MUSIC has the power to resonate with one’s heart and soul.
“Every time we sing, we not only bond with each other but also form a connection with the audience,” said Braxter Chong Hong Liang, 20, a Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) student who is also a member of the UiTM Chamber Choir (UCC).
UCC and its women choir division, UiTM Women’s Chorale (UWC), created history recently when it clinched multiple honours at two renowned choir competitions in Poland and Germany.
As a testament to the power of music, Chong recalled the moment when his team was announced the winner.
“When we were leaving the stage after receiving our awards, several members in the audience came up to us and thanked us for our music. They had tears in their eyes.
“While winning was important, what mattered more to me was that we touched their hearts,” said the student, who hails from Kota Marudu, Sabah.
Chong says music brings people from different backgrounds and nationalities together.
“I remember feeling nervous when I stepped on stage but as soon as I saw people enjoying our performance and connecting with our music, my anxiety disappeared altogether.
“Witnessing their joy and their tears while we were singing our hearts out calmed me and made me feel at ease.”
Established in 2015, the music ensemble comprises UiTM’s Music Faculty’s diploma and degree students and the alumni. Its motto is “To sing ‘till our soul echoes”.
UiTM performed 11 songs at the seventh International Copernicus Choir Festival and Competition “Per Musicam Ad Astra” in Torun, Poland from June 29 to July 3.
UCC struck gold for the Mixed Choir and Folklore categories while UWC won gold for the female choir category. They also brought home the Special Audience Prize and the Grand Prix of All Volunteers Award.
The two ensembles continued their winning streak at the 11th International Johannes Brahms Choir Festival and Competition in Wernigerode, Germany from July 3 to 7.
UCC and UWC bagged three golds against 44 other choir teams from 17 countries such as Belgium, China, Hong Kong, Germany and Russia.
Winning gold for the Mixed Choir, Folklore and Equal Voices categories, they also received the Special Prize Audience Award and the Outstanding Stage Performance for the repertoire, Ikimilikiliklik.
Previously, UCC had clinched awards in prestigious competitions in Indonesia, Prague, Greece and Italy.
United for their passion in singing, the UCC members shared their musical journey.
Sharifah Fadilatul Aina Syed Alias, 22, a vocal major, said: “Both my late parents were musicians so I followed them to shows from a young age.
“Joining UCC has opened up a lot of possibilities for me. The recent Poland and Germany competitions were my third and fourth competitions,” she said.
Meanwhile, Leo Alviner Jonneysan, 24, had no prior music experience but he made the decision to take music and vocal lessons at UiTM’s Music faculty.
“I joined UCC in 2016 which was the first year we competed in Europe,” he said.
An alumnus, Rosemary Colony Anak Joel Dunstan, 29, said her father was a violinist but she was the first in her family to pursue music at tertiary level.
“Even though I’ve graduated from the university, I will continue to perform with the UCC as long as I am able to do so. My choir members are my family,” she said.
Having been with UCC since 2015, Rosemary added: “Compared to the other choir groups we competed against, we are very young. Most of the groups have existed for more than 20 years.”
The ensemble spent six months preparing for the competitions, beginning with studying the musical scores and conducting sight-reading where students received sheet music and were asked to sing on the spot.
Leo Alviner said: “We were given the musical scores at our first practice. Going through the scores, we’d learn which parts would be difficult to perform. After sight-reading, we had to memorise the songs.”
To attain a high level of performance, Sharifah Fadilatul Aina said they adhered to a strict practice schedule.
“We trained at least three times a week from 8pm to 10pm. We also conducted sectional practice according to the four sections, namely soprano, alto, tenor and bass.”
Nurul Atiqah Mohd Noor, 22 echoed the importance of sectional rehearsal.
“We would gather in our sections and practise. After we felt more confident in our singing, we sang together as a choir with Dr Masashi Kishimoto.”
Kishimoto, who is UiTM Music Faculty senior lecturer and UCC director, praised the efforts of the students. “The students were very motivated. We knew we could not return empty-handed. I have confidence in them and view them as world-class performers.”
Kishimoto added that participating in the different categories was quite a challenge.
“In the Folklore category, we presented the Borneo folk song Ahtoi Porosh and the Kelantanese song Ewa Bule.
“For the Female Choir and Mixed Choir categories, however, we had to present songs that were entirely different,” he said.
Besides showcasing their powerful vocals, some members of the UiTM choir ensemble could also compose music.
Muhamad Amirul Abdul Hamid, 25, composed a version of Ewa Bule which they performed in both Poland and Germany.
“I like to write music as much as I like performing them. At UCC, I have the chance to do both.
“We performed different repertoires for each competition. Ewa Bule was arranged with the intention of showing the cultural side of Malaysia to the world. The Polish and German locals loved our performance as we were awarded the Special Audience awards for both competitions,” said the alumnus from Gerik, Perak.
Despite having a fulfilling experience in the international arena, Kishimoto said it was not without any setbacks.
“There were a lot of struggles. Sometimes the students told me that they felt like giving up but I didn’t want that to happen. So we talked and discussed the problems
to find solutions,” he said.
Chong chipped in: “We would usually have a roundtable session after each rehearsal to talk about any problems that might arise. That really helped.”
Upon their arrival in Europe, the weather was also a hindrance, according to Leo Alviner. “The dry and cold weather affected our throats and vocal chords. We had to take extra precautions for our health,” he said.
Nurul Atiqah added: “It was a nerve-wracking experience as we carried on our shoulders the hopes of Malaysia, including that of our families and UiTM.”
Sharifah Fadilatul Aina hoped that chamber choir would not only thrive in UiTM but in the entire country.
“Choir teaches us discipline, time-management and mutual respect,” she said.
Meanwhile, UiTM vice-chancellor Professor Dr Mohd Azraai Kassim has applauded the UiTM choir ensembles for their accomplishments.
“They have the winning formula. Together with their dedicated lecturer, Dr Kishimoto, the students have displayed the right attitude and the winning mindset,” said Mohd Azraai.
UiTM Music Faculty dean Associate Professor Dr Tazul Izan Tajuddin added: “This accomplishment makes everything worth it.”