By Qiu Kexin (16A13A), Chew Cheng Yu (16S06L) and Carman Chew (17A01D), Photos by Li Wenqing (16A01A) of Raffles Photographic Society
After a brief respite from Raffles Institution’s music-playing scene in 2015, Raffles Guitar Ensemble (RJGE) made a comeback on 13 May with the 2016 batch’s maiden concert. Afinado (Spanish for ‘in tune’), as we knew it, was a cordial affair that treated the audience to lilting acoustic music to wrap up their fretful week pleasantly. For the ensemble itself, it had been the fruitful outcome of two months’ non-stop work, including staying back until 10 PM every night a week before and “repeatedly practising our pieces right before the show, because we were so nervous.” (Goh Jia Ni, 16A03A)
Amidst a scene impressively decorated to resemble a resplendent flower garden, RJGE began on a good note. We were first given a video teaser, showing the escapades of four fictional characters: Rachel, Justin, Gasper and the emcee, otherwise known as the “RJGE” quartet. After a brief introduction that revealed to us the eccentric and carefree Justin, the stalwart and determined Rachel, and dispassionate observer Gasper, Afinado commenced with the classic Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel. The guitarists put a mellifluous and soothing spin on the well-known adagios in Canon, lifting the hearts of the parents and elders present.
The junior ensemble debuted their first concert pieces, Now Let Us To The Bagpipes Sound by Bach, and When You Say Nothing At All by Ronan Keating. Despite a few hiccups, the juniors played impressively for only two months of practice, rousing the audience with the lively sound of bagpipes, and soothing us with the dulcet tunes of Keating’s piece.
Following Afinado’s ingress of relatively mellow songs, time came for the spotlight to be shone on the solo and duet performers. Away from practice time with the ensemble, some Guitar Ensemble members had endeavoured to learn personal pieces, on top of those they had to know for the ensemble performances.
The two soloists, Li Yuan (16S03R) and Jordan Kow (16A01B), showcased their talent for the guitar in their respective performances of Cavatina (Stanley Myers, from the critically acclaimed film The Deer Hunter) and Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen). Li Yuan’s impressive execution of tempo variation and soft touch, along with the crisp tune of the guitar, pronounced the emotion of the hauntingly bittersweet Cavatina. Afterwards, the audience bore increasingly astounded witness to Jordan’s manipulation of one sole guitar to encompass Bohemian Rhapsody‘s complex orchestration and many-layered sound. When asked why he had chosen this challenging song, Jordan said, “I really like the song – but besides that, I wanted people to see how such a song can translate onto the guitar and what six strings are capable of.”
Last but not least, Evan Quek (16S06K), Chairperson of RJGE, and Ryan Siew (16S03P) delivered the plucky and upbeat One by Depapepe after the intermission. Their onstage chemistry made for an adroitly synchronised piece, as the two complemented each other’s fast-paced strumming, lending their performance an extra edge with their comfortable confidence. Their performance thus achieved a convincing and skilful emulation of the original by the suave gentlemen of Depapepe, gracing the audience’s ears with hearty yet elegant tunes.
The other items were small groups performing a range of current pop songs, including a mash-up of One Call Away by Charlie Puth and Love Yourself by Justin Bieber, to a rendition of 小幸运 [Xiǎo Xìng Yùn] from the 2015 film “Our Times”, where RJGE surprised us with a Year 5 performer Shravya (17S06A) singing the last phrase of the song.
Despite having less prior experience with Mandarin, Shravya said she wanted to perform because she wanted to “take on the challenge”. The last group, consisting of only J2s, performed their own pop song mashup including Thrift Shop (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis), True Colors (Zedd ft. Kesha), Don’t (Ed Sheeran) and No Diggity (by Blackstreet). It was executed well, with great vocals and a little extra flair in the form of groovy snapbacks, wooly scarves and exotic coats.
After two more songs from the seniors that exemplified the ensemble’s virtuosity, the night finally closed with the fun and fast-paced Plink Plank Plunk! by Leroy Anderson. It featured a variety of horns, cowbells and even the traditional sponge-throwing at their animated conductor, Mr Michael Gaspar.
Despite the success of the performances, preparing for them had indeed been no easy feat. In the words of Vice-Chairperson Goh Jia Ni, “Since we were all busy with school work and other commitments, it was really hard to find time to gather everyone to practice or discuss about the concert. As a result, we barely had time to practise.” One Year 5 member, Novis Lim (17S03M), even had to handle both the junior and senior pieces, racking up a total of 8 songs to learn within just 2 months. On the day of the concert, CCA members were still juggling practice, setting up décor and redirecting audience members who appeared backstage accidentally because they entered through the wrong door.
However, everything worked out perfectly in the end. While the audience took home a splendid evening of entertainment, the performers had also returned with a newfound sense of camaraderie. Jia Ni also reflected fondly as she told us, “Despite being a music CCA, it is quite ironic that our CCA’s main focus is not the music, but rather the friendships and bonds forged. But that’s what an ‘ensemble’ stands for, it means coming together to create great music.