Tuesday, September 01, 2009

In Respond To "A Letter From An Old Boy" - MCO

Dear Mr. Khiew,
On behalf of the MCO EXCO 1998/1999 until 2000/2001, please post the following on your blog, hoping that the content of the following post by a very senior and experience ex-member can enlighten and uplift the morale among the current members.
LOH KOK HOONG (Sixth Former 1999)

Dear Everyone,
I write in respond to the article "A Letter from An Old Boy" by Yew Guo Zheng dated 23 August 2009 which touched on the updates and current issues of Michaelian Chinese Orchestra (MCO), formerly known as Michaelian Chinese Instrumental Group (MCIG), before its inception as MCO in 2000.

Before I proceed, it is good to know that I was a proud member of MCIG since Form 1 (year 1994), MCIG President from 1997-1998, a member of the Advisory Panel from 2000-2001, a Concert Master from 1997-2000, and I remain a proud ex-MCIG member up to today.

Firstly, I rejoice with the success of the Michaelian Military Band (MBB) in the recent band competition. They have come a long way, no doubt about it, and they finally managed to defeat Nan Hwa after countless times of trying and persevering.

As a Michaelian, I am proud of MMB’s achievements. And as a very close friend to Mr. Lee, MMB’s instructor, I am proud and amazed at what he has achieved with the band for the past 10 years, and all the sacrifices that have been made.

I somehow disagree with comparing MCO with MMB due to two facts.

Firstly, both uniform units, though musically based, actually operate on different platforms. Whilst Western music remains popular and appealing to students of any races, the traditional Chinese instrumental music struggles to attract a generation of non-Chinese educated students in a Sekolah Kebangsaan. This explains why MCO has struggled with lack of members relatively to the band.

Secondly, MMB’s success in the competition should not be used as a yardstick to show that MCO is stagnant and has not been successful in recent years. For your information, the MMB has long-term and short-term plans. They are where they are now because of good and disciplined execution of their plans.

I am now directing a question back to the leadership of MCO from year 2002 and onwards: Have there been any long term or short term plans during your tenure? If there are, have they been successfully executed?

When I took over as President in 1997, my short-term plan (1 to 1 half years time) was to build a small but systematic musical group and to build up good relations with the orchestra in Ave Maria and Sam Tet. We achieved that. With this small group, the long-term plan (2 to 3 years time) was to raise fund to upgrade musical instruments (we barely had any money and good instruments then), and we eventually achieved the plan successfully by organizing a small-scaled concert in the school hall, and a large-scaled millennium concert in the City Hall, during the tenure of Lok Kok Hoong as MCIG President in 1999 and 2000.

Another long-term plan (3 to 4 years time) was to organize a Perak-level competition, which we eventually achieved successfully during the tenure of Khaw Yee Khai as MCO President in 2001, where our participating groups emerged as Champions and 2nd Runner Up respectively.

Success goes down to the leadership of the group, to the core leaders who either lead the groups to greater heights or just a stagnant phase. Leadership is about planning and making use of the resources that you have.

Asking for external supports and funds from the school, PIBG, or even the Old Michaelian Association may not help solve the so-called “internal problems” in MCO. If there is lack of fund, draw out a plan on how to raise fund, and obviously, having a concert is the usual way. But are you ready for a concert? Is your foundation strong enough? If not, maybe your plan now is to build strong foundations (both human management and music background) within the group, especially on the Form Ones, who will be the future leaders of MCO.

Towards the issue of “dormant” members, why are they dormant? It is funny when you have “dormant” members, and yet there is complaint on lack of members. Are you being selective on members then? How do you “convert” dormant members to active members? How do you train them up? How do you gel the group as one and strengthen the unity and bonds of the members? How do you get support from your members? What is the point of having good quality instruments without having good members? And is there an urgent need to upgrade the instruments (classical Chinese instruments sound better as they get older)?

Well, perhaps these are the real “issues” of MCO, and these are good “issues”, because these “issues” will help all of us grow and mature as we learn to handle these. This is the beauty of joining MCO and learning something not taught in the classrooms.

Current leaders of MCO, think big, start small. Achieve what is within your means, plan for what is beyond your means. Use the achievements of the past leaderships as a blueprint for your own success, build on it, improvise it, because you guys can achieve something far more wonderful and successful.

My sincere advice is that you should not compare with other groups, like the orchestra in Universiti Teknologi Petronas, because they are mainly run by undergraduates or postgraduates, who are at a different level as compared to where your are now, or the orchestras in Sam Tet or Ave Maria, which use Mandarin as their main medium and are exposed to more resources as compared to you, or even the school band which performs in a big group.

One of the many pitfalls is that you try to duplicate what others are doing, without having your own visions and objectives for your own group. If this is the case, you might as well quit MCO and join the above mentioned groups.Remember, the thing that makes MCIG/MCO a proud heritage is that it is a Chinese orchestra in a Sekolah Kebangsaan, and probably the ONLY such orchestra in the whole of Malaysia, if I have my facts right.

One last thought before I sign off. Most of us want to measure success through something tangible, viz. winning a competition, organizing a grand concert under the limelight in a city hall, raising RM20,000, or purchasing countless instruments of good quality. There is nothing wrong with all these. But for me, true success is how MCIG/MCO impacts your life, and how you impact the lives of those working with you. This is why I remain proud of having the great heritage of MCIG imprinted in me.

Horng Yuan, Saw,
M.Eng., B.Eng. (Hons.) (Chemical)Ph.D. Scholar, Massey University, New Zealand.
Former President of MCIG, 1997-1998, Advisory Panel of MCIG, 2000-2001

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