Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Soiree 2012 in Review

NUS Harmonica Orchestra
16th March 2012
University Cultural Centre Hall, Singapore

A Review By HAWK LIU

I didn’t know what to expect at a harmonica orchestra concert. When I entered the hall, I noticed there were MANY chairs on stage! There must have had been almost a hundred performers on stage at full force – lots of harmonicas, some woodwinds and brass, a cello, guitarists, a doublebass, percussion, a harp, a piano and a 20 strong NUS choir (female).

The opening piece, voices of spring by Johann Strauss was refreshing – full of life and gusto. I was always amused by the playing of the large harmonicas. I didn’t know too much about harmonicas (though strangely, it was the only instrument I could play by ear as a child). What I saw other than the small chromatic (I presumed) ones, there was the long one which looked like a long heavy ruler where the players seemed to be picking pieces of food off different parts of it. The other one I noticed looked much like a huge Subway sandwich and the players looked like they were taking part in an eating contest! Sorry for the digression. 3 small groups pieces followed. The one I enjoyed the most was the Twelfth Street Rag where the ‘heavy ruler’ harmonica and the ‘Subway sandwich’ harmonica were featured and they were delicious… I mean delightful! It’s a very good choice as it showed what these instruments, rarely playing solos, could do.

I am a Thousand Wind, with soloist Lai Mun Guan, and a piano, was wonderfully played. He demonstrated a range of skills that could be executed on the instrument – single voicing, harmony voicings, vibrato and such – totally enjoyable. The full ensemble followed with a popular Japanese TV theme song performed by soloist Tan Aik Hong, who gave, in my opinion, an understated performance. But I suspect that that was because the orchestra was playing way too loud for the soloist and the bass drum was the most resonant instrument on stage too. The percussion section, in general, could tone down a bit.

The 2nd half of the concert began with what I really came to the concert for – a suite of set pieces from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The overture ran into a few problems – the motive was a little sluggish, with the players trying to keep up. Timing was lost here and there. I also think the piano shouldn’t be doubling any of the other sections because it seems to fill the role of a prompter and I would rather hear the harmonicas on their own. After all, this was a harmonica orchestra – and why are some of the important motives given to the woodwinds?

Butterfly’s entrance aria, solo sung by Joyce Khoo, had a very interesting sound design. Though not what I would have preferred, it did work – the soloist’s microphone was high on the reverb, the NUS female choir was accompanying Butterfly’s solo, the full orchestra was going – the overall effect was like a well reverbed film soundtrack. It was great for the general listener but for vocal junkies like me, I was not hearing the voice’s natural quality. Well, you can’t please everyone I guess. The love duet sans singers followed and it was another strange experience: I realized the orchestra was probably playing the Puccini score without any instruments being assigned to the 2 soloists’ singing parts; the effect was like they were playing a minus one version of the duet! I would like to repeat the bass drum was too resonant again! It should not have been miked or it should have even been muted.

Un bel di was taken by soloist Joyce Khoo again and this time the reverb had gone down a notch – just one notch. Nonetheless, Joyce Khoo gave a convincing reading of the aria, as well as the entrance aria earlier on. The humming chorus was beautifully performed by the choir. However, I must say the tempo was more than a tat too quick. Much too happy for my liking, it didn’t reflect the sadness and tragedy that was to come later in the opera.

The Carmen Fastasy, played expertly by Japanese harmonica master Yasuo Watani, was a total delight. As played by the harmonica, it sounded like a variation of the violin version because many ornaments were different. I believed every note on the instrument was used, from top to bottom. The gypsy dance was frenzied and fast and no one missed a beat. At times, he used the instrument so well, it sounded like a mini orchestra on its own! I would like to make special mention of the accompanist, Josephine Koh, who made a quick change from the coat and tails of a conductor in the Butterfly suite, into an elegant gown and walked calmly onto the stage to play the piano. And she played it well!

The last piece was America from West Side Story. It wasn’t quite the usually arrangement we hear in the actual musical for most parts: there were a different set of chords used that gave it a different feel. The use of different tempi changed the style completely too. The percussions could tone down a bit.

