By Christopher Ong (17S06E), Chairperson
Many would think that a Chinese Orchestra is limited to playing traditional Chinese music beyond our years. The Raffles Institution Chinese Orchestra (RICO) challenges these conventions, by transcending the boundaries of what a Chinese Orchestra is stereotypically assumed to play.
While RICO does play classical Chinese music, we also often put our own spin on pop songs that everyone is familiar with; from the well-loved Taiwanese ballad 小幸运 , to the local hit, Unbelievable. This year’s Open House performance will even feature a classic Japanese song, Senbonzakura. Moreover, we have performed pop medleys that are mash-ups of popular English songs, such as Ed Sheeran’s Photograph, Maroon 5’s Sugar, Bastille’s Pompeii and One Republic’s Counting Stars.
You name it, we play it.
We are very privileged to have a total of 12 dedicated instructors. With one instructor for each individual instrument, members will benefit from the small class size during sectional practice sessions. As such, we are able to achieve high musical standards and can tackle any piece that our conductor sets for us.
Speaking of him, another plus point to RICO is our conductor, Mr Yang, who has been the conductor for RICO (Year 1 to 4) and recently took over the Year 5 to 6 side. A seasoned conductor, having been in the music industry for a long time, he has led many schools under his guidance to achieve stellar results at the Singapore Youth Festival. Between cracking jokes and being strict when there is work to be done, one would describe him as an equally enthusiastic and committed conductor. Without his patient wisdom, RICO would not be as polished as it is today.
Every year, RICO has at least one major performance. We participate in the biennial Singapore Youth Festival, and our most recent performance in 2015 saw us clinching the Distinction award. In non-SYF years, we typically put up our own concert, titled Voices of the Dragon. Across the years, we have consistently had full house shows, which feature a variety of acts including solo performances, section ensemble items as well as full orchestra performances.
In addition, we often perform for several school events such as Open House, Chinese New Year and even National Day Celebrations. In February 2016, we were privileged to be invited to perform at the Esplanade for the Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts, alongside our Year 1 to 4 counterparts.
In July 2016, we had an exchange with a few Chinese Orchestras from Hong Kong schools. Professional musicians from the Singapore Chinese Orchestra were invited to conduct master classes, while we also prepared a repertoire for the visiting schools. It was an enriching experience for both our guests and ourselves; we personally got a taste of the Chinese Orchestra experience in Hong Kong.
To prepare ourselves for the plethora of performances across the two years, we have a systematic practice schedule consisting of one sectional and one combined session per week. Sectional sessions are when members of the same instrument practice together under the tutelage of an instructor. Emphasis is placed on technical aspects such as the playing the notes accurately in the correct rhythm. Meanwhile, combined sessions are the time where we come together as a collective orchestra and practice our respective parts in unison, where Mr Yang will shape our music.
Simply practicing our instruments all the time would be monotonous. That is why we hold our annual March Chalet, a tradition started by our seniors, which continues year after year. Fully run by members, it is typically a two-day-one-night affair filled with fun and games. The highlight of the chalet stay is “Fright Night”, where we transform the chalet into a haunted house and give members a good scare. Overall, members have a thoroughly great time during those two days.
Of course, bonding is hardly limited to our March Chalet. As our practice usually ends at night, a handful of us tend to have dinner together afterwards. It is a good opportunity to catch up with one another and unwind after a long day in school. Sometimes, you may even catch us playing badminton outside our practice room before practice starts!
Should you feel that two years of CO is not enough, you could always come back to join the affiliated Raffles Alumni Chinese Orchestra (RACO). RACO was founded by Cheow Xunqi, a former Rafflesian from RICO. One of the oldest members of the alumni orchestra is from the Class of 2006. It is a great way for CCA mates to stay in touch and get to know their “ancestors” through putting up an annual concert. The fact that many members from RICO return to RACO year after year is a testament to the commitment and passion of the members in RICO.
We would love to welcome you into the RICO family. A background in Chinese music is not required, and you can approach any friendly RICO member to find out more, or visit our booth during Open House.