HAVING always admired the melodious sound of the saxophone, 22-year-old Oh Chan Yoong was inspired to pick up the instrument at the age of 13.
“It has a certain nostalgic quality to it, and I think that any song sounds beautiful when played using the saxophone.
“That is why when I joined the school band in Form One, it was my choice of instrument and I was excited that I got to learn it,” said the former Poi Lam High School student.
Unfortunately, Oh said after leaving high school, the chance for frequent practices and performing in a group was less.
“It was only about a year ago when my seniors, whom I had kept in touch with, discovered the Kinta Valley Symphonic Society and suggested that we join this.
“Even though we only meet once a week at the society, it is enough to revoke memories of playing the saxophone together with old and new friends,” he said.
Oh, a hawker, said that Disney songs were his favourite to play on his much-cherished instrument, especially the score from The Lion King.
Meanwhile, for Ruby Chui, a 17-year-old student from Methodist Girls School in Ipoh, weekly meetings at the society gave her the chance to hone her skills in playing the trombone.
“I have been playing the trombone since I joined my school band at the age of 13.
“It was quite difficult to master it at first and I struggled with it for a while.
“Sometimes, my hands even suffer from muscle cramps after playing it, but now I practise every chance I get at home,” she said.
Ruby said she had to wait for her parents to leave the house for outings before she could practise because the sound made by the instrument is loud.
“I joined the society two months ago, and I enjoy playing marching anthems with my friends as the trombone sounds the best when playing such music,” she said.
Being the first of its kind in Perak, the Kinta Valley Symphonic Society is a non-profit orchestral platform made for the community, by the community.
Aspiring musicians, such as Oh and Ruby, and beginners now have a circle to call their own, where even young adults who never had formal music education could learn and explore their talents.
The homegrown orchestra’s conductor Eugene Pook said the society, which comprises ambitious youths who have always dreamt of ‘going further’, was a platform to help them in achieving their dreams.
“Through this society, they are offered the chance of performing in prestigious concert halls around the world.
“Not only that, they get the chance to work with professional musicians, a form of exposure which is not easily made available when participating in school bands,” he said.
Some of the society’s public performances include a collaborative concert titled “A Bit of This, A Bit of That” with the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) Symphonic Band in Kuala Lumpur in 2014, the DFP Seni Festival organised by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra in 2012, and during a musical trip to Taiwan in 2012 as well.
While most members come from schools around Ipoh, some have made it a point to travel from other cities like Penang and Kuala Lumpur every week to meet for classes.
Apart from students and young adults, Pook said the society also had working adults, especially those who missed the chance of learning music when they were young.
“We do invite tutors every now and then to teach them the basics of music education, such as reading musical notes.
“As for those who are already musically-inclined, they get the chance to relive their memories of being part of a music team.
“With our weekly meetings on Sundays, they can now train together with newly-made friends and get reacquainted with the instrument they were once adept in playing,” he said.
Since its inception in 2010 by the late Datuk Lim Keng Khay, the society is now an umbrella name that houses 130 members in three different orchestra teams — the Kinta Valley Wind Orchestra, the Perak Philharmonic Orchestra and the Kinta Valley String Orchestra.
Although the wind orchestra, a performing ensemble consisting of members of the woodwind and brass instruments, was established first under the society, Pook said they hope to add more musical instrument players.
“Thus, we founded the Perak Philharmonic Orchestra in 2011, which comprises both wind and string instruments played by the society’s weekly trained members and professional musicians.
“Two years later, we decided to form an orchestra for our string instrument players only, like the violin, viola and cello, thus the Kinta Valley String Orchestra was born in 2013,” said the music director and conductor for all three orchestras.
As the society relied solely on donations from well-wishers and its public performances, society president Lau Sook Mei said they needed funds for their operations and to pay tutors who guided the students.
“It is quite challenging as there are many concerts, activities and workshops we wish to organise for the sake of our members.
“Our monthly expenses can easily add up to RM5,000, and expenses for the day-to-day running of the orchestra, training, tutors, music camps and other programmes are borne by the committee.
“Thus, we need funds to push through our objectives, and we hope to hold a fund-raising concert annually,” she said, adding that the society welcomed donations.
Lau, who leads the committee made up of six other passionate volunteers, said she strongly felt that the society is important to the identity of Ipoh.
“We provide our musicians with a conducive environment to make music, including tutors and classes to improve their playing skills.
“I believe this gives young people a cause to look forward to, and keeps them off the streets and away from unhealthy activities,” she said.
The society also recently started its junior orchestra team, aiming to nurture young musicians who would later graduate into its philharmonic orchestra.
The members meet every Sunday from 12.30pm to 3pm, while the junior orchestra members meet from 3pm to 5pm on the same day.