By Lim Jing Rong (18A03A), Lynn Hong (18A13A) and Sheryl Gwee (18A01D)
For most of us, the phrase “Chinese orchestra” brings back echoes of cheesy Chinese New Year standards, looped endlessly over the crackling sound systems of neighbourhood malls. At best, it calls to mind the refrains of rather dated wuxia movies and serial dramas.
RJCO’s Singapore Youth Festival, however, is bound to reverse these mistaken notions, with each of the Chinese Orchestra’s members skillfully manipulating their instruments to present an expressive, enthralling and cohesive performance.
Upon arriving at the National University of Singapore Cultural Centre, the sounds of excited chatter and instruments being tuned filtered through air. Groups of students sat huddled in circles, their anticipation palpable – after all, this was to be the culmination of months of hard work, their one chance at the biannual SYF.
RJCO took to the stage to perform their first piece, a set piece 征途 or Journey by Mr Tan Kah Yong. The piece was written to capture Singapore’s progress from a small sleepy fishing village, to a bustling metropolis. The room fell silent as the orchestra prepared to begin their first piece. Opening with sprightly trills that evoked a quiet summer night’s nostalgia, the music quickly began to take on a life of its own.
The double bass’ rich tones carried the warm and earnest melody, mirroring the quiet industry and community of our roots. Then, the music rose to a crescendo – the entrance of the drums, cymbals and trumpets bringing a brighter, more urgent tone, the sounds of a thriving metropolis growing. The music then took a slight turn in a minor key, hinting at brewing conflict and melancholy, but the tension was soon resolved on the warm and lilting turns of the recurring melody, bringing the piece into a full conclusion.
The next piece, which was up to the schools to choose, was 澳门诗篇（小巷琴声）or Macau Suite 3rd Movement, Music of the Alleyways by 唐建平. This piece juxtaposed the tranquility of a quiet alley against the roar of the larger metropolis, mirroring the individual’s search for peace within the crowd. The music did this through building and resolving tension throughout, which not only made for an exciting listen for the audience, but also showcased the orchestra’s technical skill in evocative playing.
The erhu opened the piece with a spritely melody, the setting a playful and energetic tone for the rest of the piece. The dizi (flute) and strings then entered, their bright and trilling tones carrying the cheerful energy of a city in full swing. Clappers, while not featuring prominently in other schools’ pieces, were instrumental to creating the sounds of city life and activity. The dynamism of the music evoked the clamour of raucous crowds and streets swarming with people, reminiscent of Chinatown during Chinese New Year.
The music began to build, swelling with the insistent drumming of the base, the hurried hum of the strings and then the roaring entrance of the drums, leading the orchestra into an exuberant climax — the music coursing at a fever pitch, the frantic brushstrokes of a city flourishing. Then in a blink, the tension dissolved. It melted into a seamless harmony, floating serene over the whispering of the bass, before slowly petering out, on a lone, languid line.
With the verve and dynamism of their skillful performance, RJCO has broadened our horizons, giving our conceptions of chinese orchestral music a sorely needed update. They have done themselves and the school proud and Raffles Press congratulates RJCO on their well-earned Certificate of Distinction.