The rendering of the humming chorus, this time with the choir standing in the midst of the audience gave a nice touch as an encore to a wonderful evening.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Les Miz Flash Mob

See what kind of surprise this guy in store has for his boyfriend during their 10 year anniversary party. Cool or what!?!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Interviews with Conductors of Community Groups

Spotlight on Community Perrforming Groups

Because a recent writing assignment on community performing groups required me to do quite a few rounds of interviews but only a few comments made it to the actual article, I've decided to republish their original quotes verbatim here, with a brief description of their upcoming concert first. Do take the time out to see what our local talents have to offer.

Limelight 2012: Commonwealth Military Band
Mr Kenneth De Souza from the Commonwealth Military Band
Concert on 26 Mar 2012

The Commonwealth Military Band has a long and distinguished history spanning over 30 years. Over the years, the band has grown, clinching the Gold award in 2003, 2005 and 2007 and the Silver award in 2009 and 2011 at the Singapore Youth Festival Central Judging for Secondary School Bands. In 2006, the band also clinched a Gold award at the first Singapore MUSE festival and did the school proud by emerging as the top band.

The band strives for musical excellence and has taken great pride in representing the school at events such as the Watermark Awards Ceremony, SYF Concerts in the Park, Junior Band Festival, Percussion Festivals and Young People’s Symphonic Band. In 2010, the band presented a concert at the Esplanade Concert Hall to a rousing and supportive crowd. The performance was well received and the band members gained valuable stage experience from performing at a world-class venue.

Under the baton of the resident conductor Mr. Kenneth de Souza and co-conductor Mr. Sebastian Sim Yu Xuan, the band looks forward to the challenges ahead and will grow from strength to strength and to continue its tradition of musical excellence

The Mad Scene: While the majority of musicians in your group might not aspire to full-time music careers, what do you hope they will take away with from these practice, rehearsal and performance sessions?

From all the practices where they learn their music, I always emphasize the importance of their role in the band and the discipline and responsibilities required to get their parts right. It will teach them how crucial team-work is playing together and also the right attitude to overcome difficulties in their music, which actually helps them in their character development to learn such important attributes that will help them in their future.

As for their rehearsals where we piece everything together and make music, I hope that they will learn to appreciate and love classical/band music and also learn other general information about the piece itself. This is also the time where the students can express themselves in their playing of the music and I find that it is the best time for the students to build their confidence through their playing.

As for the performance sector, I always believed in Musicians performing. No matter how young or old, beginner or seasoned player, I feel that every musician should perform.

Performing is an excellent outlet for the students to firstly build up their confidence, expressing themselves on a public platform through their playing, show casing what they are able to achieve through hard work and perseverance and lastly and most important, to let audiences feel that they are enjoying what they are doing which is making music.

The Mad Scene: What rewards do you derive for yourself from teaching these students? What keeps you going forward in leading your group?

The biggest reward I feel that i get is seeing the satisfaction and the joy of the students faces after a performance however big or small. It is also a great sense of satisfaction to be able to teach these students from the day that they learn their instrument and to be able to perform their music as many of these student have no prior music background. The fuel that keeps driving me forward is the exceptional attitude which my young musician students show in wanting to make music and striving for excellence.

The Mad Scene: What hopes do you have for your students going forward? Any specific or spiritual goals you would like them to achieve?

I hope that for my students that has graduated and are going to graduate, that they will remember whatever they have learnt in both the music and non-musical aspect. To remember that the responsibilities of being a musician can be applied to their everyday life. And lastly for them to leave the band a more disciplined, responsible, cultured, thoughtful and respectful person.

The Commonwealth Military Band performs on 26 Mar 2012 at the Esplanade Concert Hall. Click here for tickets.

Mr Lim Soon-Lee from the NUS Symphony Orchestra

The Mad Scene:  While the majority of musicians in your group might not aspire to full-time music careers, what do you hope they will take away with from these practice, rehearsal and performance sessions?

