The Band World

Road to WMC: SWS Percussion Ensemble

Singapore Wind Symphony Percussion Ensemble
World Championship Division, 21 July
Parkstad Limburg Theatre Heerlen, 8pm

In Contact / David Skidmore
Water, 1. Edge of a Tide / Alejandro Viñao
Tinplay / Per Andreasson
Omphalo Centric Lecture “Synergy” Version for Two Marimbas / Nigel Westlake
le tombeau d’Andersen for 12 Percussionists / Bertram Wee
Serials / Lee Jin Jun


As first division winners from WMC 2013, the Singapore Wind Symphony Percussion Ensemble (SWSPE) heads to WMC this year to compete in the World Championship, which is the highest division in the contest.

With its commitment to promote quality percussion ensemble music both in Singapore and overseas, it is a tradition that SWSPE goes to WMC every four years to showcase their percussion music and benchmark themselves against international standards.

“This is our first time competing in the World Division. Like previously, we will strive to perform to our highest artistic quality and ability. Whatever the result outcome, it is what it is,” said Iskandar Rashid, its music director.

According to the contest rules, each participating ensemble has to present an hour program of music, inclusive of instrument changes and stage movement.

With all expectations carefully considered, the ensemble under the guidance of Iskandar and manager Willy Tan has been preparing a program of six works since the beginning of the year. Ranging from smaller groups to a full ensemble setup, the music includes two commissioned works by Singaporean composers – ‘Serials’ by Lee Jin Jun and ‘le tombeau d’andersen’ by Bertram Wee.

Serials‘ is a work based on serialism, and an interplay between pitched and unpitched instruments. It is built on a few tone rows that are derived from a series of numbers, and features different pitches, intervals, rhythms and time signatures in the whole structure of the work.

le tombeau d’Andersen‘ is scored for 12 players playing a massive (perhaps slightly impractical) battery of instruments, from conventional drums and mallets to unusual toys and whistles. The work took Bertram almost a year to write as he spent many months of conceptualizing and revising, before finally embracing the ‘toy-box’ nature of the setup.

“It was probably from this that the extra-musical impetus for the piece came to mind – I was reminded of the weird, macabre fairy tales of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, and decided to loosely base the music on my impressions of these stories,” explained Bertram.

“This is not to say that the music is in any way programmatic, and there are no references to any specific stories in the piece – the title merely refers to the juxtaposition of the innocuous and severe in his writing. Much of the piece is conceived as ‘harmless’ threads of sound that are organically weaved together to form a fantastical sonic tapestry, underneath which something darker, or more sinister, is concealed,” he continued.

Bertram wrote the piece in dedication of his friendship to Daniel Ho, a brilliant percussionist who also plays in SWSPE.

“This piece really began as an attempt to write something weird and intriguing for a weird and intriguing friend. I understand that he finds the music ‘abstract’ (which it might be!) and that the piece is very difficult (which it probably is!) – still, I’m unbelievably chuffed that SWSPE is playing my noisy music and I hope that the piece in all its ‘abstraction’ manages to communicate with sincerity, a trait that I value very much in both friendships and music.”

Despite a higher level of music chosen for the WMC repertoire this year, it does not discourage its members from practicing hard.

“WMC only happens every 4 years, so I thought that I should take this opportunity and treat this as an experience to do my best. We usually just do concerts, but for WMC, we do a lot of harder music, and it is an interesting way to challenge myself,” expressed Low Xing Ern, who has been with the ensemble for almost 4 years.

“When I first got my pieces, I thought to myself – how am I going to do this? how are we going to put the parts in place? But when we found out that we could do this together through hard work, it was surprising to discover how far we can push ourselves,” she continued.

With an extensive repertoire, the contingent for this year’s ensemble is the largest, with a total of 16 percussionists on stage.

Being a volunteer community group, it is very difficult to have everyone together for rehearsals due to school and work commitments. To ensure that parts are delivered, team leaders play an important role to guide, support and motivate their members to work hard in the preparation journey.

“I have been to the first WMC in 2013, and it was a very big eye opener for me. In Singapore, the most people that I have seen in a percussion section is 20, but in the contest, I’ve seen some ensembles of 40 percussionists. In our music, everyone has to prepare 3 to 4 pieces, like a quartet or quintet and two full ensemble pieces. The music is much harder but we have a lot of time to prepare and work out our individual music. We have two weeks left and we would be taking this period to improve on our parts together,” said Ang Ching Hong, team leader of ‘In Contact’, who has been with the ensemble for about 6 years.

Throughout the preparation phase in the last 3 months, the ensemble has shown improvement in leaps as observed by Iskandar.

“The experience of this WMC journey can be a steep learning curve especially for first timer participants. Besides learning the technical aspects of pieces, they will also need to brace themselves mentally for the expectations on stage as with any competitions not less an international one like WMC. Furthermore, we have to emphasise a lot of team work and synergy performing on stage.”

“This learning process will help the team improve and grow.”

Band Post
Band Post

A contributing editor at TBP.

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