Sharing the Gift of Music: Raffles Chorale

By Grace Lau (18S03I), Loh Su Jean (19A01A), and Kuang Shane Qi (19A13A)
Photos courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society

Continuing the tradition of performing as one united Raffles family, the 3 choirs, namely Raffles Voices (Y1-4), Chorale (Y5-6) and Singers (Alumni), came together on April 14 to put up an enthralling performance themed “Love, Peace & Respect”. While the theme may sound didactic and dull, the actual performance was far from that. Through a wide range of pieces handpicked from different eras and societies, the choristers conveyed significant messages, such as the importance of peace, with a deliberate emphasis on social action.

The concert kicked off with Wade in the Water (arr. Norman Luboff) and Who Shall Have My Lady Fair (Robert Pearsall). These pieces, which are composed in two very different styles, showcased the choir’s impressive range of repertoire.

Sonnet 43 (by Kelly Tang) and Mamayog Akun (arr. Fabian Obispo) were, according to choir members themselves, “challenging but fun”. Especially for the Y1 boys who had never performed acapella before, these two pieces presented a steep learning curve for them to conquer. Despite the initial challenges, their hard work evidently paid off. The beautiful solo by Joel Chik at the end of Sonnet 43, as well as the coordination displayed when performing the interlocking rhythms and complex harmonies of Mamayog Akun, left the audience amazed.

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Raffles Voices kickstarting the concert

While Raffles Voices enchanted us with their youthful charm, Chorale spoke straight to the writers’ hearts with their intimate music. Calm, collected, and poised, they delivered a haunting performance that was shocking in its tenderness and maturity.

One of the pieces that stood out in its poignancy was Entreat Me Not to Leave You (by Dan Forrest). It opened delicately, with voices shifting slightly at the end of each line to tilt the harmony just off-balance. The song grew more insistent and yet more vulnerable in its push and pull between the low and high registers. For a brief moment, there was dissonance. And then, a long, low, harmony – overwhelming in its simplicity – drew it to a close.

Injecting local flair into their performance of 身骑白马 (by 高竹), Chorale performed the song in Hokkien instead of Mandarin. While the choir’s intermittent rustling of pink ribbons drew chuckles from the audience, the sound effect worked to capture pastoral scenes and images.

Chorale rounded things off with an electrifying call for peace in We Can Mend the Sky (by Jake Runestad). The powerful lyrics were taken from a poem composed by 14 year-old Warda Mohammed, which depicts his journey as an immigrant. Complementing its anti-war message, the song featured sudden drum beats and sliding voices that mimicked the sound of falling bombs in air raids, leaving us disoriented and unsettled. In a stunning moment of revelation, the choir fell silent. The only voice left was that of soloist Michelle Tan, as she pleaded directly, and alone, for action.

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Raffles Chorale singing their hearts out

Starting their performance with a lively piece, Warm Up (from Mass), Raffles Singers lightened the solemn atmosphere in the hall with some lighthearted shoulder patting before transiting to a gentle and placid tune.

Performing the piece We Beheld Once Again The Stars adapted from Dante’s Divine Comedy, the seasoned choristers smoothly progressed from a divine, tender melody to a grand magnificence. They captivated the audience as they emotively expressed Dante’s thirst for freedom as he journeyed from Inferno (Hell) to Paradiso (Heaven).

Finally, Singers ended their segment with an African-American spiritual piece, My Soul’s Been Anchored, which celebrates deep faith in the Lord. The sudden changes in volume and unmistakable traces of jazz layered the piece, which ended with a startlingly high note that was met with loud applause.

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Raffles Singers at full strength

The members of Chorale filed back onto stage, though this time curiously holding wine glasses filled with water. Their purpose soon became apparent: as the choristers ran their fingers around the rims of the glasses, the unearthly sound of chiming bells filled the concert hall. The choir then launched into Stars (by Eriks Esenvalds), delivering a performance as sublime as its celestial backdrop.

The following piece tugged the audience down to Earth and provided a refreshing touch of pop culture. “In My Life” (arr. Roger Emerson) was delivered well by soloist Joshua Seah, who demonstrated admirable technique. The concert wound down with Prelude to Peace (by Randall Stroope), a soothing piece that infused the audience with a more mellow sentiment.

The audience knew something big was on the horizon once the members of Raffles Voices joined their Chorale counterparts for the finale, Kasar Mie La Gaji (by Alberto Grau). Meaning “the Earth is tired”, Kasar Mie La Gaji was a call to environmental action that plunged ahead with an unrelenting rhythm. The unceasing repetition as well as the series of stomps and claps created a sense of desperation, culminating in a final, resounding stomp that shook the hall.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. When the emcees returned to deliver their closing speech, the audience groaned and shouted calls of “encore!”. The choirs presented their conductor and teachers in charge with heartwarming tokens of appreciation, but this did not deter the audience. Amidst increasingly enthusiastic calls for an encore, the hapless emcees eventually gave up, shrugged, and rejoined the choir for the actual conclusion to the concert.

For the encore, Voices, Chorale, and Singers came together to sing The Gift of Music by John Rutter. Accompanied by flautist, Clement Chan (18S03B), the piece was not as technically dazzling as previous pieces, but was meaningful and sincere.

The choirs ended off with a rousing rendition of our very own Institution Anthem (arr. Mr Toh Ban Sheng). While the unexpected anthem elicited some chuckles from the audience, everyone eventually fell silent as the high notes soared, with members of the audience standing up as a sign of respect.

From a larger perspective, certain themes such as the call for humanity were clearly reverberated throughout the performance. The inclusivity of pieces from different cultures and languages also highlights the fact that music is universal and that despite our diverse backgrounds, we are united by our common identity as humans.

On a more personal level, the concert revealed the tight support network that many of us are blessed with. During the concert, one of our writers witnessed a heartwarming sight of a mother using a pair of binoculars to catch a glimpse of her son. This was but one example of how family and friends are supportive of the endeavours of their loved ones. Beyond the showcase of vocal mastery, the concert was a true representation of the uniting power of music.

Quoting Chorale EXCO member, Esther Choo (18S03I), “I think I can speak for the whole choir that we are all proud of how far we’ve come and how much effort we’ve put in. We are glad that we were able to create so many magical moments both on stage and for the audience.”


Set list:

Raffles Voices
Wade In The Water (Arr. Norman Luboff)
Who Shall Have My Lady Fair (Robert Pearsall)
Mamayog Akun (arr. Fabian Obispo)
Sonnet 43 (Kelly Tang)

Raffles Chorale
O My Luve’s Like A Red, Red Rose (Renee Clausen)
Entreat Me Not To Leave you (Dan Forrest)
身骑白马 (高竹)
We Can Mend The Sky (Jake Runested)

Raffles Singers
Warm Up (from Mass) (Leonard Bernstein)
We Beheld Once Again The Stars (Randall Stroope)
My Soul’s Been Anchored (Moses Hogan)

Raffles Chorale
Stars (Eriks Essenvalds)
In My Life (Arr. Roger Emerson)
Prelude To Peace (Randall Stroope)

Finale (Raffles Chorale and Singers)
Kasar Mie La Gaji (Alberto Grau)

Encore (Raffles Voices, Chorale and Singers)
The Gift Of Music (John Rutter)
Institution Anthem (arr. Toh Ban Sheng)

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