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

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.

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Fire songs? Count me in!

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

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Solfege in Arezzo, Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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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)

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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?

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– songern –

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

Happy Birthday SYC!

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

Having sung with the SYC Ensemble Singers back in 2005 during “Pedals & Pipes” as a member of TJChoir, as well as a number of co-productions and workshops with SYCES as part of the SMU Chamber Choir, joining them has always been a dream for me. Now, I have finally gotten about fulfilling it.

January 2014 marks my 6th month with the SYCES, and what a journey it has been. The experiences I’ve had in this span of time has been everything I expected and much more – from helping out as part of the concert crew for the charmingly delightful “We Are Singapore”, to my first performance with Sir JoJo and SYCES in the magical “Pagdiriwang” concert. For this, I am truly thankful to the conductors and my fellow choristers for warmly inviting me into the family, and for continuing to make and share music that inspires. One does not simply make good choral music – it is through the passion, sacrifice, and tough training that something beautiful can be created.

And as I remember and cherish the first half of “Year 1” with the SYC Ensemble Singers, it makes me honoured that I can spend that remaining half-a-year (and more) celebrating it with the rest  of the choir, who are commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the SYC Ensemble Singers (then known as the Singapore Youth Choir).

To all conductors, members, and supporters of the choir – both past and present, thank you for making this choir what is today ❤   I look forward to even more fulfilling and memorable experiences in the future.

Happy Birthday SYC! 😀

– Joseph

A (whole) Night with Glass

A month ago, I went to see Music in Twelve Parts, a four-hour piece featuring the Philip Glass ensemble as part of the Southbank Centre’s The Rest is Noise festival in London.

I was in the company of two thousand. When the piece was first performed 40 years ago in the UK, there were as many audience members as the number of movements in the music.

I’ve bought the tickets more than half a year in advance; so long that I’ve almost forgotten what to expect, and as it turns out, there could be no better way to approach this mammoth work.

It is quite fair to say that music like Music in Twelve Parts command a space in the listener’s consciousness, capable of altering our perception and realisation. Forget those psychoactive drugs that deliver a quick hit. This kind of musical high has a very long half-life… and multiple flashbacks to boot. Throughout the five hours (which included 3 intervals), I found myself drifting in and out of contemplation, slumber, dream-like states, and trepidation.

The piece started off introducing us to a concept; a simple idea that quickly gathers pace and spins into passages alternating between frantic collisions and more measured, strongly-pinned rhythms.

At some point, one could have imagined building using lego blocks, the pieces deconstructed and reconstructed into a familiar corridor, and other times into a shining piece of otherworldly architecture held together by a single pylon. Whether familiar or foreign, always, determined to be modern.

There is also something mathematical in its formula. The performance was divided into four equal parts, and visually, neatly laid out as three electric keyboards, three woodwinds, a sound mixer and a soprano in a crescent. And it was just that. Throughout the performance, there was nothing more or less to behold.

In my head, it conjured a scene very familiar to us city dwellers. Standing on the platform every morning, you watch a regular train arriving. The same commute to work or school. Some days, you see same people, doing the same thing. But if you look closer, say, the day you forget your headphones (or kindle), you bring your attention to some small detail that normally goes unnoticed. Those shoes are interesting. I wonder what he’s reading. Why is that person not being offered a seat? And so the mood of the morning changes. Hence, very similarly, changes in the passages are abrupt, like being jolted from slumber by the train coming to a sudden halt during the morning commute (or the awkward realisation when you find the side of your head tapping the shoulder of a neighbouring commuter).

Listening to Glass’s music (and so can be said regarding music lumped into what used to be called minimalism, which in these days have become a slightly irrelevant label), one is inadvertently drawn to an approach that is free of anticipation and of free associations. They also require a different mode of listening and engaging. On the surface, the audience looked placid, just like the dynamic of a traditional concert. But to keep an audience awake for over three hours of relentless sound (granted, the occasionally dropping off is allowed) was not a coincidental byproduct. The music itself, however, is not indulgent in any sense of the word. Even a traditional opera is undeniably fuelled largely by champagne, strawberries, and keeping up appearances, which surely is more consistent with indulgence.

In the world we live in today, we find our mental faculties facing demands from a swathe of stimuli; mobile notifications, e-mails, advertising, and demands from people; all of which invade our sense of space. What Music in Twelve Parts had achieved was to allow the audience to step into a musical landscape so rarely afforded.

Some people have described the experience as spiritual. Spiritualism, minimalism, ambient, etc. However, maybe those were just means of describing a meditative state, like that of being a blank canvas, simply allowing the music to wash over. Or to take it to another level, I found myself as a canvas, but not exactly blank. Parts of the music highlighted different parts of my thoughts, my memories, and my experiences. It also made me feel like a cog in a much bigger system of machinery. But as quickly as these feelings arrived, they disappeared with fugue-like rapidity. A seismic change in chords or rhythm forced the mind to move along, otherwise one risked being left behind by the flux.

It is also music to be appreciated in its totality. As a whole, the piece is symbolic, especially coupled with the backdrop of 1970’s new york, which I can’t say I have experienced, but it certainly can be imagined. There is also a very democratic usage of all its constituent parts that resonates clearly with the core struggles of the 20th century (which continue to this day). An example would be the use of voice, the unmistakable soprano singing to solfège with such sustained sound and clarity, echoing repetitive lines of the melody passed on by the other parts and itself melting into woodwind refrains.

