Igniting the Flames of Change: Spark 2019

By Megan Soh (20A01B) and Jermaine Wong (20S03R)
Photos courtesy of Celine Chung (20S06H) and Fallon Thng (20S03B) from Raffles Photographic Society

There was no better way to end off a long school week than to attend Spark 2019, a concert organized by Raffles Community Advocates (CA) that aimed to raise awareness of the Deaf community in Singapore. Promising a night of music, dance and theatre, the concert hopes to spark a positive change in attitudes towards the Deaf by bridging the gap between the hearing community and the Deaf community.

Michele Pek (20A01A) and Tan Yanning (20A03A) were the vivacious and bubbly emcees who kept the mood of the concert upbeat and vibrant throughout. They started off the event by introducing the audience to sign language, including how to say hello and how to applaud in Singapore Sign Language (SgSL), which would later come in handy when showing our support for performers of the Deaf community.

Michele and Yanning, the vivacious and bubbly emcees of the evening.

First up on the agenda for the night’s musical adventure was an acapella performance by our very own Raffles Chorale, who performed rousing renditions of High Hopes by Panic! at the Disco and Shelter by Porter Robinson. Their incredible harmonizing ability coupled with powerful beatboxing ability truly displayed their prowess, wowing the audience. During the second song, Shelter, CA members entered the stage and did song-signing along with Chorale’s performance. This meant communicating the message and emotions of the song to members of the Deaf community among the audience through sign language, as well as their facial and body expressions, by reinventing and re-interpreting the lyrics of the song. Chorale’s impressive performance, incorporated with the meaningful song-signing by CA members, made the performance a truly impactful one that set the stage for the rest of the acts to come.

Chorale and CA members putting up a beautiful performance for all to enjoy.

Next up was a performance by Ms Lily Goh, who specializes in mallet percussion and song signing. She is also the founder and director of Extra0rdinary Horizons, an enterprise run by the Deaf which aims to help them better integrate into society. She performed Happy Mallets, a cheerful, jubilant piece that immediately put everyone in high spirits and really sparked joy (aha!) among the audience. Her skill was impeccable, as was exemplified through her flawless performance. She was later joined by Janika Oh (19S05B), a Y6 percussionist who plays for Raffles Rock, for the second part of the performance.Together, they performed a mallet percussion version of River Flows In You by Yiruma. This one was a lot mellower and more melodic, and throughout the performance the audience marvelled at how Ms Goh and Janika managed to add their own touch to the song and give it a whole new flavour that was uniquely theirs. It was truly music to the ears.

Ms Goh and Janika performing a mallet percussion version of ‘River Flows In You’ by Yiruma.

While most of us would not be able to fathom the idea of dancing to a song without being able to hear the music, Mr Donny Laurence is no stranger to this. Being born deaf did not stop him from developing passion in both dance and drama, and performing for numerous local arts events. Guided by an SgSL interpreter, he performed a solo dance to Never Say Never by Justin Bieber.

Exuding confidence and charisma, his movements were timed perfectly to the beat of the song, and perhaps what was most heartening was how much he looked like he was enjoying himself on stage— the mark of a true performer. For the second song, Ms Lily Goh came onstage to join him, and together they danced to True Colours by Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick. Apart from having great chemistry, their actions and facial expressions projected so much emotion that deeply touched the audience, as seen by the vigorous applause in SgSL.

Ms Goh and Mr Laurence expressing immense emotion through dance and undeniable chemistry.

Dr Azariah Tan resumed the night’s musical journey with classical piano pieces “Chopin Etude in G-flat”, “Chopin Etude in E” and “Fly Me To The Moon” by Frank Sinatra. A talented pianist who was diagnosed with a condition that left him with only about 15% of his hearing at age 4, he now has a doctorate in Piano Performance and a double masters in Music from the University of Michigan. Exuberant and joyous, the first piece was filled with light, jaunty tunes that was fast-paced and scattered with staccatos. The second piece started out soft and mellow, and as the song progressed, it increased in volume and pace, eventually culminating in a resounding crescendo before lapsing back into a slower, more gentle pace and style.

Finally, the third piece perked the audience up again with its cheerful and playful notes. Dr Tan played with such precision of skill (he played flawlessly with no mistakes) and such immense emotion, a chord was struck within the audience, who gave him a thunderous round of applause, with some audience members even yelling “Encore!”. Initially planning to head backstage after his solo performance, Dr Tan decided to play an additional song in response to the audience’s overwhelming reception. It was absolutely heartwarming to see the huge smile on his face—it was evident that he was deeply touched. The encore song was defined by a sweet and beautiful melody which left the audience with a lingering sense of sweetness and a hint of wistfulness, a sort of yearning for more. The power of music to evoke all sorts of feelings in people was well and truly illustrated by Dr Tan, who took the audience on an emotional rollercoaster in just the short span of four songs.

