By Joan Ang (17A01B), Soh Gek Shuen (18S03B) and Lim Tian Jiao (18S03B)
Photos by Cheng Wentuo, Raffles Photography and Arts Club (Y1–4)
The Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) is the highlight of the performing arts calendar: CCAs often pour hundreds of hours of hard work into perfecting their set, which can range from half an hour to a mere fifteen minutes. In many cases, the fruits of the performers’ labours go unacknowledged, only being viewed by a handful of judges and the smattering of spectators available on a weekday afternoon.
Some CCAs, however, choose to subvert this expectation.
Conducted by Mr Toh Ban Sheng, four choirs (Raffles Voices, Chorale and Singers, together with St Joseph Institution’s Vocal Ensemble) came together on the 1st of April to put together Let My Love Be Heard, a combined concert that functioned as both an opportunity to showcase their pieces in a non-competitive setting, as well as a milestone before the final performance itself.
With the exception of Raffles Singers, the alumni choir of the Institution, the choirs performed their SYF setlist, which ranges from three to four songs for each choir. Each choir is required to perform a set piece, as well as two pieces chosen by the choir themselves.
This year’s set piece was Bunga Sayang, a song composed by Dick Lee, one of the most established composers in Singapore’s arts scene. While all three choirs performed the piece, their renditions were far from repetitive — the composition of the song had made it such that the last section of the piece had been left open to interpretation at the conductor’s discretion, making each choir’s performance incredibly unique.
While Raffles Voices chose to impress the crowd with a stunning soundscape of discordant melodies, Chorale instead opted for a more traditional ending, with intertwining harmonies of ‘Bunga Sayang’ coming together into a final, full chord with a single dissonant soprano note. In contrast, SJI Vocal Ensemble’s TTB arrangement utilised a musical canon to bring out the round fullness of purely male vocals.
Despite all three choirs performing the same piece, their individual prowess were clear for all to see: the creativity of the composition, as well as the effectiveness of each execution, left the audience with no doubt that each choir had poured much effort into their preparation of the song.
One notable piece from the concert was Hentakan Jiwa, or ‘Beat of my Soul’ in Bahasa Indonesia, performed by Raffles Voices. In this piece, the choir made use of sectioned choreography, stomping and clapping to evoke the rhythms of a beating human heart.
These percussive elements enhanced the effect of rapid, high-pitched dissonant chattering from the choir, which when interspersed with three slower, dramatic solos, lent the piece a more modern take, distinguishing it from the other, more classical choral arrangements performed by the choir.
One of our reporters particularly enjoyed the pace and expressivity of the soloists. Each solo was fine-tuned for maximum dramatic effect. Within each long, lyrical phrases, intense build-up gave way to sharp, loud bursts, ending each line with a bang, giving the song an overall tightness that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
Raffles Chorale’s powerful rendition of The Conversion of Saul left the audience awestruck and reflected the huge emotional range of the choir. The piece follows the conversion of the eponymous Saul, an active persecutor of early Christians before being struck by a vision on the road to Damascus, resulting in his conversion to Christianity.
The choir’s rapid, agitated delivery of running melodic lines and carefully timed choreography in the first section of the piece brought out the intensity of Saul’s hatred and despair. As the song smoothly transitioned into swelling, mezzo-forte chords, the piece gained an almost ethereal quality, allowing the audience to almost see the transformation of the redeemed Saul unfolding before their eyes.
Dynamics, however, was a particularly tricky part of this piece, and Chorale’s setlist overall. As Chorale member Marcus Devakishan (17S06Q) commented, “because of our large size, we needed to constantly adjust our volume to have each part sound clear and yet be able to identify our melody.” Despite these technical difficulties, Chorale performed with finesse, leaving the stage to a large round of audience applause.
SJI’s Vocal Ensemble performed a powerful rendition of N’ap Debat, or ‘We’re Hangin’ On’, a piece dedicated to the victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, to represent the resilience of the Haitian people. As the last piece in the set, the audience’s curiosities as to the instrument placed on stage were finally satisfied — not just the choir, but an African drum, which was utilised in this piece to great effect.
Like other pieces in the concert, this piece was accompanied by choreographed movements by the choir, which accentuated the rhythmic elements of the song. Halfway through the piece, the percussionist, 金卓凡, performed a warm, resonant solo that energised the piece further, and signaled the transition from a more serious portion of the song to an uplifting chorus, signifying the continued life and strength of the Haitian people.
Another highlight of the evening was Let my Love be Heard, the titular track of the concert that left many an audience member spellbound. As the alumni choir, the Raffles Singers had both the luxury of experience and skill: they were able to perform longer pieces compared to the other choirs, who were constrained largely by the limits of the SYF set. The choir’s wealth of experience in choral music was clearly visible: their rich voices even brought tears to the eyes of some in the audience.
Originally performed during a memorial vigil for victims of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, the emotional depth and sensitivity of Singers’ performance created an angelic quality that perfectly captured the quietly hopeful nature of the song, and tugged at the heartstrings of the audience.
All choirs shared the stage for the final song on the setlist, a joint rendition of Rasa Sayang arranged by Mr Toh himself.
With multiple choirs performing, and only coming together to practice as a whole on the day of the performance itself, one would expect this item to be a sort of tokenistic gesture to round up the concert: nevertheless, the choirs performed well above expectations, their voices seamlessly blending together into a fantastic finale as one combined choir.
Likewise, the encore item, The Road Home, was similarly polished. As noted by conductor Mr Toh, The Road Home is the “choir song” of Raffles, passed down through each generation of Chorale and Voices members. The weight of this legacy was not lost on the combined choir: their singing was almost reverent, lending this song an ethereal peace that captivated and lulled the audience. The bittersweet piece could not have been a better way to round up the concert.
Throughout the concert, it was enchanting to see each and every chorister pour their hearts into their craft, and communicate their passion to the audience. More than technical prowess alone, it was the sense of camaraderie amongst the choirs that enraptured listeners. As audience member Timothy Robin Chin (18S03B) aptly put it, “I think that each choir had their own unique sound, from the TTBB of the SJI choir to the full SATB of Chorale. I’m honestly blown away by the sheer amount of talent that each chorister had to offer.”
Raffles Press would like to commend the choirs on their wonderful performances, as well as wish them all the best in the upcoming Singapore Youth Festival.
Beati Quorum Via (Charles Villiers Stanford)
Bunga Sayang (SATB, arr. Zechariah Goh)
- Piano accompaniment: Matthew Mak
Hentakan Jiwa (Ken Steven)
- Soloists: Luke Chia Loke Yang (3C); Lim Yu Fan (4E); Byron Lim Bo Ren (4C)
向山举目 (Psalm 121) (杜万胜)
Timor et Tremor (Francis Poulenc)
Bunga Sayang (acapella, arr. Zechariah Goh)
Conversion of Saul (Randall Stroope)
St. Joseph’s Institution Vocal Ensemble
Absolve Domine (Peter Cornelius)
Bunga Sayang (TTB, arr. Zechariah Goh)
- Piano accompaniment: Matthew Mak
N’ap Debat (Sydney Guillaume)
- Soloist: 金卓凡 (SJI)
Cantate Domino (Josu Elberdin)
Pacem (Don McDonald)
If I Can Help Somebody (arr. Ray Liebau)
Let My Love Be Heard (Jake Runested)
Rasa Sayang (arr. Toh Ban Sheng)
The Road Home (Stephen Paulus)
- Descant: Joyce Lim (17S03Q), Bryan Yeo (17S03F), Nicholas Ng (4J)