CHSSB & VJCSB: My Symphonic Band Experience

I started my journey in band & the performing arts not out of choice, but because I was forced to. This was because in my primary school, SJK(C) Choong Wen, it was compulsory for students of the top class in each cohort to join the school band.

Looking back, that was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

PLAYING THE TUBA IN PRIMARY SCHOOL

In primary school, I was made to play the tuba because I was tall (the tuba is the bass & heartbeat of the band which plays all the low sexy notes, the one that goes boom boom boom, boooom.. to a tune like “Stand by me”).

We were a marching band that did choreographed displays during primary 4, but there was a change of instructor and we transformed into a concert band during primary 5 & 6, where I learnt more about music and what it was like to be playing in a symphonic band.

That was when I learnt how to play while watching a conductor and started to love music.

LEARNING TO SHOULDER RESPONSIBILITY

Back then, there was this annual band competition at IOI mall in Puchong where all school bands competed. If I remembered correctly, we did quite well and that was my first experience of working hard together with a team to achieve something, and it felt really good.

It was also one of the events early in my life that helped me learn how to shoulder responsibility. As I was the only tuba player in the band, it meant that it would be very obvious if I made a mistake while playing. It would have sounded like the subwoofer of an audio system suddenly stopped working or went haywire.

Furthermore, the fact that my conductor borrowed a full sized tuba (primary schools usually used a smaller version) from a secondary school (which costs more than a small car) for me to play during the competition did not help. I was extremely honoured for the trust he placed in me but also nervous about the pressure and responsibility that came with it.

But it was a good experience.

MY CHSSB EXPERIENCE

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So, when I went to Singapore for my studies, I was glad to find out that my school – Catholic High School, had one of the top symphony bands in Singapore at the time, so I was determined to get in. I was really nervous at first, because to get in you would need to first pass their auditions, and since I wasn’t sure of what the standard in Singapore is, especially for a top band, I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough.

Just out of curiosity, I also auditioned for softball (which just started and went on to be a really successful sport at Catholic High) and choir.

The auditions went alright, but I got the notification that I passed from choir & softball first, which made me quite disappointed because the CCA that I really wanted to get in was the symphonic band. I was thinking of whether to go over and beg the band to take me in or settle for choir or softball.

But fortunately, despite being late, I received the notification that I passed the band auditions too!

So that’s how my journey in CHSSB began. I really liked CHSSB, because of its culture and the amazing people in it. I wanted to try out the euphonium because I wanted to play more melodious tunes instead of just the bass line, and so I did.

PICKING UP EUPHONIUM

I had a really great senior by the name of Jesper Nyan who taught me a lot about playing the euphonium and got me up to speed. His strong belief in me also motivated me to do better.

It was during my time in CHSSB that I was really exposed to the world of music and the performing arts. It was a very steep learning curve, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

We were fortunate enough to go on 2 overseas trips in 4 years, one to Japan as a guest performer at their music festival in Act City, Hamamatsu and the other to the Netherlands to participate in the World Music Contest. These 2 trips really opened my eyes to the world of music and helped me discover my love for it.

GUEST PERFORMING IN JAPAN

It was in Japan that I discovered how music was a truly international language. During an exchange session with a Japanese band, I was amazed at how all of us could understand each other while playing even though we did not speak the same language and had never played together. I was also awed by their dedication to precision, music and the performing arts, so much so that they could have a place called Act City just for the performing arts, which entire stage moves backstage and back on stage with the performers on it.

It was a really eye-opening experience to be able to perform on it!

THE STAGE THAT MOVES!

Just imagine the entire band playing music while the double basses spin while making an entrance as the entire stage, with all of us on it, drifts in from backstage; and us waving back and playing a tune while exiting together with the moving stage, and that was exactly what we did!

We also managed to visit the Yamaha factory to see how our instruments were made, bought plenty of upgrades for our instruments, had fun at Tokyo’s Disneyland, shopped at Tokyo, had snow fights at Mount Fuji and drank hot Japanese tea right after, among other things.

On the way to the airport on our last day, we managed to see cherry blossoms, and it was indeed an amazing sight to behold, with the entire street filled with beautiful flowers.

MOST MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE TO THE BEST AUDIENCE EVER

In the Netherlands, I had one of the most memorable performances in my life. We were asked to perform a few pieces along with their national anthem in a Town Hall during the closing ceremony, and we had an encore piece which was Abba Gold, from the theme of Mama Mia.

When we performed our encore piece (which was choreographed), to our surprise, the entire hall stood up and sang Mama Mia out loud with us, and soon started to form a human train and  came down to dance around us. All that ended in a standing ovation, which was the first I had gotten in my life. That was the most responsive crowd I have ever performed to in my life.

It was also a truly unique experience to be able to practice around old medieval castle-like buildings, practising tunes on the lush green fields under the sun, while the temperature was only 15 degrees Celsius and rehearsing inside old buildings made out of stone and brick. It felt like we were back in medieval times.

MUSIC CONNECTS PEOPLE

Something interesting also happened there that further made me realize how much music touches us as people.