Following the splendid solo performance was piano duet of Mozart’s Sonata for Four Hands in D major, played by Dr Tan and Ms Nicole Tay (20S06L). While the piece started off fast and lively with a main melody of ascending and descending scales, the mood changed towards the middle, alternating between Dr Tan’s low fortissimo and Nicole’s high pianissimo; and grew suddenly loud towards the end. The two then began the next section of the sonata, a more joyous one played relatively allegro, with juxtaposition of dynamics in the pianists’ call and answer staccato chords.

Dr Tan and Nicole smiling at the audience after their rousing recital.

Up next was a short play by Raffles Drama from Raffles Girls’ School titled No Different, based on the life story of Ms Charlene Wong, a former member of TOUCH Silent Club. When the stage was first lit, six girls in white shuffled around in a seemingly haphazard manner. The narrator, present-day Charlene, recounted memories from her childhood while her younger self, donning black in contrast with the white of the other actors, acted it out. After she described numerous instances of feeling different from her friends and family, the audience soon found out that Charlene is deaf and unable to speak—not because she cannot, but because she doesn’t know how.

Next, we were introduced to “him”, whom she first met and befriended in primary school, and started dating in polytechnic. Although she felt misunderstood by her peers in polytechnic, faced difficulties finding her first job, and had to explain her condition to various people she met; “he” was always there by her side. Simultaneously, the girls in white surrounded young Charlene in a circle and pointed at her, but “he” stood by her the whole time like a true mans.

Deaf culture is also a big part of Charlene’s life, with her younger self linking arms and prancing around the stage with friends from the Deaf community. She then joined TOUCH Silent Club, where she met new people and challenged herself, and gave birth to three children—two hearing sons and one deaf daughter. At the same time, young Charlene was shown with her arms around her two sons while her daughter played with her hair, then holding her daughter’s hand as they explored the stage together.

The play’s final message: We, the deaf and the hearing, are no different. After the play, Ms Charlene Wong herself came on stage and signed to the audience, thanking everyone who had made the concert possible and urging all of us in the hearing community to be inclusive to the deaf so that they can gain more confidence and contribute back to society.

Ms Charlene Wong sharing her experiences with the audience.

To conclude the concert, Raffles Street Dance Batch ’18 dazzled the crowd with their complex and beautifully choreographed arrangements. As rhythmic heartbeats signalled the start of Are U There? by Mura Masa, the dancers jerked their bodies in tempo with the music. Gracefully widening their circle and stepping into a new formation, they executed complicated steps while keeping their bodies compact and close to the ground. After a fast-paced sequence, the lights dimmed and the dancers filed offstage.

As the second track, Team by Iggy Azalea, began, a different group of dancers in coordinated denim and black outfits took their places on stage. Pulling off body pumps to the beat, the dancers exuded charisma and confidence. For their third piece, the batch’s performance to the well-known Where Is The Love? by The Black Eyed Peas featured the use of spotlights that complemented the fervour of their interpretation.

Abruptly, the lights cut off. Come Alive, a track from the musical The Greatest Showman, immediately had the audience singing along. Setting a playful mood, the dancers shimmied cheekily with their partners and launched themselves nimbly into the air to perform daring splits and lunges. They then shifted into a line and started clapping as all the other acts joined them back on stage. Simultaneously, the performers signed “applause” in SgSL and bowed one last time as the final verse of Come Alive played in the background.

Raffles Street Dance Batch ’18 emanating intensity and emotion in their performance.

To end the night, Ms Ang Chiew Geok from TOUCH Community Services, who has worked with the deaf for over 20 years, came on stage to say a few words. “I need to slow down for the interpreter,” she quipped, while thanking Raffles CA and the other groups of people who had organized and attended the concert. Ms Ang also shared more about Project Serve, an initiative under TOUCH Silent Club that aims to help integrate deaf youth into the hearing world with the support of the hearing community. Following which, concert ICs Rachel (19A01D) and Shao Chi (19S06K) delivered CA’s final thanks to everyone who had made Spark a success while the CCA chairs presented them with flower bouquets and chocolates. Spark 2019 was a truly memorable concert that filled up our hearts with song and dance. But more importantly, it has sparked a positive change in the mindsets and attitudes of Rafflesians especially towards the Deaf community. Igniting the flames of change is no mean feat, but Spark 2019 has definitely set the path alight for future efforts towards heightened awareness of the Deaf community in Singapore.

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