Written by: Tan Hui Xian
Edited by: Shalom Alexandra
The annual Combined Hall Ensemble Concert (ENCORES), organised by Raffles Hall, was back once again to celebrate music making by musicians across the 6 halls of NUS. KEnsemble returned in an upsized version from last year’s. As we were lucky to recruit so many talented musicians (Fun fact: 8 playing in the school’s symphony orchestra and wind symphony each), our concert repertoire has expanded to include more ambitious pieces, namely Jupiter and Bohemian Rhapsody. Featuring instrumental ensembles large and small, with Western and Eastern instruments, it was a night of exploring music from different genres and a great platform for budding musicians to enrich the cultural scene amongst halls.
Final Mission (RH)
The audience was greeted with a live 20th Century Fox opening theme played by the trumpet and euphonium before the concert officially began with the cheery soundtrack from God of Study. Similar to the Korean drama, based on the moral that hard work and dedication will reap rewards, The Final Mission symbolised musicians’ ultimate mission that night and their ambition for a brighter future as they follow their dreams.
Undeniably the most famous movement from Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets, Jupiter was depicted as ‘The Bringer of Jollity’ according to its astrological traits. Using the central theme, Zi Qian arranged this piece with two additional variations – Jupiter Pop Style and Jupiter Fantasy. The pop style introduced the audience to the melody in an upbeat manner before the original theme took over. The interpretation was nothing short of majestic, progressing from cellist Gareth’s solo as the ensemble gradually built up the intensity – the strings section played each note with all their might while the winds turned the ethereal music into a grand proclamation of the theme. As the last note trailed off, there was hushed silence as the musicians quickly grabbed their shades. The audience welcomed the surprise with applause as the percussionists shouted, “1, 2, 3!”
The musicians moved in tempo to the trumpet solo from Darrel and the winds soon went down in a wave to showcase Wei Shen’s saxophone solo. (Leaving the winds musicians under the care of percussion section a week before was probably the best decision ever as they soon came out with those wicked dance moves that had the audience cheering.) Meanwhile, the cellos spun in sync and the string section bobbed along to the beat throughout the piece.
A few syncopated beats and a swift glissando then concluded KEnsemble’s first item of the night, to thunderous applause and appreciative cheers from the audience.
Still a Friend of Mine (KR)
Kent Ridge’s 4 member ensemble, The Zontals, was a change from the previous two halls’ large orchestral ensemble. Performing an Incognito piece, which infuses elements of hip hop and jazz (a musical style known as acid jazz), it would appeal to fans of swung notes and electronic dance beats. The soulful tune was something you would likely hear in lounges and was a soothing musical number that many enjoyed.
All of Me (SH)
A definite chart topper of 2014, this John Legend power ballad was probably one of the most performed songs last year. The moving melody that tells of the joys and difficulties of a relationship, showing the singer’s affections for his wife, was serenaded by the violins while the cello and keyboard accompanied along.
Game of Thrones (RH)
This main title from this controversial high fantasy drama has got to be one of my current favourite soundtracks. The cello solo in the beginning and a prominent string section create the intended dramatic effect meant for the medieval drama. RH’s string quartet, all dressed in fiery red, covered this energetic piece together with a cajon to provide the accompanying martial-sounding rhythm. The crowd was indeed pleased to hear this piece and gave them a well-deserved round of applause.
Kimi wo Nosete (RH)
Joe Hisaishi’s movie soundtracks have always been a favourite of ensemble performances. ‘Kimi wo nosete’, or ‘Carrying You’, originated from Studio Ghibli’s Laputa and presented yet by another string quartet from RH (wow, they actually have enough string players to go around). The haunting tune tugged the heartstrings of the listeners and you can’t actually go wrong with Hisaishi, isn’t it?
Disney Medley (TH)
Kesamet from Temasek Hall consisted of a Chinese flute (dizi), acoustic guitar, and erhu, accompanied with the keyboard and drum set. The opening tune was the all-time favourite theme song from Beauty and the Beast, and then the drum’s bass thumps cued in the trademark start of Tarzan’s You’ll Be in My Heart. Though Kesamet may be small, but their members sure are multi-talented as the erhu player swopped for his electric guitar for the more upbeat piece. What’s better to introduce the Chinese flute than a soundtrack from a movie set in the Han Dynasty? Joelynn and her dizi sure did justice to the fast paced piece from Mulan’s I’ll Make a Man Out of You. Though titled Disney Medley, DreamWorks’ When You Believe from Prince of Egypt was undeniably a good addition, with an electric guitar solo adding a contrast to this last song. (Coincidentally, the intended songwriter of I’ll Make a Man Out of You left Disney to compose When You Believe in 1998. Oops.)
The last piece before the intermission was a mambo dance classic made sexier with the saxophone and the low rumbles of the euphonium. KE audience would probably find the keyboardist a familiar face, but nah, that’s just our fellow editor Vivien’s twin sister. (The KEnsemble members often joked about the spacetime continuum collapsing when both twins appeared together and shouting to Vivien as RH’s Jesline – watch http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Peabody_&_Sherman#Plot for maybe some divine revelation.)
Of course, RH did play the twin trick to entertain the audience while their famed saxophonist Qin Yuan (some may have recalled his ‘肚子痛’ beatboxing last year) appeared with a white fedora. The all-boy band (sans keyboardist Jesline) belted out the seductive jazz piece with much passion and had the audience humming to the catchy tune as intermission commenced.
Diddle Para and The Bossa Nova Groove (EH)
Percussion took the centre stage as Eusoff showed off their massive range of non-pitched percussion instruments, way more than I could name. It was a refreshing opening for the second half of the concert, especially for those who prefer hearing rhythms and grooves of Cuban/Caribbean and samba music. Diddle Para is a play of the word paradiddle, which is an exercise in rudiments for percussion, hence the two single strokes followed by a double stroke is constantly heard throughout the piece. Bossa nova is a Brazilian music style that is popular till now, and The Bossa Nova Groove is a more melodious piece with a samba and jazzy rhythm.
(Some in the audience told me that they couldn’t really ‘feel’ the two pieces, maybe some dance moves and a livelier performance will do the trick in future eh?)
It’s Time (SH)
Continuing their previous song, Sheares Hall presented yet another American popular tune. Imagine Dragon’s It’s Time describes the narrator’s resistance to change when facing turmoil and its repetitive background tune in this instrumental piece was played by the violins.
Rolling in the Deep (RH)
An Adele classic and drawing inspiration from Youtube musicians ThePianoGuys, this piece was rearranged for guzheng, cello, violin and uh…beatbox. They didn’t dive straight into the tune but the Jupiter theme reappeared instead, played in a forlorn manner by the cello. The beatboxing then started as the tempo quickened. The guzheng took the place of the piano heard in the original arrangement and it was a delight to hear those tremolos beautifully executed by RH’s ensemble vice-head Xue Yi, which resembled Adele’s powerful vocals.
First Love (RH)
First Love, a Japanese ballad, is about the special one whom you first fell in love with. With a penchant for skits, RH put on a short romantic act as both flautists charmed the audience with their high-pitched tunes.
Higher Ground (KR)
The Zontals introduced the audience to the wide range of jazz musical styles once again. A funk classic by Stevie Wonder, it was revived by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and fusion jazz musicians Dave Weckl and Jay Oliver, made famous in many films and video games.
Crowd pleasers do include patriotic national songs as TH put up another great performance of this Kit Chan classic. Many would have known the lyrics to this, singing along as the timbre of the dizi somehow added a tinge of nostalgia and a feeling of traditional ‘community’ we all treasure and see as our ‘home’.
