St Joseph’s marching band comes home to grand welcome
By Patricia Hului
The St Joseph’s Secondary School (SJS) Marching Band was all over social media this week following their recent stellar win in the US Band Association’s Yamaha Cup.
Kuching’s home-grown band was the only band outside of the US to be invited to take part in the platinum premium event to compete against 54 other high school bands from that country.
It was also the first time a school outside of the US had joined this annual national high school band competition organised by the US Bands organisation.
The SJS band won first place with a score of 90.1 and swept all caption categories, including the highest scores for visual, music, overall effect percussion and colour guard.
On Oct 1, the band had a large and lively welcoming party at VIP hall Kuching International Airport (KIA) led by Assistant Minister of Social Development (Youth) Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah as well as SJS advisor and Old Josephians Association chairman Senator Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian.
Each band member was greeted with a bright flower lei handed by parents and teachers.
Despite looking lethargic and sun-burnt, the bandmates were still in high spirits when they arrived at the airport.
The VIP Lounge was packed with family members and friends waiting for the students who left home about two weeks ago to take part in the competition.
During the press conference, SJS band director June Ling stated that the competition was the culmination`of months of hard work on an exceptionally challenging musical programme. The band had performed a show called ‘Rach 2’, short for Russian composer Sergei Rachamaninoff’s second piano concerto.
“They had incredible cultural and educational experience,” she said, personally commending the SJS Band Students for their hard work, discipline and commitment.
“They were teachable, responsive to the training given by world class instructors in Kennesaw to help them improve their performance in a four-day band camp and tried their very best despite being jet lagged, exhausted and a few having coughs and cold,” Ling said.
She shared that the band was informed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had sent them a congratulatory message.
They were very thankful for the strong local community support both financially and morally especially state and federal governments, government agencies and cooperate sponsors without which this life-changing experience for their band students will not be possible.
Ling also stated, “This achievement is possible only because of the awesome international team we managed to assemble through Jonathan Fox, the SJS band’s programme coordinator. This incredible team worked closely with our students and supported them all the way from a year back when this journey was planned.”
According to Ling, the team included an all star creative team from Drum Corp International, Kennesaw folks who hosted the students for five days, Kennesaw Mountain High School who provided practice facilities and The Cadets who lend their hands in logistics.
A total of 73 SJS members took part in the competition and was accompanied by 20 teachers, parents and school instructors.
As for the students, their band take-home experiences did not revolve solely around the competition.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; the students were brought to visit sites such as Metropolitan Opera House, New York City Ballet, Juilliard School and Harvard University.
“It was once in a lifetime experience, something that won’t happen anymore,” said Larissa Ping Liew (16), who is part of the pit percussion, the front stationary ensemble of the band. “It was all the other band members ever imagined.”
Liew has been with the band for four years. “Our section plays instruments such as xylophone, marimba and other percussion instruments.”
Mixing hard work with leisure, the students found the trip almost like a mini vacation. Liew shared that the most memorable place she visited was of course New York city itself.
“We went to a lot of places for shopping and bought a lot of T-shirts and souvenirs.”
Looking back at her experience during the competition at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, Liew said “The stadium was huge and it can fit like 80 000 people. It was really amazing.”
13 year-old Amanda Zoi Pui only started playing the clarinet early this year. “I like music so I decided to join the band,” she said.
While their four-day band camp had them working from nine in the morning to nine in the evening, Pui found her two weeks trip to the US tiring but fun.
Of all the places Pui visited, the most memorable site for her was Lincoln Centre.
“It was where Pitch Perfect performed in the final scene of the movie!”
Mohd Aziz Mohd Ariffin said, “I learned a lot, their cultures, how they lived and how their school system was different from us.”
In his opinion, what he had seen on TV on American lifestyles was exactly what he had experienced. Mohd Aziz cherished the moments he spent with his foster parents. “They took very good care of us.”
When asked if he would be joining the band next year, the 16 year-old colour guard answered “Maybe. If my parents allowed me to.”
In a press statement, the program coordinator Fox shared that the “joy of this experience was the journey itself and the final emotional on-field performance at the world-famous stadium—not so much the results of the adjudication.”
Fox said they were many fine bands performing that day and hats off to all of them, adding that “For those of us at Saint Joseph’s, camps in Malaysia and in the US with outstanding staff, hard work and perseverance through adversity and challenges, physically, artistically and financially; those were the magical moments.”
Although proud of the scoring results, Fox stated “Validation from the judges was a nice touch but the way we all learned to work together as a staff, as a band, and as a family is what has made us all the most proud of all.”