The Canticle Singers are back, again

Ng Min ShenMonday, January 9, 2017
Rehearsals usually commence about 31⁄2 months prior to the performance date. (Pics courtesy of Kelvin Yuen Photography)

They say not everyone can sing, but the few who are blessed with such talent are indeed a joy to watch.

In the case of The Canticle Singers (TCS), they have entertained the local masses for close to 25 years now — an impressive feat, considering that its members are unpaid volunteers. 

Throw in the fact that they perform a number of songs varying in genres from pop to lounge, rock, jazz and even musicals, and you will have a chorale that’s truly one of a kind.

The group recently made its debut at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC). 

Themed “Music of Your Life”, the production featured hits such as Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” from the Disney musical, “The Lion King”.

TCS founder Chong HK said the group started out solely to raise funds for charity. In recent times, however, they’re lucky to break even.

“For this production, we’re barely surviving,” he said with a somewhat resigned smile. But the challenge has not tapered off HK’s enthusiasm.

TCS’ smaller size makes for a more intimate sound

According to HK, who is also TCS’ producer, the group will usually get sponsors to reduce the production cost or directly fund certain areas. 

Some of its larger productions have also received cash sponsorships from corporate

“For example, we needed a grand piano this time around, so I got someone to sponsor that. We still have to pay for things like insurance though,” HK noted.

To help cover costs, the members pay a nominal subscription fee every month. 

Proceeds from ticket sales go towards funding the production — as much of it as possible, if not fully.

“This year, our purpose is to keep the voices alive and active. Keep our spirit alive,” HK mused.

Music of Your Life marks the 24th year since TCS was established. Asked as to whether there will be a production next year, he shrugged.

“I hope so. I don’t know, my energy’s getting old. But next year is our 25th anniversary, so hopefully there will be something.”

Chong Kin Kiat — who has been with the group for three years — said TCS’ staying power is a testament of the joy that members share with one another, particularly for returning members.

“Not that other choir groups don’t have a strong bond among their members, but I’d say ours is very strong and unique,” he emphasised.

With a group of 17 singers, TCS is comparatively smaller than most choirs. This makes for a more intimate sound backed by the depth of understanding and trust between its members.

“In bigger choirs there are good singers to cover the rest, so to speak. With TCS, everyone has to pull their weight,” Kin Kiat said, adding that he finds TCS more intense than other choirs he has been a part of.

For Shaun Chen, singing with TCS has taught him how to be a better team player. 

Apart from vocal talents, the 20-year-old also plays the piano and violin and is currently attached to the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre Orchestra. 

He was asked to join TCS after HK spotted him at a college performance.

“I’ve been in an ensemble for two years and have participated in church and secondary school productions but this is the first time I’m doing a full choir show. I’ve learned a lot about how to sing with a group,” he said.

Chen — who will double major in composition and film scoring at the Berklee College of Music in Boston from January next year — was one of the soloists at Music of Your Life.

“As a soloist, I’ve learned how to be less selfish and, think about the overall sound rather than how I sound,” he said.     

A chorale that’s truly one of a kind                                        

Rehearsals usually commence about three and a half months prior to the performance date, starting with weekly practices and increasing to several per week closer to the day. 

Meanwhile, Chen commented that the best thing about rehearsals is the food.

“HK feeds us well. There’s food at every practice,” he grinned, echoed by Kin Kiat, who quipped that he gains weight with every production.

Though times may be tough even for chorus groups, there’s something to be said for a choir that has managed to stay afloat in the country for nearly a quarter of a century. 

Judging by the way the audience — who waited in the narrow, poorly ventilated corridor outside the concert hall to get into their unnumbered seats — soaked up every murky key change, every dance number and every attempt at Broadway humour during TCS’ two nights at DPAC, the appetite for this chorale composed of your everyday retirees, middle-aged white-collar workers and budding twentysomething stars has not waned — not yet. 

Say what you want about singers, TCS is here to stay. 

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