“I want to look back knowing that Symphony of Voices 2017 was the performance of a lifetime.” said the Secretary of VJChoir, Christian Teo from 16S44.
Coming strong from their performance in the Singapore Youth Festival, the choir chose a repertoire of almost twenty songs, consisting of musical pieces that fit this year’s theme, “Across the Vast, Eternal Sky”. As usual, the choir not only made the Esplanade resonate with their full and refined sound, but they also entertained us with clever choreography and visual effects that definitely had a lasting impact on the audience.
As they always say, hard work pays off. After months of practice under the guidance of their conductor, Professor Nelson Kwei, the choir had a strong foundation and were pushed to their very best. In addition to simply leading the choir in such a grand occasion, Professor Kwei also provided artistic direction to the choir. This has proved invaluable as they continue to perform a variety of unique, interesting musical pieces every year, while maintaining an extremely high competitive level in the Singapore Youth Festival.
“Dedication. Choir requires the discipline to practice the songs repeatedly till they are of standard,” Christian emphasised when asked about what he thought was the key to putting up a good performance. Indeed, it takes much effort from every single member of the choir to ensure that every single minute detail of the performance would be up to scratch on the day itself. Thankfully, with all members of the 80-strong choir having a common goal in sight, it allowed everyone to push past their comfort zones in order to put on a great show for everyone in the audience. Members had to memorise scores, revise choreography, and ensure that their voices were kept in tip top condition as well.
However, what ultimately made everyone persevere was the choir’s spirit, reinforced by their motto, “No man is an island”.
“VJChoir is indeed an honour to be in, and it is one of the more prestigious choirs to be a part of… performing in a prestigious choir alongside the people whom you regard as family definitely makes all effort one puts into practicing worth it,” exclaimed Wien Sng Wei En (17S46), the new Bass Section Leader.
As the concert began, the hall darkened. A spotlight was shone onto our emcees for the night — Cleon Tan (16S63), the Vice-Chairman, and Dora Oh (16A15), the Treasurer. After welcoming the audience to SOV 2017, the choir members took their positions. Professor Kwei went to the centre of the stage, ready to orchestrate the Choir. The Choir opened their performance with “I Carry Your Heart”. The melodic singing of all the members punctuated the concert hall, with Professor Kwei conducting intricately to lead the different sections to sing in unison. The conclusion of the song was met with rapturous applause. It was indeed a great way to get the ball rolling.
As the mood was set by the opening piece, VJChoir did not waste any time to wow the audience once more with the piece “Nader My God by U”, which included spirited chanting and a strong melody carried by the choir. This definitely shook up the audience with a wonderfully strong ending note. The repetition of the Latin word “excelsior” allowed the audience to grasp the theme of this performance, as the choir put in context the majesty and grace of the skies above to a single piece, captivating the entire audience.
The next piece, “Let Thy Love Play Upon My Voice”, is perhaps the most modern piece by age. Composed just this year (2017) by Composer Aldo Joson, this piece was actually written as a gift to Professor Kwei for his 55th birthday, lending a rather personal touch to this performance. This piece additionally contributed to the entire performance’s aura of celestial wonder, capturing the imagination of the entire audience. The highlight of this piece, arguably, was when Professor Kwei bowed and thanked Aldo Joson, who was in the audience listening to this rendition of his musical piece, resulting in a thundering round of applause from the audience. It was certainly a heartfelt and personal moment.
Continuing on from that exhilarating piece, the next piece titled “Pater Noster” (which means “Our Father” in Latin) sent chills into the audience as it was one of the most mystical set pieces of the evening. With the dominating, deep male vocals filling the concert hall, ending with almost a sense of defeat, as the quick and intense build-up was slowly broken down into a resolute ending, this was definitely one of the most intense pieces of the entire line-up.
Not wanting to shake up the atmosphere too much, the choir then performed the only French piece of the entire evening, “Je Suis Desheritee”, which describes the tale of a woman and her lost friend. Perhaps the richest sounding song of the performance, this had most of the choir singing in harmony behind a single melody, which made the concert hall resonate with a wonderful lingering sensation that had many of the audience in captivation.
The Victoria Chorale then took the stage. They comprise alumni of both VJ Choir as well as VS Choir. They performed several pieces such as “A Basque Lullaby” and “Plenty Good Room”, while assisting VJChoir with several others.
