Author: Bryan Chua

Mr Chang of the OpenLab: Appreciation Week 2014

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Leong Yee Ting (14A01C), Neo Xiao Yun (14A01B), Tan Fong Han (15A01B), and Christine Saw (15A01A)

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In the words of acclaimed writer Bell Hooks, ‘“Living simply makes loving simple.”  Stepping into the quiet interior of the Open Labs, we are greeted by the living exemplification of what this quote stood for. Bent over a table of plastic bags, the bubbly Mr Chang Hoon Joo was assiduously folding plastic bags into smaller rectangle pieces to line the rubbish bins of the OpenLab, his fingers moving methodically, the whole of his attention fixated on this seemingly trivial task. Perhaps what stood out most at this moment was his unassuming and patient manner in executing a task he understands as significant – however menial – to the management of our OpenLab. By the end of the interview, what we gleaned from Mr Chan was his equally endearing humility and joy for his work.

Continue reading “Mr Chang of the OpenLab: Appreciation Week 2014”

Crossing – H2 Art Batch of 2013’s Last Hurrah

Reading Time: 5 minutes

By Joyce Er (15A01A)
Photos by Seet Yun Teng

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Last Friday was a night for the arts. Despite sheeting rains, throngs of Rafflesians swarmed the amphitheatre in anticipation of The Poetry of Movement, while Raffles Photography Society’s Anamorphosis and Raffles Art Club’s Up had taken over the adjacent walkways. In a corner of Block A, a warm glow unfurled from the usually disused art exhibition space. This was Crossing, a joint showcase by the most recent batch of graduated art students encapsulating their progress at a point when they are about to embark on their respective university educations.

A significant turnout for the art alumni’s collaborative exhibition
A significant turnout for the art alumni’s collaborative exhibition

Although the space was only meant to open at 7.30pm, a steady stream of alumni and students from other schools began trickling in beginning from 6pm. Walking in, William Batara Jeremiah Samosir was seen animatedly talking to two J2 art students about his coursework boards: “That’s the good thing about art – you can never have something perfect.”

Seet Yun Teng articulated its significance thus, “For us, this showcase tracks our progress, letting us see where we are now. It’s a milestone in our lives, tracking how far we’ve come and where we’re going, which is very important especially for those of us who might not be going down an art path in future. For our batch, it’s like closure.” Of the ten students, four will be attending a fine arts education, including Yun Teng and William. Two others hope to study architecture.

Pursuing something as demanding as art demands a great deal of passion, which these alumni did not lack. Asked what her most valuable takeaway from JC art was, Yun Teng said, “What I like is that art here really opens the mind up and encourages experimentation and independent work, which you don’t really see in other schools […] Art here showed me that it is possible to do art beyond JC. There’s a perception that it’s not possible to study art at a higher level, but my time in art convinced me that this is really what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Yun Teng is currently interning at the National Arts Council.

William’s evocative installation was a heartfelt commentary on the feeling of displacement from being in a foreign country, and parental love.
William’s evocative installation was a heartfelt commentary on the feeling of displacement from being in a foreign country, and parental love.

Similarly, for William, art was clearly something both tied to the self and indispensable: “Art is a language in itself, you use it to express things language can’t really express. It’s like a religion and a philosophy […] a real and total reflection of your life and experience. And I think art is meant to be shared.”

A closeup of one of the hundred memories, printed on tissue paper, making up Seet Yun Teng’s coursework.
A closeup of one of the hundred memories, printed on tissue paper, making up Seet Yun Teng’s coursework.
Tan Yan Yong’s coursework, entitled Course, was a maze installation featuring quirky larger-than-life illustrations of the inhabitants of the gastrointestinal tract.
Tan Yan Yong’s coursework, entitled Course, was a maze installation featuring quirky larger-than-life illustrations of the inhabitants of the gastrointestinal tract.
Chia Yu Xuan’s installation drew on the properties of temples to create an immersive spiritual experience.
Chia Yu Xuan’s installation drew on the properties of temples to create an immersive spiritual experience.

Share it they did. The artworks on display at the exhibition that day spanned a wide range of materials, from oil on canvas to mixed media to illustration to video to installation, and grappled with various subject matters ranging from social identity to spirituality. Since a coursework concept is developed over the span of up to a year, many of these artworks were extremely personal, offering an insight into the artists’ worldviews and what they held dear to their hearts. Yun Teng’s work, An Open Call for Memories, was a ten-month process. She collected memories from over a hundred people in pictures and text which they either wished they remembered or wanted never to forget. The images were printed on tissue paper to symbolise fragility, mounted on the interior of a Styrofoam space, backlit with small lights and the anecdotes painstakingly handwritten in gaps in the Styrofoam. The resultant immersive installation was a cosy space suffused with warmth, allowing one to literally get a glimpse of the fragile, precious memories of all contributors. Said Yun Teng: “It’s a very personal work for me, but at the same time it’s very universal because it speaks to a wider audience.”