NUSSO's are made up students from various faculties from NUS. They come together to enjoy music with a passion and commitment. As orchestra musicians, they have the opportunity to learn a vast repertoire ranging from movies , musicals, classical, romantic, baroque to present.

The Mad Scene: What rewards do you derive for yourself from teaching these students? What keeps you going forward in leading your group?

After hours of practice, the students build up a mutual understanding with each other and responded well to my gesture. What touches me is that they are willing to learn, and they really make music from their heart.

The Mad Scene: What hopes do you have for your students going forward? Any specific or spiritual goals you would like them to achieve?

I hope that through playing music we build our lives like learning a piece of music from scratch to a well received performance.

With reference to the soft skills, I believe that students of music can learn about team dynamics when working together in an orchestra, duet and quartet etc. During these collaborations, it is important to understand how your fellow musicians work, emotional expression, timing, everyone has to work together to produce 'one sound'. Without teamwork, the music will be uncoordinated.

Furthermore, music can teach students about perseverance and discipline. Practice is crucial to a musician's development, so one must always be disciplined to keep practicing. There are times when we will be tired or disheartened in this process. This is where perseverance comes in to push us on.

Music can teach us many things, it is difficult to explain them all. We can only truly learn about it through experience.

Soirée 2012 by NUS Harmonica Orchestra
Conductor Ms Josephine Koh
Concert on 16 Mar 2012

Explore the fascination of the East with the West through excerpts from Puccini’s famed opera Madame Butterfly, arranged for Singapore’s only harmonica orchestra, with soloists and a humming choir.

Madame Butterfly tells the classic tale of the forbidden love between Butterfly, a Japanese geisha and Lieutenant Pinkerton, an American soldier: An obsessive love that breached social and cultural boundaries and led to tragedy.

With rapid globalization, such taboos are no longer in place. With the emergence of Asian cities as centre of global modernity, the West is now turning to Asia for solutions to problems of rapid urbanization. Will the story of Madame Butterfly continue to be tragic or ironic?

NUS Harmonica Orchestra will also perform Strauss’ Voices of Spring and Bernstein’s West Side Story.
The Mad Scene: While the majority of musicians in your group might not aspire to full-time music careers, what do you hope they will take away with from these practice, rehearsal and performance sessions?

i) Artistic Discipline. By coming to all the practices, rehearsals etc, they come to learn that without discipline, they can't really get anything done or play anything well. So, they recognise the importance of coming on time, sit at their respective places, warm up with scales and arpeggios, go through the motions of playing difficult passages and then plan to work things out during their next sectional and individual practice.

ii) Musical Training. The training sessions and rehearsals serve as lessons for learning an instrument, for acquiring musical skills and knowledge e.g acquiring musical literacy, the study of terminologies such as phrasing, dynamics, articulation, performance approaches etc. We have developed a regulated system such that they also take practical and theory exams individually.

iii) Intrinsic Value of Music. Besides doing their academic subjects, music serves to enrich their university lives. The students gradually acquire and absorb the intangible artistic value of music. They learn about how practice makes perfect and how diligence, perseverance and effort lead to success in performances. They in turn will apply these values into their lives and many other things that they will do in the future. Music is a powerful aesthetic if well learnt. The students are able to acquire good psychomotor skills and develop good mental and physical co ordination even at their age.

iv) Leadership Skills. For students in the committee, they would have grown so much in maturity, even within just a year, due to the immense amount of responsibilities thrust onto them. Their experiences in running the orchestra would have enriched their lives. They would have learnt how to make each show a success and acquire these life skills to carry with them.

v) Confidence and Personality NUSHO also focuses on the importance of stage presence. Stage etiquette is part of their training.

For soloists and ensemble performers, they would have developed such a high level of self confidence - to be playing in front of an audience is nerve cracking. Their ability to overcome anxiety and manage stress, along with their academic studies again serve to develop life skills that would make them successful people in the near future. What's more, they learn to present themselves well, which would certainly be an asset in their future professions.

vi) Friendships. Most important of all the students would take with them fond memories of their youth, their university life at NUSHO, the friendships, the camaraderie (though their rehearsals were sometimes rather gruelling.)

