Singapore's finest community music groups

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Student and community music groups are vital mainstays of Singapore’s classical scene. This month offers a great chance to see both in action – and maybe join in, says Steven Ang

First published on 2 Mar 2012. Updated on 2 Mar 2012.

Community music groups abound worldwide and often get glossed over for more glamorous names, but it’s these nonprofessional groups that form the backbone of the classical music scene – and in March concertgoers will see Singapore’s finest. The appeal is not just that you can watch great music on the cheap or for free, but that – in some cases – you can get involved yourself.

At the National University of Singapore’s Arts Festival this month, the impressive NUS Harmonica Orchestra – which has toured much of Asia – will be performing the likes of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Strauss’ Voices of Spring with a choir on 16 March; and on 18 March, the 41-year-old NUS Wind Symphony will present one of its two annual shows, this time an environment-themed performance featuring pieces such as the ‘Yellow River Piano Concerto’ from piano virtuoso Lim Yan.

It’s a good chance to see the cream of Singapore’s student musicians. Josephine Koh, conductor of the NUS Harmonica Society, says: ‘It’s extremely satisfying to see how these students are capable of making stunning progress within a few years, and growing up to become music arrangers, soloists, tutors and competitors.’

School groups are involved this month, too, with the Esplanade’s Limelight series showcasing two of Singapore’s top school groups: the 100-strong Commonwealth Military Band on 26 March and, on 29 March, the award-winning Cedar Girls’ School Choir, who will sing songs across genres including traditional folk, jazz, contemporary, madrigals and opera.

But it’s not just students who’ll be taking the stage. The Singapore Wind Symphony (www.sws.sg), who are celebrating their 35th year, will perform their style of symphonic pop music on 4 March. They’re just one of many local amateur music groups with opportunities for anyone with a bit of talent to join: orchestras include the widely acclaimed Orchestra of the Music Makers (www.orchestra.sg) and the Philharmonic Winds (www.philharmonicwinds.org), while singers can get involved with the Singapore Symphony Chorus (www.symphonychorus.sg) and Singapore Lyric Opera Chorus (singaporeopera.com.sg). While auditions for these groups are usually required, criteria for recruitment are kept to a minimum.

According to Koh, musicians get more out of playing in a group than playing alone. ‘During these collaborations, it is important to understand how your fellow musicians work, and find common ground in terms of emotional expression and timing. Everyone has to work together to produce one unified sound. Playing with a group is about teamwork and coordination.’

So this month there’s no excuse. Get out to watch some great music or, even better, pick up an instrument, dust off those vocal cords, and get involved yourself.

By Steven Ang
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