The Straits Times, Lifestyle, Aug 12, 2016

Three of Singapore's Best Choirs

The most rewarding repertory choice came from the Singers Vocal Ensemble ... a sophisticated yet scrumptious setting of Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet (Shall I Compare Thee?) was sung with the kind of warm togetherness only the best choirs can achieve.


The Straits Times, Life!, Aug 12, 2014

Singapore Ensemble Tops in Japan

The Singers Vocal Ensemble are the first Singaporean group to win top awards at the prestigious 30th Takarazuka International Chamber Chorus Contest.


The Straits Times, Life!, Dec 7, 2006

Small numbers, big voices
In this fly-on-the-wall column, we bring you the buzz in the arts world:

 
ONE VOICE: Just seven of the twelve members in Singers Vocal Ensemble were able to make it to Prague for a competition, but they still managed to win Best Small Choir.

 


A SMALL independent choir group from Singapore has won the Best Small Choir prize at the 16th Prague International Festival of Advent and Christmas Music - despite being several men down.

The annual amateur choir competition is significant because Petr Eben, the renowned Czech composer, takes turns with his also-distinguished son, mediaeval sacred music expert David Eben, to sit on the judging panel.

The choir, Singers Vocal Ensemble, usually has about a dozen members, but because some could not take time off to go to Prague, the choir was reduced to just seven members.

Singers Vocal Ensemble was founded and directed by freelance choral conductor Wilson Goh, 28, about two years ago. The members, all formerly with the Singapore Youth Choir, are mostly professionals in their late 20s in non-music fields.

Because of the reduced numbers, which made them the smallest of the 63 choirs in the entire competition, several members had to sing outside of their usual vocal range to fill all the parts. For example, countertenor Cyril Wong, 29, an award-winning poet, had to sing both soprano and baritone roles.

'It was a lot of toggling,' he told Life! on the phone from Prague. 'We all became a bit schizophrenic.'

But their efforts were rewarded as they not only topped their category, which had 29 choirs from Europe and Asia in the fray, but also received a special mention for their interpretation of French composer Francis Poulenc's O Magnum Mysterium, one of the four songs they presented.

The choirs of Catholic Junior College, Raffles Girls' School and Raffles Institution also participated, with all three schools awarded Gold in their respective categories. CJC was judged in the Big Choir category, which is for choirs with over 33 members, and the other two in the Children's Choir category.

An all-female group from Singapore, New Horizon Music Society, received a Silver in the Small Choir category. Every choir that competes receives either a Gold, Silver or Bronze award.

 

by Stephanie Yap


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Kakiseni’s Review of The Singers present Getaran Jiwa

(Sat 29 - Sun 30 Apr 2006, KLPac – Pentas 2)

by Nigel Skelchy (02-06-2006)

This reviewer had the strangest call from a member of The Singers, a visiting choral group from Singapore.

Basically, the member had called to request that the show be not reviewed. Meanwhile, the editor of Kakiseni, who had been made aware of this situation earlier, had shot an email to the director. Reasons then given to Kakiseni for not wanting to be reviewed ranged from a concern that the review might not contain the necessary basis for fair criticism and discussion, and that reviews of choral music and choirs constantly “achieve the result of nullifying the efforts of choral educators.” But in the end, they were okay with it.

Frankly, if they were concerned that they would receive a bad review then all that can be said is that they were grossly mistaken.

It has been a long time since choral music of that calibre has been heard in
Kuala Lumpur.

Members from The Singers hail from premiere Singaporean vocal ensembles like the Singapore Youth Choir, The Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Vox Ensemble, Octmented and Tone Culture, and this show was their Malaysian debut (Sat 29 - Sun 30 Apr 2006, KLPac – Pentas 2). The group comprised of Fenny Low, Eunice Liang, Phua Ee Kia, Joy Chen, Ng Sheh Feng, Ho Lian Ian, Ng Swee Yong, Wilson Goh, Ong Kok Leong, and Gregory Chen. The Singers have represented
Singapore in various international music festivals and choral competitions since the 1980s, more often than not, winning top honours.

The misleading title of the concert The Singers present Getaran Jiwa turned out to be a performance of contemporary choral music, featuring Malaysian premieres of works from the Baltics,
Asia and the Americas. The Singers also highlighted works by a Malaysian composer, Juliette Lai, who this reviewer suspects is more well-known in her adopted abode of Singapore. While many of the audience were probably hoping for more reworked Malaysian oldies, it cannot be denied that the concert as a whole was an eye opener.