Eugene Tan’s Die-abetic Me photoseries
Eugene Tan’s Die-abetic Me photoseries

In addition to their coursework, each artist also displayed samples of work they have done since graduation, which were more experimental in nature. William featured Clouds ‘n’ Thoughts, a popular ongoing instagram-based project dedicated to illustrating pithy quotes that anyone can submit here. Another student, Ahmad Nazaruddin, submitted a glass and charcoal-on-paper work addressing the prickly subject of religion. Eugene Tan, whose trompe l’oeil triptych oil painting drew considerable interest from exhibition-goers, also submitted a photoseries exploring the sinister nature of seemingly innocuous candy, aptly titled Die-abetic Me. Having been liberated from the constraints of the A Level system, each of them evidently seized the chance to explore their interests and take more risks. When comparing each artist’s past courseworks to their present experiments, one can clearly see how their skills and conceptualisation abilities have progressed since their graduation, as well as their flexibility in dealing with a diverse range of topics of interest.

Four of ten exhibiting artists, and their teachers. Left to right: Ms Amanda Poh, Miss Julie Lee, Seet Yun Teng, Ahmad Nazaruddin, Tan Yan Yong, William Batara Jeremiah Samosir.
Four of ten exhibiting artists, and their teachers. Left to right: Ms Amanda Poh, Miss Julie Lee, Seet Yun Teng, Ahmad Nazaruddin, Tan Yan Yong, William Batara Jeremiah Samosir.

Mr Chia Wei Hou, their teacher and mentor throughout their H2Art journey, commented on the artworks exhibited, “Overall, their coursework was very high in standard, but the works that they do now are very organic – in a way they’re more engaged and open. There’s the sense that there is no longer a need to come up with a solution [to a question]… They’re full of potential, and I hope they can use their knowledge and make a difference in whatever they do and continue the passion. This exhibition is site and context-specific, so before we take it all down, I hope that as many people can see it as possible.” Yun Teng said, “Not everyone could make it, but I’m proud we put it together.”

In the Limelight – Raffles Choirs

Reading Time: 9 minutes

By Myko Philip (15A01B), Michelle Zhu (15A01B), Chew Sher Mein (15S03H), Katrina Jacinto (15A13A)

Photos by Tan Wei Xin (15A01B)

Raffles Chorale performing their opening number
Raffles Chorale performing their opening number

This year’s edition of Raffles’ annual arts festival commenced last Wednesday with the Raffles Choirs performing at a packed Esplanade Concert Hall. In what was a spectacular kick off to Arts Season 2014, the Raffles Choirs comprising Raffles Voices (the Year 1-4 choir) and Raffles Chorale (the Year 5-6 choir) captivated audiences with their highly eclectic repertoire and deliciously sweet singing. It was an evening that saw the audience whirled around in an iridescent vortex that brought them from the solemn, high-ceilinged halls of cathedrals in continental Europe, to the deep south of America with its upbeat tunes and alleluias, all the way to Africa with its kaleidoscope of sounds inspired by animals and the surrounding landscape. This far-reaching odyssey of music all happened within the inspiring and formidable wooden halls of the Esplanade, its size lending itself in giving the choirs a slight echo and a sense of vastness.

Raffles Chorale eased us smoothly into the programme with their haunting rendition of “How Can I Keep From Singing”, arranged by their conductor, Mr Toh Ban Sheng. It was an apt song to begin the programme– a hymn which exults so greatly in the presence of God it cannot help but express itself in song. True to style, Raffles Chorale made an impressive entrance. As the lights dimmed and the scattered glow of cellphones subsided, Chorale left us in a palpable darkness for some time, before the calm and honeyed voices of Daphne Quek and Ma Yuqing cut through. Light slowly began to fall on the stage as the sweet singular voice was joined by another, and yet another, gradually forming a powerful but austere chorus reverberating around the theater. As the light grew stronger on the stage, figures could be discerned walking deliberately and purposefully to centre stage, and when they came on in full brightness, the entirety of Raffles Chorale was before us. Masterfully using a technique called chance singing, in which each singer takes a chance at their own tempo, the song was multi-layered, with different waves of sound moving against and along each other that convalesced in a glowing whole. Needless to say, the audience was entirely dazzled.