The Mad Scene: What rewards do you derive for yourself from teaching these students?

i) Working with Intelligent Young People. There are many rewards. These are university students. Intelligent young adults who understand the importance of learning, who have acquired certain intellectual standing and made good into NUS. Under the NUS-CFA Talent Development Programme, these students are capable of making stunning progress within a few years and grow up to become music arrangers for the group, soloists, tutors, competitors etc. Given good tutors and guidance they are interested to do things well (or at least they can be coax into it!) Even with learning an instrument for personal enrichment, they see the purpose and are keen to attain some quantifiable form of achievement or recognition. It is rewarding to teach students who want to learn.

ii) Musically Challenging. Working with this group also offers endless challenges. In the first place, hardly any music exists for the ensemble or an orchestra of this nature. We have formed an instrumental group modelled on a western symphony orchestra. We have the challenge of total free play and to find or otherwise produce the music ourselves! Being the premier Harmonica Orchestra in the nation and within the region, the group has to be ever so creative to attract and appeal to audiences. Thus, we decide on our programme, the choice of works, we work out the arrangements... The result is thus a very classically inclined training programme for the students of which the music they play ranges from arrangement of oriental works to works of the western musical canon, popular movie themes and catchy songs. We brain storm a lot for ideas, and there were some very trying and difficult times too. Somehow, each time we were lucky and managed to cross the hurdles, not without prayers though.

The Mad Scene: What keeps you going forward in leading your group?

A Unique Orchestra with a Unique Profile. Each year, we try to work out an interesting programme for Soiree, our annual concert. This year NUS Harmonica Orchestra goes Opera, with our original arrangements of excerpts from Puccini's Madame Butterfly. The production will be in multi media format, with the film cast in e background, along with solo singing and a chorus. Most important of all, this work receives support from senior members who assist with the logistics and tutoring. Our guest lecturer Mr Watani has been committed to assist us for years. Dr Chua Chee Yong and the CFA body - from Miss Christine Khor to Professor Wang Ya Hui and the administrative staff have all been so kind as to understand and appreciate the work of the group and thus offer their support in so many countless ways. In short, there is great team work to make things happen. I am thus very proud and happy to be a part of this team.

The Mad Scene: What hopes do you have for your students going forward?

As an educator, we believe our students are going to be great. Going back to your 1st question, of what they will take away with them, it is hoped that they will do NUS and NUSHO proud in the future. By going forward, I believe you thus mean the growth and development of the group. As mentioned above, the challenges are limitless. Each year we work on a project, to give off our best and then, with the feedback of the committee, the audience, the recordings etc, we look into ways to improve ourselves. There are artistic trends, in Singapore and globally, of which we follow to quite an extent. I personally attend several concerts and other artistic events and make trips overseas, to keep in touch with training methods, orchestral leadership, musical developments and to network.

The Mad Scene: Any specific or spiritual goals you would like them to achieve?

We never speak about the spiritual goals because we believe the students came in search of something in their lives. Being a CFA group, it is our responsibility to deliver the goals that the students came for and more. The spiritual fulfillment in the students can be seen over time. By their coming to the practices, the way they speak, their body language and even the way they write emails to me, I can see the positive changes in them. They understand the impact of constructive criticism and their spiritual enlightenment comes after each practice session and each concert. Time is precious and we try to make things work each time we meet. One of the most rewarding experience recently is when a graduate came walking in at almost 10pm, after his work and said, "Ms Koh, I'm coming back here to play, the alto horn." No matter how tired I was then, having just finished the rehearsal after a long haul flight back from Europe, I was so pleasantly surprised to see this young man - "Welcome back. It's great to see you." Nothing more needs to be said.

I hope the students will bring forth the joy of music making into the future - to the next generation, be it their juniors, their children or students. I have already seen that happening and I hope to see the continuity of such activities. To carry on doing what has been good into the future is a beautiful thing, especially for an art form like music.

