The Past, Present and Future Sing a Bar Together: RI Choir Limelight 2016

By Joan Ang (17A01B), Jeanne Tan (17A01B) and Lee Yun Ning (17A01E)
Photos by Guan Xin (17S03B), Elizabeth Quek (17S07A) and Ethan Ong Szerey (17S06Q)

There was an air of tension backstage. Raffles Chorale Chairperson, Jonathan Tan (16S06K), described concert preparation as “an uphill battle to get every single person up to mark”, and he was right — as the Year 5s only entered Chorale towards the end of February, Chorale only had a solid month and a half of practice before their time to perform rolled around. In each performer’s heart, there was only one question: would their efforts pay off? It would soon be answered.

Conducted by Mr Toh Ban Sheng, the theme of the concert was Time and Timeless, bringing the audience through and beyond Time through music. The performance was accompanied by an overhead slideshow, introducing the pieces and providing them with visual backdrops.

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Raffles Voices, poised to give their best performance.

Raffles Voices, the Year 1-4 counterparts of Raffles Chorale, were the first to take the stage. Starting with the rhythmic song Dubula, the choir utilised an African drum to add flavour to the piece. The choir’s eccentric choreography also induced laughs from the audience, opening the night on a good note.

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Dubula, by Raffles Voices.

Another stand-out song was 不了情 (Endless Love). The image of a sunrise, that was projected behind the choir, suited the piece’s atmosphere of serenity perfectly. Aided by the dimmed concert hall lights, the picture cast a glow on the entire room, gently illuminating it and transporting the audience into the scene both visually, as well as through the beautiful voices of the choir.

Following Voices was Raffles Chorale, from the Year 5 and 6 side of RI.

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Chorale, solely focused on Mr Toh.

Chorale began their set with Ama Namin, arranged by Fidel Calalang Jr. The Lord’s Prayer, translated to Tagalog and set to music, was pure beauty for the listeners and reminiscent of the harmonies produced by a church organ, or the drone of an Asian string instrument. The smooth dynamic contrasts of the piece, combined with the musical nuances and sensitivity of the choir, gave the song a mystical tone, making the audience’s hairs stand on end.

The next piece, however, was one of the toughest in the entire repertoire. The choir shuffled positions for Benedictio — a Latin song arranged by Estonian composer Urmas Sisask. A full 29 pages on score, Benedictio’s tricky, looping melodic lines were earworms not just for the listeners, but the singers as well. Nevertheless, the choir pulled it off. Coupled with Mr Toh’s energetic conducting, this song kept both choir and audience on their Tohs toes.

Linking back to the theme of the concert, the choir gave an entertaining performance of Dogalen a Mabaso. Based on a folk chant of the Maranao people, it told a comedic story of love and heartbreak via an on-screen narration. Chorale’s performance was full of dynamic variations, using both whispering and screaming, and complemented by amusing choreography and strong facial expressions. This climaxed in the entire choir lurching out towards the center-stage in a sudden and dramatic movement, ending the first half of the concert.

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The choir rushes forward to catch a “dropping charm” — in heels and formal shoes, no less.

Following intermission, the Raffles Singers group, comprising Voices and Chorale alumni, begun the second segment. Singers begun the Latin segment of the concert, meant to showcase the “Timeless” aspect through different musical eras. The Renaissance was represented by Palestrina’s Sicut Cervis, Baroque by Vivaldi’s Gloria, Classical by Mozart’s Ave Verum, Romantic by Faure’s Libera Me, and Modern by Chihara’s Alleluia.

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Sicut Cervis, performed by Raffles Singers.

An immediate highlight of this section was Sicut Cervis. Infused with the richness and aesthetic focus of the era, its accompanying picture of a grand staircase made this an almost spiritual experience.

Besides this, the ‘modern’ Latin piece, a Japanese take on the traditional Alleluia was a stand-out surprise. Performed by Chorale’s Tenor and Bass sections and accompanied by Jacqueline Liew (16S03S) on the Timpani, this interpretation was certainly unlike previous songs. The heavily rhythmic piece was infused with many tribal, paganistic elements and soloists Jonathan Lee (17S06B) and Benjamin Yong (17S07C) stood on the stage’s top tiers, adding to the atmosphere with war whoops. While some felt somewhat discomfited by this portrayal, we can all agree that Mr Toh’s take was unique.

