My Life in SYCES

Disclaimer: This is going to be another very long post…

How quickly time has flown! Today marks the 29th month since I have auditioned for this choir. This short amount of time may be insignificant to many of my fellow choristers but to me, every month that has passed is some sort of accomplishment.

Choir has always been an integral part of my life and it is a natural progression for me to continue on my choral journey even after graduating from JC. The SYCES is a choir which I have always aspired to be part of ever since I was first introduced to it through the concerts I had to attend back then in secondary school. What I admired most about the choir is the dedication that the choristers have — how people from all walks of life come together twice every week to make music together despite their busy schedule, preparing for concerts and sharing their beautiful music with the audience. I am also honoured to have had the opportunity to sing with the SYCES on three separate occasions prior to my audition, during which I learnt more about singing and music, and of course, the choir and its choristers. These people who seem larger-than-life onstage suddenly appear less daunting after repeated interactions from the collaborations. Why, they are just as human as you and I! Even so, I never thought that I would have the courage to audition for the choir, if not for encouragement from schoolmates and constant prompting from SYCES members whom I made friends with from the collaborations. I am glad that I mustered enough courage to try, otherwise I will not be part of this wonderful choral family and neither will I be here, posting this today.

Being a considerably new member, it is inevitable that I get called out for octets more often than others. There are days when I wish “please don’t call me, anyone but me” but I have also my fair share of “me please?”, only to start quaking with fear both physically and vocally once the octet starts, much to my chagrin. This fear washes over my previous confidence and hijacks my brain, resulting in my loss of control over my singing. That is not the end to it, this fear even extends to giving comments on the octet, so much so that I say the most mindless things — something which I always deplore myself for, as soon as those very words come out of my mouth. However, I would like to think that I have since made friends with Fear and we have managed to make some sort of pact. Sure, I still have my “not me, please” days, but at least I think I am in better control of my fear now when I am called for octets.

There are also times when I get discouraged, not so much because of the criticisms themselves, but rather, over the inconsistency of my voice. “You sound hooty”, “Your vowels need to be taller”, “You need to connect your breath”… These are just some of the comments I would usually get. Surely after being a chorister for such a long time, I should know what needs to be done by now? Sadly, knowledge does not always translate to action despite constant prodding to my brain and singing muscles to do the necessary adjustments. Sometimes, I get so exasperated that I feel that I am a liability to the choir and should just give up. Thankfully, my love for choral singing always triumphs over these moments of mental weakness and motivates me to work harder to eradicate these problems.

My journey with SYCES is not a smooth one, both literally and musically. Juggling school, work and choir among many other commitments is never easy. Many times, I have quarrelled with my parents because they keep nagging at me to quit choir, claiming that “it’s taking too much of my time”. Being practical parents, they can never understand my love for choir and the things I am willing to forgo for it; yet they are supportive enough to watch our performances whenever they can and I always see the pride shining on their faces after each performance. For me, that is sufficient recompense for all their earlier displeasure. I have enjoyed my journey thus far, bumpy rides and all — whether it is the arduous process of learning pieces like “Twelve Flowers”, the “screwed” octets that I feel so ashamed of myself afterwards, rehearsing for the different concerts that I have had the pleasure to perform with my fellow choristers, the exposure to a wide variety of concert repertoire, the opportunity to sing under the baton of different guest conductors or the overseas trips and competitions. It is through these precious moments in the choir that musical bonds are forged and friendships are made, and I am appreciative of all the time spent music-making during rehearsals. In addition, being in this choir has allowed me to grow and mature not only as a singer, but also as an individual.

To end off, I would like to thank SYCES, for allowing me to be a part of you and I continue to give thanks for every month that I have spent happily and willingly in this choir with my fellow choristers. 29 months and counting! 😀

– Charlene ♫

My Coral Experience

Disclaimer: I went on a rampage writing this post and it extended so much that I am embarrassed to put the entire piece up. The following is the important parts (but yes it is still extremely lengthy). Please take care not to read to death and please forgive me if i sound too informal or happy for your taste 😉

On a very personal note, my mother has always admired my ‘passion for choral music’. However her admiration is not due to the fact that her daughter has a consistent hobby but that she can actually find some kind of interest in choral singing. Listening to me practice, put in layman terms, she will say “Wah, you all must really like singing to sing this type of thing for so long hor.” Nevertheless she makes an effort to appreciate my type of music, enjoying my concerts, and I am eternally grateful for her support. Yes Mother, thank you for reminding me how much dedication I have for music.

She also never fails to remind me to reach home early every Saturday night and an expression of genuine surprise will appear on her face when I appear at home before 12 midnight on Saturdays. In my memory a typical Saturday of my life only starts at noon, when I start panicking because I would have to leave house soon or I would be LATE FOR PRACTISE.

