|free orchestra music, anyone?
On a warm Saturday evening
at the Botanical
My friend was late again. To think that she was the one who told
me about this free SSO concert at the Botanical Gardens. As the
people continued to throng into the entrance gates, a few hapless
souls like myself kept looking at our watches and squinting at the
passing faces for late acquaintances. No doubt the kiasu
thought that all the good seats would be "choped" by the time we
went in must have crossed many minds.
I gave up and joined the long stream of what looked like
picnickers - toting mats and food baskets - single-mindedly marching
The slope of green before the stage was mostly conquered. Many
marked out their territories with mats, newspapers, pamphlets, trash
bags and even towels; others preferred to simply sit on the grass.
Everybody was in a carnival mood, no doubt helped by the
enterprising makeshift stalls selling food and
After grabbing a hotdog, I negotiated my way through the
"occupied territories" and finally found a spot on a side slope. A
huge palm leaf blocked my view of the stage but it was close enough
to get decent acoustics, which was what mattered.
I settled down and sized up the crowd. What a wonderful mix.
Families, couples, groups of friends, and individuals like myself -
whether Singaporeans or foreigners - were merrily munching away on
their snacks, enjoying cool drinks or eating sticks of candy floss.
And all were lapping up the music enthusiastically, greeting each
piece with loud applause and cheers.
Everyone was having a good time. Some sang along; others tapped
with the music; a few yards in front of me, a granny fanned her baby
grandson in a pram, completely in tempo with the rhythm!
Whoever said Singaporeans are generally not appreciative of the
It may be argued that Singaporeans will turn out in throngs for
anything free, or are simply "starved" of ways to kill the weekend.
But I like to believe that we do have an appreciation for good live
performances, be it "serious" orchestras or pop music.
Of course, it helped that the Singapore Symphony Orchestra,
together with the Singapore Symphony Chorus, was performing familiar
tunes. The theme was after all Rogers and Hammerstein music, with
well-loved songs from musicals such as "The Sound of Music", "The
King and I" and "Carousel".
Still, the fact that many people made the effort to come down and
listen (as opposed to say renting a video of "The Sound of Music")
shows that there is something to be said about bringing non-popular
music to the masses.
The "freebie" part of it, while attractive to the kiasu
psyche, is not necessarily the only motivating factor for the huge
turnout. The point, I believe, is really about ease of
While paying tens of dollars to watch a formal orchestra
performance may be too huge a step for the non-orchestra buff to
take, a free performance or even a token admittance fee is less
daunting to the lay person.
I am reminded of an article I read while staying in the UK. A
debate had developed on whether museums should be allowed to charge
for admittance, as a few had begun to do so. While this would have
been accepted with minimal fuss here, the article argued
passionately about the right of the public to have totally
unhindered access to the museums.
While I am not advocating free museums here, the idea of bringing
art to the masses is something we can practise, especially in view
of our lofty aim to become a gracious society.
Already there are some encouraging signs, such as the recent art
installations by international sculptors at the Botanical Gardens,
and of course the series of free SSO performances.
The crowd was clapping to "Whistle a happy tune", a repeat
performance following boisterous calls for an encore. Kiasu
or not, Singaporeans are capable of appreciating orchestra music,
I'm glad to say.
Ong Hwee Yen 1999