Ashton Chia

Percussionist & Student Conductor
Catholic High School Symphony Band

Whenever I think of the Singapore Youth Festival, I would often think of my experiences in primary school and lower secondary, performing on stage as a band with more than 50 people, with family members, friends and teachers supporting us from the spectator stands.

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2020, Singapore had just exited the “circuit breaker” phase, and many of the safe management measures and restrictions had yet to be removed.

I had just received my position as the student conductor, and I hoped fervently that there would be full band sessions in the near future that I would be able to conduct.

Due to the pandemic, there was no proper handover from the previous executive committee, so the incoming executive committee team was thrown into the deep end of the pool, to fulfil our duties as well as to adapt to the changes that the pandemic had caused.

There was a painful transition from online CCA to physical band practices, where practices were previously conducted over the internet. Being a percussionist, online band sessions were highly ineffective, as we were unable to play actual percussion instruments like we would in the band room. Our practices were limited to doing rudiments on drum pads, where we were often faced with audio issues on platforms such as zoom.

I performed as a member of Catholic High School’s Symphony Bands A and B, which were the two bands getting a grade for SYF. Compared to my previous SYF, we received the piece fairly late, in January, where in previous years we would start practicing our choice piece around October or November. We had the chance to perform Daniel Yiau’s “Sights and Sounds” for band A, and “Race Against Time” for band B, both of which were original compositions that were composed for the school.

Playing “Race Against Time” was indeed a challenge, due to the fast tempo of the song, and the mixed meters. There was an extremely steep learning curve for band B, where most of the band members were Secondary 3, and had not attended the previous SYF.

Band A’s piece had a special significance to all of us, as we were playing the school song in the last section of the piece. It was the first time that we had been split into 3 bands for a performance, and due to the short 3 months we had to practice, the stakes and pressure were extremely high. We struggled to find venues to hold our full band sessions, while adhering to safe management measures.

However, I had the opportunity to conduct and work on the pieces for Bands B & C, due to the fact that we were shorthanded, with our conductors constantly occupied. It gave me an insight as to how conductors are able to fine-tune the music, and how we would be able make the piece sound as good as it possibly could.

This was an opportunity that I would not have had without the COVID-19 situation, and in spite of the fact that I missed out half a year’s worth of practices, this was something extremely valuable that I had learnt. It was definitely a stressful experience for me, with emotions running high after each practice, but I am happy that I was able to grow and learn together with the rest of the band.

My experience in CHSSB was definitely a unique one, where I got to interact with many people of different skills and talents.

Over the 3 years I have been a member of the band, I have managed to forge bonds with my peers and juniors around me, and this is definitely what I would miss most about my journey in the band. The band’s motto is “One Band, One Sound, One Brotherhood”, and I have come to appreciate the brotherhood and the unity we have within the entire band.

As a leader, I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to conduct the band, and develop the band to its fullest potential. There were several hiccups from the start of our preparation, all the way to our actual SYF arts presentation, but we managed to overcome the odds and do the school proud.

My life in band has been an unforgettable one, and as I step down from my position and from the CCA, I know that the same principles that have guided myself and the band through this tough time will continue to guide me in what I do in the future. I hope that the band will continue to do well in the future, and that we will continue to live by our motto, as one brotherhood.