By Shahril Salleh
(932 words, 5-minute read)
ONE chamber choir has a formidable reputation. It is one of Singapore’s premier community choir – one that made waves and built bridges for our nation in the international choral music scene. Its recent concert, 10toONE, held on 14 July 2019, not only showcased the choir’s high standards in terms of technical precision as well as aesthetic mastery, it also presented a heartfelt and tasteful tribute to its ten years of existence.
The repertoire presented by the choir in 10toONE was not only delightfully eclectic, but is also reminiscent of the journey that the choir has had over the years. ONE opened with Takemitsu Tōru’s 小さな部屋で (Chiisana Heya De – In A Small Room), where the ensemble’s storytelling and musicianship masterfully captured and enraptured the audience’s attention. This followed by another Japanese piece entitled 子供 (Kodomo – Children) by Ko Matsushita. The mood, timbre and language of the concert changed course, where the choir presented two sacred works – Latvian composer Vytautas Miškinis’ Tenebrae Factae Sunt and the Romantic Bavarian Composer Joseph Rhienberger’s Abendlied. Both pieces were performed with a sense of serene majesty and beautifully shaped melodic lines. Next, the choir brought us back to this side of the world, where they animatedly performed Pamagun (The Sparrow), a work by renowned Filipino composer and choral doyen, the late Francisco Felliciano which features the story of a hunter and his avian prey the sparrow. Bass singer Chen Zhengyu provided the parting shot with the clapper, which signalled ending of the song. The first half of 10toONE ended with a commissioned work by local composer Dr Zechariah Goh Toh Chai entitled 心映松柏 (Xin Yang Song Bai – Heart Of Pines) – a song written in commemoration of SG50.
The second half of 10toONE began by an energetic rendition of Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo Dreams Of His Flying Machine. The choir was accompanied by hand drum, finger cymbals and tambourines – masterfully played by Cherie Chai, Dawn Yin and Chen Zhengyu respectively. Maintaining the ensemble amidst the frenetic pace of the song proved to be a bit of a challenge for the trio, but the slightly asynchronous percussion parts actually worked in favour of the choir and added more character and flavour to the vocal painting of the scene where the renaissance genius had his fevered dream. Next the choir performed 月夜の晩に (Tsukiyo no Ban ni – On A Moonlight Night) by Ko Matsushita. Following which, the audience was treated with a sublime performance of Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds’ work entitled Only In Sleep. This performance was made special by two things. First was the introduction by soloist Kwan Yee Ching, who also shared with the audience her journey with the choir. Second was the beautiful tone and clarity of which she executed the solo part, accompanied by the beautiful vocal textures provided by the choir. While I felt that the last section of the song was a tad rushed and the soloist became a tad breathy at the end (just a tad bit!), I teared throughout this beautiful and sincere performance, and the soloist and the choir deserved the roaring applause at the end of the piece.
The last three pieces performed by the choir were indeed show stoppers. The choir’s performance of Finnish composer Mia Makaroff’s Butterfly was beautifully rendered. The choir was divided into three sections, and each section represented an age group and life stage that reflects the inclusiveness of the choir. Next, we were treated with a rousing rendition of Seaside Rendezvous, arranged by Paul Hart and made famous by the King’s Singers. We were treated with wonderful choreography, and of which out of the four who took centre stage, I only recognised Tenor Wharton Chan swinging away with panache and suave charisma (Side note: I promise to make more friends with people from other choirs after I finish my thesis so that I can acknowledge them properly!). The programme ended with Cántico de Celebración written by Afro-Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, a musical work peppered with percussive vocal scatting and ululation.
The choir’s esteemed conductor took some time at the end of the set to share some of her thoughts about her own journey with the choir – a heartfelt sharing on their combined journey of growth, perseverance and determination to make a home for singers and choristers in Singapore. After, the choir regaled the audience with a rousing encore, Sizongena, composed by Mzilikazi Khumalo and adapted by André van der Merwe for the choir.
The overarching presentation of 10toONE is to be commended – not because of the near-perfect execution of each work, but rather because of the way the concert included some of the members’ own personal reflections and insights as to why they sing, and why making choral music is so important to them despite going through different life stages. Each life-stage presented its own challenges, and the choir collectively has risen to the challenge of creating a space where all are welcomed, and all are supported despite these challenges. I would also like to include a special mention to the wonderful team that supported the choir, such as how the marketing materials and tickets were exquisitely crafted and produced. The programme was presented in a series of beautiful cards – an excellent companion to an evening of beautiful music.
Kudos to ONE chamber choir and their artistic director, Ms Lim Ai Hooi. I would definitely recommend others who are unfamiliar with choral music to catch ONE’s next concert – this is where we can see how shared vision and willing hearts hit the right notes to make beautiful music.
10toONE by ONE Chamber Choir took place on 14th July 2019 at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory.
Shahril Salleh is currently a PhD Candidate (ABD) of Sociology from the School of Social Sciences at the Nanyang Technological University. His research examines the relationships between arts practitioners and the State. Part of his research involves going to concerts and performances and having long and deep conversations with arts practitioners from different disciplines over tea and cake (and sometimes biscuits). In his spare time, he directs a local non-auditioned community choir and volunteers as a mentor to his peers as well as to underserved communities.