In the small town of Kerkrade where the festival was held, we were all carrying our instruments from our dorm to the concert hall, and some of us were playing some random tunes along the way. The heartwarming thing was that, people from random other bands and orchestra across the street would join in and complete the tune together with each other.

To me, it was just amazing how random people who did not know each other could complete each other’s tunes and start playing and having fun together just like that. It was indeed an eye-opening experience.

CHOCOLATES & EUROPE!

After that, we also went on a road trip to Belgium and Paris, where we had plenty of fun. I personally loved the chocolates in Belgium a lot as I could smell them all the way down the street. It was also then that I realized I really loved temperate weather where the sun’s warmth feels just nice in a cooling environment with nice scenery.

I took many pictures during these trips. However, almost all of them were lost when my hard drive crashed some years ago, which is a huge pity.

IT’S THE JOURNEY THAT MATTERS

Another memorable thing about my life in CHSSB was the camaraderie that was built among us, over the band camps, our foot drills sessions, intense trainings where we would come early to school to practice before assembly and stay back late at night to practice for our competitions such as SYF and our concerts, and also the late night ice-kacang sessions after rehearsals.

It was truly an amazing experience.

I still remember how it felt like playing together with the band at the open assembly area late at night in the dark, where all we could hear was ourselves, where we couldn’t see our scores so we were forced to listen to each other and “feel” the music, where we could hear how nicely our tunes slowly and gracefully faded into absolute silence when we stopped, or when how awfully it sounded when we made a mistake.

I feel extremely privileged and proud to have performed numerous times at Victoria Concert Hall & The Esplanade with CHSSB, and win the Gold with Honours award during our SYF year. I still remember how we all jumped for joy when the emcee finally announced:  “band… 109…..[yes I still remember our band number haha :)] Catholic High School…… Gold….. with Honours!”. It was a once in a lifetime experience, and I remembered someone almost stepped on his clarinet while jumping for joy.

These were some of the best times of my life.

JUNIOR COLLEGE & VJCSB

That’s why in junior college, I made it a point to join band too.

For most of my first year in VJCSB, I went back to playing the tuba because there was a shortage of tuba players for our SYF piece. After that, my conductor was kind enough to allow me to try playing the trombone, which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially since we got to play exciting pieces for trombone such as Star Wars during that time.

The band was full of cool people, and the band room was a very cool place to chill out too, with many band members chilling at the mattress area (yes we have a mattress area :p) in the band room before assembly and in between classes.

SYF – GOLD WITH HONOURS AGAIN!

VJCSB also managed to get Gold with Honours in the 2007 SYF after much hard work.  I remembered how only half the band were able to get into the auditorium when the results were announced, so those inside were texting (yes, texting. I can’t believe that it was so long ago that whatsapp wasn’t even invented yet) those outside to keep each other updated during “the wait”. When it was finally announced, we all cheered!

And of course, as Victorians, did a VJ Cheer right after, which was especially interesting to watch because we were split into two groups, with those in the concert hall still making their way down from upstairs and the other group waiting downstairs, and because of how the VJ cheer has a question and response format of  “Yo VJC!” , “Wassup!”, “Yo VJC!”, “Wassup!” and so on.

We also had our concert at The Esplanade and other performances at our very own performing theatre.

All in all, it was a very fun and memorable experience.

HOW THIS MUSICAL JOURNEY SHAPED ME

Through this musical journey, I discovered my love and passion for music, and realized how music can help us connect deeply with people on an emotional level, despite the barriers that we might have with each other. It is also through this journey that I discovered how great it felt to work together with a team to achieve something.

I also realized that developed countries with a mature electorate all have a vibrant performing arts scene.

I often wondered why.

Then I realized that it was because the performing arts provides a good medium for us to connect with each other on an emotional level as fellow human beings despite our differences. It is also a good medium to express feelings and convey complex thoughts. It helps us develop an ability to understand and appreciate each other, and to embrace each other’s differences. Music is just one of the many types of performing arts that can have such an effect.

THE IMPORTANCE OF APPRECIATING THE PERFORMING ARTS

Through the performing arts, meaningful messages about the complexities of life and society can be sent in a way that all of us can relate to and laugh about. Musicals such as Les Miserables about the French revolution and pieces of literature such as Juno The Paycock are such examples.

If people are able to learn to understand, appreciate and embrace these messages, we would naturally become a more accepting, sophisticated and mature electorate.

All these realizations shaped me into the person I am today in some way or another, and also played a big role in giving me the confidence to do what I do today.

(read more here)

LET’S SUPPORT OUR LOCAL PERFORMING ARTS SCENE TOGETHER

Hence, after coming back, I am glad to find that there is also a vibrant, though relatively infant performing arts community in Malaysia.

I hope that more Malaysians would learn to appreciate the performing arts and support our local productions in KLPAC, PJ Live Arts, Istana Budaya & DPAC etc, because there are some really talented performers and really good performances around, and it is very hard for them to sustain themselves without our support.

So, if you’re ever up for a concert, musical or drama, do ring me up.

“It is through the performing arts that meaningful messages about the complexities of life and society can be sent in a way that all of us can relate to and laugh about, and learn to be more accepting and tolerant of each other in the process…”

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