The Hwa Chong Choir was champions in the mixed choirs category.
There's something tuneful in the air at Hwa Chong Institution, and if you follow your ears down the halls, you're likely to chance upon the Hwa Chong Choir in action. Watch them during a proper rehearsal and you'll see the choristers standing shoulder to shoulder, singing as one voice in perfect harmony.
Now imagine them abandoning their usual composure and erupting into cries of delight and joy. That's what happened when they were celebrating their multiple wins at the 5th World Choir Games, which took place in July this year in Graz, Austria. The Hwa Chong Choir bagged the top honours in the Mixed Choirs Category and took home two Gold Medals in the Mixed Choirs and Folklore categories.
An international songfest
The biggest and most prestigious choir competition worldwide, the bi-annual World Choir Games was a feast for music lovers, with 600 choir performances in 28 categories by 441 choirs from 93 nations. Besides pitting their singing skills against the other teams, the choir members also enjoyed a rare opportunity to meet and understand the cultures and histories of fellow musicians.
The experience was something of a rite of passage for many of the Hwa Chong Choir students. As their teacher-in-charge, Ms He Jiawen, reveals, "Most of our students had never been on the world stage before and were quite nervous." But pre-show jitters soon gave way to confidence and mutual camaraderie. JC1 student Jacqueline Chan fondly recalls how "receiving standing ovations at the end of our performances and earning a spot at the Champions' Concert, where we serenaded an audience of 10,000, were unforgettable highlights of the World Choir Games."
Learning life skills through music
Besides honing their vocal cords, Hwa Chong Choir's achievement was also a testament to the choir's holistic programme, which goes well beyond just learning how to sing well. The students get to attend enrichment workshops where experts train them in various aspects of choral performance. Leadership skills such as resilience and discipline are also developed, and outstanding members enjoy many opportunities as elected committee members to show their mettle in organising year-round activities.
The choir also learns a diverse repertoire of songs from all over the world and in various languages, from Japanese to Filipino and even Latvian. "Such international exposure helps to broaden our students' perspective, preparing them for life in the global environment," says Mr Ang Wee Hiong, Principal of Hwa Chong Institution.
The choir also performed at the Graz train station, to the delight of passing commuters.
It might sound glamorous, but Ms He reveals that the team has to sacrifice many hours in vigorous rehearsal in order to fine-tune every song. "It's not easy to concentrate intensely for two to three hours after a long day in school," she says, "but that was what the entire choir did for six months, three times a week, to prepare for the World Choir Games."
Besides the practice schedule, Hwa Chong Choir's annual calendar is packed with events in and out of the school. In a typical year, the choristers perform for many school events, such as Graduation Day and Awards Presentation Day. With such a strong reputation, they have also been invited to sing at external functions such as the PS21 Star Service Awards. The choir also presents a full-length concert each year and actively participates in choral competitions such as the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) and of course the World Choir Games.
Fresh from their unforgettable trip to Europe, Hwa Chong Choir is now gearing up to deliver their unique brand of musical moments in upcoming events such as their 2008 Annual Concert and the 2009 SYF Choral Competition. What keeps them going through this punishing line-up that must surely stretch their voices as well as their time and energy? "Their passion in music has inspired them to perform to their full potential," says Mr Ang of the spirit that drives the choir to new heights.