Er-huAfter reading the write-up about the success of the Michaelian Military Band (MMB) in their recent competition, the time has come where I feel concerned about the future of the Michaelian Chinese Orchestra (MCO), as I believe that it has not been making much progress even since my days when I was part of the MCO.
It is quite sad that while the MMB enjoys and gets to savour success after success, the MCO is still languishing in its internal problems, lack of support from students, financial crisis, etc.
I remember the year 2000 when I was a Standard 6 student in SK St. Michael 2, the MMB actually came to the primary school to promote the band and encouraged us to participate in the band early even before we went into Form 1. Of course, a lot of my friends were initially attracted by the band and got inducted into it, and eventually produced some of the best MMB performers I have ever seen. The response from the students of the MMB was immensely good and till now, it still remains as one of the most prestigious uniform units in St. Michael’s Institution.
However, the MCO has had its share of problems, namely lack of members, lack of funds, lack of good quality instruments and poor musical understanding or knowledge. Besides the success in 2001 by beating Sam Tet, San Min and other schools in a competition organised by the MCO itself, it has since failed to get a good standing even within the school itself. While the Chinese orchestras from Sam Tet and Ave Maria are improving tremendously, the progress of the MCO has been sluggish and discouraging.
The MCO, at some point of time, had been like a “refuge” for students who did not participate in any uniform unit. In the year 2003 or 2004 when our former principal Mr. Louis Rozario Doss imposed a mandatory participation in uniform units for all students, the MCO had an influx of members, which, to our dismay, were mostly sleeping members. However, as the MCO was not in the position to dismiss members (due to lack of members and funds), we had no choice but to keep them in the orchestra, hoping that they would be somehow proactive.
The MCO, over the past many years, has had lots of financial problems. There are instructor’s fees which it must pay monthly, thus constantly draining their funds. At the same time, there are many instruments in the MCO which require repairing or replacing but the MCO simply has insufficient funds to do so. When my friends and I helmed the leadership of the MCO, we had thought of upgrading and adding more instruments so that we could expand the MCO, but when the issue of finances was invoked, the whole project had to be shelved. Over the years, we could only afford to make small purchases of perhaps one or two instruments, but such purchases were not enough to revolutionise the MCO.
It is sad that the MCO, which has a history of over thirty to forty years, has remained stagnant for so long. Even since my days as an MCO member, the Chinese Orchestra has never been really viewed as a prestigious uniform unit to participate in. Those who are genuinely enthusiastic about the MCO are normally the ones who helm the leadership of the orchestra, and more often than not, these are the individuals who try their best to make the MCO shine. However, the MCO should not be about just the few of these genuinely enthusiastic ones, it should be an orchestra which inculcates the spirit of brotherhood within the orchestra, as well as the mutual spirit to produce beautiful harmonies to captivate not only our Michaelians, but also the public. The MCO must function as a big group, just like the Michaelian Military Band, and not just a group of perhaps eight to ten members who are exceptionally excellent.
I am truly not asking for the dissolution of the MCO. It is of my opinion that over the years the MCO has been nothing more than just a uniform unit for some students to “seek refuge”, as an orchestra to perform for some internal functions such as the Speech Day, etc. Many of the past presidents and vice presidents of the MCO had had the vision to transform the MCO into an orchestra with highly competitive capabilities that can match those of SMJK Sam Tet, SMJK Ave Maria, SMJK Hua Lian (Taiping) and many more. However, the lack of funds seems to be the main stumbling block of every vision, and so far the MCO itself has not been able to make much income out of anything. I am not sure who is the teacher advisor of the MCO today; however I sure hope that the teacher advisor could be more supportive in the development of the orchestra.
The MCO and the MMB are both musical groups where each has its own distinct appeal and characteristics. Given the support from students, the teacher advisor and other parties, the MCO should be able to flourish just as well as the MMB. The MCO can also participate in competitions that are organised yearly and fight to be one of the best Chinese orchestras in the country.
I had been in the MCO for five years from 2001 to 2005, and when I entered UTP, I was again part of the newly formed Chinese orchestra till today. In just a matter of three years, the Chinese orchestra from my university has stepped into the international arena and actually had our inaugural public performance in April earlier this year. I personally credit such success to the financial support given by my university, the public and also the connections that we enjoyed with Chinese orchestras from other schools.
Personally, I plead that the school (students and staff) and perhaps the OMA, the PIBG and the Board of Governors of SMI could also pay some attention to the MCO which is fiercely struggling to maintain its presence. I am very sure that they are trying their best to upgrade themselves and to produce high quality music, but they also have many other problems that require the assistance of our students and staff, both past and present. I intend to help out with the MCO as best as I can when I have the capability to do so after I graduated from university. I am, after all, a staunch supporter of the musical arts.
Please consider helping them to create a niche for themselves, for many of them have worked really hard but could never really achieve what they have visualised so far due to circumstances that are simply not within their position to handle.
YEW GUO ZHENG
Civil Engineering Department
Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS