Journeying amidst the pandemic

Ryan Teo Wen Kai

Saxophonist & Band Major
Manjusri Concert Band

When I received the CCA allocation result for Concert Band in Secondary 1, I was not really interested at first as I did not have any musical background. I did not believe that I would be on par with my peers who had musical backgrounds. I felt immense pressure during every session. However, Mr Joseph, the junior band instructor was extremely encouraging and he helped me to gain confidence in myself.

Since then, band had always been an important part of my secondary school life as it was very welcoming and I felt at home. I would always look forward to band practices after school as I would get to see my band mates and continue to improve on my playing.

Initially, I chose Concert Band as one of my choices with the intention of learning a new skill should I get in. But when I got in officially, not only did I learn music theory and how to play the saxophone, I also managed to forge valuable friendships with my band mates.

In April 2020, I vividly remember when the Circuit Breaker news was announced, the very first thing that came to my head was “How is CCA supposed to continue with these strict restrictions?“

The transition was very unusual and shocking. From being able to see each other and play as a band to only meeting through Google Meet in our own sections, it was definitely a drastic change for most of us. It was something new and all of us had to adapt to it.

Many questions arose during this transition. How will band practices be conducted effectively? How can we ensure that all the members practice as diligently as they used to before the Circuit Breaker? Will we be committed to the band still?

Thankfully, the teachers and instructors were with us through the entire e-CCA journey.

First, we had ensemble practices through Google Meet within our sections. Then, we started to have weekly video recordings that had to be saved into a shared Google Drive folder for the tutors to track the members’ progress. This ensured active participation from the members and pushed them so that they did not forget their techniques during the Circuit Breaker. Although the senior members had to spend much time coaxing the members who initially did not join the practices, the time and effort spent was definitely worth it as they eventually joined us online.

And then the fateful day came where Mr Yeo, our band director announced, “SYF will be resuming in 2021.” We were all in shock. How are we to prepare the band in the short span of 6 months for a major performance in the current restrictions?

He understood our concerns and advised us to take it one step at a time. For the subsequent weeks, we meticulously practiced the pieces assigned to us – Digital Prisms for Band A, The Tempest and Bunker Hill Overture for Band B. We were making good progress, improving week after week.

The date of our SYF came steadfast and before I knew it, I had my last performance with Manjusri Concert Band before stepping down. Those 6 minutes on stage passed by in a flash, and all of our hard-work that we have put in throughout the past 6 months paid off.

Although we did not get the results we wanted, it was bittersweet to reminisce my band journey from the first few sessions of learning theory to where I am now. It is truly a huge milestone. I am proud of the band for what we have achieved. Despite the challenges and hurdles that we had to go through, I felt that every challenge and setback was only an opportunity for us to improve and bounce back even stronger.

My 4 years of band experience in Manjusri Secondary School Concert Band has been eventful and life changing. Despite all the lectures that we received from the teachers and band instructors, it was all for the sake of the wellbeing of the whole band, so it was understandable. I also got a chance to make friends with people outside of my class who shared a common interest in music. I have made memories that would stay a lifetime with me, in addition to the lifelong friendships that I have forged.

If you are reading this and thinking of joining your school band, I would most definitely recommend it. It really does not matter if you have a musical background or not, because the most important thing is to have interest, commitment and perseverance to last through the 4 years. It is a good opportunity to learn new musical skills and forge new friendships and you will not regret embarking on the journey.

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