By Fiona Ting Zi Ying (24S06A) and Low Jing Kai (24S03H)
Photographs courtesy of Raffles Photographic Society
For this year’s A Tempo, also known as Raffles Symphonic Band’s annual concert, there was a great squeeze for time. Not only was this their first concert at an external venue since the pandemic, but it was also the first time in decades that the Band had decided to perform at the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF).
Therefore, performers put in long hours practising at home and rehearsing in school, all in preparation for both the concert and SYF. With regards to why this year’s theme revolved around movies, Mr Lim Yean Hwee, the conductor, commented, “We had a hectic time preparing for SYF, so I thought we might as well wind down and enjoy some popular tunes during the concert.”
Curating these pieces was no easy task. Mr Lim wanted to cover a wide variety of genres, but he also had to take into account the “availability of instruments and performers”, while leaving some leeway for students’ interpretation and expression by “encouraging students to have their perspective[s] presented on top of grounding them [in] some fundamental techniques and ideas”.
This took great delicate balance when working with the performers, from painstakingly going through fine details about how they should best use the acoustics of the vast Victoria Concert Hall to their advantage, while considering how the sound would be heard by the audience.
Despite having only 1 month to prepare for A Tempo, the Band members gave it their all and remained motivated throughout the process. “I was quite heartened to see many sections come back and practice even outside of Band time, and I was quite happy to see that the members were still enjoying the process even though it’s been really busy,” commented Loewe Lim (23S07B), a member of the Band EXCO.
Booking the concert hall was also a challenging task, with two committees being formed to organise the event, which included arranging for catering and transport. The teachers also had to prebook the concert hall 6 months in advance and had already started planning the event a year ago.
During the final rehearsal before the performance, Mr Lim paced around the concert hall, checking the sound quality and coordinating the Band. He was intent on having the musicians create an emotional connection to the pieces and express it well through their delivery.
With regard to the piece “The Legend of 1900”, he emphatically articulated, “Did you watch the movie? There is an emotional barrier (between the characters). It’s a sense of yearning where you want something you cannot have.”
During the rehearsal, he impressed upon every performer what they had to bring across in every part. “You have to treat [the crescendo] very seriously!” or “Articulation really matters, every short sound you play must be heard from the back!” could be heard echoing in the concert hall.
An hour before the concert, there was palpable excitement and tension in the air, as the Band members bustled around, occasionally shouting out for a missing reed or tuner. The atmosphere became more frantic when it was discovered that instruments were left in school due to some miscommunication about placement. Dedicated stagehands took the effort to head back to RI and ensure everything was perfect before the performance.
Of course, nothing great is completed without challenges. Unfortunately, one of the woodwind performers, who had been scheduled to perform a solo, felt unwell and had to leave just hours before the performance. Immediately stepping in was fellow performer, Sofia Mannan (24S06A) and Stagemaster Priya (RI ‘14). On the spot, they learnt the challenging pieces from scratch, with a gargantuan task lying before them: to perform the pieces flawlessly in front of the large audience assembled.
“Despite all the stress of being a last-minute replacement, I knew that there was no other option but for me to step up and take over; no matter what, the show must go on.” Sofia pushed through despite the short time-frame, level headed and methodical.
Together, like a hive, the entire Band team worked like a symphony, flitting through the various stairways and halls backstage, to create the most memorable performance.
While the performers were busy getting ready, the reception area became crowded with eager concertgoers made up of students from RI, parents of performers, various alumni as well as members of the public. The seemingly vast concert hall soon became packed as the audience streamed in, their excited chattering echoing throughout the hall, springing it to life.
As the lights dimmed, the bustling crowd simmered down. The concert was performed to perfection, with melodious notes echoing through the vast hall. To raucous applause, the concert ended on a high note as the audience sang their praises about the performance while streaming out of the hall and waiting to meet the performers.
Behind the scenes, the performers still had an arduous task left to do even after the exhausting day—pack up. Everyone chipped in as the musicians wheeled the various heavy instruments to the lorries stationed outside, and though they must have been incredibly tired, the glee of putting out such a successful performance remained plastered on their faces.
Once they had finished their post-concert duties, the performers were given a short period of time to meet their friends, families and ardent fans in the audience, before returning to school to wrap up the day.
As the curtain fell on this mesmerising performance, we caught a fleeting glimpse of the intricate web of collaboration, practice, and artistry that wove together to create an unforgettable musical tapestry. From the conductor’s graceful cues to the synchronised movements of the instrumentalists, the Symphonic Band performance was a celebration of unity, precision, and shared emotion. Every note struck and every breath taken at A Tempo was a testament to the dedication and passion of each musician.
This enchanting display not only delighted the senses but also underscored the profound impact of teamwork and relentless pursuit of excellence. As the echoes of the final chord linger in the air, we are reminded that the magic of a symphonic band’s performance lies not just in the music, but in the symphony of effort and creativity that unfolds behind the scenes.
Ready to be immersed in the A Tempo audience experience? Read A Tempo 2023: A Night To Remember for our coverage of the concert itself!
Watch interviews of the Band members, stagehands and teachers-in-charge here: