The harmonica, a small, metallic instrument which gleams gleefully under the spotlight, is able to make all kinds of music, from American folk music, blues, classical music to jazz, country, and rock and roll. All that is needed to produce sweet, lilting tunes are the harmonica, a skilled player, and a passion for music. String instruments are quite the opposite. They produce rich sounds that range from mellow and gentle to dark and full with the combination of various instruments, including the violin, viola, cello, and double bass. Yet together, these two types of instruments complemented each other beautifully. Aventure II was the concert that brought these two groups of people closer and led the audience into a whirlwind night of laughter, nostalgia, and awe.
The Harmonica Band eased the audience into the concert with the well-known euphonious piece, Canon in D by Johann Pachabel. Oliver, a J2 member of the Band, opened the performance with the bass harmonica, an impressive 30-centimeter long instrument capable of producing a range of low, resonant notes. The audience fell silent as they reveled in the familiar melody of one of the most famous classical pieces of music in the world. As the song progressed and gradually reached its climax, the audience began swaying along to the melodious symphony of music created by the J2 members of the Band. Those eight bars of music, so carefully composed and so earnestly played, earned a resounding applause from the audience. It was indeed a fitting opening for an occasion meant to reflect the harmonious and delightful nature of the harmonica.
Next, it was the J1 members’ turn to showcase their hard work with a cover of the song Sweet Child of Mine by Guns ‘N Roses. Despite only having picked up the harmonica less than three months ago, they put up an impressive show, offering their own rendition of the guitar riff at the start of the song. An oldie but a goodie, the performance earned endless cheers and whistles from the supportive crowd. Buay Yong, a member of the audience who was there to support her niece, joked that “there were a few inaccuracies here and there,” but she was “impressed by how much they had progressed in such a short period of time”. A harmonica player herself, it was indeed heartening to see the younger generation so passionate about performing with the instrument.
Following the strong performances put up by both the J1 and J2 Band members, it was time for the section performances. They consisted of popular songs that got the audience singing along, namely Say You Won’t Let Go by James Arthur, Symphony by Clean Bandit and Zara Larrson, and Perfect by Ed Sheeran. The audience was also pleasantly surprised by the additional side-performances meant to complement the music, such as the two couples who waltzed along the sides of the stage during Perfect, and the spelling of the phrase ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’ in raised cardboards, letter by letter, behind the Band during the chorus. Not only were the performances enjoyable to listen to, they were also fun to watch, engaging the audience’s senses and keeping the mood light-hearted.
A sweet rendition of ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’ by the Harmonica Band.
Picture credit: VJC Photography Society
The small group performances were just as amazing. With the J2s leading the way, Stay by Blackpink, Just The Way You Are by Bruno Mars, and Kaze Ni Naru by Ayano Tsuji were performed flawlessly. Their diligence and hard work definitely shone through their sensational performances. Not only did they hit every note with precision, they also showcased their skill through expressing different emotions with the help of warbles, produced through flapping the sounding hole open and close.
Bruno Mars who? The Harmonica Band performed ‘Just The Way You Are’ in fedoras.
Picture credit: VJC Photography Society
Finally, it was time for the last Harmonica Band performance before the intermission. The J1 members joined their seniors onstage for A Whole New World, the iconic soundtrack from the widely-loved Disney movie, Aladdin. The audience watched with bated breath as the opening notes were played, and many began singing the lyrics under their breath. It seemed as though the song was too familiar, too nostalgic, for them to pass on the chance to sing along. The Band certainly showed us a Whole New World with their breathtaking performance. All too soon, the Band members turned their eyes from their scores to the conductor, Mr Tang, to end off the performance together with a gentle trill.
Following the intermission, it was time for the much anticipated performance by Victoria Junior College’s very own String Ensemble. Although the ensemble only consists of fifteen students — notably smaller than most performing art groups — their performance was in no way secondary to others. Their enchanting reproduction of some of the most beloved pieces continuously wowed the the audience, sending them on a truly unforgettable musical adventure.