The first song performed by the Victoria Chorale is “A Basque Lullaby”. This piece is a mellow and soft piece, originally composed for the composer’s daughter, and uses great amounts of imagery to carry out this piece, repeating the word “lullaby” as if one was caressing their child to sleep. The relaxing tune of the song ended peacefully, as if the child had fallen asleep.
“Plenty Good Room” was one of the more stand-out performances, being performed exclusively by the Victoria Chorale. Although stuck in the middle of the repertoire, the song’s deep and soulful lyrics, written as a gospel song against racism in the United States, combined with the rich vocals and captivating voice of the soloist, made the audience roar in applause. It was easily the fan favourite of the night. Even those who were perhaps unaware of the deeper significance of the lyrics were captivated by the melody, which was easy to pick up, and the catchy refrain “Plenty good room on the glory train”. Additionally, simple yet effective choreography was made use of, including moves such as the stamping of feet by the members of the Victoria Chorale, which made the audience burst out with laugher before clapping along.
In the next piece, “Only in Sleep” is a sombre piece which brings stark contrast between the fun and chirpy tone of the previous piece into perspective, as we were treated to a wonderful solo performance by Park Ye Won (16S36) before a harmony was found. It reminds all of us that within the darkest of times, there is always a silver lining to be found, before ending with a solo act again, this time buzzing with a more positive attitude towards everything, as she recollected all the things that have happened in her lifetime.
In the final song before the intermission, the choir performed “Long Road”, a piece that was a re-imagination of a Latvian love poem, which resulted in a complex melody between all four sections of the choir. It featured a strange form of melody forming with the first use of instruments, in this case, a recorder that served to add to the harrowing bittersweetness of the entire piece, with the resonant sounds of the recorder allowing us to soak in the entire atmosphere beautifully.
After ending on such a sombre note, we were notified by the emcees that we had come to the intermission, and we were grateful for the chance to stretch our feet and recalibrate ourselves after such an engaging first half of the performance.
After the intermission, the choristers reappeared in costumes resembling that of ancient Romans, with graceful tunics and flowing robes. For many in the audience, they were reminiscent of films such as 300, but Victorians who were present at Morning Assembly a few weeks before would certainly recognise the theme from their publicity video, depicting a battle resplendent with colour. The spotlights formed a kaleidoscope of colours, enveloping the stage in hues of blue, green and amber. The concert was indeed going to be more lively.
As the performers took their place on the stage, the audience quickly filled their previous seats, and we all were anticipating another heavy or powerful segment of the performance. But, much as their costumes had much contrast, their next piece, “Sure on this Shining Night” broke all preconceived notions we had, as the this piece set a much lighter note than when we left off before the intermission. The piece captivated the audience, and allows them to understand that within much danger and grief, there is much beauty to behold within the stars. This set the tone for the remainder for the performance.
After that came a piece, “La Luna”, featuring Valentin Khoo (16S33) and Allysa Ang (17A14) from the VJC Symphonic Band. The additional use of flutes provided by SB and the piano gave the song a rather dreamlike atmosphere, which helps to tell a love story — that of a water nymph, Rusalka, calling out to the moon to help her find her lover, the prince. The crescendo of the piece depicts Rusalka pleading with the moon to let the prince dream of her. The love story was one filled with emotions, ending with the moon fading away and leaving Rusalka in despair without an answer. It was really heartening to see two CCAs with virtually nothing in common collaborating yield a magical piece of music on such a special occasion. Indeed, music has no boundaries.
Moving on, the next song “We Beheld Once Again the Stars” is a piece that broadcasted the true skill of choir, as the song incorporated an ever-changing pace combined with melodies from all parts of the choir, providing variety within the single piece. From slow admiration of the stars, to the panic of the impending doom that awaits the characters of the song, before ending gently on a sweet note that truly showcased the breathtaking abilities of our choir, the choristers truly took us on a trip across the magnificent universe.
In yet another brilliant usage of juxtaposition, the choir’s next piece, “De Circuito Aeterno” sets a heavy tone, as it starts out with a complicated and almost non-rhythmic chanting. The piece was another excellent showcase of the talents that make-up the entirety of the VJ Choir. Blending the rhythmic with the non-rhythmic was no easy task, but the choir made it look easy, and turned it into another spectacle for our ears.
