CCA Previews ’20: Chamber Ensemble

By Isaac Tah (20S06L), Chairperson, Joel Hoe (20A01B), Vice-Chairperson, and Jacinda Soh (20A01D), Secretary 
Photographs courtesy of Cheng Wentuo (20S06L)

To the prospective Year 5 student:

Any good H1 General Paper student will tell you that using sophisticated words makes you sound sophisticated:

“Grandiloquent” instead of “disgustingly flowery language”.
“Juxtaposing” instead of “comparing side by side”.

“Chamber” instead of “small”. 
“Ensemble” instead of “bunch of people”.

Ugh. That’s really snooty.

However, the even better H1 General Paper students will tell you that we should never draw conclusions from titles alone. If you unpack the key phrase properly:

“Chamber Ensemble” = “group of earnest amateur string players who enjoy meeting up and making music together”.

Ms Ku conducting the ensemble during our 2019 concert, Fantasia. 

This isn’t a particularly glamorous affair: there is no antique Stradivarius, no high-class music studios, and no lavish concert halls. Instead, we gather in the humble Chamber Room for rehearsal every Wednesday from 2.30pm–6.30pm. It isn’t spectacular, but it does grant everything a rather relaxed atmosphere. Given our rather small CCA size, most rehearsals more closely resemble discussions facilitated by our conductor, Ms Marietta Ku (who is happy to dispense lively and sometimes undecipherable jokes). However, casual doesn’t mean there is a lack of rigour: with no top-down, instructive approach, everyone is given space to think and air their own ideas—this could range from decisions about bowings, fingerings, sound, and even the repertoire that we play! Consequently, every member needs to be invested and active, rather than simply following along.

In fact, this high level of personal commitment extends beyond the combined setting. Within our weekly rehearsals, we also have breakout sessions where we split into smaller chamber groups of around 3–5 people, supervised by Ms Ku and our other tutor Ms Tay. In choosing our own repertoire, we get to hone ensemble skills by working closely with friends in the quintessentially “chamber” setting. 

Now all this rehearsal and practice isn’t entirely purposeless exploration, or “art for art’s sake”. Each year, we look forward to a highly-anticipated concert around May, consisting of a solid 1++ hour of repertoire. By including both combined and chamber pieces, this is the ultimate moment to present all the pieces we have painstakingly prepared over the past year. 

Beyond the practices and the concerts, we also have VIA-related performances in care centres and hospitals, increasing our outreach to people who may enjoy the (hopefully) soothing music we provide.

In order to join the ensemble, some competence in a string instrument is necessary, but this is not dependent on some paper certification—there will be a simple audition as well as a brief interview. At this point, we know this might not sound particularly enticing to most people, but if somehow you are at this last line and are still interested, we look forward to the absolute pleasure of meeting you at the audition.

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