By Benjamin Liew (20A03A) and Ng Jing Ting (20A13A)
Photos courtesy of Celine Chung (20S06H) of Raffles Photographic Society
Last year’s instalment of Vocal Delights having proved no less than a resounding success, Raffles Chorale came through once again this year with their annual a cappella charity concert Volaré. Gracing the Performing Arts Centre (PAC) with their melodious voices on December 13, the 30-odd members displayed extraordinary musicianship and synergy as they shed the conservative image of a chorus and blew the audience away with their repertoire, which included top hits from pop singer Shawn Mendes, and Pentatonix. With all proceeds to Habitat for Humanity, their partner organisation for the fourth year running, the combined warmth of humanitarianism and wonderful music by Raffles Chorale truly brought to the audience the most wonderful time of the year.
Livening up the stage with their comedic banter were emcees Jerome Tay (20S06Q) and Nicole Lim (20A01A), who introduced the first act of the night with a classic knock-knock joke. Opening the concert with “Some Nights” by pop band Fun was nine-member group Heaven’s Door. Arranged by Xan Ng (20S06P) and led by soloist Shannon Chow (20A01C), the piece’s mellow tunes showcased the group’s impeccable harmonising, kicking off the concert on a high note. The group then launched seamlessly into a well-anticipated Shawn Mendes medley, arranged by Ranitra Nair (20S03L), which featured several soloists belting out hits such as “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back” and “If I Can’t Have You” to much applause. Indeed, far from being merely a group name, Heaven’s Door quickly became a reflection of the group’s ability to transport audience members into a celestial plane through their performance.
The next group of performers, Absolute Zero, brought to the stage their rendition of “追剧组曲”, a medley of Chinese songs. (“Because every song sounds sadder in Chinese,” quipped emcee Jerome.) It has often been said that music has the ability to transcend language boundaries, and, true to this saying, the members of Absolute Zero managed to convey the anguished emotions behind each song even to those among the audience who could not understand the lyrics. We sat enthralled by their stellar voices, marvelling at how the songs tugged effortlessly at our heartstrings. Proving their bilingualism, the members of Absolute Zero then segued into “Brother”, a Kodaline hit arranged by senior Reno Sam (J5).
Switching things up for a moment next was the beatboxing challenge, presented by the emcees. With the spotlight turned upon Chorale’s two resident beatboxers, Sunny Wang (20S06K) and Darius Wan (20S03C), the energy levels of the audience were noticeably raised—shouts of “I love you!” and encouraging cheers rang out as the ‘contenders’ took their places. Any ambient noise immediately fell silent, however, as each chorale member proceeded to fill the PAC with their own thumping beatboxing solo, dropping jaws and leaving some audience members (the writers included) wondering where Chorale had hidden their secret drum set. Even more impressive was the later-gleaned information that Sunny had actually only started learning to beatbox in March 2019, a mere nine months before the concert. In the spirit of friendly competition, though, the contest was concluded as a tie.
The third group, Cloud Nine, now took centre stage. Capitalising on the festive Christmas season, the group kicked off with a lovely rendition of “Santa Tell Me”. Cloud Nine were all-smiles as their voices melded brilliantly together with every note, with a number of members given the opportunity to put their unique voices on show for the audience. It wasn’t all Santa-themed, however, with the group then taking on a pop medley consisting of songs like “Paper Rings” by Taylor Swift and “I Don’t Care” by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber.
With their A-levels recently concluded, it was then time for the outgoing Chorale batch of 2019 to flex their singing muscles one last time. And flex they did, with incredibly stunning harmonies and solos which blended together brilliantly in two arrangements—“Animal” by Neon Trees arranged by Byron Lim (19S03E) and Sherwin Lam (19S06O), as well as “Death of a Bachelor” arranged by Sherwin Lam. The sheer class and confidence the seniors carried themselves with was evident from the get-go. “Death of a Bachelor” opened with the lead singer, Gabriel Song (19S05A) bathed in a gentle magenta spotlight as he strolled down the aisle, before he stunned the crowd with his breathtaking vocal control and falsettos in what was a well-known “difficult song to sing”. “Animal” then drastically changed the tone of the performance, as each Chorale senior sang with intensity and a sort of wildness that left the audience at the edge of their seats. It was indeed a fitting last performance for the seniors, with their experience and assuredness so very evident in the level of performance on show.
