Raffles Symphonic Band 2020: Catharsis

By Neo Xin Yuan (21A01D), Snehal Sachde (21S07C), and Soh Jing Yee (21S03Q)

Catharsis.

As you click on the IVY notification, you may come across this word and take a pause. It’s not a word we use daily. You might not even have heard of it before. Maybe it just sounds vaguely cool but you have no idea what it really means. 

However, when you start listening to the first video, your tense shoulders—having gone through a long day of HBL—relax. You start to feel lighter. And you start to understand what catharsis means.

A YouTube playlist isn’t what one would normally associate with a concert from the Raffles Symphonic Band (RSB), but it’s the only viable option due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Catharsis follows the charming tunes of Raffles Jazz’s Amour T’es Là? as the second segment of the Raffles Online Arts Festival. Its theme is wholly encapsulated by the eight pieces on the playlist, each of them carefully selected to bring viewers relief in these trying times. 

Every video begins with an elegant cover image: a blanket of swirling paint spilling over parchment in a brilliant myriad of colours. Every artist knows how therapeutic painting—whether one is engaging with it through creation or through appreciation—can be. It’s the same with music, and RSB proves exactly that.  

Ju Can (20S02A) starts off the 8-part performance with a charming rendition of Italian composer Ernesto Köhler’s “Etude 2 from Book I, Op. 33”. With Köhler being considered a renowned composer of his era, this piece isn’t something most of us can pull off, but Ju Can manoeuvres the étude skillfully, weaving a lilting melody in the air. In spite of the difficulty posed by the piece’s fast pace, the performance remains elegant—from the poised hold of the flute to the graceful trill of the melody. Truly, it is music to our ears. 

This short but satisfying piece evokes the innocent image of little birds, flitting from tree to tree, the warm breeze ruffling their feathers as they soar through the sky. But that feeling is fleeting—too soon, the talented musician ends with a cheerful note and contented smile. Nevertheless, it was a delightful prelude to the concert. 

Next up, playing  “Etude 15 from Book I, Op. 33”, another piece by Köhler, on the flute is Lucia Li (21S03M). She brings to life a soulful rendition of the piece, commencing with a light-hearted melody akin to blithe whistling. Though the delicacy and celerity of the etude may make it a challenging piece for some, Lucia navigates it with ease. The liveliness of the piece invigorates viewers; enrapturing viewers and creating a tense atmosphere for the ensuing piece despite its short length.

A single person playing four parts of the same quartet is rather unusual. However, Chua Jay Roon (21S03C) realises this in her performance of “A Fantasy on a Theme of Jupiter” by Holsts and Ito on the clarinet. Playing all four parts of a quartet and having them match well on video is no easy feat, but Jay Roon makes it feel effortless with her flawless switches in tempo and tone. The slow melody hovers on the edge of melancholy, before bursting into a fast-paced, lively tune. The return to a slower pace at the end of the piece echoes of hope and serenity, accentuated by Jay Roon’s dynamic expression.

The next piece brings us a short, yet joyful melody by Chan Yong Kai (20S06B). His version of Saint-Jacome’s “Duet in Alla Breve” brings a welcome change in mood from the previous piece, lighting up the atmosphere with its skilfully interwoven contrasting melody and counter-melody. It is by far the shortest piece in the set, but it adds a fresh pop of jubilation to the medley of emotions brought out by Catharsis.

Anyone expecting a wood-cutting tutorial from a video titled “Music for Pieces of Wood” would be surprised to see a glass measuring cup and spoon being used as musical instruments. A sense of bewilderment and amusement is evoked when one sees Chen Ruikang (20S06O) on a collage of screens in the video, using different household items as musical instruments in each one. Every surface layers a new texture to the piece, and you can’t help but tap your foot along to the beat created by this one-man drum circle. The end-piece, a harmonious percussion melody, is a statement. It is a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of Raffles Symphonic Band, even in such trying times. 

Way Yan Win (21S02A) then captures viewers’ attention with his classic rendition of “Three Equali for Four Trombones, WoO 30, No. 2” by Ludwig van Beethoven. Though the piece appears to contain little technical challenges, it, in fact, requires great skill for elegant execution. Way Yan’s mastery of this piece allows him to weave together individual segments of “Three Equali” and create a sublime listening experience. With the “Three Equali” being originally composed as chorale-style pieces, one can almost imagine the lilting vocals of a choir accompanying the rich, brassy tones of the trombone. No doubt, Way Yan certainly did “Three Equali” justice and his rendition of said piece is testament to why it remains a key work in the standard repertoire of all trombonists. Luxuriating in the tranquil ambience, viewers await the ensuing item.

The lively mood of the pieces tone down and grow more sombre nearing the end of the playlist. Wesley Henry Sudarman (21S06H) delivers “Saint-Jacome’s Duet” in a slow 6/8 time. His rendition of the piece feels like a solemn piece to commemorate the glorious memories of the past. With perfect synchronisation, the notes on the trumpet reverberate with a resonating effect, even after the short piece is over. 

Alas, Catharsis draws to a close with the final act: a euphonium solo. True to its name, the sounds that the bulky brass instrument produces are nothing short of euphonious. The euphonium might look heavy, but its size does not undermine Huang Xinshuo’s (20S06H) nimble handling of the valves. His other hand supports the whole weight of the euphonium, steady and strong as he blows out a grand and light-footed polacca—Italian for ‘polonaise’—a stately Polish dance popular in carnival parties. The rich baritone of the euphonium whisks us away to the heart of a lively carnival, where people dance merrily to the rhythm of the music.

Halfway through, the music mellows down as if in contemplative reflection, before building to a resounding conclusion. The Tempo di polacca sings of hope and gentle joy—a beautiful reminder that even in the uncertain times of COVID-19, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and even in the darkest of times, we can still find hope. 

The final note sounds and dissipates, and Xinshuo lowers the euphonium from his lips. He takes a final glance at the camera, and the screen fades to black, but the deep lull of the euphonium still echoes in our ears. 

Catharsis—true to its name—is an escape for students and teachers alike as we stumble through this unprecedented year, and a reminder that we are never alone in our day-to-day struggles. If you are feeling lost or stressed, RSB’s Catharsis 2020 is sure to be a reliable emotional outlet—because even in the most convoluted of equations, music remains a constant.

You can listen to Catharsis 2020 here

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