By Koh Yin Jie (18S03Q), Chairperson, Erhu
Hear the name Chinese Orchestra and you will immediately think of old men clad in silk attire playing ancient instruments, or perhaps you will get reminded of the same boring Chinese New Year songs you hear every January, or maybe you will associate it with a concert full of exotic-sounding pieces that you only go to because your classmates begged you to.
Well, there’s no denying that the Chinese Orchestra does entail those things mentioned above, but RJCO is much, much more than that.
What you may not immediately think of is a close-knit group of young students passionate about making beautiful music together, with the aim of promoting Chinese music and instruments to the student population. While Chinese pieces still naturally form the basis of our repertoire, RJCO regularly performs modern songs like 小幸运 (xiao xing yun) and pop medleys featuring Ed Sheeran, Coldplay etc., or evergreens like Teresa Teng’s classics. Being an orchestra player lets one appreciate the various styles of music, be it Western or Chinese, classical or contemporary.
Most people only know very few Chinese instruments like the 二胡 (erhu), 古筝 (guzheng) and 琵琶 (pipa). However, the Chinese Orchestra comprises over 30 different instruments, split into 5 main sections. No matter what kind of instrument you are interested in, we have it. If you like to pull a bow across a string to create beautiful flowing melodies laden with vibrato, we have the 弦乐 (xianyue – bowed strings) and 低音 (cello-bass) sections. (NB: yes, the Chinese Orchestra has Western cellos and double basses!) If you like strumming chords or playing lively notes, the 弹拨 (tanbo – plucked strings) section is for you. Should you be into sweet voice-like music or the brassy feel of the powerful 唢呐 (suona), join 吹管 (chuiguan – winds). If you prefer the rhythmic vigour and grandeur of drums and cymbals, join the 打击 (daji – percussion) section. It is the combination of so many different instruments and timbres that gives the Chinese Orchestra such a unique and full sound.
Under the music direction of charismatic Mr Yang Jiwei, RJCO has gone from strength to strength, clinching distinction in our most recent Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) competition in 2017, as well as putting up a successful concert in 2016. Other highlights RJCO enjoyed in recent years include an exchange with the Diocesan Boys’ School from Hong Kong and an invitation to perform in the Huayi Festival of Music held at Esplanade.
In general, the orchestra alternates between a concert year and an SYF year, so each batch of musicians would have an opportunity to represent the school in a competition, as well as experience the vigour and excitement of putting up a show for our friends and family. Sectional practices (where we learn the pieces in our instrument groups under our instructors) are generally on Mondays from 5:30pm to 8:30pm, whereas combined practices (where we rehearse the pieces as a full orchestra under our conductor) are generally on Tuesdays from 5:30pm to 7:30pm.
But RJCO is not just about the music; it’s about the people, too. The orchestra brings together like-minded people with the same love for music, which many of us affectionately call our second ‘family’. As Chong Wei Ming (18S03Q, erhu) puts it: “Initially, I only planned on joining RJCO as a helper for SYF, but as I spent more time with the orchestra, I grew to love the supportive atmosphere, the great music, and the warm people whom I look forward to seeing every practice. Even though JC can be really busy, I’ve never regretted my decision to join.”
Come into the Chinese Orchestra room and you won’t be surprised to see our members helping each other with our assignments, chatting with one another, or even playing badminton in the corridor outside (the room is, after all, situated in the EW Barker Sports Institute block). Since our rehearsals end rather late, our members often bond over dinner together after practice.
Every year, RJCO holds its annual March chalet, a 2-day overnight chalet where the new batch of musicians gets to know each other better, and the senior batch takes the opportunity to have a weekend of fun before the SYF/concert grind and academic stress set in. It is not unusual to see juniors staying up all night to chat, play cards or even catch the sunrise the following morning. According to Gao Heng (18S06N, dizi), “the March chalet was an incredible bonding experience for the new members of RJCO, allowing us to interact and have fun with people in other sections, which is not normally possible during practices.”
The word 乐 has two meanings – yue meaning music, and le meaning happiness. In RJCO, we experience both meanings fully, so join us if you want to embark on a musical journey of a lifetime.