Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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The Vocal Consort singing Singapore onto the map in the international choir scene

Just recently, Singapore’s own choir group, The Vocal Consort Chamber Singers competed in the 1st Tokyo International Choir Competition (TICC) where they won the title of Category Champion for Contemporary Music, 2 Gold Diplomas, and a Special Award for one of their performance pieces.

The Vocal Consort Chamber Singers is a subdivision of The Vocal Consort which consists of 23 members and their conductor, Mr Foong Hak Luen. The Chamber Singers of TVC practice about three to four hours once a week and are made up of a dedicated and passionate group of people from all walks of life. Singers include those still in secondary school right up to working adults – all with their own academic or office workload. Their passion for the art keeps them coming back, though, and their hard work continues to be rewarded.

Mr Foong says, “it is really heartening to see them come for practices week after week to pursue not only their passion for singing and performing but to very much keep the tradition of choral singing alive in the community chapter”.

Mr Foong Hak Luen, conductor of TVC Chamber Singers (Image by The Vocal Consort)

Their youngest member is 13-year old Jennifer Zhang while their most senior is 46-year old Sylvia Yu. And of course, the choir wouldn’t be what it is without also the commitment of the conductors, committee members, and music leaders who all volunteer their time and knowledge in the choir for free.

TVC started off as a community choir at the South West CDC in 2001, Mr Foong reminisced. Back then, right up to 2007, the choir was funded by the Community Development Council (CDC). After that, they ventured out on their own and found a home at the Siglap South CC Centre of Excellence for Performing Arts which is where they now practice faithfully every weekend. The choir stays financially independent by putting concerts and performances all year round including Christmas caroling and via project-based funding from the National Arts Council.

On a more personal note, Mr Foong talked about his own journey as a conductor. “I am very blessed to be one out of a handful of professional choral conductors in Singapore that is mentored by the internationally renowned choral director Mr Nelson Kwei. As Singapore’s leading choral conductor, Mr Kwei has mentored and nurtured almost half of the young choral conductors currently in the scene. He was also crucial in developing and guiding TVC into the semi-professional choir which we are today.”

The local choir scene in Singapore has been dominated by the huge number of school choirs since the 1980’s, Mr Foong notes, which has allowed the scene to flourish with an abundance of young singers. This kind of support has also provided career opportunities for aspiring conductors to find a steady flow of work in choral music.

TVC Chamber Singers performing (Image by The Vocal Consort)

However, since the changes in directives from the Ministry of Education with the restrictions of funding for overseas trips for co-curricular groups in school, Mr Foong feels there has been quite a drastic drop in school choirs travelling overseas, consequently leading to Singapore almost disappearing from the international choral landscape as they are unable to fund their trips for international performances and competitions.

Fortunately, there are still community and university choirs that are still going strong in Singapore. These include the NUS Choir which recently won the “Choir of the World-Pavarotti Award” at the world’s oldest music festival, the Llangollen Eisteddfod in Wales, UK and of course; the One Chamber Choir & The Graduate Singers winning three Gold and one Silver Medals in the World Choir Games in South Africa; and of course The Vocal Consort with their recent wins at the Tokyo International Choir Competition.

Mr Foong is hopeful that these choirs and more will inspire young singers to keep the flame of community choirs burning and especially that the choral singing tradition in Singapore remains strong.

Check out their performances on their Youtube channel, The Vocal Consort.

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