At a glance, the repertoire of The Canticle Singers’ (TCS) latest annual production, Voci Vivace, can only be described as eclectic. The community chorale group’s founder, H K Chong, has a more colloquial description in mind: “Again, we’re very rojak if I could say so,” he chuckles.
Founded in 1992 as a one-off fundraising initiative, TCS has since become known for putting on good, wholesome musical entertainment for a good cause, having celebrated its 25th anniversary last year with a major concert featuring a diverse range of songs that include Broadway, classical, jazz, pop, rock and even gospel.
It is not that far off this year as the show’s title — which is Italian for “lively voices” — suggests. Featuring a 19-member chorale, who will perform a cappella as well as with the accompaniment of pre-recorded tracks and the piano, songs include those by Sondheim, Bach, Gershwin, Billy Joel, Cole Porter and The Beatles.
“We have very strong vocals this round. I think primarily because the majority are experienced members. We do have three members who are aged between 19 and 22, who are also very confident and vocally strong,” says Chong.
Among its more anticipated songs is the stirring opening number, Nothin’ Gonna Stumble My Feet, by American composer Greg Gilpin. “It’s written in the style of Afro-American Spirituals, and will be done a cappella,” reveals Chong. Being a fan of Filipino choral groups, Chong included Ikaw (which means “you”), a challenging a cappella number that is often sung at weddings, dedications and other celebratory events in the Philippines.
“Then, there’s also the choral version of Where Is Love, from Oliver! The Musical. The arrangement we’ve done is lovely,” he says.
As with most of the award-winning chorale’s shows, its invited guest soloists are always a treat to look forward to. Guesting on Voci Vivace are US-based Filipino singer Cipriano de Guzman Jr, Malaysian tenor Patrick Leong and Philippine Ballet Theatre’s Crimson Guirjem.
Leong will perform Go The Distance, from the animated movie Hercules, as well as the title song from his latest album, Even. De Guzman will sing the Broadway song, C’est Moi from Camelot, and a classical number. Both will also perform with the chorale.
Joining them will be Ang Mei Foong, the multi-award-winning Malaysian classical soprano whose most recent nod is a gold medal at the 2018 Berliner International Music Competition, which is judged based on recordings of recent performances by the artiste.
A lecturer at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Ang has trained in Taiwan, Italy and Melbourne, Australia, where she obtained her Master’s in Music Performance. This will mark her third collaboration with TCS, and she has been nominated for the BOH Cameronian Best Solo Performance — Vocal Award for her performance of O Mio Babbino Caro in TCS’ 2015 show, Bravissimo, which Chong directed.
Set to perform three songs, including a duet with friend de Guzman — whom she worked with in her first opera performance back in Malaysia — Ang says one of her solos will be a classical aria, Una Voce Poco Fa, composed by Gioachino Rossini.
We have very strong vocals this round. I think primarily because the majority are experienced members. We do have three members who are aged between 19 and 22, who are also very confident and vocally strong
“It’s from The Barber of Seville. Chong had initially suggested a different song, but I wanted to do Rossini because the world of music and opera — encouraged by the Italian government — is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Rossini. So I think it’s apt. I picked this song because it is very challenging and it pushes me to look into Rossini’s works,” says Ang.
Her two other numbers, by famed American maestro George Gershwin, will mark a refreshing departure from her usual repertoire. The duet with de Guzman will be from the opera, Porgy and Bess, while her other solo is the jazz ballad, Someone to Watch Over Me.
Chong notes, “She’s brave to take on these songs, as normally many in the classical community would not attempt them. It’s good that she decided to try them.”
“I don’t mind performing contemporary songs because there are good music elements and their own language is worth exploring. It’s a challenge, but I gladly take it,” smiles Ang. She has high regard for Chong and TCS, praising their efforts to maintain a high standard of vocals as a community group. Both would agree that when it comes to choral groups and music education, Malaysia has a lot of catching up to do.
Which makes it an honour for Chong that his friend, the choirmaster of the world-renowned Philippine Madrigal Singers, Mark Anthony Carpio, will be flying in for the Oct 7 performance. He will guest conduct for Ikaw.
The chorale will also be joined for one number by guest member Joel Lau, a 19-year-old student who has Asperger’s syndrome. Like all its previous shows, TCS will support a charity organisation. This year, it continues its support of The Purple Centers Foundation in Manila by donating a portion of show proceeds to the non-profit organisation, which works alongside Filipino families from dumpsite and cemetery communities.
'Voci Vivace' by The Canticle Singers will be staged on Oct 6 and 7 at 8.30pm at the Luther Lead Centre, 7 Jalan Duta Kiara, Mont’Kiara, Kuala Lumpur. Tickets are priced at RM88. Purchase tickets here.