Leading by example

Chong Kai-Yan 

Saxophonist & President
Eunoia Junior College Symphonic Band

As Singapore effectively moves back to Phase 2 on the 8th May 2021, I am reminded of the time when the band was conducting its sessions in those circumstances. In this weird time, I’ve encountered many challenges unthinkable if not for this pandemic, and learnt much from my time at the top of the EXCO leadership. As we prepare to step down from the EXCO and the CCA, I can’t help but to reflect on how far we have come, from where we started. 

Our journey started on the 7th August 2020. At that point, Singapore was in Phase 2. Live music was not permitted, all CCA activities were physically suspended, and had to be conducted online. This became the main issue for the EXCO to solve: How to keep a CCA united online.

Through online sectionals, solfege and theory lessons from Mr Chiang, CCA moved online, just that combined and sectional days were conducted from home, not the band room or the classroom. It was nearly 4 weeks of this when some members started to crack. It became harder and harder to conduct CCA.

Admittedly, I was losing sight of the end point. What were we trying to do? There was no performance to work for nor any purpose. This was especially difficult for me, as my idea of Band was always of members playing together, united through the music. During this time, some members started to leave the CCA, mostly due to the lack of activity. I was losing confidence in myself, and questioned what have I done as the president of this CCA up to this point. 

The lifting of Phase 2 on 28th December became the start of a steep climb, when we were given our end point – SYF AP. Finally, there was a direction for us to work towards. However, not playing together for such a long period had created another challenge for us; to sound together enough in such a short amount of time leading up to the SYF.

With Phase 3, there were more rules on what we could and could not do, and with each day’s headline starting off with the number of cases in the country, we could only hope it doesn’t disrupt our CCA. 

Two months into the new year, we welcomed the J1s to our band. This year was vastly different from the last; we had a carnival and a tune in session for performing arts CCAs, but none of that this year unfortunately.

The first time I heard them play together, it was a complete mess. The previous year’s National examinations coupled with circuit breaker diminished their practice time last year, and had now a J1 batch that was not up to par for any upcoming performance.

From here, another challenge cropped up, alongside the major challenge of uniting the entire band, with split practice sessions and staggered debriefs. 

Fast forward to 6th May, and we have reached that end point. I’m proud of the members, to have pulled in their effort to get to this point. Considering the circumstances of their practices and very short runway time, they have done tremendously to pick up from their standard at the start of their time in band. For the whole band, it has indeed been a long and tiring journey at times, but in the end, the effort paid off. 

From this entire experience, I keep wondering if I did do as I said I would at the EXCO interview last year. Have I really made Band this place for members to relax and unwind? It’s debatable. Our journey was so reliant on the Covid situation that it’s hard to state definitively if I did have a successful time at the top of the leadership.

As Phase 2 returns on 8th May, I am just thankful that we did at least manage to finish up SYF, right before new measures were introduced. 

In such volatile circumstances, the biggest thing I’ve learnt is to not give up. It’s very easy to lose sight of the end, which at that point, CCA becomes a meaningless routine that becomes unbearable for everyone.

As the head of the leadership, I have always felt the need to lead by example, to lead from the front. This is even more important when your operations move online, and members view you only through a computer screen. In those situations, leading by example is the only way to allow your members to see their leader push through even during tough times. Even during normal practices, I have always made it a point to be visible for everyone. 

I recall an incident where after a long day of school and band practice, I took my instrument and prepared to go back to the band room to debrief everyone. It was a particularly rough week for me, and at that moment, I was just about reaching my limit. I passed Mr Chiang on the way out, and jokingly asked for an off day. His response to me was something that I vividly remember. 

“You are the president, you ought to be working harder, working longer than everyone else, otherwise who are they going to look to when they are losing sight of the end?” This statement of his stuck on with me; basically it’s not you, it’s the members. With this, I pushed on, putting aside any worries of tiredness or fatigue, so as not to give up in front of the members, until my last day as President. 

As I step down from my role, I can’t help but feel sentimental about leaving this CCA behind me. I’ll definitely miss the joy of playing together, and the lessons in leadership I’ve had throughout this entire journey. I’ll always be grateful for having this opportunity to lead this wonderful CCA, without which, school life would just be too boring. 

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