By Alison Tan Hwaiyin (23S03A) and Saara Katyal (23S05A)
Photos courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society
The amphitheatre of the Y5-6 campus is usually punctuated with the familiar percussive sounds of table tennis balls. On the afternoon of 23th May 2022, however, Rafflesians from across both campuses gathered in eager anticipation of a very special performance: A Tempo, Raffles Symphonic Band (RSB)’s long awaited annual concert.
As the clock struck five, emcees Yeason Cheng (22S06B) and Jonas Ng (22S03P) took the stage to announce the first piece of the evening: Orient Express, by Phillip Sparke.
“I think Orient Express was my favourite piece!” recalled Ho Grace Ann (23S03A). “One interesting thing I saw was that there was a percussionist using two blocks to create the sound of the train chugging along, which was very creative.”
Next up was Triple Scoop Ice Cream, composed by Satoshi Yagisawa and performed by three members of the Flute Ensemble. The trio of flautists played superbly, capturing the cheerful essence of music. It was refreshing, especially given the sweltering Monday afternoon.
Following Triple Scoop Ice Cream was a performance that paid tribute to a Disney film many Rafflesians think of with fondness: Aladdin. Saxophone section leader Zheng Junrui (22S06P) confidently led the band through a medley of the movie’s most recognisable pieces: Arabian Nights, A Whole New World and Friend Like Me (composed by Alan Menken).
The next piece was 小幸运 (A Little Happiness), another heavily nostalgic piece from the 2015 movie 我们的少女时代 (Our Times), conducted by Student Conductor Yeoh Yiheng (22S06T).
“My favourite piece would definitely have to be 小幸运!” gushed Lim Zhi Qi (23S03N). “Listening to the song gave me a really warm feeling, especially when a band member (Jamie Soh, 23A01E) came forward to sing the lyrics.”
Indeed, it would seem that 小幸运 was the most popular piece of the evening, with audience members joining in by waving the flashlights of their phone along to the song.
Marking the transition from slow to upbeat was Franz Lehar’s Merrywidow, performed by the Clarinet Ensemble. The whimsical nature of the piece was reminiscent of a vintage Disney cartoon, and the audience couldn’t help but sway along to the music.
Another notable feature was Image, a flute solo composed by Eugene Bozza and performed by Darleene Hiap (22S03B). An experienced flautist who has been playing since primary school, Darleene displayed excellent breath control, delivering a masterful rendition of the slow, mysterious piece.
The penultimate piece, Carmen Fantasy by Georges Bizet, was introduced by Jonas and Yeason as “one of the most iconic saxophone pieces of all time.”
After a brief warm-up, the saxophone quartet launched into the piece with a flourish, metaphorically transporting the audience directly to southern Spain, complete with bullfighters and flamenco dancers.
For the finale, the band once again came together to perform a collection of American composer Stephen Foster’s works in a piece called Foster in My Mind. The piece oscillated between fast, cheerful tempos and a more legato, melancholic pace, creating a bittersweet feeling that perfectly captured the atmosphere as the concert came to a close.
At the end of the concert, there was thunderous applause and enthusiastic calls for an encore. Raffles Symphonic Band was only too happy to oblige, playing a spectacular rendition of the Neon Genesis Evangelion opening theme by Toshiyuki Omori and Hidetoshi Sato.
“The Evangelion opening was my favourite part for sure!” said Svanika Vivekanand (23A01E). Jeremy Chua (23S06S) literally fell to his knees upon recognising the tune.
What the audience may not have known, though, was the sheer amount of work and organisation that happened behind the scenes.
The journey was not an easy one for RSB. Though COVID-19 restrictions had been considerably loosened, there was still much uncertainty surrounding Safe Management Measures. This meant that there was a very short run between finalising the concert date and the event itself.
Being also unable to book external venues, the band had to decide where they could hold their concert in school. The LT stages were too small, the PAC had poor acoustics… In the end, they settled on the amphitheatre, but RSB could not practice there till two days before the concert, meaning that last minute adjustments had to be made to song dynamics.
Additionally, several band members contracted COVID-19 in the weeks leading up to the concert, resulting in much uncertainty and anxiety. Yeason had (thankfully) tested negative only on the day of the concert itself.
However, the show must go on. Fueled by passion and fortitude, RSB made things work. Out of dedication to the band, former RSB member George Yeo (19S03A) even volunteered to come back as a saxophonist and percussionist.
The strength and resilience of the RSB eventually allowed them to pull through, delivering a performance which, in the words of Jeremy Ling (23S03A), was “a concert experience unlike any other.” When asked if RSB did well, Band Major Adele Tey (22S06A) said, “I’m proud of us. Under the circumstances, I really think we did the best we could.”
Adieu until next year, A Tempo!