Ramblings of a (new mummy) singer

This blog post (baby) took 9 months in the making…ok maybe a couple of weeks, the blog post, I mean.

The pieces that we pick up in the choir (The screams of a hungry and impatient baby).
Music to the ears of the beholder.

Having a newborn and singing in a choir sorta parallels Life =)

Dragging a tired body and mind to the SONG and MUSIC at choir rehearsals (twice weekly, over 12 years now. Wow. 12 already?), at the end of a challenging school / work/ day…

Can I still sing while preggy? What will the bodily (hormonal!!) changes do to my voice?
Trepidations aplenty. I remember…

feeling breathless singing within ONE bar

*breathe breathe. skip a couple of notes. Smile =) Sing. breathe breathe*

wondering if I’ll still fit into my choir uniform
looking like a hippo in a borrowed larger uniform
singing with the choir on stage at 7 months in *achievement unlocked!*

–_–

Soothing a seemingly inconsolable crying newborn (EVERY DAY) with SONG and MUSIC… Soothes so many raw nerves.

I recently re-discovered a stash of SYC concert recordings and dug out 2 of my favourites – Poverello (2004) & Dobrogosz Plays Dobrogosz (2011). Okay. I also put these 2 recordings on play and repeat and repeat mode because I was desperate to calm the newborn. Whatever works!

Some take lonely roads that never meet…
Some take long roads, some take hard roads…

Listening…humming along…singing along aloud (I remember the words to my parts and OTHER people’s parts!) soothes and even baby falls asleep more quickly and soundly. Hurray!! *Huge sigh of relief*

Lord I’m free… (when baby’s sleeping)…
Lord I’m free… (
when she’s fast asleep)…

The power of music. The magic of choral singing. Waiting for that opportunity to go back to singing with the group again.

Any way the wind blows…

Can’t wait for the day too when this little one embarks and explores her own musical journey

And they all come back to Thee.

eat.pray.love.play.
sing.

~Ivonne

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Together

If there ever is a word that can encompass what it means to be in a choir (and there are many other words I’m sure), that word would be “Together”. I know that sounds somewhat obvious and simplistic, but never underestimate this word. It is easier said (or written) than done. After being in SYC Ensemble Singers for 6 years, I can definitely attest to the fact that being ‘together’ is more than meets the eye.

Singing in a choir is about singing together. but what does that mean? Does it mean singing the same pitch, the same word, or the same dynamic with other people? Does it mean breathing at the same spots, inflecting at the same points of each phrase, and ending each word the same way? Or does it mean having the same tone, the same vowel sound, and the same resonance?

At times, I feel like the more I understand the concept of “Together”, the less I get it as well (I know it sounds contradictory…hear me out). Singing as a collective seems to be a constant process, of listening, of adjusting, of feeling. Whenever I figure out a way for me to sing together with my fellow choristers, I realise more things that need attention. It seems to me like an unending cycle of figuring things out, and of stretching our senses to understand the experience of singing.

As we prepare for our 50th Anniversary pre-tour concert ‘This Song of Mine’, I find myself going through the process of learning (and re-learning) what it means to sing together, so that we can sing the songs of Chinese tribes;so that we can bring forth the stillness of the lake; so that we can re-create sounds of the Basque country; so that our hearts can “break with pride”, and your hearts will be transported to “the verge of the unknown”.

So what does it mean to sing ‘together’? Well, the most important thing is to find out…together.

– Delin –

Silent Miracles

silence.

The conductor gave her cues. The choir members opened their mouths. But instead of being greeted by intoxicating harmonies capped by delicious overtones, the entire Esplanade Recital Studio was immersed in sheer and utter silence.

The year was 2009 and the concert was “Birth and Death” – SYC’s contribution to “Spectrum”, a series that featured contemporary classical chamber music. While this wasn’t my first SYCES concert, this was the one that left the most lasting impression on me.

For their last number, SYC performed the 5th and final movement of Hoh Chung Shih’s eponymous work. Choir members quietly “sang” the characters “生” (shēng/birth/life) and “死” (sĭ/death) as their conductor Jen etched these words, slicing the air with her deliberate calligraphic strokes.

I was awed and left speechless. When a friend whom I later met asked me how the concert went, I said, “I honestly don’t know. I am unable to process what I just experienced.”

At that point, I couldn’t understand why SYC did not sing. I couldn’t understand why those characters had to be written in the thin, still air. I couldn’t understand why during the post-concert open forum, Jen earnestly shared that it took her some time to prepare herself to conduct the final movement. I remember that my mind was awash with questions that needed answering.

