This article is part of the CCA Previews for 2016.
By Hitomi Yap (16A13A)
Those who wish to sing always find a song.
It’s 2.30pm on a typical Wednesday afternoon, and already, through the half-open doors of Lecture Theatre 1, various vocal exercises and delighted chattering can be heard from the hall within.
As sopranos and altos swoop from high to low and tenors and basses rumble their warm-ups, the whole place takes on an almost aviary-like atmosphere.
Soon, crisp footsteps fast approach, and any stray members still lingering on the steps collect their things and make their way onto stage. The door swings open with a heavy creak, and our conductor Mr Toh Ban Sheng, strides into the theatre and in front of the piano.
Chorale is in session.
Chorale practices consist of two distinct segments – combined sessions, where the whole of Chorale comes together to sing under the instruction of Mr Toh, and sectionals, where the choir splits up into our vocal sections to drill vocal techniques that we’ve learned during combined sessions.
During combined, Mr Toh takes us through our varied repertoire, which, over the years, has included music by composers such as Eric Whitacre and Erik Eisenvalds, to name a few. Always aiming to stretch the choir’s vocal abilities, our carefully-selected repertoires have been challenging, often provoking an excited frustration amongst the members, but nonetheless exhilarating to practice and even more delightful to perform.
Over the years, Mr Toh has developed his own unique set of vocal techniques, which he loves to explain with a flourish of scientific theory. Being a scientist as well as a teacher of music, Mr Toh combines instruction with light quips and reminders on how choristers are living instruments – our bodies, working under the laws of Physics, shape the music and direct it – well, at first, not always the way we want it to go, but we all get there eventually.
As for sectionals: each section – Sopranos, Altos, Basses and Tenors – is divided into two subsections, 1 and 2. During sectionals, the eight sections split up drill vocal techniques and lyrics. Between batches, seniors act as mentors to the juniors, making sure juniors get the hang of the techniques. It’s not all work and no play, though – seniors are warm, friendly, and more like big sisters and brothers in their friendly banter and the way they never tire of keeping the section together, making sure we grow in our shared journey.
Even after practice has ended, some of us are still quietly humming, and occasionally a few will burst into spontaneous song, melodies still lingering in our minds.
No practice is properly closed without a dinner with our dearest batch mates – after purchasing our fare, we sit down for an evening of conversation and laughter. Dinners are important opportunities for us to know one another better, and to relieve ourselves of the stresses of daily life. To further strengthen the bonds within choristers, Chorale also occasionally organizes fun outings for us to get together in our free time, such as our recent trip to Marina Barrage.
Apart from weekly practices, members can look forward to a host of performances, some for charity, others for school events such as Founders’ Day, and even our biennial tours, which allow us to perform on an international stage. During our annual concert, Vocal Delights, we have the chance to group with like-minded (or even not-so like-minded choristers) to go beyond formal choral works and explore colourful modern a capella renditions of popular hits.
At the end of the day, we may be feeling pretty exhausted – after all, practices are held two times a week, averaging four hours per practice – but we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, of the progress that we’ve made that brings us just a little closer to our ideal of making great music with people that we care about. The skills we pick up from being exposed to the music of other cultures and languages allow us to better appreciate music in our everyday lives. More importantly, the fact that as we sing we explore our voices and our vocal potential; the lasting friendships that we form, make everything worthwhile in the end. As our teacher-in-charge, Mrs Koh, always says, Chorale is one big family – and this is a family that we’re very proud to be a part of.