Written by: Shalom Alexandra
Edited by: Shervin Lim
[The writer apologizes sincerely for the delayed article. In her words, “midterms happened”.]
It’s D-Day – the KE Choir has gone through many hours of diaphragm stretching, larynx straining, and soft-palate lifting – all for this very show. For the uninformed, Amplitude 2016: L ’amour is this year’s installation of the annual choir and a cappella concert to celebrate the vocal talents residing in the six NUS halls.
This is my second time being involved in Amplitude; two years ago as a member of the organizing committee, and now as a Soprano 1 of the KE Choir. Yup, soprano 1. If you’ve heard me speak, you’d know that I sound like I could join the ranks of the tenors. So imagine my horror when the choir head, Jonathan-
-declared after my audition that I was going to be screaming singing some impossible notes. Godspeed.
As I begin this article in the dim lighting of Utown Auditorium 2, final rehearsals are taking place. Outside, the strangely cathedral-like acoustics of Stephen Riady Centre ensure that those MUMMY MAKES ME MIX MY M&Ms warmups echoed endlessly to the confused members of the public queuing for their Aston’s and fishball noodles. As the performers started to get into costume, there was an embarrassing realisation that at least 3 choirs (including ours) all decided to wear flower crowns on stage. Oh well, at least we looked good.
Finally, it was showtime. The lights dimmed to cheers from the audience, and Eusoff Choir took the stage with a choral rendition of Fix You by Coldplay. I will be honest and say that I was not a fan of the pitching for this one. At one point the chants of “I will try to fix you I will” by the guys also overpowered the melody and the song was somewhat turned into a passive-aggressive lover’s anthem. Their next song, Fly Me to the Moon, was much much better. With cute props that brought a smile to the audience’s faces, they did no wrong with this classic piece.
I wasn’t quite sure if the next act on stage was a choir or an army, but TH Vox (Chorale) from Temasek Hall brought an almighty increase in volume by sheer numbers. Their first song, This Marriage, was practically faultless, a huge improvement from the TH choir I saw and heard 2 years ago. Hana (flower in Japanese), their second piece, was an excellent song choice with a moving melody. 100% approve. Oh the advantages of having more guys – the bass was so well supported! Their final song, Crown of Roses, speaks of God’s love as Jesus died…well, it still fits the theme I suppose. Flashy lights added to the suspenseful atmosphere and the tight harmonies of their last line “roses spruNGGGGGG” rang in my head long after the song ended.
I had high expectations for KR Acappella after this performance two years ago (watch it for context, trust me), and I am happy to say that they did not disappoint this year either. First up was a 6-person team covering Pentatonix’s cover of Cheerleader. KR’s “Mitch” was actually pretty impressive. I was also particularly empathetic towards the lead girl singer for being the tallest one in the group, just like yours truly in the KE choir (sorry guys).
A second group performed Perfect Life by The Real Group (I had to google this one), which was an upbeat, chirpy song with strangely obsessive lyrics. Finally, the successors of the much-anticipated all boys group in the aforementioned video were up with a mashup of Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You. With a one, a two, and a 一二三四, the boys sang their bossanova way into our hearts. Mega props to the voice that mimicked a muted trumpet (or was it a saxophone?). Flawless transition between songs and a fantastic chachacha ending brought their item to a close.
Next on stage was SH Chorale from Sheares Hall, which began their performance with Silly Love Songs, and what better way to start than to say the 3 magic words of “I Love You”? It also featured 3 female soloists with pretty sweet voices reminding us that love doesn’t come in a minute.
Kala Kalla, a Hebrew love song, was the next item for SH. Cue violin appearance. Cue excellent pianist. It definitely sounded like a difficult piece to execute, especially for the girls at the part where they used the “la” syllable no less than 40 times consecutively. I thoroughly enjoyed it for the Prince of Egypt vibes it exuded though. Their last song was Uptown Girl by Billy Joel with 3 guy soloists this time. In my opinion the girls’ voices were under-utilised but it was cute overall for sure. I was hoping for a dance and sure enough the guys started to lift their legs up high.
Next up was our very own KE CHOIR (whaddup). With months of practice weighing on our minds, we began with a High School Musical Medley, extremely befitting since it’s HSM’s 10th year anniversary as well. You would think singing songs like Start of Something New and Breaking Free would be a no-brainer, but performing these duets as a choir still required some adjustments to make sure our voices blended together. But I digress. The KE Choir strutted on stage with wide smiles and paid tribute to the childhood heroes who gave us unrealistic expectations about impromptu singing in school.