How could any piece involve that much preparation? How do you prepare for a silent piece? (How do you even decide to perform a silent piece?) How could performers sing in empty tones? How could a single performance put me in such a state of numbing confusion?

At that point, my stormy brain groped for answers to no avail. No previous experience could anchor me; no theory could shine a beacon of clarity. Drowning in this absence of meaning, I sank slowly and surely into silence and unease.

It took 4 years and another SYC concert before this silence was broken.

As I was watching their 2013 Christmas concert “Pagdiriwang”, I finally understood what silence meant. The choir had just premiered John Pamintuan’s “Nativitas” – a new composition employing Prudentius’ 4th century poem. The song had all the elements of a Pamintuan arrangement – syncopated counterpoints, masterful contrasts of simple and stacked chords, distinct yet connected thematic movements – all culminating in a triumphant, glorious ending.

However, at some point during the performance, time stopped and the moment felt extended. At some point during the performance, the choir was both singing and silent at the same time. At some point during the performance, there was no “I” and “them”, no “performers” and “audience”, no “sound” and “silence”. There was only a collective “we”, there was only the ever-present “now”.

This is the miracle of music and singing.

It is a miracle because singing is never about the past nor the future. It is never about fulfilling future expectations nor making up for previous mistakes. It is never about the artists nor the audience, but about everyone present, physically or theoretically, in that space and time. It is never about silence nor sound, but the silence from and sometimes even within sound.

I realised while watching Nativitas, I was witnessing the first of many births, the first of many miracles.

Every performance is a miracle not because it “was” nor it “will be”, but because it simply, purely “is”.

The 5th movement 4 years ago invited me to die from my notion of what choral music was – audible and probable; tonal and logical. It was an invitation to die to myself and be reborn – to restart my choral journey through sheets of songs, to explore worlds within works, to soar the lofty heights and plunge into the fathomless depths of the human spirit.

Lastly and most importantly, it was an invitation to celebrate the gift of silence –

The silence that invites us to die to our false notions and images, opening us up to new experiences and relationships

The silence that gives birth to skilful arrangements and moving renditions

The silence that precedes and pursues not only tearful sighs,

but also rapturous applause.

= = = = = = =

*Aldo finally found the courage to audition for SYC in Jan 2014 and has been learning, unlearning and journeying with the group since then. SYC will be performing at the all-Pamintuan choral festival, SingaFOUR: Maior Caritas IV, at the SCO Concert Hall on Sun 27 July 2014.

The Beginning of Something

Before I auditioned for SYC, I watched quite a few of the choir’s concerts. One, in particular, stands out in my mind: Black & White (March 2013). This concert was held in the Esplanade Recital Studio and the songs sung revolved around the paradoxes of life. True to the theme of the concert, I recall alternating between feeling intimidated and being pleasantly enveloped in warmth. There were songs that were cacophonic and strange with random mutterings and exclamations and there were songs with beautiful, haunting motifs.

I remember watching the choir in awe, completely taken in by the experience. I remember looking up at singers who seemed larger than life; an effect no doubt intensified by the intimacy of the space. And then I remember thinking how amazing it would be to sing and create music like that, music that had soul, that could make you feel so much.

I finally plucked up the courage to audition at the beginning of this year and June marks my fifth month with the choir. I can’t believe I’ll soon have spent half a year with the choir. It feels only like yesterday I was sitting at the back of the choir room waiting to audition. It’s been an amazing, thrilling and challenging journey so far.

I love that we sing all sorts of songs – songs that are beyond the spectrum of normal (O-rologica!), songs that are rhythmic and make you want to get up and dance, songs that make you ache, songs that you could close your eyes and feel lost in. And more than that, I love that the people who seem larger than life on stage are really down-to-earth and fun to be with and sing with. I’m so grateful to have their support, advice and encouragement.

Here’s to creating new friendships and great music! This is just the beginning.

Molly

Memos to self before a performance

It’s 8.10 PM. Stand in front of the monitor backstage. Watch the house lights fade into relative darkness. Watch the SMU Chamber Choir enter the concert hall, ascending the risers, flooding the stage with their deep cerulean-blue outfits. Observe (vaguely, through pixels) how the light plays on the stage. Feel your pulse quicken slightly when the pitch pipe is blown. Think about the note. Think about how it feels to be thinking about the note onstage.

A first beat is given. Hear male voices in unison singing what sounds like a medieval plainsong. Experience a vision of a rather damp monastery and a drowsy monk named Adso doodling on the margins of illuminated manuscript. Suddenly, the music is overcome by an exceedingly groovy rhythm. What is this amazing song, you ask a friend. It’s Arma Lucis by Jackson Berkey. Cool. Learn that this was the first piece he’s ever sung in a choir.

