CCA Previews ’17: Raffles Chorale

By Chavez Cheong (17S06I), Quartermaster & Joan Ang (17A01B), Member

The stage doors swing open. Approximately fifty people clad in black and red stride out to uproarious applause, and arrange themselves in orderly rows. A man clad in a black blazer follows, positioning himself in front of a podium where he neatly places a single, black file. He bows, and faces his back to the audience.

You close your eyes. Focus. This is the culmination of months of hard work.

With a gentle wave of his hand, the man at centre stage seems to summon magic. Soaring high notes stream through the concert hall, beautifully paired harmonies intertwining with the melodic line. The basses hit the low notes perfectly, providing a steady rhythm and rounding out the chorus.

As the choir fades out with a gentle haunting dissonant chord, a hush falls across the audience, and you feel the tiny hairs on your arm standing on end.

This, is music. And as effortless as it may sound, it is anything but.

singysong

Chorale members performing a piece during Limelight. © Raffles Photography

The most common question that someone asks about Chorale is usually, “What do you do in Chorale?”, which is immediately followed by, “do you just stand there and… sing?”

Singing is, of course, the main CCA activity, given that Raffles Chorale, is in fact, a choir. What most people underestimate, however, is the amount of effort that it takes to sing as a choir. As our conductor, Mr Toh Ban Sheng, often highlights, “there is a difference between making pitch and making sound.”

The pursuit of musical perfection, that “hair-raising moment”, takes intense dedication and effort. Most who choose to join Chorale have it as their only CCA, and for good reason. Our trainings are often intensive — Chorale meets twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, for four hours each time, divided between sectionals and combined practice. Other than official trainings, the choir often invests extra time in practice during season (before performances). This means that some weeks, especially the ones leading up to a concert, the average chorister can spend almost every day of the week in choir practice.

Between Chorale members themselves, it’s not out of place for Chorale members to invest time for unofficial trainings by themselves, usually by section. Chorale is divided into Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass (SATB). The four sections often train by themselves as well — not just to learn their parts, but to refine their techniques and practice with each other.

limelight

Raffles Chorale, after Limelight 2016. © Raffles Photography

Mr Toh places much emphasis on technical ability in singing, being trained in both music and (surprisingly, perhaps) physics. Through his years of experience in choral singing, he has developed a unique set of vocal techniques based on his knowledge of scientific theory, and treating the human body as a musical instrument. Precision is stressed above all: not just in pitch, but in everything from mouth shape to breathing.

Chorale performs about two or more times a year, and biannually aims to go on a concert tour overseas. This April, Chorale performed alongside its juniors at Raffles Voices for Limelight 2016, a biannual series organised by the Esplanade. This concert largely showcased Chorale’s classical repertoire, featuring sacred Latin pieces, as well as traditional folk songs.

chromatic

One of our acapella groups, Chromatic, for Vocal Delights 2016. © Zhang Yiming

Fear not: our abilities aren’t purely limited to church music. Our annual end-of-year acapella charity concert, Vocal Delights, is entirely student-run, thus allowing members themselves to arrange and sing pieces in small groups, which perform anything from pop to EDM and Christmas carols. Heck, comedy appears too. From the decor to the ticketing, every last detail is done by the batch themselves, showcasing the prowess of the entire batch together.

Of course, Chorale is not all practice and performance. Outside of practice sessions, Chorale also holds CCA outings, as well as the annual overnight camp in March, to energise the members for the year ahead, and to facilitate bonding and camaraderie. One can claim that singing is an individual discipline, but a choir is, after all, held together by the bonds between its members.

marinabarrage

The Chorale Y6’17 batch, at Marina Barrage. © Zhang Yiming

At the end of the day, some might still wonder why we’re all still in this CCA. The hours are long, the practices grueling, occasionally your conductor’s standards seem just out of reach and the reward is so, comparatively little — what stands to be gained?

Our conductor puts it well. “The only people who may end up appreciating our music are ourselves. What Chorale will teach you is that it is the intrinsic rewards that matter the most — that feeling when you walk off the stage knowing that all that work came to fruition.”

So put your heart into it, and we assure you that through the sweat and toil, you will develop as a musician, forge new friendships and ultimately grow as a person. Walk off that stage with no regrets.

If you’re up for it, that is.

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