With a grand anniversary celebration slated for this year, it seems only fitting that we know how The Philharmonic Society of Selangor started 60 years ago: On Jan 15 in 1958, 11 musical enthusiasts met in the Card Room of the Selangor Club at 7pm and proposed the formation of The Philharmonic Society. The society then proposed that the eight male members serve on the pro-tem committee and, there being no further nominations, they were duly elected.
The Phil, as it is fondly known, is the oldest music society in Malaysia, with the choir, started in the early 1990s as a regular activity of the society, being its most active arm.
“With an initial sum of $179.44 in the bank and the noble aim of staging musical performances and encouraging the arts, the society put on its first production, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, at the British Council in July 1958. Admission was $1 and The Phil donated the profit of $400 towards buying an oboe to be presented to the Police Band,” says Cheryl Teh, chairperson and choir director of The Phil.
Back then, The Phil Choir was an auditioned choir and entry requirements were more stringent. Today, however, the choir is a non-auditioned community choir comprising over 300 members, ranging from 10 to 85 years old.
The only requirement for its members is that they have a love for the arts.
“As an organisation that is powered by volunteers, this ‘prerequisite’ is essential. Having a love for the arts creates a sense of commitment amongst our members and a deeper belief in the power of music and the positive impact that our efforts have on our community. Anyone can come and join us, and no prior musical knowledge or training is necessary,” says Teh.
She adds that what has remained the same throughout its six decades of existence is how its shows always have charity beneficiaries.
“The aims of encouraging the arts and distributing profits to charitable causes are enshrined in the Constitution and Rules of the society. Although the records are lost in the mists of time, it is believed that thousands of dollars have been disbursed to many charitable causes. I think this is one of the main motivation for our members, that through their efforts, they are indirectly contributing and helping others in the community,” she explains.
The Phil turns 60 this year and it wants everything you have about it – ticket stubs, show posters, photographs, footage, programme books or any other collateral.
“Please send them our way. The plan is to showcase them during the anniversary celebration, including an exhibition if there is sufficient material,” says Teh.
Original copies will be returned to the owners once copies have been made; digital copies are most welcome as well.
On the festivities front, kicking off the year is a dinner at the end of this month where a specially-commissioned 60th anniversary song composed by Nick Choo will be unveiled. This will also be among the songs performed by the choir in The Phil’s 60th Anniversary Concert at KLPac in April. The concert will span music from the last six decades and promises to be a veritable trip down memory lane.
“We will be reprising songs from some of our more memorable productions like Guys And Dolls, Joseph And the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Sound Of Music, King And I, plus other songs which will commemorate some milestones in our 60-year journey, like our maiden overseas tour to Australia,” says Teh.
The Phil has over 50 productions to its name, with The Sound Of Music, a firm favourite with the audience. When it was staged in 1999, the cast was helmed by the late Rehman Rashid as Captain von Trapp.
Another notable production is Carmina Burana (2000), a collaboration between The Philharmonic Society of Selangor, The Penang State Symphony Chorus and the National Choir of Malaysia, conducted by Roland Peelman and accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra.
“With over 200 singers and musicians on Istana Budaya’s stage, this was probably one of the largest productions to date,” says Teh, whose first encounter with The Phil was in 1987 as a violinist for the production of Guys And Dolls.
“Watching all those performers on stage created such an impression on me that it is probably the reason why I am still with the Phil today. Incidentally, there are still four members from that cast who are still with the choir today!” she says.
Besides the 60th Anniversary Concert, plans are underway for a Community Choir Festival in August, which will see the involvement of different community choirs across the region.
Teh notes that the arts scene in Malaysia is becoming increasingly sophisticated as we are exposed to so many genres and productions. However, she points out that as the world becomes more connected, people are also becoming increasingly disconnected from each other, with less face-to-face in-person contact, giving rise to more lonely individuals.
“There is also an increase in the older generation in our society. This is where The Phil, with our current non-auditioned community choir model, can fill the gap.
The choir is an activity through which people can make new friends, socialise and form relationships whilst contributing to the greater community. I feel that this group singing activity is becoming more relevant each passing year,” she says.
Teh hopes that The Phil, a non-religious and non-political organisation, can bring communities closer together through music and singing – not just in Malaysia, but everywhere.
It is a big dream, but with 60 years behind them, the future looks bright.
FB: The Philharmonic Society of Selangor. Email: email@example.com.
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