Raffles Guitar Ensemble: SYF 2021

By Chung Thong En (22S06N) and Sophie Goh (22S07B)

In other years, it would have been a performance to a buzzing audience comprising classmates, teachers and journalists. On the 28th of April 2021, it was a much emptier, but no less daunting SOTA concert hall that Raffles Institution Guitar Ensemble (RJGE) faced for their biennial Singapore Youth Festival (SYF). 

Guitar Ensemble played Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, No. 8—an enthralling composition with much variation within the piece. The song appears simple at first, but in reality, not only are there layers of accompanying melodies, chords (Guitars 1 and 2) and a strong beat (Bass and Contrabass) driving the main melody (Alto), but also a vivid dynamic contrast between bars which gives the piece a dramatic, riveting feel. The song opens loud and strong, but soon evolves into a cheerful, light-hearted dance, turning livelier, lighter—then the second part of the song, played a little after a minute in, is soft and soothing, a reprieve from the high-energy dance. 

The story played out beautifully through the skilled strumming of the guitarists; all the dynamics were on point, and all the techniques—chords, running notes, ornaments and more—were masterfully executed. Cyril Pedrina (21S06F), Chairperson of RJGE, described their competition piece as one that “showcase[d] [their] mastery of the guitar, as it makes use of numerous guitar techniques throughout the piece.” 

It is clear that the guitarists had a fairly complicated song to learn, what with five different sections and the tight coordination needed among all of them. Though the ensemble pulled off a near-flawless and polished performance, it was not without a tremendous amount of hard work, dedication, and adaptability on the players’ end for the piece to have achieved its level of refinement. 

As expected, COVID-19 had created numerous obstacles in the preparation process for the players—from a delayed start to CCA, to practice sessions being moved online, the novel situation forced the players to prove their versatility in adapting to the various constraints, all the while having to maintain a high standard of performance. 

“It was basically impossible to practice with one another while doing online calls,” recounted Cyril. “[In the beginning], we mostly focused on our own playing, and tried to make the most out of our time by making sure we were ready once we got together!” Given the enhanced difficulty in coordinating the many sections through online sessions, as well as the shortened runway for preparation, it is even more admirable seeing the ensemble managing to pull off such a cohesive performance in the end.

Through this experience, I learnt that hard work will always pay off.

Amelia Chow (22S03K)

This same hard work and dedication was also demonstrated by the Y5s who performed for SYF. For several, they were thrust onto stage despite only having learnt the guitar for a few short months. Y5 RJGE member Amelia Chow (22S03K) described to us the difficulties she faced in the preparation process, adding that “Preparing for SYF was slightly stressful as I had to learn how to play both the guitar and the song itself in a short period of time.” 

Nevertheless, the team’s weeks of preparation and consistent practice eventually paid off—they walked off the stage proudly amidst resounding applause, satisfied with their smooth performance. Just one day later, the result was announced: Guitar Ensemble had obtained a Certificate of Distinction, a testament to their consistent effort and a sweet victory amid the challenges caused by the pandemic. Raffles Press would like to congratulate RJGE on their well-deserved achievement!

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