By GAN HUI WAN
IT was with tears that the spectacular show ended. The hall at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) in Kuala Lumpur was bursting with thunderous applause as the choir members embraced each other and performed the final encore number May Our Paths Meet Again.
I held hands with the ones beside me, and we were trying so hard to hold back our tears – not because we doubted our performance. Show after show, for three nights in a row, we had touched the hearts of our audience with our fiery passion and enthusiasm for singing.
We are the Dithyrambic Singers, one of Malaysia’s leading choral ensembles – and I couldn’t be more proud to be part of it.
I joined the Dithyrambic Singers last year, and found myself part of the sequel to their first full concert three years ago. That first concert was billed A Choral Voyage; the one I performed in last month was A Choral Voyage: Contemporary Masterpiece.
The first half of the concert was designed to present a number of contemporary choral chefs-d’oeuvre by living composers, while the second half focused various styles of Asian folk music.
For those unfamiliar with the Dithyrambic (pronounced dee-thi-ramb-bic) Singers, also known as DS, the group is a household name in the music community. The word Dithyrambic derives from the Greek term Dithyramb, which means impassioned, and wildly enthusiastic, something which describes the choir perfectly.
The choir consists of 56 young singers, of which the youngest is only 16. DS has performed in various concerts and international choral competitions since 2005, and have won numerous awards.
Being a music student and choral music lover, I was extremely excited to sing the repertoires chosen for the concert, from the heavenly sounds of the first half to the traditional folk tunes of the second.
The repertoire included Randall Thompson’s Alleluia, Morten Lauridsen’s beautiful arrangement of O Magnum Mysterium, György Orbán’s Daemon Irrepit Callidus, Korean arranger Jong-Chon Oh’s Arirang, and M. Valarde Jr.’s Dahil Sa Iyo, just to name a few.
But the highlight of the concert, for me, would be Cloudburst, a composition by American composer and conductor Eric Whitacre.
Back in 2010 (before I joined DS), the choir was invited to perform at New York City’s prestigious Carnegie Hall by Distinguished Concerts International New York. There, DS had the honour of working alongside Whitacre himself during a truly memorable performance.
Performed with an interesting set of instruments – thunder sheets, cymbals, glockenspiel, bass drums, wind chimes and hand bells – Cloudburst was always an audience favourite. I had goosebumps every time we sang the piece.
During the second half of the concert, the singers lit up the stage with their enthusiastic singing and dancing, bringing to life an array of Asian folk songs while dancers from Soka-Gakkai Malaysia (SGM) performed traditional dances from the Philippines, India and Korea.
We even attempted to perform – in both song and dance – a traditional Balinese folk song, Janger, arranged by Budi Susanto Yohanes. The dance rehearsals, and the rehearsals in general, were very intensive. We only had eight full lessons with dance instructor Aster Ong (of Puppetshoulder Music & Danceworks) to perfect the Balinese dance steps.
It was especially hard for me I was still recovering from a badly dislocated ankle, but I couldn’t afford to miss any of the lessons. As someone who isn’t a natural dancer, I had to work extra hard to master the moves.
But all the hard work paid off as Janger was well received by audiences throughout the three nights.
In all five shows, the roaring cheers from the audience prompted the choir to present an encore – The Battle of Jericho, an African spiritual arranged by the late Moses Hogan. The energetic battle cry would always impress as the roars of the choir echoed off the walls of the hall.
As for the final show, the choir presented an extra encore number as a thank you to the audience and everyone who was involved in the production. Nothing else could be more appropriate than Sally K. Albrecht and Jay Althouse’s May Our Paths Meet Again.
It became even more emotional when the choir director announced that three members of the ensemble will be leaving DS to further their studies and careers.
For us, it was just a delight that the concert turned out to be so successful. With five fully-packed shows in three days, the concert was able to reach not just professional musicians and choir lovers, but a much wider audience. That definitely warmed the hearts of all the singers involved.
Dithyrambic Singers founder and artistic and music director Assoc Prof Ian Lim Kean Seng, fondly known as lao shi (teacher) to members of the choir, said that the concert was ultimately a celebration of the years the choir has been around. It was, however, also a taste of things to come.
“It was a very significant concert for these young singers as it took their musicality and professionalism to a higher level. I do hope that the audience enjoyed the show, and we will definitely bring more in the future,” said Lim.
And as for yours truly, being part of the Dithyrambic Singers has been an exhilarating joy ride, and it still is. The concert gave me a good glimpse of what performance and the music industry is really all about, and it prompted me to strive harder to become a true professional.
Three crazy days filled with singing, gruelling rehearsals, lightning-speed costume changes, friendships, laughter and tears. What more could I ask for?
For more information about the Dithyrambic Singers, visit dithyrambic-singers.blogspot.com.