch ‘15 of Raffles Chorale to a beautiful a cappella rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The group did not disappoint as they created a warm atmosphere in a perfect blend of harmonies while lead vocalist Anthea Chua’s (15S05A) mesmerising voice reverberates through the hall, even though she was singing in the shadow of Judy Garland’s definitive performance of this number. Handled and executed with mature control and exquisitely accurate harmony, it was an impressive and engaging act.
After more cringe-worthy jokes supplied by the emcees, Fringe, Chorale’s resident chamber choir, took the stage next. With a total of 12 members, from both batches, they arguably tackled one of the most demanding and challenging part of a cappella music – arranging pieces suitable for their voices. As Ian Ho (15S06H), chairman of Raffles Chorale and part of Fringe, explained: “The process of arranging a cappella music is especially tedious for smaller groups as everybody’s voice is unique and each part is equally important in achieving the intended sound. Therefore, the choir and the smaller performing groups practiced very hard to reach a satisfactory standard, and the arrangers put in extra effort to see their arrangements strive towards perfection.”
They begin their set with That’s Christmas To Me a little shakily; while it did capture the original essence of the Pentatonix version, the arrangement was a little repetitive, as it relied too heavily on main soloist Dominique Yap (15A01C), and the harmonies lacked enough energy to carry the performance forward. However, their next piece, the all-familiar Christmas hymn O Holy Night, managed to capture and encapsulate the themes of gratitude and optimism. Both arranged by Ian, O Holy Night transitioned seamlessly into The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire) as a medley. The layered texture of both pieces shined through, with the former in its subtle nuances in the subdued mood of the hymn, and the latter in its jazzy rendition of the Nat King Cole classic.
The group ended their performance set with A Christmas Lullaby by Dan Forrest, a haunting masterpiece with perfectly balanced vocal dynamics. As the title suggests, most of the piece established a soothing and gentle atmosphere, before culminating in a stunningly beautiful climax. With the long notes quietly tapering off, the conclusion of the song rounded the performance off soulfully.
The wittily named ‘Acafellas’ brought us a cappella renditions of pop hits such as Taylor Swift’s Blank Space, Mistletoe by Justin Bieber and Valerie by Amy Winehouse, all arranged by the talented Teo Qi Xuan (15S06L). Consisting of seven J1 members, their experimentation with this genre of music got the crowd hooked on the catchy beats and tunes cleverly constructed by these 7 ‘fellas’. Despite having only one female member, the Acafellas’ managed to pull off their performance with good vocal dynamics, and female member Tan Fong Han (15A01B) gave their performance more depth in terms of the range of vocals, thus creating a full and solid sound. For the first piece, they started with a simple melody line, gradually revving it up with beatboxing, syncopated rhythms and even Anthony’s hilarious version of the mock-rap one-liners. While overall an enjoyable song, partly due to its popularity with the audience, the music was not as crisp as it should be. Mistletoe illustrated why a cappella style can sometimes be more effective in connecting with the audience, even though the song choice was highly questionable. The small cheeky actions (such as the mutual glances between members literally at the phrase ‘staring at your face’) which would be inappropriate in a more formal context, as well as the seemingly unplanned sitting positions of the singers made it as if people were gathering around a cozy and warm fireplace. Valerie was a lighthearted Christmas version of the jazzy tune and Fong Han does channel her inner Amy Winehouse to produce some marvellous vocals for the melody.
After the Acafellas left the audience with musical earworms, up next was the alumni’s a cappella group ‘Vox’, which was formed four years ago and merely described themselves as ‘six male persons singing tonight’. But this deceptive description masked the talent and creativity they would showcase in their songs. Having had so much experience in the a cappella scene, it was no surprise that they brought us one of the best performances in the entire concert. Belting all of the high notes in Dream a Little Dream of Me (even throwing in kisses and a little flirtiness – it’s essentially a love song after all), the group started the event off with a pop bang with lots of charisma.
They followed this up with what they called “A Christmas Medley”, consisting of the usual Christmas carols such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Deck the Halls, and O come All Ye Faithful. Brilliantly executed, the timber and tone colour in their voices accentuated the warm and hymn-like qualities of the songs. Finishing off with a familiar favourite Jingle Bell Rock, the all-male group put up a solid performance, with the audience’s gaze fixated on the talented group. Their powerful voices blended in wonderful harmony, and audience member Josiah Kek (15A01C) commented that their voices “were like velvet – so smooth.. so soothing”.
Before the intermission, Batch ‘15 of Raffles Chorale hit the stage once again to perform more classic choral works and renaissance-style music. Unexpectedly presenting a Chinese song 平安夜真平安, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ and the illuminating hope he will bring to the world, the group’s gentle dynamics and climaxes could have been more subtle but it fortunately still conveys the optimism found in the piece. The following songs, O Magnum Mysterium and Cantate Domino, sung in Latin and Basque respectively, were more mysterious and chant-like. While they did feel more out of place with the rest of the acts, the sacred nature of the works was a reminder and appreciation for the historical background and setting that the tradition of Christmas is steeped in.