A brief intermission followed, where members of the audience and Chorale alike mingled with one another. Friends and family who had come to support performers hurried to the front of the PAC to grab a quick photo with their loved ones, audience members discussed what they had witnessed so far with enthusiasm, and of course, more than a few took the opportunity for a much-needed toilet break. And while all this went on, Christmas music gently played in the background, adding to the already upbeat and festive spirit that permeated the air.
Following the intermission, 9-member ensemble Fringe kick-started the second half of the concert with “Ubi Caritas” by Ola Gjeilo. Set against a backdrop of dim stage lighting, the sombre mood of the song was conveyed through a haunting solo by Dayna Naidu (20A01A) at the start of the piece, which paved the way for the ethereal melody of shared voices that was as evocative as it was pretty. Fringe then launched into a rendition of “Run To You” by Pentatonix, with their haunting harmonies and swelling crescendos, they effortlessly captured the same stirring atmosphere their opening song had bathed the hall in. Proving a sharp contrast to the more upbeat performances before, Fringe’s performance, which showcased a much more conservative and traditional image of a choir, left an indelible impression on audience members.
It was the next act, however, that proved to be the highlight of the evening. With its comic script and convincing actors sending the audience into an uproar, comedy skit ensemble Punch once again proved Raffles Chorale’s affinity with tradition, having been a recurrent act in previous instalments of Vocal Delight for the past two decades—and, as we were about to find out, for good reason, too!
This year’s skit featured five main characters who were all simultaneously insufferable and lovable in different ways, making them excellent fodder for comedy skits; we got adorably infantile Sunny (played not by Sunny himself but by Nicole), bimbotic Kaya (played by Shannon), nervy pacifist Colby (played by Xu Duofeng, 20S06D), 21st-century feminist Humphrette (played by Lee Pei Yee, 20S03I) and the last abhorrent nerd of a character whose name we couldn’t quite catch due to its lengthiness, but whose life revolved around hankering after an Oxbridge degree (played by Jonas Chia, 20S03A). Magically transported from detention into a genie’s lamp, our five characters have a chance encounter with founding fathers Sir Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar. Besides paying tribute to Singapore’s bicentennial year, the skit also made a jab at some less savoury news that hit the headlines in Singapore this year, including this one. Incorporating various songs such as “Fix You” and “I Want it That Way” at various junctures, the skit combined acting and a capella to great effect.
Overall, Punch put up a performance that was stunning in every way except one: its runtime was too short. Even as we sat in the familiar PAC, it was hard to remember that it was a school production with a non-professional cast. We were pleasantly surprised at the professionalism of the acting, as well as the comedic quality of the script that succeeded at eliciting shrieks of laughter from the audience at every turn.
Props to the members of Punch.
Finally, Raffles Chorale came together as a choir for the finale performance, where they presented two songs, “Lullaby of Birdland” and “Nyon Nyon”. After the exhilarating performance by Punch, the soothing tones of the lullaby lulled the audience back into dreamy appreciation. Throughout the night, various soloists had had the opportunity to showcase their individual voices, but there is just something a little more heart-warming seeing a huge group of people coming together and singing as one. As the finale came to a close, the emcees took the stage again to thank the various individuals and groups of people who had made the concert possible. Tokens of appreciation were presented to the teachers-in-charge in a heartfelt show of gratitude by the members of Raffles Chorale.
Of course, what concert is complete without an encore? A split second after the teachers-in-charge had made their way off stage, the cries for an encore began, prompting Chorale to take the stage one final time with “White Christmas”, arranged and conducted by Sherwin.
As the audience filed out of the PAC into the drizzling night, many were buzzing with excitement in the aftermath of a music-filled evening. On his feelings regarding how well his batch’s collective effort had paid off in the lead-up to the concert, Chorale chairperson Sunny had this to say: “Words can’t describe how strong my emotions are right now.” When pressed further, he shook his head, relieved. “We’ve all come so far from where we started preparing and I’m so proud of everyone. I’m sure that they have done their friends, and more importantly themselves, proud.”
From the heartwarming buzz that was emanating from around the vicinity of the PAC, and the numerous bunches of flowers that exchanged hands that evening, we could safely say that Raffles Chorale’s performance had struck a deep chord within each and every audience member present that night. With this year’s instalment of Vocal Delights over, we look forward eagerly to Vocal Delights 2020 to see what else Chorale has in store for us.
The live concert recording of Volaré 2019 can be found here.