Walk around the large holding room. You’ve been here before, back in 2012 when you first joined the SYC Ensemble Singers. Nothing about this room has changed. Perhaps there are fewer chairs now. Think about Mostly Margutti (the concert ft. composer and conductor extraordinaire Corrado Margutti) and the atelier choir (you didn’t perform then, but helped out backstage) and the echo chamber of a stairwell between the dressing rooms and the holding area. Hear sopranos walking up the steep flights of steps.

Realise that the choir will be singing a composition by Corrado Margutti later—Dona Nobis Pacem. Rehearse, in your head, the flowing metre of Lorca’s poetry. Enough time will pass. Gather with everyone for silent warm ups. Dona Nobis Pacem: a prayer for peace, set to the idea of rain. Martial Arts: the theme for today’s warm ups. Huh. Nevermind, everyone has great fun making a terrible travesty out of iconic Bruce Lee fighting moves. Feel flushed. Stand still, letting the breath return to its usual measure of air.

10 minutes remaining. Get in position and walk to the stage door. Listen to them sing Seal Lullaby from where you stand. Do not fall into gentle slumber! Instead, think back to last year’s SMU Chamber Choir concert. Remember the people you sang beside. Remember the people you’re supposed to be standing beside this time! Grin at the new singers whom you will be performing with for the first time this evening.

Hear muffled applause through the thick walls. See the house lights enter the dim waiting area beside the doors. A crack of light becomes a walkway, a brief glimpse of the grand piano, footsteps on the wooden flooring.

Enter stage right.

– Samuel

Stones & Singing

*Warning: post written on post-performance high*

Well, tonight, if you didn’t already know, we performed with THE ROLLING STONES. Yes you read that correctly. THE ROLLING STONES. Yes. THE ROLLING STONES. ROLLING STONES. STONES XD

XD 😀 😀 😛 XP

Awesome possum McAwesome! We shared the same stage as these legendary artistes! They smiled and wave to us! Mick Jagger called out our name and said we sang “beautiful”! *Faints*

Well so far in my short close to 5 years in SYC, I’ve gotten the chance to sing/support in many various events. There has been 2 weddings; 1 funeral; a Singapore Citizenship oath swearing ceremony; a Spanish Flamenco Mass; several church services in Europe; educated secondary school kids on music appreciation; exchanged songs with other choirs in dining halls; sang by the roadsides; sang while we waited for our food in restaurants… and many more. Well of course tonight we can add “sang with the Rolling Stones” to that list. (Y)!

So why do I list all this out?

Well there’s this general impression out there in Singapore (I feel) that choral music is kinda… detached. It’s something murky out there, only for the cultured or high browed to appreciate.

Something “atas”. Something inaccessible or far away, beyond reach of the common folk.

That, however, is simply not true.

As seen in the many occasions that call for song, music is but just another expression of life. We sing when we are happy, we sing when we mourn. We sing when we are with others, and we sing when we are alone. We sing to commemorate, we sing to let loose, to enjoy life to ROCK IT OUT!! An expression of life, something that resonates deep within us, that all of us have a personal connection to.

Of course when we sing about life, we inadvertently and unapologetically present various opinions and ideas, all at the wishes of the composers. Simply put, we are messengers. Opinions and ideas, as we all know, will sometimes be disagreeable. But this is where we learn how to agree to disagree, after all, in life you can’t always get what you want.

So next time you hear a choir sing, don’t just dismiss it as abstract music. Examine it, embrace it, and see how it speaks to your soul. If it seems like nonsense, so be it. But hey, who said life was logical?

Midst all the stuff and nonsense of our lives, let the song challenge you, and see how it might help you examine yourself deeper than you ever expect.

– Benlee

O—–rologica!

When I first picked up Nona Sensilia, I was excited precisely because it was nonsense. The illustrations were of a literal tiger lily, a boot-wearing ostrich, a broom-plant, and many more, all cute and ridiculous.

The music, too, is nonsense, in the sense that there isn’t much harmony, just a collection of notes with speak-singing and speech sounds. It requires generous use of the tuning fork. We have equal trouble getting the notes and the rhythms right.

It’s challenging. It’s fun.

Maybe it doesn’t exactly sound like “music”. But when you stand in the middle of a city and close your eyes, and just listen, you hear but a collection of words and sounds, too. Yet these paint in your mind the cityscape.

Similarly, the notes and speech sounds we make, while sounding ridiculous, precisely paint the ridiculous pictures they are about.

Laugh with us.

-Gloria