Forging Strong Bonds in Band

Ng Shin Huey

Alto Saxophonist
National Junior College (Junior High) Symphonic Band

COVID-19 has impacted band life in so many ways, and what I have written below will barely scratch the surface.

I was fortunate enough to go through more than one year of regular band life, experiencing what it feels to play with a full band at our annual concert, Etude, as well as enjoy the sounds of the various musical instruments around me as my conductor waves his baton, but I cannot say the same for my juniors…

In 2020, learning was very tough, even more so for the band, as we were suddenly unable to play in the band room or even get tips from our seniors. Only after about a whole month of the student leaders and teachers trying to fully grasp the situation and plan ahead, we were able to start practice with our band mates and conductors again. This time, however, it was over Zoom.

It was very different from what anyone was used to. We had to sit in our own homes, dealing with audio lag over the video call, disruptive background noise, as well as the worry of irritating our neighbours with our loud sounds. We were no longer able to hear the sound of playing in a full band. It was very tough, because I, as a Secondary 3 student at the time, did not just have the responsibility to practice and improve myself, but I also had the responsibility of teaching my juniors. How was I supposed to teach my juniors without being able to properly see how their embouchure was, or to move their fingers to the correct keys?

Then, there was the lack of motivation to practice. We did not have a specific piece that we were working towards, as all concerts were cancelled, and we did not have our bi-weekly band practice to force us to practice at least six hours a week. Shamefully, I must admit that I procrastinated practicing many times. I was not able to look at my instrument, while lying on my bed, and decide that the better option was to get up and practice long tones. Thankfully though, the Zoom sessions with the rest of the band did not procrastinate like I did.

Having gone through SYF 2019, it was inevitable that I was comparing the two SYFs, not only in terms of preparation, but also the whole “feel” of it. From a boisterous, cheerful, full band, COVID-19 reduced us to three separate bands with less than 20 people each. Quite a handful of us were the only ones in our section in our flexi-bands, and suddenly “sectionals” became “self-practice”. Even when we did manage to hold sectionals within our section, we played different pieces and it was difficult to ask for advice for a certain section of music when the person you are asking has never seen or heard your piece.

In my flexi-band, our conductor was our fellow bandmate. She was just learning how to conduct, and we could not expect her to be as skilled as a conductor that has had more than a decade of experience. Surprisingly, she picked up quickly, and I speak on behalf of my flexi-band when I express my gratitude for the effort put in by her. On the other hand, I was struggling. I was used to my seniors playing louder for the parts I could not play, and suddenly I had a solo in our SYF piece. I remember my student conductor sat down beside me with a metronome and made me play the solo many times on repeat, while I was extremely flustered as I was not able to play it perfectly. To the outside eye, it was definitely a sight to behold.

One adjective to describe my band life is “tiring”. One common thing my friends from other CCAs commented about Band was that the commitment to this CCA was very high.

In the second half of 2020, I was given the role of Drum Major. I remember texting my friend, who had already graduated from Band, how to find the balance between strict and approachable. On one hand, I was supposed to maintain discipline in the band, while on the other hand, I did not want my juniors to be absolutely terrified of me. It definitely took me some trial and error to achieve the balance. Now my juniors do not take discipline in Band as a joke, but at the same time, are not afraid to air their grievances about anything regarding the band.

In addition, I was also supposed to work on proposals with the Band Major. It was tiring, definitely, but I loved every moment of it, even the disagreements that ended up making the proposal better. Despite the fact that my role in EXCO, as well as being a band member, did take a toll on me, it will definitely be one of the biggest things I will miss about Band. Funnily enough, the friendships I forged in this CCA are stronger than those forged in my own class.

Thinking back now, I think it was due to us “suffering together” that we end up forging such a strong bond. One of my favourite memories from Band is Etude, our annual concert, specifically my first Etude. It was in 2019, when I was a mere Secondary 2 student. I had joined Band with no musical knowledge at all, and my seniors had to teach me from ground up. Etude 2019 was my first on-stage concert, excluding SYF 2019, and I felt the obligation to create the best memories possible. It was nerve-wracking, but I pulled through with the encouragement from my seniors who did not give up on me despite the fact that I gave up on one passage of the music.

I would definitely say that joining Band, a scary decision at the time considering I had no musical background, is one of the best things that have happened to me in my life.

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