After a brief rearrangement of singers, they dove straight into their second piece, Josef Rheinberger’s “Abenlied”, a post-resurrection story about the light of Christ. If their first piece was like numerous rays of light melding together into a continuous whole, then their second piece was like waves crashing on rocks. What shone through were the deep and mellow tenors and bases, offering a rich contrast and foundation for the higher melodies that were superimposed on top of it. The song was memorable for its elegant and brilliant close: it ended on a brief but candid descent, as if down a flight of stairs, to reach a soft but solid and resounding note.

One of the night’s highlights was their third and fourth pieces. Departing from the angelic aura of the previous two songs but nevertheless keeping to a semi-religious theme, Raffles Chorale indulged us in their energetic and passionate delivery of Z. Randall Stroope’s “The Conversation of Saul”. In the Bible, Saul was someone who initially persecuted Christians but was eventually turned over and became one of Christianity’s forward and belletristic writers. Beginning with a driving, pulsing chant from the boys that was constantly returned to throughout the song, the girls slowly joined in with their own refrains that complemented but did not mimic the boys’. Immediately, we felt a tingling sensation in our spines; the music seeped into our bones. Violent but coordinated feet stamping was weaved into the song, imitating thunder. It was seemingly frenetic but beneath the apparent chaos was a very controlled and skillful execution of music. Towards the denouement, we began to hear crazy descending chromatic scales, giving the effect of something spiralling out of control. It was the most exciting piece of the evening.

From this terrifying and gripping piece, we were immediately catapulted into the realm of the stars: next on their repertoire was Audrey Snyder’s “And In The Evening”. Based on William Blake’s poetry, it was a song that promised to juxtapose the mystical nature of dreams with a wide field of stars, and it did not disappoint. Notably, the choir distributed wine glasses filled with water to varying levels during the emcee’s introduction. The song was largely amorphous and ethereal, flowing in a certain direction but seemingly flowing everywhere as well. Indeed, we were brought up and down as if a sloping mountain range and from the weirdness of dreams to the terrible vastness of a star-filled night sky. The choristers slid their fingers over the rims of the glasses, producing a discordant but spectral sound that seemed to echo around the concert theater. Shayna Yap accompanied on the piano and played solid chords that, in tandem with the contrastingly eerie sound of the water glasses, gave the song a sonorous feel. With that, Raffles Chorale concluded their first set and gave the stage to Raffles Voices.

Raffles Voices in their spirited rendition of Amani
Raffles Voices in their spirited rendition of Amani

Where Chorale was more timid and had sharper and more powerful high notes, Voices delivered their characteristic and entertaining theatrics. They were generally more lighthearted, even if they appeared more nervous when arranging their blazers and being asked to shuffle about on stage into position. Having been brought across continental Europe by Chorale, Voices took us into the heart of Africa with Audrey Snyder’s Amani, which means “peace” in Swahili. Although accompanied by slightly awkward posing and marching, the upbeat and cheerful tune along with the rhythmic beating of percussion African drums had the audience’s feet tapping to the music. We then had David Dickau’s “If Music Be The Food of Love” (a reference to Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’), a piece similar to the first in terms of its need to express its joys in music, then “J’entends Le Moulin” by Donald Patriquin, an equally mesmerizing song because of its usage of various sound onomatopoeic sound effects to conjure a colourful soundscape. Cheng Xin Yu and Guan Xin gave accompaniment on the percussion, and Gavin Jared Bala gave an astounding and instructive performance on the piano, at times even surpassing the choir. With that, they yielded the stage once again to Chorale.

Chorale gave us a taste of a different palette this time, moving away from sordid hymns and requiems to much more upbeat devotional tunes. To this end they gave us “Non Vos Relinquan Orphanos” by William Byrd, “Wade In The Water” arranged by Allen Koepke and “If I Can Help Somebody” arranged by Ray Liebau. It was a smooth and lively transition from Voices’ segment as well as an refreshing pick-me-up and contrast to their opening four songs. “Wade In The Water” in particular, a Negro hymn sung in the American south, had a throbbing pulse to it that made it akin to Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep”, albeit with more flair and colour.  It got blood flowing through the audience’s veins. Tan Fong Han of 15A01B, one of the choristers, said that the song was her favourite of all any that she performed, saying that “there’s something about the song that makes it both liberating and oppressive at the same time. It’s a layered song and I think when we sang it in SATB (Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass) it resembles to me a progression of letting go- along with transition from bass to sop[rano]. It’s an emotional piece that is also controlled.”