The NUS Harmonica Society performs on 16 Mar 2012. Tickets are available on SISTIC.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Opera Summer Camp in Penang

So here's notice of an opera summer camp that's held in, hold your breath... PENANG! An affordable way then for us Singaporeans to get an operatic crash course from a grand British master. Check out details below:

Warm greetings from GEORGE TOWN FESTIVAL 2012!

George Town Festival is back and is scheduled from on June 15 until July 15, 2012.

Scheduled to be one of the highlight events of GTF2012, PRO MUSICA 2012, INTERNATIONAL WORKSHOP & MASTER CLASS FOR VOICE TRAINING & OPERA is back on popular request!

The Gala operatic concert by Pro Musica which features four outstanding international singers, supported by students of the Master Classes which precede the concert. The Pro Musica programme for the advancement of voice students from the region has been conducted for the last few years in Penang by the eminent voice teacher Ms Loh Siew Tuan (originally from Penang) based in London and Gent, Belgium, under Opera Plus in conjunction with the Flanders Opera Studio, which has contributed towards the improvement of many young singers from Malaysia and the region. Flanders Opera Studio also contributes experienced teachers Hein Boterberg, Benoit de Leersnyder and Vincent van den Elshout (guest instructor and stage director of gala concert) who will consolidate the course via instructions in interpretation, musicianship, and performance style.
The Pro Musica Master Classes provide selected candidates (chosen by auditions) with the best individual singing technique lessons and group master classes with language coaching lessons. The workshops include instruction in the art of solo and ensemble singing and provide advice on appropriate repertoire (lieder, chanson, opera etc.) and development potential by specialist coaches in each area in an intensive residential programme. This will cumulate into a final performance by candidates, where they will demonstrate their improvements and talents.
The International Master Class/Workshop aims to provide:

1. A structural framework within which young singers can benefit from immersion in a musical ‘learning by doing’ atmosphere under the constant tuition and guidance of experienced tutors and masters,
2. A chapter in the development of young singers’ education, self-confidence, experience and practical skills,
3. A relaxed atmosphere where young singers, aspiring to a career in the performing arts, can acquire, practice and polish practical techniques in a friendly environment free from undue pressure,
4. Honest and constructive advice/criticism to heighten self-awareness and consciousness, so as to encourage improvement of individual weaknesses, which could have the potential to hinder the advancement of career prospects,
5. Opportunities to encourage the mobility of young people in Europe and the Far East, enabling the sharing of inter-cultural and artistic activities and experiences.
The students will also participate in the Gala Concert with guest artistes: Julie Mossay (soprano, Belgium), Ines Madeira (mezzo-soprano, Portugal), Mauricio Villanueva Espinosa (tenor, Norway) and Kittinant Chinsamran (Bass-Baritone, Thailand). The operatic programme will include solo and ensemble works by Handel, Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti, Bizet, Delibes, and Rossini.


25-Mar Final application deadline for live & non-live auditions (i.e. submission via digital or DVD copies)
LIVE AUDITION @ Young Choral Academy, Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, KUALA LUMPUR
End of live & non-live auditions
4-10 Apr Selection process
3-May Submission deadline for letter of acceptance from candidate with 50% PAYMENT and their proposed list of repertoire for workshop.
Notification of assigned opera ensemble to participants.
31-May Payment deadline for shortlisted candidates (FULL PAYMENT).
18-24 June
WORKSHOP @ BELLEVUE, the Penang Hill Hotel, Penang
24-Jun PRO MUSICA MINI CONCERT @ MPPP Town Hall, George Town, Penang
PRO MUSICA GALA CONCERT @ Dewan Sri Pinang, George Town, Penang

Please see the attached audition application form (app-form-p4.pdf) for further information.

For further enquiries, please do not hesitate to contact the Festival office at +604-261 6308/ +6016-464 4211 OR via email promusica.gtf@gmail.com.

Download the application form here. GOOD LUCK!!!

The Sound of Music Reunion

This picture montage has been making the rounds of Facebook, but here it is again if you haven't already seen it. Yet another reminder of how fast time passes...