Leong Jia Li Nicole

CHIJ St. Theresa’s Convent Band

Looking back on my journey, I would say that joining CHIJSTC band was the least of what I had ever envisioned myself to be doing. Back then, I was given the mentality that CCA is there to kill off time but band was a completely different story.

I still vividly remember being dragged to band trials by a friend of mine and wanting to play the flute but was soon convinced by a senior who had tested me to try out the clarinet. Joining band was quite terrifying to me since I did not have any prior musical experience but was soon reassured by the thirty-eight people who have signed up with the same lack of qualifications I had.

It was the very beginning of one of the biggest chapters of my life that was definitely worth the risk of opening.

One of my favourite memories that I have ever made in band was back in 2018. My school was one of the participants for Schools in Concert at Victoria Concert Hall and I was merely just a very inexperienced clarinetist with only 7 to 8 months of playing.

Still, up to this date, I can distinctly recall the moment on stage with the magnificent ambience of the Concert Hall and being the very inexperienced player I was, I confidently started a note early by accident before my conductor counted us in.

Some of my section mates would ask me, “Why would that be your favourite memory when it was the most shameful one?”. My answer to that was simple, at that very moment as I got the ‘stare’ from my conductor it gave me the realisation that I still had so much to learn.

I was on the verge of quitting band but what changed my mind was being able to witness the joyful smiles and effort being placed on stage as we played together. I guess I have never really hit on the fact of how much band has impacted my life so much but I am glad that this mistake has given me the power to learn and become a much better clarinetist than I am now.

When I continued on my journey in band, I was given the opportunity to step in as a bass clarinetist on stage during SYF in 2019. This was a very unexpected change for me since I was so used to playing the higher registers on the clarinet and had became used to playing first chair. At that point in time, it was especially tiring since I was only able to show up for one practice per week due to lessons but having the constant negotiations with my teacher to go for band was worthwhile.

As we left the stage, it ended with many groans and contemplations that took place which will never be forgotten but we looked forward to trying harder as we went on. Further, into the year, I had the chance to try out the E-flat clarinet since we were given pieces with much larger instrumentations. The pieces we played definitely got harder and harder. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the learning process and support that was given to us.

With great pleasure, I was appointed as Clarinet section leader in 2020 and we were transitioning into the new normal due to the Covid-19 pandemic arising. I was honoured to be given this role as it has enhanced my understanding of how to manage different individuals to achieve a common goal in learning our parts for the pieces. However, our motivation to practice began to fade when many of us were very devastated to hear that each event that we were planning to perform at the year ahead was cancelled one by one.

In all honesty, I have to admit that I did face a major burnout and found it hard to come to terms with playing the clarinet. Band did not feel the same as it used to be. With everything being moved online, it was particularly difficult for me to constantly check up on my juniors given that I was unable to know how they were coping throughout this phase.

From the many informative music theory lessons to the hilarious kitchen equipment ensembles, I am thankful to my conductor, the teachers-in-charge as well as the band EXCO for doing their best to make up for all the missed band practices and helping me to regain the courage to rekindle my passion for the clarinet.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I was always so used to being cramped up in the music room with 9 other clarinetists in the front row and being welcomed by the grand sound of having the strength of a full band around me.

With the Safe Management Measures in place, there is now a lot of space and only one-third of the band’s existence is present. I felt glad to play on stage once again in a very long time but I feel bad at the fact that many of my very capable juniors did not get a place for SYF.

I often find myself pacing out during practices and over-processing this thought of mine but I guess that’s just the harsh truth on how much Covid-19 has impacted many of us. This performance concluded with many mixed feelings but it was the memories we shared that made this overall journey a little lighter.

To my juniors, I hope you cherish the time you spend in band as you will be able to foster many new friendships and memories along the way. I know that especially in times like this in uncertainty, band is not as exciting as it used to be. But do not give up on hope just yet, as there are many opportunities for you to experience the same passion and joy I have experienced in my time in band.

To my fellow seniors and section mates, thank you for being the harmonious and loving family I never had. I have enjoyed the many wonderful memories we have made together and all the nonsensical shenanigans I pretend not to witness. Even though the journey we spent together was cut short, I hope that all of us will look forward to continuing to flourish our passion for music and whatever awaits you in the future. All of you have never failed to place a smile on my face and once again, I thank you for that. Sending you girls many of my virtual hugs.

No words can describe the whirlwind experiences made and I am sure many of us would say the same. To end this off, like how my band teacher-in-charge would always say, “Remember to stay Steadfast, Tenacious and Committed.”

Thank you to everyone who has contributed to my band experience. I look forward to creating many more memories as a musician.