SMU Symphonia presented another milestone project as part of the university’s annual arts season “U+Arts” on 14 June.

Bringing the audience back to the good old times of Singapore pop music, or known as Xinyao (新谣), the group took this opportunity to celebrate the nation’s 50th birthday, and most importantly, Singaporean artists.

The Band Post explores the planning efforts of the concert with current president Russell Lim, where the music was largely arranged by award winning composer and conductor Terrence Wong, along with singers from SMU vocal clubs Voix and MIC, as well as Singapore idol finalist and senior instructor at the Lee Wei Song school of music, Jay Lim.

It is a great effort to be able to honour Singapore music through various means, and this time, it is done through a full wind band concert. On the whole, how was the planning done? Were the musicians supportive of this?

In the spirit of SG50, we felt that it was only right to pay tribute and celebrate all things Singaporean. As the executive committee is made up of full-time students at Singapore Management University, planning had to start somewhere around 10-12 months prior.

Important details such as venue bookings had to be done at the earliest timings due to slots by popular halls being taken up fast. Following that, we also formulated the musical concepts, liaised with our different student clubs, and ensured that all other important pieces (rehearsal venues, musicians, music scores, financing, marketing, etc.) fall in place.

We were all initially apprehensive and puzzled as to how we wanted to structure the concert. Xinyao is a genre where songs sung with just an accompaniment of simple guitar rhythms and sometimes drums.

As such, one challenge we faced was to decide if we were to invite singers, and whether they should sing only a few songs, while the band/orchestra covers the rest. So a careful mix between the two was essential to keeping the concert interesting while showcasing every talent on stage that day.

Surprisingly enough, with the help of Terrence Wong, the songs arranged became even catchier and had more depth in sound due to the greater instrumentation. Many members found themselves enjoying the music throughout the rehearsals! We even had some members humming the tunes after the rehearsals and concert, which shows that our musicians gained a better appreciation and understanding of this genre itself.

The concert was not just a full wind concert, as there were items which involved an orchestra! As we had the opportunity to collaborate with Strings’ & Co., a String Ensemble sub-club created and incubated under SMU Symphonia, we had the wonderful opportunity to play in a large orchestra as well. One big challenge was during rehearsals, we had to quickly change the seating arrangement within 10-15 minutes from a 50 strong wind band to a 90 strong orchestra. In all, this concert is one of the biggest projects that SMU Symphonia did with many different parties involved!

Why Terrence Wong? Did you consider other composers as well?

Terrence has worked with SMU Symphonia for quite a long time. He first composed “Beyond Milestones”, a piece that was commissioned for the band back in 2013. He has helped extend wind band repertoire to a full orchestra by re-adapting scores for the string section for our SMU convocation performance and occasionally conducts during our rehearsals to help better understand his works. So when it came down to the decision of finding a composer for assistance in creating a sound repertoire for a Xinyao concert, Terrence was definitely our top choice.

This does not mean that we have not performed works of other fellow Singaporean composers. During our previous productions, we have performed works such as “If There’re Seasons” arranged by Ong Jiin Joo, “Three Portraits for Symphonic Band” by Kelly Tang, “Munnaeru Vaalibaa” arranged by Zaidi Sabtu-Ramli and “Redhill” by Benjamin Yeo to name a few.

Will we see SMU embarking on more unique projects like this? What are some directions in local music that the band will be doing in the future?

SMU Symphonia has always gone the extra mile in delivering a wonderful music experience for our audience. From playing along, to visuals, to live casting, to just performing plain entertaining music, we will always bear in mind to play local works alongside the traditional staples that we play.

We warmly welcome university band musicians/enthusiasts to join us in our upcoming productions and to support us in our performances.