Returning from the intermission and expecting to hear more gorgeous harmonies, the audience is greeted by the two eager emcees, introducing “P.U.N.C.H.”, comprising singers from two batches. In short, PUNCH presents a musical comedy skit to give the concert more variety, and provide the audience with a break from music and give them a good laugh. Formed many years ago (roughly 24 years), PUNCH even starred local Singer Kit Chan! This year’s musical circled around the ‘missing Christmas presents’, and a group’s quest to find Santa. On their quest, they travel from ‘ION Orchard’ to ‘EXPO’ to ‘Snow City’ in vain, with Santa nowhere to be found. In the process, the skit is interspersed with their covers such as Problem by Ariana Grande, Price Tag by Jessie J and even Gangnam Style by Psy. Their cheesy puns and hilarious characters left the audience doubling up with laughter. Ultimately, the group concluded that Santa would be in the ‘North Pole’, directing them to ‘Woodlands’, supposedly the ‘North Pole’ of Singapore. They encounter a ‘sleeping gas’, that caused Santa to sleep and prevented him from distributing the Christmas presents, and the group cheekily perform The Lion Sleeps Tonight (also known as Wimoweh). The only conscious character, played by Christine Saw (15A01A), manages to awaken the team and Santa to go to town, ending their musical comedy with Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. What they lacked in musical tone they made up for in humour; their stage presence throughout the concert contained an exuberance that was practically contagious and their performance was genuine as they sang and interacted with the others in an undeniably natural and engaging manner.
After a brief introduction to Grace Orchard School, The Sixth Sense stepped out into the limelight to present their trio of medleys. Comprising of only six singers, it was a remarkable effort, considering they had a diverse and eclectic range of music in store for the audience. They began with more Christmas magic, Let it Snow and All I Want for Christmas is You. Even having shown a preview of the latter with their promotional video and teasers, they performed even better live (inclusive of joyous snapping!). They followed this up with Fly Me to the Moon, L.O.V.E and If I Ain’t Got You. While there was some obstructive beatboxing that was not consistent with the songs, the medley was securely accompanied by a strong melodic background that bolstered the tunes. Last but not least, like the ‘Acafellas’, they covered more mainstream music by pop artistes Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift. Unlike the ‘Acafellas’, some of the voices were unfortunately drowned out in some parts by the others, even as the arrangement was more groovy and had the potential for the audience to sing along to. The Batch of 2014 then came back to give us more Christmas music: Candlelight Carol and A Traditional Christmas Medley.The absolute crystal clarity of tone and the beautiful intonation in both moved the audience and left them clamouring for more, considering the timeless and characteristic sounds from traditional songs such as Angels We Have Heard on High and Gabriel’s Message.
The grand finale was a collaboration between all members of the two batches, and featured other instruments as well, in the case of Long Road. With the use of the recorder, the distant and abstract sounds, coupled with the eerie chords sung by the rest of the choir, gave the whole song a magical and supernatural feel, especially when juxtaposed with the more tonal parts of the song. Baba Yetu, one of the main staples of their concerts, was more upbeat and riveting, while I’ll Be Home for Christmas capped off the whole performance by returning to the main theme of the night. After the audience cries out for an encore performance, Raffles Chorale decided to put up one last act. There was no departure from the usual this time though, as they performed The Road Home, as with their previous concert. However, Mr. Toh Ban Sheng, the conductor of the choir, having graced this special occasion, did resume his normal position on the stage and delivered a perfect performance.
Having rounded up an entertaining night with free hugs à la Oprah from the teacher-in-charge Mrs. Jasbir Koh and appreciation speeches, the concert then concluded with applause from the crowd. As the concert was one of the final performances that some of the students put up, it was undeniably a sad and poignant moment for them, as demonstrated by the farewell that Mrs. Koh gave to the graduating students. For others, it was nonetheless a learning experience for all of them as they initiated and led an entire production with almost no help from the teachers or the conductor. Ian leaves us with this: “Ending the year with Vocal Delights: Home for Christmas really warms my heart to see how the choir has grown musically and together as close friends with a shared passion for singing. Planning this concert together as a batch, resolving problems and making Vocal Delights a success, has strengthened the friendships within the choir and musical bond we share as a family of singers. Chorale is a place we can all call home, and we were glad to be home for Christmas, together.” Ultimately, the resounding success of the concert is a testament to the amount of dedication and hard work the whole choir has put in, considering the independent nature of this project, and we applaud Raffles Chorale for putting up such a magnificent show.