Benedict Huang

Percussionist & Drum Major
Maris Stella Symphonic Band

In Secondary one, I was looking for a performing arts CCA, and ended up choosing the Symphonic Band over the Chinese Orchestra as I preferred to learn a Western instrument as to a Chinese instrument. I joined the percussion section and fell in love with band almost immediately.

Many may think that the first few months of picking up a new instrument can get boring, but for me, learning about the various percussion instruments and observing my seniors practice them really inspired me to be as good as them one day. I was highly motivated to learn as much as I can from them over the first 6 months.

As time flew, the junior band had its first opportunity to perform with the main band for my school’s National Day performance. I could still remember the excitement when my conductor broke the news to us. I was looking forward to learning more from my seniors, as well as showing off what I have managed to pick up so far.

After graduating from junior band, I had 2 performance opportunities in Esplanade’s Limelight concert, and the SYF Arts Presentation in 2019. There were many new pieces to learn, and I couldn’t have been more hyped about them. The pieces offered me the chance to discover more about other percussion instruments rather than just the drum-set. I was also introduced to instruments I had never played, heard or seen when I was in junior band, which made me all the more excited to practice, and constantly find ways to improve and enhance my abilities. 

In a blink of an eye, 2020 came. With the benefit of hindsight, I could confidently say that it was the year that threw many people off, but at the time, I was just an aspiring musician trying to find all the time I can in the midst of studying to practice. Little did I know, the fun full band practices I was so used to having and looking forward to every week were going to turn into boring weekly zoom sessions.

When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, things gradually started to shut down; CCAs and after school activities were all suspended, and soon after, schools were closed and transited into “Home-Based Learning”. I thought to myself, “What about full band? Will we ever resume CCA? How am I going to maintain my playing standard over this lockdown?”

Being a percussionist, it is almost impossible to borrow the instruments home to practice. With this lockdown, the biggest concern for me was to ensure that my skills did not go to waste in just a year. I was also devastated at the thought of not having full band for the rest of the year, but tried to cheer myself up saying that I might as well use all this newfound time to catch up on my studies.

When CCA converted to eCCA, my conductors, Mr Adrian Chiang and Mr Joseph Teo would take the Main Band and the Junior Band respectively for theory lessons, with the goal to let every member have the opportunity to graduate from the band with a Grade 5 certification.

I personally felt that this was a fantastic way to conduct eCCA sessions as music theory plays a very important role in band. For starters, reading both treble and bass clef is useful as there are times where the conductor prefers for another higher pitched instrument to play the melody instead. 

Despite music theory being beneficial like the subjects we learn in school, it can get boring at times. The eCCA sessions became quite repetitive as some members were not able to understand the concept as easily as others. As a result, my conductors had to repeat some concepts every session, which made me lose interest in theory lessons. However, I tried to look at the bright side of things and took the chance to clarify any doubts or misconceptions.

Fortunately, eCCA was not just about theory lessons. We were able to meet our tutors over zoom sessions, and then eventually have our first physical tutoring session in school. It was definitely great to be able to play my instruments again, which kept my hopes up thinking that we will resume full band soon, maybe just with some measures in place.

At last, the end of 2020 finally brought some good news. The SYF guidelines were announced, which meant that we were finally able to start band practices again. The new limitations of maximum 30 people per band including the conductor meant that we all had to be split into 3 different groups.

We received our choice pieces, and in the beginning of 2021, physical band practices were scheduled for the 3 bands. Things were different of course, as our members had to adhere to the 2 metre social distancing measures, and the double bassists and the percussionists had to wear their masks at all times. However, it was more than enough to compensate for the lack of full band practices for almost a year.

I remember being so excited and glad in our first rehearsal, when the entire band sight-read the SYF piece together. I can still remember the thrill and relief I felt, knowing that band practices were allowed to resume to some form of normalcy.

The rest of SYF preparation went quite smoothly with everyone working hard, and some putting in additional efforts to practice on non-CCA days. We were well prepared for SYF, and managed to achieve two distinctions for our school. I am really glad that although COVID-19 changed many things, I was still able to have the great experience of preparing and performing for SYF.

Just like that, my years of being in band was over. I would definitely say that my batch was extremely lucky compared to the batches before and after us. Had we been a year older, our final year in band would not have ended as eventfully as it would have normally been; and had we been a year younger, our time to learn and enhance our skills would have been taken away from us due to the circumstances presented.

We managed to have a good start to our band life, from junior band to joining the main band to perform for two major events. Despite COVID-19, my batch was still able to perform for SYF, meaning that we have participated in SYF twice. I can confidently say that my batch of band members had gone through the most eventful years of Maris Stella Symphonic Band.

However, this does not necessarily spell the end of my band journey, as in fact it is only the beginning.

Once I graduate, I believe my performing opportunities would only grow, and it is up to me to find and take them on to continue my band journey. I will definitely miss my experiences in this band – the learning, the performances and the hardships. These are the things that made my experience in band so memorable, especially considering that it is my first time ever being in one.

Although there were memories that weren’t as pleasant as others, but whether good or bad, they can never be recreated action by action, or frame by frame. We should treasure these experiences as they will eventually turn into lasting memories in the end.