By Andrea Ng (22S06B) and Mandy Wong (22S03C)
Imagine this: you are standing in a vast field, cool air rippling through your hair. Ahead of you are towering mountains that seem to go on and on, their contours highlighted by faint sunlight. The wind picks up speed gradually, accompanied by the rustle of grass stalks as they collide against one another, leaving you with an unparalleled feeling of freedom and excitement.
While we are unable to head to such scenic places right now, we can certainly picture them in our minds with the help of music—and RJCO helps us do just that. On 29 April, Chinese Orchestra headed down to SCO Concert Hall for their SYF showcase, where they performed a piece on an online broadcast. The piece in question was 七彩之和 II.《黄·山之歌》(The Seven Colours of Harmony Movement II “Yellow · Song of the Mountains”). Inspired by the Korean diaspora in China, the piece reflects distinctive elements of traditional Korean music, notably through its free and unrestrained tunes.
The strings, accompanied by the paigu, started the piece off with a resonant G. Next, the tanbo (plucked strings) section, along with the cellos and double basses, made the prelude of the piece light and effortless, setting up a peaceful, subdued tone.
About midway through the performance, the guzheng launched the whole orchestra into the main melody with a glissando. As the piece went on, contrasts between dynamics and layering as different instrumental sections came together built up a tense, frenzied rhythm reminiscent of a thundering mountain march—a far cry from the piece’s initial slow, gentle approach.
Seamless transitions between soft and loud moments perfectly demonstrated the teamwork between the different sections, as well as the coordination between the orchestra and their conductor. This unique manipulation of rhythm and melody within the piece depicted vast grasslands and mountains—especially when it came to the suona and guzheng solos—taking us all on a climb towards the peak.
Finally, the piece ended on a high note (literally and figuratively), leaving a lively atmosphere in its wake. The pandemic might have taken the audience away from the SCO Concert Hall, but it certainly did not take away the awe we felt in the comfort of our homes.
With the conclusion of their performance, several members of RJCO expressed their thoughts on their experiences of this year’s SYF presentation. Varied accounts were provided from different people regarding their SYF experience, but generally, words like “tumultuous”, “nostalgic” and “fulfilling” were commonly used in their responses.
Of course, no performance is without its share of challenges, which differed from member to member depending on their instrument. As erhu players with fewer parts, Yang Ze Kai (22S03C) and Justinian Guan (21S03F) both agreed it was difficult to “stay focused throughout long hours of combined [practice]”. On the other hand, Ashlyn Venoo (21S03A), the guzheng soloist, found the piece overwhelming at first. “I was playing a difficult solo which was really scary, especially since there was no one who could replace or back me up if I couldn’t learn the part.” The overexertion of her fingers also aggravated her long-term hand and arm-muscle injuries. However, she managed to overcome these challenges. Her motivation? “It was also going to be my first and last SYF as part of Chinese Orchestra and my only performance with RJCO, so I wanted to do my best and put on a performance I could be proud of.”
A similar motivation likely fueled everyone else to keep calm and work around any problems of their own. Even on performance day itself, there were complications that arose. They forgot to bring along the mallets needed for the yangqins and one of the zhongruan strings snapped. To quote Xie Yunyin (22S06M), “These kinds of mishaps always happen so I think we were mentally prepared, and it was great that everyone kept their cool and did not let that affect our performance.”
Particularly, this year’s SYF showcase was done through an online format with new guidelines. One such guideline included a reduction of the number of pieces the orchestra had to play from two to one. While things were less stressful as a result, the loss of the usual “manic energy” during SYF practices, as well as the lack of a true audience, led to the feeling of a more “muted” performance compared to that of previous years. The cap on the number of performers on stage also lowered the amount of bonding time between CCA members who were participating in the showcase and those who weren’t. According to Justin Chen (21A01C), “the only noticeable difference would be the safety distancing measures implemented because I cannot interact with my friends from other orchestras after our performance”.
Even so, the inspirational ideals of self-sacrifice, cooperation and “pushing through” to make a performance happen resonated heavily with every orchestra member. The entire process of (and we quote Justinian Guan from 21S03F) “piecing together “scraps of music” into one complete piece and watching everyone work hard and improve” was nothing short of satisfying. 2021’s SYF Presentation might have been a little different from what the members of RJCO were used to, but it was definitely an unforgettable closure to their last SYF Presentation.
With that, Raffles Press would like to congratulate Chinese Orchestra on earning another Certificate of Distinction!