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Being stuck to the confines of our homes amidst this global COVID-19 pandemic, does not mean being resigned to total isolation. Rather, because we are kept away from our family, friends and fellow singers, all the more one finds innovative ways to create, connect and make music together.
Thanks to video conferencing technology, it is wonderful to discover the numerous online vocal music projects that have come into being. Here are four from artists near and far which are very meaningful, touching peoples’ hearts in different ways and bringing the joy of music and song to many.
By Glenn Wong, countertenor. Performed by Red Dot Baroque.
Now for a bit of baroque humour. This clip is by Singapore’s own Red Dot Baroque, a charming twist on Purcell’s Strike the Viol, featuring countertenor Glenn Wong telling us to “strike the virus” and “wash our hands!”.
This ensemble is unique because they perform on instruments that predate the modern instruments that we are used to hearing when we attend classical concerts. From this video, you will notice the harpsichord, theorbo (a large bass lute) and recorders which are absent from modern-day symphony orchestras. And, these are not Yamaha strings, but instruments from the 17th or 18th century or good copies of them.
What you can appreciate is the particular sounds that emanate from these different instruments as well as the little musical nuances that are characteristic of that time. These musicians are recreating what Strike the Viol might have sounded like back in the 17th century.
Immediately audible is that Glenn’s vocal range is rather high because he is a countertenor, which is another typical baroque feature. At one point in western classical music history, women were not allowed to perform on stage, so the men had to play the female roles.
Red Dot Baroque gave their debut performance in the Esplanade Recital Studio in 2018 and were part of A Tapestry of Sacred Music in 2019. Glenn Wong, our hero countertenor, has been singing regularly at Esplanade since he was a student. Since coming back from his overseas studies, he performed Motets and Madrigals with Musica Reservata in Voices – A Festival of Song 2017. And yes, he is a real scientist, from the University of Oxford, no less.
Composed by Ily Matthew Maniano. Performed by The Philippine Madrigal Singers Alumni.
Simple, serene and stunning, this vocal project has received around 300,000 video views and lots of love since it premiered on Facebook in early April 2020.
The Philippines is experiencing their own Enhanced Community Quarantine, but over there, you cannot keep a choir in choir-rantine from singing for long. So Filipino composer Ily Matthew Maniano wrote a piece, Be Still My Soul, inspired by lyrics from the hymn of the same title. He called up over 70 former Philippine Madrigal Singers based all over the world to record their parts individually, which he then pieced together by himself using Logic Pro.
In the composer’s own words, “being on lockdown and suddenly having lots of time makes you reflective. The news has been filled with negativity, divisions in the government and this pandemic, so I thought as a musician, we need something to bring positivity and uplift our souls”.
He was thinking of calling up a few singers to record the premiere of this new work, but decided to open the invitation to fellow alumni of the Philippine Madrigal Singers. “I was quite overwhelmed by their responses and never knew that it would blow up to this huge cast. It was hard singing alone but hearing the whole work was all worth it. One thing for sure I learned is that I really missed singing with these people.”
The Philippine Madrigal Singers last performed at the Esplanade Concert Hall in 2019. Ily himself possessed a lovely countertenor voice. His music is distributed by MUZIKSEA, a Singapore publisher and distributor that champions choral works by Southeast Asian composers and arrangers. So for anyone game to give his other choral works a try, you know where to go!
Performed by The Swingles.
The Swingle Singers have been around since the 1960s and back then, the original group was known for their vocal a cappella renditions of instrumental classical and jazz works. Fast forward to today; they are now known as The Swingles, and new members, updated repertoire and innovative vocal and musical ideas still keep them at the top of the a cappella game. They last performed in the Esplanade Concert Hall as part of the 2018 Voices series.
Whilst being progressive, they still retain the signature Swingles sound of being clear, light, clean and buoyant. They make everything sound so deceptively easy regardless of harmonic complexity!
Thanks to video conferencing technology, they “got together” while the UK is under lockdown and recorded a beautiful cover of Weather to Fly by Elbow. The beauty is in its clarity and simplicity.
Composed by Dick Lee. Performed by Singapore Virtual Choir.
We come back full circle to Home, with a whopping 900 voices singing one of our most revered National Day songs.
In this mammoth homegrown initiative by Voices of Singapore, word was sent out on social media calling choristers and singers to lend their voices to this virtual choir. The response was astounding! The YouTube video is now well on its way to receiving 300,000 views.
This project was such a huge success that on 25 Apr 2020, the entire nation was invited to turn on their televisions, radios and social media platforms to sing along to Home for our medical personnel and migrant workers. One was also encouraged to submit video recordings that went towards a new video compilation. So if you missed out on the first round of 900 voices, hope you sent in your video over that weekend!
One could not be prouder of the conductor, Darius Lim. He has worked with Esplanade on many occasions since 2012, namely in Voices – A Festival of Song and the Limelight series featuring the choirs under his charge. His stage is no longer limited to the Esplanade Concert Hall for he is now a familiar face on our screens.
Christel Hon is a senior producer at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay where she oversees Concert Hall acoustics, classical and vocal music. Her programmes include Classics, Voices – A Festival of Song, Limelight and Band Weekend. An exciting upcoming project she is working on is the Trial & Orientation of the new Singtel Waterfront Theatre.