It was really not unlike my experience as a member of a choir. I was an SYCES member about 8 years ago, on-and-off over a period of 2 years, a period of my life which was ultimately curtailed by higher education (and having left Singapore for that purpose).

Listening to Music in Twelve Parts, I was reminded of a largely failed attempt to grasp the rhythm to Steve Reich’s Clapping Music. We were in the Waterloo Street studio one Saturday afternoon, and Jenn had divided the choir into two halves. We were asked to clap to what looked like a very simple looking score. What resulted was an odd cacophony of mis-claps and expletives generated by a group of musicians navigating the terrain of frameshifts. (Two years ago, I attended a Steve Reich marathon at the Barbican Centre where the man himself opened the event clapping to this very piece. It is one of the moments when a master of the art single- (or double-) handedly exposed all my inadequacies in one fell swoop.)

Despite the fiasco, the musical vocabulary has never left me.

I also remembered a time when we were criticised for the impenetrability of the music we used to perform. The repertoire that SYC has taken on, coupled with its mission of supporting new music and living composers, did not always sit easily with the society of that time. The mere filling of the Esplanade Concert Hall was a product of years of convincing people that the music meant more than an evening of entertainment one slots in their annual social calendar.

And again, whether it is navigating the morning passages of Glass or scaling the peaks and troughs of Schafer, whether we are performers or listeners, there is a wider context to the music. Great music speak of a larger world we live in, an age where are forced to connect with others at an unprecedented scale. Personally and perhaps for many, being a member of a performing arts group that was actively engaged in the avant garde was a form of risk-taking that was sorely needed amidst the typically risk-averse climate of our society.

The other quality of music like Music in Twelve Parts is their universality. Listening closely, the keyboards was reminiscent of the higher tones of an indian sitar, or that of church organs, and maybe a marriage of both. The process of walking out of the concert hall was like walking out of a state of suspension, and it also left a sentiment where one wished the world was that much simpler and that much flatter. We can choose to use music as a key to open doors and break down walls, such as with international collaborations (e.g. the well-established Three or the recent choral atelier which I am truly gutted I couldn’t be part of), or it can be used to reflect hate and ignorance, not unlike what the internet can be used as a tool for. The music industry today reeks of sexism and cultural misappropriation.

And to finally illustrate my point, it’s about one in the afternoon and the sun is due to set in a couple of hours. We are approaching the depths of winter as I sit here in my London flat in front of my laptop. In a few minutes I will commence to trawl through a local bookstore recommended by an old SYC friend. Despite the true deciduous nature of the climate and the cold, warmth can be found in the fact that 8 years on, this simple activity represents a friendship that really started from the appreciation and engagement of music which as formed a bond between individuals. Surely, something has to be said about having dedicated parts of (and for a few, the majority) our lives to creating and expanding the musical landscape.

I believe that for many ensemble singers, singing is more of a necessity than an option. When questioned as to what music is, Glass offered that music is a place, and I cannot find a better definition. By creating music, you are creating a place for you and the audience to inhabit. What or who is present in this place is, however, subjective. Our future musical paths are shaped by our earlier experiences. I remember fondly that no matter how tedious it could be, preparations for each new piece, for each rehearsal and each new concert were like breaking down existing boundaries and constructing new worlds to live in.

There are music which demand a different way of listening, music that requires listeners to make up their own stories. You have read, without me having pointed out explicitly, my very own narrative set to the backdrop of this musical work littered throughout parts of this letter – the daily commute, the nostalgia, the characters and the music. It’s a narrative that changes each time, which is why writing it down now is so precious.

Happy festivities!

Leslie

We ‘come from’, and we ‘go to’

And so the month of January recedes into what is past.

The etymology of the word ‘January’ can be found in Roman mythology, from the word ‘Janus’, the god of beginnings and transitions. Janus is apparently a two-faced god who looks both into the future, and back into the past.

How fitting a name indeed for the first month of the new year – a beginning, and in many ways, a transition from an ‘old’ year into a ‘new’ year. We enter a new phase, but we never forget what has transpired. We ‘come from’, and we ‘go to’.

In January, during the ‘THREE’ choir tour in Sapporo, Japan, I took my first-ever steps in white, powdery snow, and the quiet stillness of vast stretches of bare trees held me in thrall. I would have loved to hold a conversation with those trees, so wise, old, and stoic they looked, and I marveled at their firm patience. It was a collective hope they held, that in their stillness was the gestation of the exuberance of spring to come.

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It’s an experience that I’d never forget – that it is in silence that we learn to understand what is sound; and in stillness that we begin to appreciate movement and the potential of life.

How serendipitous then that our next concert in March explores examples of such philosophical contrasts, juxtaposing light and darkness, life and death, hope and despair. Our lives are marked by our time in such phases, and as we shift from one polarity to another, engaging both in conflict and resolution, we emerge different, re-defined, changed.

I could never imagine life any other way.

– Marissa

Singing Scientists

Having recently met a fellow neurobiologist at Europa Cantat, a choral
festival in Turin, Italy, I wondered if there are many other scientists out there that
sing. Thinking back, my roommate in graduate school sang in an acapella group
while several of my lab-mates used to sing in choirs. Life as a scientist can get pretty
frustrating and I guess singing is an easy way of de-stressing.

Here’s a hilarious Lady Gaga parody produced by a bunch of biology graduate
students back in 2011. It’s a surprisingly accurate depiction of what life in science is
like, and all done through song. Enjoy!

Cheers,
Vivian