Bohemian Rhapsody (KE)
When KEnsemble was founded in 2012, our then RF-in charge Prof Chau told us his dream of hearing KE Band, Choir and Ensemble collaborating to play Bohemian Rhapsody one day. Though we lacked the voices of Band and Choir, we vowed to make this instrumental rendition a memorable one.
I once had a fear for Bohemian Rhapsody (though I like Queen’s other songs like We are the Champions and I Want to Break Free), as hearing friends belt out those seemingly random lyrics during a karaoke session has left me terrified. Thus, my co-head Shalom forced me to listen to it properly once through (meanwhile, most of our members already know the lyrics by heart). As the final string of notes trailed off, I only managed to say, “Wow… it’s good.”
A rhapsody of six distinct sections – the introduction, ballad, guitar solo, opera, hard rock and finale, it is unanimously described as ‘epic’, ‘bombastic’ – the best Queen song of all time. Even so, I was quite taken aback when ensemble leaders from three different halls approached me to tell me how much they love Bohemian Rhapsody and could not wait to see us perform on stage.
Despite the initial stall of time due to a bass technical fault, the trumpet and saxophone quartet beautifully reproduced the a capella harmony, before saxophone soloist Wei Shen carried on with the ballad.
Our trumpet maestro Darrel took over the original electric guitar riffs to wow the crowd before the strings continued with the opera movement. In this energetic section, Zher Min was seen poking her twin brother Zher Yin near the eye (but she is often teased by Zher Yin, so all’s fair). The lower strings and the drums then did the “Bismillah” outcry with heavily accented notes. The piece gradually grew in volume as it proceeded into the hard rock section, with the cellos supporting the electric bass and guitar as they plowed through the notes furiously and rapidly. The pianist played in octaves forcefully as everyone anticipated the grand finale. “Nothing really matters…to me…” The tune turned sentimental with violinist Shannon and Huai Tian on the erhu shared the calmer melodic lines, while oboist Zi Qian finished the concluding line as the final notes were sustained.
Combined piece: 那些年
Those Years, the popular soundtrack from 2011 Taiwanese film You are the Apple of My Eye, was arranged by RH Ensemble Head Eveline for this year’s Combined Hall Ensemble Concert combined piece, featuring musicians from all halls. This song reflects the innocence of first-love and reminiscing of those bygone years and a photo montage was concurrently shown for the audience to relive their good memories together with the musicians.
Encore: Dancing Megahits
It was then party time as KEnsemble members playing for this piece whipped out their shades in a flourish. This medley features popular dance hits of the past – Sunshine Day, Sha La La La, Tubthumping and Samba de Janeiro. As our member Lee Hoe stood up to play a piccolo solo, all of us began waving our arms in the air, to the shock of the RH musicians. One was heard asking his stand partner, “Are we supposed to do that?” It was all in the name of good fun as all of us enjoyed the journey towards this concert and in celebration of a successful conclusion (as well as the start of Semester 2).
Well, since I’m covering this concert, I guess I’m allowed some word count for some acknowledgements? Here goes:
I’d like to thank
- KEVII SCRC for their continuous support – especially Prof Chau who made his way down in the afternoon despite the rain to watch us, and Prof Dan who gracing the concert.
- KEVII JCRC for assisting in concert publicity and administration issues – kudos to our Cultural Director Valerie who paid close attention to RH’s requests and helping out whenever possible;
- Zi Qian for arranging the two wonderful pieces and helping to coordinate rehearsals;
- Elanor for offering musical advice and coaching the winds section for the dance in Jupiter;
- Zhen Ning and Gareth for helping out with the technical parts of the concert such as lights programming;
- Vice-head Shalom for hunting down people I wouldn’t have dared to;
- All the members (especially our guest players) who have practiced really hard in the past one month prior to the concert and offering much entertainment during rehearsal breaks;
- RH for organizing this concert and acceding to my endless requests;
- Lastly, our ever loyal KE supporters who were a part of the audience! Hope the concert was a great one for all of you too!
Photos courtesy of Zhen Ning, Kenneth and Raffles Hall.