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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Tham

the body electric 3

Updated: 6 days ago

We sing from the body electric, celebrating 60 years of music made for us.

This body of music makes us who we are—living music as a theatre of voices, a contemporary choral body, the composer's choir, we be/come—the SYC.

The Song that has shaped us shapes the SYC to become; new texts woven through the textures and technologies of music past.

Where exactly am I going with this?

Wall text, Nice Côte d'Azur Airport, July 2023

Wherever we go, we start from over Here.

Here, we are the sum of all our Song.

You will burn like the sun and let the song run through and rearrange you.

You will let the note split into its own accompaniment.

Out of all our songs—60+ works written for us, and counting—which caused a double-take, about-turn, gave us the heebie-jeebies, electrifying our insides?

We asked the choir to co-create the body electric* by telling us which technologies worked; where we needed to move forward–around–ahead–aside–behind–upstage/not at all in our dance with choral life in Singapore.

You will be afoot with your vision.

You will swim with swimmers, wrestle with the wrestlers, march in line with the firemen,

and pause, listen, count.

The singers wrote—

To them, good music is about Wholes—a question of what makes a choir or music whole. The material ought to be minimalistic (read: easily memorised or repeated, with personal touches) and complexity should lie in how/when the parts come together. Or not.

Simple Yet Not Simple = SYNS

Mostly in response to the music of Hoh Chung Shih.

Our first experience with Chung Shih's music was in counting quavers—hundreds and hundreds—in a children's counting song about counting frogs :

Hoh, A Frog Song (1997) (score excerpt)


S : sing every 11th quaver 4 times (meloy or variant), then every 10th quaver 4 times, ...

A : sing every 7th quaver 8 times, then every 6th quaver 8 times, …

T : sing every 5th quaver 10 times, then every 4th quaver …

B : sing every 9th quaver 6 times, then …

(Read: Chung Shih and his music for us)

Really not simple.

A different iteration of SYNS—holding on to single notes for a long time, un/interrupted, in the opening and closing moments of Goh Toh Chai's Happiness of Fish. Also the glissandi in the r/evolving of a quarter-tone over several bars in Joyce Koh's Le, and semitone slides in parallel 4-part harmony in Rita Ueda's yuki ya kon. We hear ourselves hearing, changing, becoming, something other.

Really not simple lor.

Beyond SYNS, our collective experience (4/5/600 years?) is judgey and has given us the wherewithal to tell if text were set right. The winners of the Word Painting Award went to Kelly Tang's angsty Synchrony of Psalms and Eric Banks' Artifacts, painting the poetry of one of our own, Samuel Lee, into twelve breathing–living–crackling miniature portraits of the SYC. Can you hear the love tonight? The feels.

Speaking of, The Feels Prize—those harmonies! the reason we sing in Choir!—go to Pamintuan's nativitas (that Alto melody!) and Saunder Choi's Brothers of the Sea. It must be in their genes. Sigh.

You will shelter souls in your sound and hold them motionless as the notes themselves,

in that safe spot up next to grace and the divine.

Sixty years of embodying other voices have given us confidence in setting bodies in

motion to thread sound on the fabric of TimeSpace. Bearing the SYNS of the past in mind, we hope to build enough of another world on stage—a world from and of the body electric—to again experience for the first time, the world of SYC, living music.

Gaston Bachelard, set by Mark Z. Danielewski

You will do nothing but listen.

You will not trouble your spirit to vindicate itself or be understood;

the elementary laws never apologise.

You will know you are august.


You will weave between histories and references to find confidence in your perspectives.

Temitayo Ogunbiyi, 2021


*the body electric is co-written by Jennifer Tham, Diana Soh and Americ Goh—SYC alumni singer-composers—together with the SYCESingers, using their responses to (i) Whitman, (ii) SYC commissioned works, and (iii) Di's exhortations to Lift–Place–Pull–Push–Drag–Throw–Tear our selves into being.

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