After warm ups, vocals and rehearsal, practice can end with the oh-so traumatising octets. Yes, I’ve been up there a few times but it still not a comfortable place to be. When the sectional leaders start contemplating who they want to send up to the gallows, you sit there muttering under your breath, “not me not me not me not me…” Up there, before you have time to react, the song starts and you forget things. Suddenly you cannot breathe fully, you don’t phrase, you keep staring at your score just hoping to get it right, but most importantly, you don’t listen. Then it all sums up to how long it takes for you the snap out of it. On good days you get into the right mode before the song starts and on bad days, before you know it, the song is over and you can only blame yourself. After practice ends, the usual gang with occasional welcomed guests goes out for dinner. As usual, we take forever to decide on a venue, and somehow I can reach home after midnight. A typical Saturday like that is something that I can live with. It’s something that I can look forward to when the weekdays are bad.

Like my mum, many of my friends find it hard to understand why I like choral music so much. Okay, maybe they do understand. But I can see from the look in their eyes that they cannot relate. I try very hard to make them really understand, but how do I do so when I myself find it difficult to describe this peculiar emotion? This part of the post is probably going to be the hardest to write but I will try. There are times when I am suddenly reminded of a particular score, and it suddenly starts playing in my head. And just as I am caught off-guard, it LOOPS. I am not even kidding. It loops so maniacally such that it can get slightly annoying. There are times when I know the song so well that I actually attempt to sing all parts of the song at the same time. You do not know the meaning of chaos until you hear the Germster doing SATB all at once. Best are the times when the songs that don’t make sense when you are practicing at home suddenly fall into place at rehearsal. In fact, these songs make so much sense that they actually start making dollars. Equally awesome are the times when a song that I found absolutely horrible suddenly sound really really good during rehearsal. The experience is somewhere in between a revelation and snapping out of a trance. The above is only the tip of the Titanic iceberg, but all these little things are really what keep me hooked and going.

But I am also constantly brought back to reality by choral singing. There are times when I think I sound horrible or times at home when I just cannot get the piece AT ALL; then there are the days when I think I sound good but turn out I sound like- (do not even get me started), but worst are the days when I find myself detached from the choir. And then I get so disheartened that I wonder why am I even singing in the first place. Why do embarrass myself, my friends and my family by opening my mouth? Ultimately though, I cannot stop. I just cannot stop singing. That music is what belongs to me entirely and nobody is going to take that away from me.

Right at the beginning of this post I put the phrase ‘passion for choral music’ in inverted commas. It’s not because I am making fun of it but because ‘passion for something’ is so commonly used that I do not think I am justifying my passion for choral singing. I cannot say that I love choral music because that would be simplifying our relationship too much. I feel that the connotations of love are either heartbreaking or too sweet and that is not a proper description for what I am feeling. I can say that the addictive love-hate relationship I have with this music-making is going to keep me going for quite some time.

SYC has given me much more than just the choral (coral HAHA) experience. The international collaborations have really allowed me to grow up in terms of exposure. Competitions overseas are one thing, what I really enjoy are the concerts and exchanges; Italians, Japanese and the Filipinos. Where else do you get such opportunities? More importantly I am grateful for the people with their advice, guidance and concern. This post will not end promptly if I were to get started about my fellow choristers, buddies, and music makers. Really really, thank you.

Going off for practise,


One Phrase, Two Words

Admittedly, this post should have been published much earlier. As things are, I am a terrible writer with little to write about. Usually. So every time I tried to think about something, anything, worth writing, I came up blank.

However, a few days ago, we were each prompted to come up with two words that came to mind when given the word Margutti. One for the man himself, and one for his works of music.

That made me think of how I would describe my SYC experience if asked.

The answer, surprisingly, came easily enough. Joyful Torment.

I do not exaggerate when I call myself one of the weakest singers in our choir. Almost all the time, the more experienced singers will tell me the problems with my voice, and things I could, should do to improve. They give me good advice, advice that works. For a while. And then for reasons I cannot fathom, it stops working. So I receive more advice, different from the last set I receive. And again I improve, only to slide back again after a while. The cycle repeats.

This is singularly the most frustrating thing in my life. Not school, not people, not choir, but my lack of ability to progress without once again sliding back to the origin. Surely I am not to be like Sisyphus, doomed to forever roll a boulder up a mountain?

No, I cannot be. I am aware that it is kindness that allows me to be here and make and enjoy music with the rest of us. It would be stupidity to allow me to be here if I cannot contribute at all, and I will not insult those who have shown me kindness. Do not give up, but press on, and learn and deal with the root of the problem.

But in the mean time, while I am here, I am so very glad to be here, to make and enjoy music with others who share my passion. From sonnets to rain chants to prayers to mass, it brings me pure joy to breathe life into our music, small as my contribution may be. Life is made up of so many facets. To feel fear and despair through songs like De Profundis, to offer a heartfelt prayer through songs like Priere, these reaffirm my belief that life is worth living and stirs a desire to share it all with people like you.

We are here for the music, and it is for the music that we strive to be better than we are, and more than we can be.

Thank you, to all who have shown me, and continue to show me, kindness and guidance.

