By Anthea Phee (21S06Q), Chairperson, Loi Zi Xian (21S03D), Vice-Chairperson, and Matthew Yar (21S06C), Secretary
“The most exciting rhythms are unexpected and complex, the most beautiful melodies simple and inevitable.” Right?
Well, while it’s not unusual for music to seem abstruse to the average person, in Chamber Ensemble, we do the exact opposite of that.
Think “Chamber”, think poring over heaps of Haydn String Quartets (Did you know that the 2nd movement of his most famous quartet is the German national anthem?), Schraedick fingering exercises and the occasional excursion to the Esplanade to watch Holst’s Jupiter Suite (Fun fact — it’s from that decade-old Sovil et Titus Advertisement). Yes, we do try to be the best musicians we can, and we certainly work hard for it, but in reality, we’re actually just your average fun-loving bunch trying to get through 2 tough years of JC by sharing our love for music.
The Chamber room is a curious place. No, it’s not filled with the musty tang of crisp old scores, with handwritten notes by generations of seniors, and lonely, abandoned instruments – we have a few broken cellos too! Although it’s admittedly a pretty big area for our small CCA, the cozy and comforting atmosphere seems to fill every corner of the room every Wednesday, from 2.30-6.30pm. Led by our conductor, Ms Marietta Ku (and her occasional quips about violas and the like), we play a colourful range of chamber and ensemble music.
Throughout the years, Chamber has experimented with a wide variety of genres, ranging from esoteric 20th century pieces to the lilting melodies of Hisaishi’s classics, all the while staying true to our roots by playing music of the Classical and Romantic periods. While not every piece we work on is exceptionally demanding, a strong technical foundation would definitely be helpful in bringing out the finer qualities of our music. Chamber does require each and every one of us to be constantly on the ball, with a strong sense of awareness and cooperation, so as to deal with ever-dynamic technical demands.
Other than combined sessions, we also partake in “small group” chamber group settings, with each chamber group comprising 3-5 members of the CCA. Given the freedom of choosing our desired repertoire, we are better able to further explore the interconnections between the different instruments, all while getting to know our fellow CCA-mates.
Of course, this means that some proficiency in a string instrument is required. This doesn’t necessarily require an impressive ABRSM result — musicality, a strong technical skill set and, most importantly, your enthusiasm for music are more of what we are looking out for.
Upon joining chamber (assuming the looming presence of COVID-19 has since returned to the abyss from whence it came), you can look forward to yearly concerts and Values In Action (VIA) performances through which we present our unique artistic expressions as well as delight in the shared joy of music-making. We hope to spread enjoyable music to more people and let them better appreciate chamber music and debunk any stereotypes they may have about the genre.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have adapted by participating in weekly calls on Microsoft Teams where we gather and each take turns to play. We also record a small section of the piece that we are playing at the moment, after which we take some time to analyse and give feedback to the player in hopes of addressing some finer details that we can each improve on. Some of our completed recordings for National Day can be found on our Instagram!
Surely, listening to, internalising and regurgitating the brainchildren of dead White men does seem like us chamber musicians falling prey to the spectre of neo-colonialism or us being stuck high in our own ivory towers. But we can assure you that what continually motivates us isn’t the sheer joy we derive from being recognised as part of an opulent class that indulges in art, a seemingly high-brow concept, for art’s sake. Rather, it is the comforting concept that perhaps music is universal and less “complex” or “unexpected” than we have traditionally believed. It is something that transcends boundaries, something that serves as a common language and experience.
Outside the chamber room, perhaps some of us might snicker when we hear a gleeful mispronunciation of Berlioz’s full name (pronounced ‘beh-lioz’). But in the practice room, we are also unable to keep together – wrong bowings despite upteenth reminders and that one member who triumphantly proclaims the grand finale when the score explicitly states pianissimo (cue averted eyes). However, it is hardly our valiant musical endeavours that define our experience in Chamber. Instead, the things that define our experience are the tight-knit little family that we look forward to seeing every Wednesday, the looks that we share when our minds process an inside joke which erupts in deranged laughter, and simply the enjoyment of the music that we make together.
We hope to see you at our auditions!