Perhaps the most interesting piece of this entire performance was “Starlight” by Keith Thomas. This piece was arranged as a Christmas carol, and depicts the imagery of salvation and hope, which resonates deeply within the execution of this piece, which allowed the surroundings to ring in a rich harmony, as the choristers showed us how well they could work together to create something truly magical.
“I Sing the Body Electric” is the title of a 1855 poem by Walt Whitman, which inspired Michael Gore to write a song about it. “I sing the body electric, I glory in the glow of rebirth, creating my own tomorrow when I shall embody the Earth.” The song engages in themes of self-confidence and the belief in one’s abilities, which many of the audience present were sure to relate to, as they found themselves uplifted not only by the lyrics of the song, but also the simple and cute choreography carried out by the choir during this piece.
The next performance was absolutely stunning as the choir performed “Iuppiter”, the piece that helped them clinch their SYF Distinction. Composed in 2007 by Michael Ostrzyga, the piece is based on the god of sky and lightning, Zeus, from Roman mythology. The song began dramatically with the entire choir in unison, followed by passages consisting of whistling, humming and chanting. The atmosphere immediately became one that seemed to be full of uncertainty as the choir used their voices to describe the kinds of destruction that Iuppiter would bring. The song eventually ended with an increasingly loud volume, symbolising Iuppiter unleashing his fury on Earth through thunder, lightning and downpour. It was a majestic performance, certainly showing us why this song was chosen for their SYF.
“Across the Vast Eternal Sky” focuses on rebirth, that even though one has aged, there is so much to look forward to in a world with a beautiful and expansive sky. This song wraps up in an almost divine way how, even though the sky has brought us many perils, there is much to be amazed and to be curious for, as although we, as humans will never fully understand the stars, perhaps there’s a beauty in never knowing. And that in itself… brings us hope.
To add a bit more hype, some choreography was infused in the songs I Sing the Body Electric and Across the Vast Eternal Sky. The audience watched in awe as they admire the choristers executed flawless and intricate dance moves, most memorably standing in two concentric circles and swaying in opposite directions. The choreography certainly added energy into the piece, therefore portraying a sense of rebirth and conveying the messages of the songs. This set the mood for the end of the concert.
Soon, both the audience and the choir members were immersed in a vast, eternal sky, filled with melodic voices singing in the background. Needless to say, VJChoir received thunderous applause from the audience at the end of the final song of their concert.
Following the conclusion of Across the Vast Eternal Sky, a chorister stepped forward. It was none other than Nicholas Tay (16S31), the President of VJChoir. He sent out heartfelt messages of appreciation towards his fellow choir members, Valentin and Allysa, Professor Kwei, the audience and others who have made this concert possible. Many J1 choristers teared up, knowing that it was the J2s’ last performance before stepping down. It was a truly emotional moment for everyone, the audience alike.
At this point, we were all on the edge of our seats, waiting for the cue to shout for an encore, but Professor Nelson Kwei took the microphone, and announced that they would be performing one last song — “forced upon me!” he declared, eliciting laughs — by special request from the Student Conductors. “Let My Love Be Heard” is a euphonious piece, which was most famous during the Paris terror attacks, where a choir performed this song as a form of mourning and to provide hope, in a time where it seems there would be none.
The performance ended with the VJChoir’s anthem, No Man Is An Island. The spirit of the choir resonated throughout the song. This was especially special, as the alumni of the choir stood up to sing the anthem once more, as if in a reunion. Truly, at that point, we felt the strong spirit of friendship that will never die.
The concert ended off on this high note. After that, the audience streamed out of the theatre having thoroughly enjoyed Symphony of Voices. As per tradition, many Victorians were seen clustering around the concourse area to wait for their chorister friends to emerge from backstage — eventually they exited through the box office area to the delighted yelps of their friends. The next few minutes were a mad rush to take photographs and present gifts. The show of support and applause was overwhelming and a fitting end to the night.
When asked about his reflections about this year’s Symphony of Voices, Secretary Christian Teo said, “SOV17 will mark the end of my choir journey here in VJC. It has been a really fulfilling process, of which I have no regrets.”
The only advice he had for the J1s? “Continue the legacy of VJChoir.”
Danish Uzair B Abdul Hamid, 17S44
Lois Kok Yu Qin, 17S62
Chan Siew Min, 17S63
Jarod Zulkifly Yikai, 16A11