– Gloria

Vocal Health

Finally back in mainland singapura once again =D

went back for choir rehearsal today. it was great seeing everyone again =) turned out i was in for a little surprise – this aftn wasn’t like any other rehearsals where we sang and worked on the music, but rather, bert has arranged a workshop for us on vocal health for singers. a doctor and a speech therapist from SGH were invited to have a sharing with us.

Very interesting and insightful sharing. It was particularly useful for me as I haven’t been singing for some time, and it helped refresh my awareness on proper vocal care and techniques. And because I have to shout alot in the army, it also reminded me not to take our vocal cords for granted. Give them enough rest, and most imptly know how to USE them appropriately to do them, and our listeners justice.

The highlight of the workshop was to do an on-the-spot examination of the vocal cords of some of the singers – through the scope! It was interesting to see how our vocal cords and the muscles around it move as we make certain sounds or do certain actions such as coughing or shouting.

First up, we have Debbie! Passing the tube through her nose and down her throat:

Debbie's scope

Next up, Nic!

Nic's scope

Nic doing a vocal exercise:

Nic's vocal cords at work!

Nic breathing:

Nic, breathing.

Then we have Shen Een!

Shen Een's scope

Shen Een's vocal cords

Our guest speech therapist revealed that all 3 of them have healthy vocal cords =p

Some take-backs from the workshop:

1. If you lose your voice, it may not be a good idea to whisper, cuz you’re actually further straining your muscles to avoid ur vocal cords from coming towards each other. So best is to just have complete vocal rest 🙂

2. If you have to clear your throat, refrain from doing the loud “ERHEM!! ERHEM!!” or coughing, cuz what your vocal cords really do is to collide against each other aggressively, and this friction may result in development of nodules (or layman term, “blisters” which cause hoarseness of voice). Recommendation is to drink lots of water to clear your throat.

3. Reflux may be one of the causes of vocal problems, where acid from the stomach comes all the way up and burns the throat. Recommendation is to control your diet (i.e. less heaty food). Not controlling diet but drinking lots of water does not really resolve the problem as effectively as it only DILUTES the problem to some extent, so best is start pasting those traumatising pics of unhealthy vocal cords on ur fridge so u tink twice b4 snacking O_O Also avoid having meals before u sleep. Best is buffer 2-3 hours. Cuz reflux is easier to occur when u’re in lying down position. Another suggestion is you can elevate your bed such that ur head is abt 15cm above ur feet.

These are just 3 of the many valuable lessons drawn from the workshop. With all these ideas in mind, may all of us be more conscious of how we use our voice, such that in future projects our instruments would be more prepared and polished for us to make more beautiful and sparkling music =]

– Song Hua

A musicotherapy

The first time i stepped into studio 3 for my first vocal session, I was indeed trembling with anxiety. All of the insecurities I had with my voice suddenly swarm up to the surface. Standing infront of Ai meng, I felt nude. Funny as it may sound, but the feeling of having your defences, that protected every pride you have had with your vocal instrument, had to come off.

I thought that that was the primary step, like the starting word of the mindmap. And after the first session, i went back in for practice, I couldnt even pitch or get the notes out comfortably. It was a very very very horrifying feeling. It was like, I am an amatuer(still am), a clean slate all over again. Tears were almost coming, as the flush of uncertainties caught you in a fury. I thought to myself : ” If I dont allow a change now, I would be taking a huge detour to improve .” Every revolution has to come in a drastic form of physical manifestation, as Marx had said. That was like the beginning of my own, my very personal voice revolution.

Subsequently, I started to loosen up myself during sessions. Its not about how well I can sing during voice sessions, but rather how badly I can actually sound. How raw your voice can be, and thats when she can go into you to fix that instrument of yours. The notes-making were very helpful, there is only so much you can remember! The vocal techniques are not to be learnt but understood. I figured that by understanding how your instrument works is the best way to work it better.

Initially, when I entered the choir, I felt so inferior to many others. Being so vaguely trained in music, I dont even remember what’s an augmented 7th or a perfect 5th. Often enough, I have the battle between me and all the negative thoughts. But, one thing that stood me by all this while was that making music is my passion. Listening to harmonies and disharmonies is a form of spirtual food for me. Back in the past where music was not conceptualised and conformed to the lines, we have the ancient, tribal music. I believe that their love and faith in music then never paled in comparison, neither will mine.

Having vocal lessons then equipped me with the necessary knowledge to work out my voice. Like how I never knew our soft pellet is like a gill-like thing,and how the air should pass into the nasal cavity. How the diaphragm muscle should be pushed sideways and downwards. How the whole body should relax and how the whole anatomy, sing together. Then, it comes the moment.

You heard someone you have never heard before. Your voice seemed to vacate itself from your body, and it became a separate entity, outside of you. It seemed to be coming from a faraway place. And at that moment, I saw Aimeng smile. ” This is it, this is YOUR voice.”

So voice lesson takers, endure and you would see the Light that is not from above, but in you, all these while.

Peiyu (speaking in bubbles, no more :P)