A member of the La Sallian schools, St Michael’s Institution (SMI) is a well-known public secondary school in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia. Its school pride, the Michaelian Military Band, was formed during the directorate of Brother Patrick O Donovan in 1960. Since its establishment, the Band has earned a high reputation for being one of the best-organized bands in the state.
It was noted that the band’s presence at school assemblies and functions had always been a tremendous impact on the spirit and morale of Michaelians, both past and present. As a standard bearer in the school, the band has never failed to lift the spirit of its students to a high pitch of togetherness in action, who has always been attired and equipped in a style befitting the dignity of SMI.
The Band Post travels north to explore the band program and the experiences of its conductor, Mr Chong Wai Mun, who has been with the band for about 16 years.
“MMB was the reason that I applied for school transfer to SMI. After graduated in 2006, I continued in assisting my predecessor, Mr Lee Mun Ming in teaching, and then eventually took over in 2010 as the band director of MMB,” said Wai Mun.
Practice sessions in MMB usually start with marching drills, followed by sectionals and end with ensemble training. Unlike other bands, the MMB only practices every Saturday due to a tight school curriculum schedule. Therefore, it is very important for its members to fully utilize the few hours of practice.
“Our practices are different from other bands in Perak because we emphasize a lot on leadership and unity among members. We emphasize on doing things together as a band; particular because we are one of the few multiracial bands in Malaysia,” he explained.
In a typical school year, the band partakes in various school events such as Teachers Day and Sports Day. The band itself has two camps annually, one in March and another usually at the end of the year. The band also organizes its annual concerts with the aim that students are able to showcase their talent and effort in practicing to the people in town.
On top of these activities, the band tries to organize or participate in at least one band exchange program every year. This allows students to have a wider perspective in the music world and also to discover more about themselves when they are being placed out of their comfort zone.
With the many projects in a year, running the band is not an easy feat, especially when there is a lack of support from both the parents and teachers during the year. As a missionary school, there is limited financial support provided, hence a growing issue in the purchase of instruments, music scores, band uniforms and repairs, etc.
“Apart from administrative matters, our members also come from different backgrounds. Due to language barriers, there is often a struggle for them to communicate with each other. However, it does not take them too long before they blend into the family completely,” Wai Mun raised.
Despite the obstacles faced by the band, Wai Mun believes that these are often overshadowed by the greater moments he had with the band.
“I recall one of the few memorable moments I had with the band, which was the annual concert ‘Under the Stars’. What really touched me wasn’t just the outcome of the concert, but the process en route to that very night. It was full with ups and downs like any other concert we had prepare for before this, but this concert was different.”
“In fact the concert date was only finalized one month before and it fell on the same day as Valentine’s. We were worried that the turnouts will be affected but we were proven wrong. We managed to score a full house concert and a record breaking ticket sales in my history with the band.”
“Besides that, it was also an honour for me to be able to conduct alongside with Mr. Lester Lim and Mr Yeap Meng Hon, both eminent and well respected conductors and they have indeed taught us so much,” he continued.
“Another great moment that I have with the band was the introduction of our very own ‘House of Rhythm’. The concept was quite ambitious and challenging for students to create theatrical performance with beats and rhythms. We managed to take the crowd by storm in our debut and also subsequent performances. The crucial part however isn’t about the performance but the preparation which involved a lot of hard work, teamwork, creativity, leadership skills and communication,” he said.
Looking toward the future, Wai Mun envisioned that the Michaelian Military Band becomes a band with gold and with honour.
“I hope that MMB will continue to play more challenging pieces and perform in front of thousands of people. No doubt results are important, but what is more crucial is the journey, never the destination. I wish that MMB will not be just an extra co-curricular in school, but rather a home or a platform for students to have the opportunity to receive musical training, regardless of ability or background.”
“Besides developing performances, rehearsals and personal practice skills of every student, the band should provide a learning ground for young people to gain better leadership skills, surviving skills and be a gateway for them to interact with society,” he added.
In closing, Wai Mun leaves a few words for his current students, and his alumni members.
“I hope that my students continue to be someone useful; if you feel that you are not, start doing something meaningful. To my alumni, thank you for the hard work and commitment all these years. It has been a great journey with you all, but always do remember – Once a Bandsman, Forever a Bandsman; With Pride Shall We March.”
To learn more about the Michaelian Military Band, follow them on their Facebook page here.