Raffles Voice treated us to another two songs, “Northern Light” by Ola Gjeilo, which melancholic notes reflected the mysterious beauty of the aurora borealis, and Oscar Galian’s “Salseo”, where the swingy and rhythmic tune along with the trademark Spanish lyrics provided great entertainment. Then, the combined choir came on stage to give us the world premier of “Tui Sunt Coeli” by Vytautas Miskinis, a song that blended a whole smorgasbord of tunes to one continuous whole, as well as the iconic and easily recognized “Baba Yetu”, or the Swahili Lord’s Prayer, noted by many to be Civ-4’s theme song. The soulful and melodic piece had distinct African roots and Marc Leong and Jonathan Tan delivered riveting performances as the piece’s two solos and enthralled audiences with their mellifluous but powerful voices. Even as we sat at the back of the first floor, we could feel the vibrations from their singing. It was, as Zhang Yimin of 15S03H said , “so beautiful that it was disconcerting”.

The combined Raffles Choirs performing their finale
The combined Raffles Choirs performing their finale

As the evening drew to a close, and amidst fanatic cries of “encore!”, the combined choirs departed somewhat from tradition and delivered another piece, Stephen Paulus’ “The Road Home” before performing the much more expected and customary school song. Even a parent we overheard was somewhat surprised by this encore, as were the most of us. This piece was a pleasant surprise with a much simpler arrangement than most of the complex multi-layered repertoire, yet held its own rustic charm.

The evening finished of course with the institution anthem, at which tentative Rafflesians glanced around nervously at the hall to see if they should stand up. After one or two did, however, all the students in the Esplanade stood up at attention. The choirs’ rendition of the school song is always something to look forward to, a refreshing change from the dreary and somewhat gaudy version played on not-so-adequate speakers at morning assembly. The ending, with its delayed last line, is always a delight, where the song reaches an entire octave higher than it normally would. The sound was sublime and we surrendered readily to the familiar melody. In those four stanzas, singing the school song in front of the rest of the audience, you could definitely feel proud to be a Rafflesian.

And so, encore included, the entirety of choirs’ repertoire of fourteen songs had just been performed. Raffles Chorale and Raffles Voices alike brought us a magical night of music that will be remembered fondly by the audience and choristers alike. “There were many magical moments on stage,” writes Mr Toh Ban Sheng, conductor for both choirs, and I would say it’s one of the most memorable performances in the Esplanade.” One of the issues was the Esplanade’s “unique acoustics” which were a double-edged sword. Initially a challenge to “grapple” with, it nevertheless highlighted the haunting quality of many of the religious songs. Whatever issues they had with the idiosyncrasies of their venue went unnoticed and never once hindered their performance: “once we got it settled after some time-consuming first round,” writes Mr Toh, “we were able to make music more comfortably.”

Echoing Mr Toh’s statements, Chorale chairperson I-Vivek Kai Wen added that no small measure of hard work was involved, but was glad that it all worked out in the end and went very well. To put on a show that lasted an evening, hours and hours of sheer effort were spent in school after lessons preparing, not just during official training but outside of it as well. Tan Fong Han of 15A10B recounts to us how from 2 to 3 sessions per week they gradually ramped up to 3 combined sessions in addition to 3 sectionals per week. Even mornings were not spared; in the lead up to the concert, mornings were usually devoted to “mental work [like] recall[ing] details of every song, where to crescendo, where to back out etc…It’s pretty intensive but after a while, it doesn’t become a chore so much as it becomes second nature. Outside of practices, I’m pretty sure everyone else hums [or] sings on their own.”

In fact, in class, it is not unusual to find her quietly but delightfully humming some of her favourite tunes from their repertoire. That the performance went so smoothly that the evening flew by is testament to the combined choirs’ dedication to making good music (and the implied hours that this dedication demands) and putting on a hell of a show. No mean feat considering that their pieces were scattered in terms of style and mood as well. Explaining the eclecticism and diversity of their song selections (and a possible religious undertone), Mr Toh said “the repertoire usually consists of songs that we programme for participation in international festivals we are taking part in. For Chorale, it is taking part in a Musica Sacra International Festival in Czech Republic. To fulfil the requirements of the 2 categories we taking part in and the grand prix, it resulted in a predominantly sacred music programme this year. Nonetheless, I try to find music that embodies contrasting characteristics and yet appeals to the singers. It’s always a challenging task.” He explained similarly that Raffles Voices travels in December and thus has little room to programme in something more than the competition repertoire. Hence, they performed an African song of peace, a lush modern American work, a virtuosic French folk arrangement, a modern sacred Latin piece, and an onomatopoeic Salsa piece.

