By Mabel Yet (19S03Q) and Rachel Lee (19A01D)
Photos courtesy of Kathryn Oei and Zheng Huijun from Raffles Photographic Society
Many would associate chorale music with the solemn singing, foreign hymns, and rows of singers dressed in identical silk robes and tuxedos, typically found at a church or in a concert hall. But for a night every year, Raffles Chorale is permitted to break free of convention to put on a night of surprise and wonder. The product of this was Cadence, a full-length concert held on 15 December which astonished its audience with a variety of medleys ranging from the latest pop tunes to soulful renditions of JJ Lin.
Most importantly, it was all for a good cause. Part of the proceeds from the concert will go to local NGO Habitat for Humanity, an organisation that Raffles Chorale has chosen to partner with for 3 years running.
As we filed into the Performing Arts Centre (PAC) that night, we were immediately immersed in the Christmas spirit, greeted with complimentary baubles, fairy lights adorning the walls and piles of decorative gifts that glistened on stage. Despite overcast skies, the atmosphere remained festive and cozy indoors. Supplementing the heartwarming mood were the emcees of the night, Cynthia Lew (19S03O) and Axell Ong (19S03A), who brought mirth to the audience with their lighthearted banter and wordplay.
Adhering to the festive mood of the season, the concert opened with eleven-member group Elven, who were decked out in Santa hats. They quickly launched into their rendition of 2002 by Anne-Marie, arranged by Abigail Lee (19A01C), where we got our very first glimpse into quite a different side of Raffles Chorale. The singers immediately drew the audience in with their seamless harmonizing and stellar voices, taking turns to sing and provide backup vocals, all the while complementing each other perfectly.
And providing Christmas songs to go along with the theme of the performance was All I Want For Christmas, arranged by Samantha Toh (19S03Q), whose strong vocals put the audience in a joyous, cozy mood despite the chill of the night. It was impossible not to be entirely enthralled with their music, which involved multiple layers that melded together harmoniously to deliver a stunning performance.
Next, J-pop group Omae Wa Mou Shindeiru took the stage with Shelter, arranged by Sherwin Lam (19S06O). This acapella piece gave off feel-good vibes that warmed the souls of many, and we daresay we might have even enjoyed it more than the original version (which is great too, of course!). The absence of instrumental music truly allowed the singers’ voices to stand out and shine in all of their glory. With a lighthearted, lively undertone undergirding the song, it was clear that the performers were enjoying themselves as much as we were enjoying their music.
Now, we probably all know of the remarkable ability of music to tug at your heartstrings, even if you don’t really understand the lyrics! This could not have been better demonstrated in the next song performed. As the group slowed down the pace to deliver a heart-stirring, haunting performance of a Studio Ghibli Medley (in Japanese!), the audience was left completely captivated by the stunning collaboration of high, melodic voices with low, deep humming that sent chills down our spine. We got our first taste of the singers’ multi-linguistic talents, astonished by their ability to perform the piece as if Japanese were their first language.
Perhaps it might just have been a strategy to stall for time while performers changed backstage, but we were certainly wowed as Chorale’s JC 1-4 beatboxers, Cavan Koh (19A01D), Kevin Li (18S06I), and seniors Ryan Han (J3) and Reno Sam (J4) took turns to fight it out in an electrifying beatbox battle. Almost every performance that night featured beatboxing as an accompaniment, but this particular performance directly shone the limelight on it. This was definitely an aspect far removed from standard chorale performance, highlighting the extent of the performers’ talents.
For members in the audience left utterly shook by how they made all those noises using only their mouths, the beatboxers explained that they “kinda learn the basics from seniors and start exploring from there […] just randomly beatboxing while walking around, as [their] friends can probably attest to with great annoyance!” They also shared how “[they] learnt a lot from each other, […] teaching each other new beats they’ve learnt.”
Although they insisted that “beatboxing is really just variations of the same three fundamental beats: the bass, or the “B” sound, the hi-hat or “T” sound, and the Snare (the K sound)”, putting it all together so effortlessly probably requires a fair amount of practice and hard work (and likely a whole bucket of talent!).
For ardent fans of JJ Lin, 红包拿来 (give us angpaos)’s beautifully arranged medley, by Byron Lim (19S03E), may be the closest to a JJ Lin concert experience you’ll get! Just like most of the other performances, each singer took turns to share the spotlight and sing solo— the uniqueness of every individual’s voice kept the performance fresh and interesting. This particular performance employed a method where it seemed like everyone was singing different tunes at the same time, all the time. Astoundingly, this managed to amplify the singers’ beautiful harmonization, delivering a spectacular performance.
Showcasing their bilingualism, the group then deftly switched to pop song Finesse, arranged by Lim Yu Fan (19S06M) and Reno. Another marvelously arranged piece where backup singers often echoed lead singer Yvswenne Liew (19S03M), their rendition of this song had our heads bobbing to the music and our feet itching to dance.
One point of fascination was how stage lighting was experimented with to complement the performance: at the peak of the song, we were plunged into darkness and silence for a few seconds after the line “now sloooow ittt downnnn for a minute—”, before the singers burst into song once again!
If you were feeling slightly famished by this point, the name of the next group certainly would not help any hunger pangs. However, K-pop group Cheese Kimbap surely fed the audience well with a delightful Lauv mashup arranged by Sherwin, consisting of well-lauved (haha) hits such as Chasing Fire and Superhero. The different layers of voices coalescing together had a calming effect and were definitely a blessing to our ears.
On the hard work behind arranging acapella pieces, Sherwin shared that “[Without any instruments], […] all the components of the song which make it recognisable, such as the chords and rhythms, have to be somewhat similar, but you still get to add your own flair to it by being creative through colourising chords or even rewriting harmonies.”
For all the K-pop fans in the audience, this K-pop medley (also arranged by Sherwin) would likely be the most anticipated performance that night. With a combination of hit songs from popular Korean artists like iKON, BTS, Red Velvet and Twice, this lively performance kept the audience on the edge of their seats, cheering enthusiastically as each member took turns to lead and throw in a dance move or two (what multi-talented individuals indeed!). Under a kaleidoscope of colour by the usage of strobe lights, they sure knew how to groove with each other and keep an audience entertained!
After a 10 minute intermission (for the singers to recuperate from hardcore jamming), Solo and the Boys, a special group consisting of eight Chorale seniors, took the stage with a mashup of Lost in Japan by Shawn Mendes and Delicate by Taylor Swift, arranged by Chorale’s ex-Chairman Kevin Li (18S06I). The highlight of this performance might have been when Solomon Chann (18103A) hopped off the stage mid-song to present a particular member of the audience with a bouquet of flowers, to shrieks and wolf-whistling of everybody else.
Taking a break from all the upbeat pop music, Fringe, a group name passed down by batches of seniors, entered the spotlight. The performance began with a mood of solemnity that we would have come to expect from Chorale: eight singers dressed in formal attire, harmonizing into microphones to a stirring, soulful rendition of Ave Maria.
As they began the next song, 12 Days of Christmas, the audience was pleasantly taken aback when the performance seemingly derailed due to the singers’ apparent confusion, botching the song by switching up the tune and pace at various parts, and even replacing the word ‘Christmas’ with ‘Hanukkah’ at one point in time. The song was also scattered with other Christmas tunes like Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, keeping the performance lively and the audience highly entertained!
But the biggest surprise of the night definitely came towards the end, in the second last act performed, which turned out to be a comedy musical skit. A tradition that has been dutifully passed down from batch to batch for the past 20(!) years, Punch kept the audience in stitches with their hilarious, convincing acting, interspersed with their own renditions of songs, from The Lion Sleeps Tonight to Timber to even Little Einsteins’ theme song (yes that one). Fun fact: Singapore’s very own Kit Chan was a performer in this longstanding tradition during her time in Raffles Institution!
The skit featured an ensemble cast of five main members, each playing an absurd caricature of a character. We have Sugar (played by Cavan), a child with an obsession with Disneyland, Banny (played by Sherwin), a creepy old uncle going to Paris for bak chor mee, Humphrey (played by Shawn Ho (19S03C)), a vain jock who wants a girlfriend, Bethany (played by Samantha), your classic bimbo, and Chatelier (played by Byron), a smart, arrogant dude going to a science conference, brought together after their plane crashes onto a mysterious island.
The cast members definitely executed the humour well— by the end of the skit, the audience was left thoroughly impressed and in fits of laughter, wondering if any members of Chorale had considered joining Raffles Players!
On this long-standing tradition, Chorale members admit that “frankly [they] have no idea where it came from, but [their] best guess is that Punch really pays homage to the roots of Raffles Chorale. Before venturing into choral music, [Chorale] was originally a musical troupe that put up stage musicals in school!”
All too soon, we came to the final act of the night. White Christmas, once again arranged by Sherwin, brought us back from the rowdy and humorous mood brought about by Punch, and the night descended into one of tranquility and soothing with a final chorale classic: Cantate Domino by Josu Elberdin. The ending was fitting, to say the least. Throughout the concert, the singers had steadily wowed the audience with their ability to entertain with modern songs and flashy beatboxing acts. But they still ended off by going back to their roots, allowing the audience to appreciate chorale music for what it truly was.
The lights dimmed to thunderous applause. But just as quickly, shouts of “Encore!” could be heard from the audience, who had previously been more inconspicuous and prudent in their show of support for the performers, punctuating every act that had come before with polite but scattered claps. If anything, their uncharacteristic clamor at the very end for the performance to be extended only served to further demonstrate the impact the concert had left on every individual.
Behind the Limelight
Despite the upbeat tone of the concert, not everything was fun and games in the preparations leading up to this night. Besides meticulously putting together every acapella piece and rehearsing them over and over to make sure they were on point, Chorale also had to manage the entire running of the concert. From filming publicity videos and struggling to coordinate practices (since members were all being pulled in different directions in the holidays) to orchestrating the lights and sounds and painstakingly putting up decorations to curate the right atmosphere for the night, the journey was definitely an uphill one.
Given the top-notch quality of the concert, it came as a surprise to us when chairperson Sherwin revealed the trials and tribulations behind the scenes. “When we were pushing hard in the final stretch, many of our members started falling sick and consequently many acts started falling apart. But somehow we managed to put it all together at the end and everything surpassed expectations!”
While chorale music holds its own intrinsic charm, Vocal Delights showcased a fresh, unique side of Raffles Chorale you wouldn’t often get to experience. With its combination of self-arranged acapella pieces from diverse pop cultures, Christmas music and hilarious acting, it was clear that these singers love their craft and the people they were performing alongside with, and had poured their soul into bringing this joy they felt to the audience.
As we huddled inside the PAC with the rain drumming outside, allowing ourselves to be swept away by the immense talent up on stage, it was indeed heartening to see each and every performer stand out in his/her own way. Unlike in a choir where it would be virtually impossible to distinguish the different voices, Vocal Delights allowed the singers to go solo at some points and showcase their various skills outside of the chorale genre– from musical arrangement to beatboxing and even acting. Indeed, the concert was a delightful treat that far transcended expectations, and we look forward to seeing more in Vocal Delights 2019!
A video of the full concert can be found here.