The first time I heard Shadowcatcher by Robert Casteels was when I have yet to join SYC and was scrolling through their YouTube channel, chancing upon a video which showcased the song itself.

Shadowcatcher Shadowcatcher urban-shaman

Simply paint my shadow white and make me someone.

It was one of the songs that caught my attention and its tune was etched in my mind. The words in the song made no sense because I didn’t know the context of the song. This song even has a rapper and I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know that choral songs could involve a rapper. How does one compose a choral song with a rapper? What a revelation! This is such an interesting fusion because we mostly listen to rappers in modern pop songs accompanied by a back track and here we are, finding a rapper in a choral piece! Instead of pop music, the choristers are now the ones who readily provide the ‘background track’ giving this piece a sort of unique ambience. Pretty cool huh!

As I listened to the YouTube recording, I imagined the amount of work that had to be done and wondered how they pulled this off. The video showed parts of the score as the members sang the piece. There were also claps, snaps, and chants whilst singing was in progress. The coordination of speaking in rhythm as well as making the different parts of the song respond to each other was amazing. Words the rapper had skillfully articulated were re-sung by the choristers moments later, not only making it rhythmically catchy and pleasing to the ear, but emphasising the words and shaping the character and imagery of the piece.

No hit no catch no match

So go and get the torch

Hey we need to scorch

Hey we need to scorch

The shadows of your mind…

Catch, march, torch, hey need to scorch

Now as a member of SYCES, I have a chance to be exposed to many different types of music, and interestingly enough, the choir recently picked up Shadowcatcher once more. Although the music of the piece remained similar, this score was actually an updated version of the Shadowcatcher that I watched and listened to on YouTube. As I held the score in my hands and started flipping through this complex piece of music, flashbacks of what I heard and saw on YouTube filled my head and I was so excited to give this piece a shot! There were fun and interesting parts to the song such as singing the words “monkey” and “donkey”, which made me ask myself: “What am I actually singing?” and “What do these words mean?”

Thin and fat and lean and mean all forming a black meltdown

Black on white black on white say it right and be forthright

Black Black White White Meltdown.

Since the music was not in any fixed key, getting the notes and the interval jumps were tough initially. With tuning forks in everyone’s hands, we tried our best to get the notes. It was only after observing patterns were we able to piece the entire song together.

Another challenging and sometimes scary bit of the song would be how fast paced it is! With so many things going on, you have got to be on your toes when singing this piece. Subdivisions:“1 and 2 and 1e and a 2e and a…”, tuning fork ready, take your note from others, re-tune. Entry! And… cut! Wait for the call; respond! Count count count. Whenever this song was being rehearsed, there would always be a little tension in the air because we all understand the stamina as well as amount of effort needed in perfecting the music (so thrilling!). When everybody’s hard work and concentration is pumped into singing this song, magic happens. We all know how piecing a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle feels like: the end result is a beautiful picture which could only formed from piecing the puzzle together, giving us a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, kind of how I felt when we completed the song!

Sha-dow cat-cher Shadowcatcher (spoken in rhythm =166)

I think at the end of the day, this piece has taught me that when we embark on a challenge, the start is not going to be easy, but it is this mindset of thinking it is too tough for us that we must be able to get rid of in order for us to progress. Once we bear the correct mindset, constant familiarizing as well as hard work is what we need to make things possible. With that, I’m looking forward to conquering more challenging pieces in future!

Let us continue to catch shadows.


HEY there again, SMUCC!

It’s time once more for SMU Chamber Choir’s annual concert, Wrinkles in the Air! This is the 4th Wrinkles concert that SYC has been invited to as guest performers, and I am so looking forward to performing with the cheerful members of the choir again: To meet new friends, catch up with old ones, and make beautiful music. Only a couple of Wrinkles ago, I had eagerly awaited (in much the same way) for the very first combined rehearsal – except back then, I was still an active member of SMU Chamber Choir. Many things raced through my mind: “Ooooo… I think they’re gonna sound awesomeeeee”, “Ok, focus focus, don’t make a dumb mistake later when you sing beside them”, “match their voice, match their voice match their voice…”. That practice had turned out well, and the Wrinkles in the Air concert for that year was a stunning success. Now, I’m an active member of SYC Ensemble Singers, and the first combined rehearsal with SMU Chamber Choir went great too (though we will still need to do some cleaning up to make the music even more awesomeeeee). I was most delighted to see that my alma mater choir had grown and matured much further in the years since I graduated. I truly hope that Wrinkles in the Air, and all the many wonderful experiences as part of the SMU Chamber Choir, will continue to be an inspiration for them and all future batches of students to continue pursuing their love of music – just as it was the case for me. -Joseph


So recently I went for a talk on the wonders of meditation by a particular famous guru from India.