Raffles Chorale charmed the audience with its ability to blend seamlessly complementing layers of music into a harmonious web; once the audience was caught, they were never let go. While Raffles Voices was not as technically brilliant as their senior counterparts, their characteristic passion more than made up for it. Their spirited and theatrical renditions of songs were infectious and kept audiences glowing long after they left the stage. Limelight 2014 was a real pleasure and set a high standard for Arts Season: both choirs put on show-stopping performances and kept audiences spellbound for the entire evening.  The whirlwind ride from one region of the world to another was pulled off deftly and convincingly despite the difficulties of this monumental task. Both choirs handled the repertoire expertly and highlighted innocent nuances in their performance and, for two brief hours, sang the devils out of the details, bringing us away from the Esplanade and onto a breathtaking journey of music.


From Tall to Tallest

Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Bryan Chua (14A01A)
Photo credit:

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I hate taking the class photo. There, I said it. The annual ritual of gathering together as a class, with photographers and everything set up at a central location with the big screens and flash umbrellas to take a series of photos to be put in the yearbook (and on your bedroom wall, if you love your class that much).

The thing is, I don’t hate the awkward smiling, or being uncomfortable with who I’m standing next to in the photo, or having to look somewhat presentable for the camera or anything like that. No, what I’m really bothered about is this incredibly annoying ritual that revives an unnecessary obsession with height. No other time will you not only stand in a line in ascending order of height, but also stand back-to-back asking the question “Who’s taller?” On no other occasion do we find a reason to arrogantly stand with our backs as straight as possible, lift our heads up as high as we can just to say, “Ha! I’m taller than you.”

In fact, nobody ever tries to compete to be the shortest in the row. What does happen, instead, is that the second shortest guy turns to you and says, “I was actually really depressed (about being shorter), but then I realised you’re there,” followed by an apology even Karen from Mean Girls would know was completely insincere (in case you didn’t know, Karen’s the ‘dumb blonde’ in the film). Did you really mean to apologise for asserting your height over me? We all know this is a competition, and being taller than just one person is often enough to feel slightly better about ourselves.

We forget though, that there has to be someone who stands at the front of that line, and is shoved out to the unimportant edges of the photo by virtue of simply being shorter than everyone else. The one person who stands at the front of every row, can never sit in the back row just so he/she can see the board and is the target of every single short joke known to man. Oh, the humiliation.

Thing is, despite the constant barrage of reminders that I’m just simply shorter than everyone else, I don’t really care anymore. Why is it such a big deal, being shorter or taller? Does it really say anything about you? I’m reasonably certain this is just a thing to make ourselves feel better when we know that at least we’re better than someone else at something, even if it is just a matter of genetics and biology that grants us that.

But we cherish height, don’t we? It’s constantly about trying to grow taller, trying to gain that extra few centimetres of height and move into that bracket of “tall” to “taller”. Sure, there are benefits of being tall, like being able to reach that book you accidentally left on the top shelf while packing your room, or being able to see your teacher eye-to-eye to help reduce the trembling fear that strikes when you’re looking up at your Civics Tutor who’s telling you off for falling asleep in his class.

Being short is cool though. Someone on Thought Catalog wrote a piece on 20 reasons why “being short is the best”. Probably a massive overstatement, but there are at least some benefits to being short. For starters, it’s so much easier to slot in and out of crowded MRT stations, or fit on the train at peak hour since you take up (in general) so much less space – plus, it’s more comfortable, since you don’t have to crane your neck and contort your body just to fit in that little gap in the train. Also, it’s far easier to get a cheaper lunch when you smile widely and lie through your teeth when trying to convince a waiter you’re young enough for the child discount, when you’re really not. Fine, maybe that’s a little unethical – but that’s besides the point.

Sure, we’d all like to be taller because it not only gives us a sense of superiority over the next person, but perhaps also a representation of what we all are – just trying to be better than the next guy. We’ll jump at any chance we get to assert ourselves over the next person just to boost our own sense of self-worth, forgetting that really, sometimes it really doesn’t matter.

All that aside, that’s why I really hate this annual, laboured ritual of photo-taking, and having to line up in a row in order of height just to make the photo look symmetrical. I hate it, but I’ll still proudly take my place at the front of the line, while everyone battles with one another trying to measure that additional 0.1cm to warrant moving further down the line. It’s so much easier.