First up, the ensemble performed Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major, Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis 1049, I: Allegro by Johann Sebastian Bach. Beyond the beauty of the music, the performers were also absolutely incredible to watch; from the sharp and rapid movements of their bow to the way they swayed as they played, it was clear that that they had become one with the music.
The ensemble continued mesmerising the audience with their performance of La La Land arranged by Robert Longfield, a medley of soundtracks from the critically acclaimed movie by the same title. The familiar tunes captivated the audience and offered an alternative mood from the more classical concerto it succeeded. The discriminating selection of songs and precise skills of the ensemble certainly pulled at their audience’s heartstrings (pun intended). One of the more iconic songs, City of Stars, even earned a few excited gasps from the audience when they recognized the song as it was played.
Picture credit: VJC Photography Society
Their rendition of the Viola Concerto in G Major by Georg Philipp Telemann was no less stunning. The first known concerto composed for the viola, the piece put concertmistress Joelle Hsu in the spotlight. With four movements, namely the largo, a mellow movement with long notes, the allegro, the most played movement, the andante, a slow, mellow movement largely on the upper strings of the instrument, and the presto, a fast, exciting movement in the tonic key, Joelle led the ensemble to sweep the audience into a flurry with a grand, awe-inspiring performance fit for royalty.
This was then followed by Viola Concerto in G major, TWV 51:G9, I: Largo, II Allegro, IV: Presto. The majestic and brilliant sounds resonating across the Performance Theatre throughout the piece and captivated the audience entirely, as they sat unmoving in the seats. The ensemble then moved onto more recent tunes, Highlights from Moana arranged by Larry Moore. The medley from Disney’s well-loved movie was instantly recognizable, especially to the children in the audience. All-time favourites, such as How Far I’ll Go and Where You Are, got everyone humming along with the talented players onstage. Not only was the music catchy, it was also exciting to experience the songs performed live! See the light as it shines on the sea? It’s blinding…
Afterwards, Serenade for Strings in E Minor by Edward Elgar, Op. 20, II: Larghetto and Fire in the Forge by Ted Allen, edited by J. Cameron Law were performed, and earned rounds of applause and cheers from the audience. With the arrival of the final piece, it was time for the ensemble wrapped up their performance. The selection of the critically acclaimed, Flight of the Bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a popular tune, was an excellent way to conclude their segment. The intense yet playful melody captured the essence of a bee’s flight, and kept the audience on the edge of their seats. Despite being short, the performance showcased the skill of the players and helped to end the segment on a high note.
To the audience’s delight, both group still had a final act in store. Both the Harmonica Band and String Ensemble shared the stage to perform two well-known popular songs, Shape of You by Ed Sheeran and All About That Bass by Meghan Trainor. The sudden burst of hushed whispers amongst the audience suggested that many were curious about how the two instruments, vastly different in all ways, would be able to complement one another. However, these doubts were soon dispelled once the first combined song was played. The deep, rich sounds produced by the Strings Ensemble served as the melody of the song, while the Harmonica Band members chimed in with their sweet-sounding accompaniment. When the two groups of performers swapped roles for the second combined song, the audience was pleasantly surprised by the complementary nature of both instruments which seemed to reflect a playful banter throughout the performance. Audrey, one of the supporting parents who had attended the concert, exclaimed, “ I never knew that harmonicas and string instruments could go together! They were great! All the performers should be very proud of themselves.”
From getting their friends and family up on their feet and dancing to the beat to engulfing them in waves of nostalgia and sorrow, the concert was indeed a success in bringing the audience on an adventure worth remembering. With the hard work and contribution of people from all walks of life, both the Harmonica Band and String Ensemble were able to combined their strengths and create a production that they should definitely be proud of.
With that, the final concert of the Victoria Junior College concert series had finally drawn to a close. May next year’s performance be as memorable as the one presented this year!
Lim Xin Yi (18A15)
Kong Min Yee (18A15)