Okay, can I just talk about the next song, Northern Lights by Ola Gjeilo, for a minute. This song is meant for a choir at least twice our size. (I also kind of yelled when I saw the high E the sopranos had to hold for 16 counts right after a high G). By far one of the toughest pieces of the night, we had strained our voice boxes and killed more than a few brain cells practicing this Latin piece. Moreover, our male strength was 7 – in total. The grandeur of the song was therefore difficult to carry through, but in our little ways of perfecting our pitch and dynamics, I think we more than made up for the lack of volume.
And finally, it was time for Good Night Dear Heart, popularized as Mark Twain’s inscription on his daughter’s tombstone. This was also the song that always left us breathless after its end (literally) because there was hardly any time for inhalation. I always felt that this song was something of a final lullaby, and thus with outstretched hands and an emotive melody conveying love and loss, we bid adieu to our audience.
Aca RHythm from Raffles Hall was up next performing All Of Me, John Legend’s legendary hit (geddit geddit). It must be said that there was one girl with perfect pitch, a solitary warrior amongst the flats and sharps attacking on all sides. The chords were pretty good overall but the lead girl got me confused when she walked away from the male lead to…change a boyfriend??
Next up, a beautiful introduction of Somewhere Over The Rainbow with impressive upper harmony, joined by the guys with You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful, and blending into Shut Up and Dance and Cheerleader. With infectious smiles, genius arrangement and a proposal at the end, this was one of the more memorable performances of the night.
After a quick intermission, TH Vox was back with their a cappella team this time, singing the one song that got everyone back into Mandopop temporarily in 2015. The group brought to us their version of 小幸运 (A Little Happiness) by Hebe Tian, with some theatrics thrown in for good measure. As their story progresses, the antagonist (in this case, the beatboxer) separated the original couple with a chop of his hand, thus stealing the poor dude’s girlfriend in an instant. Their next song, an Ed Sheeran medley of Give Me Love/Thinking Out Loud, was an audience favourite as well, with many mouthing the words along with the performers.
RH Voices took the stage with My Love Dwelt in the Northern Land (how quaint, KE also had a thing for Northern Lights). Before this, the only song I knew from Edward Elgar was ‘Pomp and Circumstance’. RH Voices performed this wonderfully, doing justice to the layers and complexity of the piece. Their next song, It Was a Lover and His Lass, was a chirpy, albeit also a little bit ‘church-y’ piece that spoke of lovers in the springtime. Pretty cute 🙂
Moving on, EH acappella came on with Flashlight/Like I’m Gonna Lose You by Jessie J and Meghan Trainor. I had no idea how these two songs were going to blend with each other, but a surprise flashmob of people also appeared on stage waving flashlights in the dark (a la Pitch Perfect 2) brought a nice touch to the performance. Their second song was Somebody That I Used To Know (Pentatonix version), which had some problems with pitching and tonality but was still a great effort overall.
Whoop! I was excited when KR Choir took the stage, in part due to their song choices this year. Having heard my friends in various ensembles play Viva la Vida more than just a few times, I was honed to listen to this song in distinctive layers – and I must say that KR executed the harmonies wonderfully. Their next song, Paradise by Coldplay, lacked a little of the power vocals in the original, but considering it was a choral arrangement, it was still thoroughly enjoyable. Last but not least, they brought to us the beautiful, melancholic Hallelujah – originally composed by Leonard Cohen. It’s also a song that has never left my playlist since the day it entered. Naturally, I was all ready to be judgmental if they ruined the song for me but to my relief and joy, they did not. I did prefer it when I heard them during warmups though, I suppose the auditorium seats absorbed all the potentially magical soundwaves.
Finally, for the last item of the night, SHacappella graced the stage with a slew of songs guaranteed to end the show on a high. First up was Somebody to Love by Queen. Knowing I would miss the actual performance of this because of curtain call, I sneaked up to the group while they practiced to check if THAT particular volley of notes was going to be done right. And yes, I am happy to say that this guy did not make Freddie Mercury turn in his grave (bless his beautiful soul).
Their next piece was aptly named Breakup Medley – with So Sick by Ne-Yo, Let It Go by James Bay, You Ruin Me by The Veronicas and Wide Awake by Katy Perry. Wow, thanks guys, just as we thought we could end off with happy vibes about love tonight. Just kidding, I had no complains about their singing whatsoever – great job there. For their final item they brought a Lady Antebellum medley of Need You Now/ Just a Kiss. With tight harmonies and the lead guy sounding just like the original, I was brought back to my J1 days when this song was all the rage.
With that, the show came to a fitting end. I asked Jonathan to describe Amplitude this year, and he told me that seeing the choir grow and perform was like watching his children grow up (aww). It was a memorable experience both for him and for the rest of the KE Choir that we would treasure very much 🙂 See you at Amplitude 2017!
Photos courtesy of KE Vision and RH Media.