Saturday 26 May 2001 – Singapore
Today I experienced the highlight of the SSO’s Music Education year – the much-spoken about Open House. How this ordeal for small children can be considered in any manner ‘educational’ is beyond me. Let me begin at the beginning.
Around four hundred school children, apparently ranged in age from around seven to twelve years, although mostly towards the younger end of this range, were assembled, accompanied by teachers, in the concert hall for a briefing that sounded more like a military operation than a school outing. ‘Follow the flags, do this, don’t do that’.
Then they broke down into six pre-assigned groups to visit six ‘stations’ in turn. The six stations represented six different instrument sections that constitute (or can perform with) the orchestra (viz. keyboards, percussion, strings, voice, winds and brass). Musicians in small groups gave demonstrations, to varying levels of quality and effectiveness, of their instruments.
Several of the groups consisted of members of the Singapore Youth Orchestra, and both their playing and presentation left a lot to be desired. Some of the presentations, notably the percussion demonstration by the SSO’s American principal percussion Jon Fox and the voice demonstration by a local opera singer and teacher, were of a quite good standard and pitched at a level that children of this age could probably comprehend and even enjoy.
A major problem with most of the presentations was the venue; the stations were scattered about the foyer areas of the Victoria Concert Hall, meaning that it was often easier to hear the next station on the schedule rather than the one you were supposed to be listening to. The problem was clearly perplexing to the performers and wasn’t helping to hold the already strained attention of the kiddies.
I was left wondering how this (certainly for an eight year old) marathon effort of concentration could ever have been considered as educationally valid. After three hours of this, and a singularly unhealthy and unappetising lunch (see below), to cap off the event, the students were herded back into the concert hall for a concert. The concert consisted of 3 of the 5 movements of Symphonie Fantastique, an extraordinary choice for an audience that would have had trouble coping with Peter and the Wolf.
Before the concert, they were all served lunch, an operation that again revealed the military similarities, consisting of a cardboard box containing (by this time cold) fried chicken wings, a sort of mushy potato fritter, a can of warm Sarsaparilla and s soggy carton of half-melted ice-cream! Four hundred more students joined the previous group for the concert. The second group then spent the afternoon visiting the stations of the SSO. Jon Fox told me that in his first year at the SSO he unwittingly agreed to participate in the full day, giving his station workshop 12 times, playing in the lunchtime concert and in the regular Saturday evening concert (having given a concert on the Friday evening as well!)
This time he was taking it easy – he was only giving six workshops during the day! Feeling a little depressed by the spectacle, I wandered over to the gym and had an extended session, after which I caught the MRT up to Orchard Rd. Here I wandered around Lucky Plaza, the upper levels of which seem to be given over to the modest needs of the Filipino community in the form of remittance agencies, employment (i.e. housemaid) agencies, Filipino grocery shops and bars selling San Miguel beer.
After returning home I retired to read for a while and ended up falling asleep until 10pm or so. I got up, watched some rubbish TV, had a bit to eat and returned to bed.