After having gone through a rather turbulent 20s, I seek to attain inner peace within as I welcome my big three-o this year. This explained why, being such a skeptic on religious and spiritual affairs, I went for the talk.

During the talk, the guru guided us through a 20-minute meditation session, and it was after that the realization struck me.

Actually, I have been going for weekly meditation sessions all along, for the past decade. As I step into the studio with a group of like-minded people twice a week, we start off by breathing and stretching exercises. That prepares our mind and body for meditation ‘training’.

And then meditation commences: we focus on making sounds, unifying those sounds, using our brains, minds and ears to do so, as we try to achieve a harmonious blend (well not the music, per se, but the ensemble-ship). We do all these at the same time. We train ourselves to be mindful of our own sound, of the sound made by the person beside us, and of the choir as a whole. Sometimes we get distracted and thrown off by a stray quartertone here, or a triplet out of place, flared tempers and emotional outbursts; but we will always find ourselves at the start of the practice again – focus on the music, sing with others, repeat this rehearsal after rehearsal.

On hindsight, singing with this choir has trained me well in keeping my focus, in being mindful of the moment, and appreciating the present. Sometimes I lose sight of these seemingly trivial concepts as I get carried away by the negative emotions that arise as a reflex reaction to everyday life and things. And coming to these weekly rehearsals, had helped me to remember and to train these skills, all of which I shall put in practice in my meditation outside of choir, in my life, and in the endless flow of moments in time.

And also, to carry me through the entire 90 minutes of Flood of Beauty.


Arty – Facts

  1. Background information: “Artifacts” was composed by Eric Banks for the SYC Ensemble Singers’ 50th Anniversary, and was premiered at THREE in December 2014.
  2. Method: from a body of poems that I had previously written, Eric selected lines/sections, and re-arranged them to create a libretto. He took as inspiration the 50 Artefacts for 50 Years series (in celebration also of the choir’s 50th anniversary), which you really need to check out here.
  3. Factoid: When I first posted on the blog, I wrote about the choir’s tour in Turin while nursing malicious earworms from Eric’s “Twelve Flowers”—a composition in 12 sections/movements with Japanese and English text sung concurrently, over, under, around each other.
  4. For the past year, we’ve done quite a bit of other music composed after poetry. Off the top of my head: “Sonnet 43” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning x Kelly Tang), “Nona Sensilia” (Joyce Koh x Edward Lear and his nonsense verse), “Life has…” (Sara Teasdale x Ivo Antognini, “My Song” and “When Thou Commandest” (Rabindranath Tagore x Vytautas Miškinis x 2), “Nightmare” (Angeline Yap x Leong Yoon Pin), “De Profundis” (Federico Garcia Lorca x John August Pamintuan), and the list goes on…
  5. “walk inside the poem’s room/ and feel the walls for a light switch,” wrote Billy Collins, of the ways to read a poem. Not long ago, Mingboon blogged about approaching a note as one might a door: knocking tentatively, hacking through it, lingering too long before it, and ultimately finding that every door is different. Every experience of music/poetry/art is transformative, and we reach for metaphors of space & architecture to reflect this.
  6. Learning to piece together “Artifacts” with other people: (1) yes, those were precarious days for my battered tuning fork, (2) sometimes it was like a slow debugging of the ear… or a gentle cleansing of one’s third eye (some chords, I guess, do that to you), (3) when all else fails, the only thing you can do is dance—and the same is true of most things in life.
  7. If you could cobble together a meal from the ingredients mentioned in “Artifacts”, here’s what you’ll get: salted fish, sweet cream on a butter biscuit, a biscuit soaked in rainwater (why am I so obsessed with biscuits? I don’t know), honey, and a salad of roses, reeds and fern fronds. Maybe you should order takeout instead.
  8. For posterity’s sake, here’s a photo of Eric and I demonstrating—quite successfully, in fact—the art of the Side-Hug:


— Samuel

5(+1) Reasons Why SYCES is My Home. Truly.

Time sure flies by in a blink of an eye: It has been 7 years since I first joined SYCES. Still remember very clearly my date of entry: April Fool’s Day, 2007. “What has kept me so long within the choir?” – A question very often asked by people close to me. Well, let me reiterate the reasons again, but with a slightly different twist. I dedicate this Buzzworthy-esque blogpost to my fellow SYCES friends and also to all those in the choral fraternity. I am sure at least 1 of them will resonate with you guys. (:

1. I get to SING lots of awesome songs.


Fire songs? Count me in!

