The true meaning of being a Bandsman

Benjamin Wong

Alto Saxophonist & Drum Major
St Andrews School Military Band (SASMB)

One of the highlights in my secondary school life would definitely be being in St Andrews School Military Band (SASMB). Looking back at my journey in SASMB, I will say, without any doubt, that it was a fruitful, challenging but unforgettable and enjoyable experience.

I will never forget the memories I have made during my time in SASMB. I have learnt that the joy about being in a band is not about getting the distinction for SYF nor is it about the perfect performances we have. It is about being able to connect and make music with your fellow band members, build bonds and cherish the memories we have together.

I will never forget the memorable 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Singapore and the circuit breaker came about. It affected everyone and shocked the whole band. It was an uncertain time and having to take on the position of Drum Major, I wasn’t sure if I had the ability to keep up with the high standards of the SASMB legacy. It was something that I was sure needed a lot of work to maintain.

With the circuit breaker, I was afraid that band members would start to lose interest in music and have no motivation to practice. The time in band during circuit breaker was not easy. We were unable to conduct physical practices, both full band and sectionals. The idea of performing live seemed foreign. Concerts, performances and others events were cancelled. During this time, I felt restricted and missed the feeling of playing in the full band with the guidance of our conductors.

However, I knew I was not alone. I was very fortunate to have a strong team of leaders. The council members, section leaders and the other leaders were pillars of support to me and to the band. I would say that though it wasn’t easy to learn about our roles and responsibilities by ourselves, the leaders of the band manage to pull it off and I am really thankful for all of them.

Our teachers-in-charge – Mrs Carmen Ong, Mr Rajesh, Ms Fatimah Lui, Ms Du Yun Qian, as well as the conductors – Mr Tarun Jayaram, Mr Sebastian Koh and Mr Benjamin Yeo, helped us to keep our flaming quaver burning brightly. Their physical, psychological and moral support enabled the band to strive for excellence and encouraged us when we things were difficult. I am really grateful for each and every single one of them.

There’s another special group of support I would like to thank – the Alumni of SASMB. The alumni support in SASMB is so strong it didn’t matter which year they have graduated or what they are doing currently be it working or studying. The Alumni would always make time and effort to visit us and help the band without fail. They didn’t have to, but they did anyways. Their passion and pride as a SASMB Alumnus is something I have high regard for. Thank you sirs!

One of the most memorable lessons I learnt during the preparation for SYF 2021 would be the purpose of being in band.

I remember how devastated the band was just 2 weeks before our performance because we knew we were not up to standard. One month ago, we were still celebrating our small successes as we were able to play through the piece and master certain sections well. However, the more we practiced the worse we got. Most of us went home disappointed with ourselves. Gradually, we lost our joy of music and was too upset with the mistakes made.

Our teachers and conductors spoke to us after our practice to encourage us and remind us to take a step back and listen to what we are playing. When we finally set aside our worries over the technical issues, we realised the only way to keep our “railway going” was to enjoy the process of music making. It was only towards the last few rehearsals that we finally understood the true meaning of being a bandsmen, being a musician in a band.

All in all, I am proud of all my bandsmen who did their best and persevered on, no matter how tough the journey was. It was evident that the band has since show-forth the school values of being WISE and TRUE gentlemen through this journey.

Now that I have stepped down for a week, I am having withdrawal syndrome from band. Band was such a big part of my secondary school life, and without it, it felt like a big part of my life was missing. I still find myself searching for past SASMB performances (including SYF performances) and reminiscing about the memories I had.

I have learnt to be a better musician, a better leader, a better listener and a better person because of band. To my juniors or even juniors in bands all over Singapore, cherish your time in the band, because unknowingly, 4 or 5 years will pass by in a flash. I will never forget what I have gained from SASMB and I look forward to the day I can contribute back to the band!

Thank you for the past 4 years, SASMB.

Up and On!

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