Marching with pride

KUCHING: The cobblestone streets of Chemnitz in Germany mark the site of SMK St Joseph marching band`s finest achievement to date.

It was there that the 70-member band won their first international competition by emerging champions in the show band category of the German Open Championships, held in line with the prestigious German Music Festival last month.

Winning, however, was merely the icing on the cake for this young band and their teachers and instructors.

For them, being in the band is about doing one`s best, striving to improve and learning important values such as teamwork, discipline and giving back to the community.

Their trip to Germany from May 5 to 17 certainly encompassed these core values, besides giving them a rare opportunity to immerse themselves in a musical and cultural experience of a lifetime.

For instance, the day after arriving in Germany they went on a tour to Dresden, a historic city which was destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II but has now been restored to its former glory. While there, they visited a church where Bach played on the organ in 1736, art galleries at the Zwinger Palace and the Semper Opera House.

The following day they attended a concert by the Saxon Philharmonic Wind Orchestra, one of the top professional wind orchestras in Germany, and the German Youth Orchestra with guest performer Prof Li Biao from China, currently teaching percussion at Berlin University.

“The students were absolutely enthralled by the musicality of the orchestra members and their impeccable execution of two beautiful pieces from Wagner`s Lohengrin.

“Our kids were entertained at the highest level and learnt so much musically just by listening and watching great music of different genres played by a superb orchestra,” band director June Ling said.

The days leading up to the festival were also spent rehearsing in a field under the watchful eye of band coordinator Jonathan Fox and world-renowned drill designer Ed Devlin.

Titled Ode to Joy, the band`s drill show comprised four movements inspired by Beethoven`s Ninth Symphony. Some of the practice sessions attracted an audience from the public and other orchestra members, one of whom even climbed a tree to see it better.

On the festival`s opening day, St Joseph`s band was given the honour of performing first at the main stage in an event broadcast on German television and radio.

Later, they performed in the Kraftwerk, Chemnitz, for the opening of “Cultour 4 U”, a children and youth project of the festival which promotes global peace through youth music exchange programmes.

The band also took part in a common concert with 400 youths from all over Germany in an effort by the festival organisers to highlight young musicians and give them a chance to perform alongside amateur and professional bands.

“How much the love of music is valued and nurtured here! It was wonderful for our students to be immersed in this musical culture and enjoying every minute of it. Our percussion boys even added new grooves to the mix,” Ling enthused.

During the competition, St Joseph`s band came up against seven other bands in their category, which was judged by the World Association of Marching Show Bands (WAMSB) with an international jury panel from Canada, the United States and Holland.

Ling was impressed by the generosity of another band for lending the use of their gong and concert drum. Members from competing bands also offered their help when they saw that St Joseph`s band were short of hands wheeling in the pit instruments.

“It was cold and raining when our band performed in the competition, but nothing deterred them from giving their best. I was proud to hear rousing and spontaneous applause from the crowd. I was even more proud when Devlin said he was happy with the band`s performance,” she recalled.

The results were announced the next day and St Joseph`s band not only won their category but emerged as the highest-scoring band among all the participants with 89.83 points, equivalent to a high gold award.

Of course the band members were delighted to win. Form Two member Jordan Ku said: “I felt very happy because all our hard work for the past few months paid off.”

Daniel Chiew, a Form Five student who plays the trumpet, added: “It was as if time stopped and I had to ask the members to my left and right if I had hear wrongly or not. But without a doubt there was a feeling of immense pride and sense of achievement after all the effort we had put in.”

Percussionist Darren Robin shed tears upon hearing the results. “I felt really, really happy and proud to be a Josephian. In my four years in the band, this is the greatest moment.”

But they also valued their experience in Germany.

“Watching the German bands play and playing with the students there was great. Although we don`t speak the same language and barely understood each other, it was nice to have a friendly smile from fellow musicians,” Daniel said.

For Jordan, it was instructive to watch other musicians, especially if they played the same instrument has him. “I felt that I learnt a lot by seeing how they played and their response to music, all of which I can apply in future.”

Form Two member Bryan Law enjoyed the scenery and friendly people, while winning the competition after all the hard work was “just extraordinary”.

After the competition, St Joseph`s band took part in a street parade and the festival`s grand finale, during which 90 bands gathered in a city square to play Beethoven`s Ode to Joy chorus.

They then moved to the city of Jena where they were hosted by a local community band and visited the famous Carl Zeiss Centre, besides performing with the Jena youth band.-The Star

Malaysia Boleh: St Joseph’s marching band taking part in the street parade on the last day of the festival.

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