Vivace XIX: The Lively Caravan (CAC Harmonica Band)

This March, our very own NTU Harmonica Band returned to the Republic Cultural Centre with their latest edition of their annual concert, Vivace XIX: The Lively Caravan. Being the highlight of the band’s performance calendar, it showcased nothing but their best and finest. In this 19th annual instalment,  the NTU harmonicists served us a tasting platter of different musical styles.

Driven by a shared passion for the free reed wind instrument, this band has never wavered in strength since its inception in 1986. In fact, they continue to be the bastion for harmonica culture in Singapore. Seven months of tireless work was palpable in every single gust of breath drawn and blown. This is indeed a labor of love that can be looked upon with pride in the years to come.

To welcome the audience, the band staged a pompous little parade, “La Cumparsita”. This piece is claimed to be the world’s most popular tango song and was designated as Uruguay’s national Tango Hymn in 1998. This lively and nuanced number certainly whet my appetite for the rest of the repertoire.

Without a moment’s respite we were taken on a “Journey to Arabia”. This melody transplanted me to the desert dunes, being part of a caravan of merchants on camelback. Mr Tang Yuen Wai, one of the leaders of the local harmonica scene, served as the conductor that evening. What is notable is that he had masterfully rearranged the aforementioned piece from its original solo composition, to a group performance.

Somewhere along the journey my convoy took a detour to Paris. Smiles of recognition blossomed among members of the audience as we were treated to a medley of songs from the 1996 film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. My worst fears about the navigator’s incompetence was confirmed when we traded the balmy weather of the desert for the chilly Kingdom of Arendelle. Yes, you guessed right! The band performed the iconic soundtrack from Frozen, “Let It Go”. Without Elsa belting out the titular words, this song went from a catchy children’s song to a bluesy melody. It was enlightening how what is commonly perceived as a street busking instrument can bring a touch of refinement to even basic tunes.

This procession did not just traverse geographies, it also transcended musical genres and age groups. Just as I was getting attuned to my inner child via Disney songs, the band flipped a switch. The lyrics “I knew it when I met him” came to mind, although it was more like I knew it when I heard them. I grew up several years in an instant as my young adult self was grooving to the Pop hit “Havana” by Camilla Cabello. It was a testament to the will and skill of the band members that they were able to conduct the transition without missing a beat.

As the concert reached its finale, the ensemble regrouped to gracefully perform a La La Land medley. It was definitely a soft yet strong finish to the whole evening. Vivace XIX was definitely an amazing performance and we look forward to more showcases from the NTU Harmonica Band!

Written by Chandrika Nair
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