The blend was beautiful, pitching was nigh perfect, and rhythm and timing could really not be faulted. And the programming was intelligent. Technically, any complaints would really be nitpicking, but I will get it out of the way. From a performance viewpoint, while the sound of an ensemble is the most important thing, body posture and body language also serve to convey a message. So performers should not be singing with hands in pockets (you know who you are) nor should there be scraping movements of music stands while the narrator is saying his piece. And once in a while, some of the singers seemed more concerned about getting the song “right” than “enjoying” the song and making audience contact. Again, this is nitpicking!

In truth, The Singers actually got it “right” so consistently, it’s scary. Which was why, when the leader mentioned that they only had two weeks of rehearsal, some of us had to pick our jaws off the floor.

If the purpose of music is to communicate an intent, whether it’s stillness, love, sweetness, a sense of place, or just making someone reach for a tissue, then The Singers communicated – over and beyond a mere intent.

From the moment they walked on with the odd positioning of a man between two women, it was obvious we were about to listen to something unusual.

The chant like opening of “Taaveti Laul (Psalms of David) 140” by Cyrillus Kreek of
Estonia transfixed everyone in the audience with its sound. Pure, sweet, lilting, and evocative of a landscape which few, if any, in our audience had ever visited, its quietness and stillness recalled the prayer of a solitary person who finds God in a ray of light. An epiphany already – and we’re only at the first song!

“Komm Süsser Tod (Come, Sweet Death)” by Bach was given a makeover by Norwegian composer, Gunnar Eriksson. The otherworldliness of this prayer of surrender yielded our willing submission, and the execution was not just technically perfect but also interpreted in a manner which laid the soul joyously bare. While it sounds flippant, it reminded me of Heineken’s tagline in the 80s: “Heineken. Touches the parts other beers cannot reach.”

The highlight of the first half must have been “Heliseb Valjadel” by Urmas Sisask. It quickly became evident why a man was placed between two women. His soaring counter tenor left goose bumps all over KLPAC’s Pentas 2. We only wished that he was given another (at least) solo. The language was totally foreign to everyone in the room but we felt as if a cold breeze had just blown in off the steppes. This was a song composed by a person firmly rooted in his geography.

Juliette Lai, who was in the audience must have been well pleased with The Singers’ rendition of her two pieces “Getaran Jiwa” and “Potong Padi”, a folk song about sowing rice. Though the intonation and phrasing of the lyrics sounded a little jarring to native speakers, it was obvious that The Singers enjoyed the pieces, which in itself communicates a sense of enjoyment to the audience. It was perhaps also evident that they were more at home with classical pieces. “Getaran Jiwa” was very cleverly arranged with the words in the title of the song being used to percussive effect in one part of the song.

A tango by Astor Piazzolla, one of the most influential tango composers of all time and a musician renowned for putting
Argentina on the musical map, entitled “Verano Porteño”, was sung with such precision and crispness bordering on military, but managed to retain a certain lilt in the singing line that gave it an enjoyable fluidity.

The narration by Wilson Goh was interesting and educational and helped to further the enjoyment of the music. His explanation about how an environment shapes the music in which it is composed directed our attention towards listening for those cues in the music. This then took us into the mood of that particular place and time. It was a very nice touch.

If the music was varied, the execution was even more so. But the versatility displayed in the techniques are tied together nicely by the thematic unity of the pieces. From the delicious haunting tones of the counter tenor to the tintinnabulation of Estonian composer Arvo Part to the more familiar tunes from our neck of woods, the songs and narration clearly illustrated the influence of environment on music. And in turn, how the music communicates that environment back to listeners. The Baltic and Latvian numbers spoke of cold, wintry climes, while “Potong Padi” evoked images of padi farmers with small scythes swinging to the beat. And what could folks from warm, sunny, muggy
South East Asia have in common with folks from the cold, snowy, frigid Baltic but our common humanity? Wherever you go, people are the same: they love, they laugh, they pray, they strive. And they sing.

From the Japanese flavoured “Small Sky” by the self taught composer Toru Takemitsu to hymns from the Baltics and back again to the musical getaran from our little corner of
South East Asia, The Singers treated Malaysia to a tightly sung, moving and educational concert. We could practically hear the dedication of the individuals within the group (and of the composers from around the world, even Malaysian ones working in Singapore). Their passion shone through as well as their technical knowledge of the subject.

It was a joy to listen to them!


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