By Lim Ci Hui (14A03B), Sushma Pai (13S03R) and Jayne Chan (14S03D)
The piano in the Year 1–4 Atrium is probably a familiar sight to all RI students, and the sound of music from the atrium during breaks and before and after school forms a staple of life in Raffles. These impromptu solo recitals rarely feature more than one performer, but Raffles Chordslingers aims to change that. On a Friday afternoon, a ten-member-strong group assembles at the atrium and launches into a pleasant rendition of billboard chart-toppers like ‘Demons’ by Imagine Dragons.
Yet this musically adept and enthusiastic group started off with humble beginnings as well. Founder Yeo Jun Wei (3C) explains, ‘In Term 1 this year, I came down to the piano to play a lot. There were several teachers who came down sometimes to the piano to talk to me, and one of them was Mrs Cheryl Yap. She was telling me about how I should start a special interest group, because she has seen many pianists going down to the Atrium to play. So I tried to get people—people from my class and neighbouring classes; I also knew some Year 3s who had already been playing the piano at the Atrium, so there was a ready circle of people whom I knew would come down for these sessions I was planning to organise. So we went ahead, and by the time Term 2 came about, we already had a Facebook group up and running.’
In the short span of one term, Chordslingers has recruited more than 30 members, comprising pianists, guitarists and even musicians specialising in Chinese instruments, united by a passion for music and for sharing music with their schoolmates. Apart from exploring many different genres of music, this group also composes their own pieces! Their performances are usually recorded and uploaded onto their Facebook page. Co-founder Muhammad Syazwan (3C) remarks that feedback for their videos has largely been positive. However, he also acknowledges that the group ‘isn’t exactly something everyone in the Raffles community knows about yet’.
Interestingly, Chordslingers also recruits students who may not have formal musical training, but who are able to pick up instruments on their own. A fine example of such a recruit is Bryan Toh (2H), who did a cover of ‘Endless Love’ from the soundtrack of the movie The Myth without ever having gone for a single piano lesson! Jun Wei, too, is impressed by his fellow Chordslingers: ‘I actually don’t how that guy learnt piano, he just came in and started playing and I was like “woah”. There are quite a few members of our group who are like that; there are a lot of people who learn to play all these pieces by themselves because they understand and like the music.’
Jun Wei describes a typical practice session: ‘We try to make (the practices) more jamming and improvisatory. We try to make it less serious because after all we’re just an interest group. We’re not here to compete.’
The group is also driven by a desire to improve the music culture in RI. Jun Wei says, ‘The only platforms for music are the Music Elective Programme, Raffles Academy Music and the performing arts CCAs—the first two are academic and the third is a group performance, and they focus a lot on Classical music. We felt that this tends to form the impression that Classical music is the only music out there and that if you want to learn music in RI, that’s the only thing that you can do. So we’re trying to bring it down to a level where everyone can understand. We’re not saying that Classical music is bad, but we think that that shouldn’t be the only aspect of music that Rafflesians think about. That’s why we have sessions like this where we play in the Atrium to everyone who passes by—to show that music can be fun and informal, and that anyone can join us if they want.’
Though the group is fairly large in number, the sustainability of the group is still unguaranteed. Since the number of Year 1s and Year 2s are low at present, the Chordslingers need to find ways to publicise their group and entice the younger batches to join. ‘We are thinking of having a recruitment drive in Term 3. Perhaps we will try to get the teacher to get us a morning announcement, which would be the best form of publicity. We’re also trying to talk to more Year 1s, especially those who come down to the Atrium to play the piano, and ask them if they have other friends with similar interests who might possibly want to join our group,’ Jun Wei says, visibly concerned about the future of Chordslingers.
In addition, as a special interest group, they do not enjoy the support that CCAs are entitled to. ‘We only have one spot to practice. Recording songs is also difficult because we don’t have proper recording equipment, but for now, the iPhone works pretty well,’ he says with a smile. Despite facing so many challenges, the group’s optimistic and easy-going nature is perhaps one of its greatest merits and further reinforces the image of a friendly musical band.
When asked about the Chordslingers’ plans for the future, Jun Wei responds enthusiastically: ‘We’re hoping that Chordslingers can become a sustainable group that can last many years. We’re also hoping to encourage the growth of the music culture in RI, to have more people who are playing between classes and listening to good music, and to let more people know that good music isn’t necessarily limited to the classical genre. The Chordslingers don’t have to become too big, about 50–60 people is a good size, but every one of these people should be formidable, understand music, and play really well.’
We wish these brilliant and fun-loving artists good luck and encourage everyone to drop by and listen to their weekly performances!