However, the real showstoppers were the combined pieces. All three choirs joined Mr Toh onstage for the finale, which began with Long Road, arranged by Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds. Esenvalds himself had been invited by the choir to visit one of their practices, and the composer had lent his insight to the performance of his piece in person. These evidently paid off, as the choirs moved the audience, conjuring wistful imagery of heaven and lost love. The piece also used additional instruments as small drawing points for the audience — the recorder, ocarina and triangle.

The official programme ended with a sweet rendition of Rasa Sayang, arranged by Mr Toh himself. The piece started with the lilting notes of the sopranos creating a rural sort of atmosphere before the entire choir launched into the chorus with gusto. Overall, despite the simple, conventional arrangement, it left the audience cheering as the performers took a bow.

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The combined choirs during their performance of Long Road.

Following screams of “ENCORE!”, Mr Toh responded jokingly with “I hope you don’t regret this!” after which the choir put up a magical performance of And In The Evening, arranged by Audrey Snyder. The music’s dreamlike quality was only accentuated further by the harmonic ringing of the unconventional instruments: wine glasses filled with water, which many audience members found intriguing.

Without warning, the choir immediately launched into the school song. Despite its predictability, it felt both organic and grand to witness as all Rafflesians past and present sprung to their feet and sang along. In all his excitement, Mr Toh hit his tuning fork off the music stand on the last note, adding a touch of finality to the concert.

Despite the intense preparations, many of the performers felt that the performance held much intrinsic reward. Hitomi Yap (16A13A) commented, “All those hours spent with everyone getting through tricky passages, and agonizing over a failing memory, was part of what made the actual performance so gratifying!”

Reno Sam (16S06I), student conductor of Chorale, felt similarly, considering the concert “one of the most rewarding [he’s] been through in [his] 6 years of choral singing.” He further added, “it was a thrill on stage and certainly a great wrap-up for many of the J2 singers, and I’m very proud to have been part of this process alongside the very hardworking section leaders who even tirelessly prepared sectional objectives and agenda for the last few practices. All in all, I’m happy to say that Chorale has grown tremendously from this experience.”

Mr Toh, too, commended the choirs. “Some of the virtuosic pieces were really long, complicated and demanding. I was heartened that the singers memorised virtually all successfully and delivered them well beyond our [time] constraints,” he said. “I am immensely proud of the Chorale and Voices, especially the Year One singers and those who sang for the first time. It was a steep learning curve for them to perform at such a level.”

Set List

  • Dubula
  • 不了情
    • Piano Accompaniment: Benjamin Paik
  • Ritmo
    • Piano Accompaniment: Benjamin Paik and Samuel Foo
  • Ama Namin [Fidel Calalang Jr.]
  • Benedictio [Urmas Sisask]
  • Izar Ederrak [Josu Elberdin]
  • 小河淌水 (Xiǎo Hé Tǎng Shuǐ) [Toh Ban Sheng]
    • Aleatory: Zheng Yaxuan, Jacqueline Liew, Joy Lim, Chloe Ann Tan, Chloe Tan, Hitomi Yap, Jonathan Tan, Bryan Yeo, Chu Si Hui, Ma Rui, Christopher Chia
  • 春は逝く (Haru Wa Yuku) [Nobunaga]
  • Dogalen a Mabaso [Nilo B. Alcala]
  • Sing a New Song
    • Piano Accompaniment: Reno Sam, Ryan Han
  • Sicut Cervis [Palestrina]
  • Gloria [Vivaldi]
    • Piano Accompaniment: Samuel Foo
  • Ave Verum Corpus [Mozart]
    • Strings Accompaniment: Dorian Chang and Pan Yiheng on violin, Neo Wei Qing on viola, Zhuang Jianning on cello
  • Libera Me [Faure]
    • Soloist: Joel Yeap
    • Piano Accompaniment: Benjamin Paik
    • Alleluia [Hideki Chihara]
    • Soloists: Jonathan Lee, Benjamin Yong
    • Timpani Accompaniment: Jacqueline Liew
  • Long Road [Erik Esenvalds]
    • Descant: Bryan Yeo, Shayna Yap, Phua Quan Quan
    • Recorder/Ocarina/Triangle Accompaniment: Ryan Han, Jacqueline Liew, Dale Huang, Joshua Tay, Oh Yong Ting, Reno Sam
  • Rasa Sayang [Toh Ban Sheng]
  • And in the Evening [Audrey Snyder]
    • Piano Accompaniment: Ryan Han
  • Institution Anthem

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