By Christy Kabul, reporting from Singapore
Last Thursday, my sister was in town, and her biggest reason: to binge on the concerts that she could lay her existence on. She had told me that she wanted to attend all the 3 concerts by Singapore Symphony Orchestra on the weekend, but on our way to the first concert at Victoria Junior College, she found out, to her slight disappointment, that the three concerts were going to feature the same song line-up. We started wondering if it could have been better if she had chosen another concert day with a location which would be closer to where we stayed, but since we were already on our way, we continued our journey to VJC anyway. I wondered why this particular school had been chosen as one of the venues other than the fact that it shared the same name with another concert venue – Victoria Concert Hall 😛 (a few days later, I asked a friend who is seasoned in the band world, and he told me that the school might have written in to SSO about its interest to host.)
This was my first visit since the last visit to the campus more than 10 years ago for the school open house (I am not an alumnus), and I could vaguely remember how it was like. After we alighted from the bus and followed the trail of some VJC students, we stepped in the school compound and were greeted by a pavement painted with (I would guess) the school anthem lyric that you could read line by line as you were walking in. This is a great display idea, I thought. Imagine students, worn out from long hours of night study, dragging their feet in and being reminded again of the spirit of the school.
JC kids were still hanging out at the canteen studying for the looming exams, or just lounging around, waiting for the concert. A couple of neck tie-donning JC students served as ushers, showing us the way to the auditorium. I remember that I, too, did that once when I was their age. A time when it was not that weird for a female to wear a tie :p
After buying a few CDs on sale outside, we joined the rest of the audience to stream into the audi. My sister gushes about how a school auditorium could be so sophisticated and nice. True, I thought, it is nicer and more well-kept even than some national concert halls in Jakarta.
As we were looking ideal seats, the emcee on stage had already started with the introduction of the musical pieces that were going to be presented. There was no program booklet, which is to me a very good idea to save resources (if you are interested to find out more about the program, you can check it out in their website somewhere). So if you are early for the concert, you just listen and you stand a chance winning something from the trivia quiz later on. The crowd, which consisted of the students, members of the public and little kids, was quite game for the quiz. It soon became clear, the educational undertone that the whole program was framed in. Instead of hoping the public to go to classical concerts, they bring music to them, and try to groom the love for it since they are young.
Casually dressed in black shirt, jogger pants and sneakers, Conductor Jason Lai, took over the stage, effortlessly making jokes and givinv the introduction to every song. With a fluent speech like that (a cool accent is a plus!), he could easily become a radio DJ and a TV presenter (which is true, he is involved in a BBC travel programme). I always admire a conductor who can engage with the audience very well.
Spotted in the make-up of the band were a sizeable number of foreign musicians (China and some European countries?). I guess this makes sense. Their presence is needed to boost the cultural and artistic scene in Singapore which is relatively still young and developing.
The names of the pieces were not familiar to a musically average person like me (I only knew the composer Brahms, and had heard about Cinema Paradiso from one of Josh Groban’s songs), but upon hearing them being played, I went ‘oooh’. The first two classical pieces can be considered pop icons, being frequently adopted into movie soundtracks (I think I heard Grieg’s “Morning Mood” as an opening to a cartoon film before). The next two items are original pieces from movies (West Side Story and Cinema Paradiso). Each item was perhaps played for 5-10 minutes, making it very enjoyable and accessible for the public who might be very new to the world of symphony music. (As a comparison, I once attended a more hard core classical concert in which one song lasted for 45 minutes).
Then there was a special section when the conductor invited two volunteers to come to the front to try their hands on conducting. To my sister’s slight disappointment (as she also wanted to be picked), two teenagers were chosen. They were taught how to start and end an orchestra (not as easy as it looks!), and how to maintain a tempo, using a very suitable and fun song Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance”. It turned out that one boy was totally new to conducting, which made it funny when he (deliberately?) slowed down the whole professional orchestra at his command. The other one was perhaps a student conductor from VJC band as he was more at ease with the movement (and the fact that many were cheering for him). It was quite fun and I was glad that we came to this particular concert.
One more cool thing about this campus concert was I got a chance to take photos with some SSO personnel, and had a chat with Jason Lai, who quickly inquired about martabak upon discovering the fact that we came from Jakarta. It almost felt surreal, meeting people that you usually see on social media, and now they were in front of you, talking to you as if it was a normal thing to do.
Then it was time to say good bye. We walked out of the school passing the same lyric pavement, now unreadable, obscured by the dark surrounding like how the black-clad figures started to disappear from the area together with their instruments and magic. This had been fun, as I thought of the night’s concert and the old memories that visited me again as a result.