2. It brings me PLACES. Like, both locally and overseas.


Solfege in Arezzo, Italy


S Y C on the cobbled stone streets of Torino, Italy

3. I get to MEET and SING together with people from other countries.


It’s a Gaia, ACS & SYCES parteh! *\o/*

4. We are serious about our FOOD. Like, seriously.


Our usual after-concert pig-out at Lau Pa Sat. SATAY!! *drools*


How about a change of environment at Glutton’s Bay? STILL GOOD!

5. We love our WE-FIES! (or at least there are people willing to humour me)


Those were the days when selfie pods were unheard of, and actual selfies took a certain level of skill. xD

Bonus Point:

Did I mention that off-stage, we are just a crazy and fun-loving bunch of people at heart?


– songern –

Can you sing this note for me please?

In a note

You can approach a note in many ways.

Sometimes you are a stranger, you start with a tentative knocking on the door and then slowly enter with much politeness.

Sometimes you enter into a space with multiple doors, you do not know which is the right one. You think you are in twilight zone.

Sometimes the door is located in a weird position. You think it is too low too high too wide too narrow too something. You frown.

On a bad day, the door may be locked.  You try to pick the lock, with some help from your friends. After multiple tries, you hatcheted the door like in a B-grade horror movie.

Sometimes you lingered too long in a space and open the door late, much to the irritation of people behind.

Sometimes you open the door and you see heaven.

Sometimes hell.

But never two the same.

So every Saturday we enter doors after doors, 30 odd people enter and exit , enter and exit, criss-crossing each other’s path. Sometimes we hold hands and enter safely, sometimes we are alone and afraid, sometimes we hold the door for each other.  For we know we are blind without each other. We need each other to draw the map with sounds.


Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching of “inter-being” states that there is no separate object, event, or experience that can exist apart from all others. Everything is made up of other things. The elements that make up the world are patterns of dependency and interweaving. In other words, they are relationships. What we are seeing and experiencing are basically only relationships.

Understanding this, one would understand why section leaders are so particular about attendance and discipline. And a thousand other things that holds the structure together. These are the nuts and bolts that make a concert, a practice, a piece of music, a phrase, a note, a sound, possible.

To think that one is part of this creating process fills one with awe and gratitude.


I was in SYC 10 years ago. Left and now I am back again. The members have changed. The music has changed. The name has changed. I have changed. So what is SYC? It is no-thing and everything.

It is the intersection of our lives for that few hours a week, it is an exploration of our inner space, it is a discovery of new ways of relating with others, it is an experiment with sounds.

It is a journey between one door to another, from the beginning of a note to the end.

– Ming Boon

5 (not so odd) months

Some 5 odd months ago, I stumbled on a peculiar video on youtube that featured a group that just walked out of The Matrix, producing a myriad of sounds, dissonances, whispers, chants, and seamless music. I was amazed, and did the unimaginable.

Some 5 odd months later, I am racking my brains, trying to think of something to adequately describe how the past 5 months in SYC has been. How surreal it is, from being an online spectator, a virtual audience, to actually singing with choristers who seem so much more larger than life on stage, but are people who only possess a simple, yet epic joy, for singing.

It has been a ride with SYC, from the initial audition where I harboured no hope or expectation of result after the overwhelming experience; but was shocked, and exhilarated after my news of acceptance into the choir. Albeit it being such a short time since I’ve joined the choir, I’m thankful for being a part of We are Singapore, and it is really only by constant concern and advice from fellow choristers that I am able to learn such a rigorous repertoire and be on stage with the choir.

SYC has inevitably allowed me to  grow as a musician, and in my ensembleship. I am thankful for all my fellow choristers, and despite differences in age, profession, nationality, we all somehow converge into one voice, one spirit, all for a greater purpose to spread our joy for singing to the our audiences.

Ultimately I look forward to the process of turning ink on paper into beautiful oscillations of pressure, into wrinkles in the air, into music that speaks so wonderfully to the heart and soul. Albeit the exhausting rehearsals, I am thankful for every moment I get to spend with the choir in music-making, for every bad practice, for every good practice, and for every sound that not only comes from vocal cords, but also, from the heart.

Now, watching the very first video that introduced me to SYC brings back a rush of joy, reverence, awe, and satisfaction.