During the recent Singapore Arts Festival, members of the audience at the Esplanade Concert Hall were mesmerized by an orchestra playing “The Rite of Spring,” a symphony by the late Russian composer and conductor Igor Stravinsky.
It was fascinating for a number of reasons besides the fact that “The Rite of Spring” is known by many as one of the most complex yet innovative compositions of the 20th century. Since its Parisian premiere in 1913, US National Public Radio online cited it as having “tremendous impact on music.”
The symphony was presented by the Orchestra of the Music Makers, a group of young Singaporeans who have a great passion for and devotion to music — hence the ambitious concert.
Founded in 2008, the idea of establishing the OMM first occurred during a casual hangout among friends.
Yeo Ying Hao, president of OMM, recalled the days when he and some friends yearned for a space to develop their musical talents.
“We wanted a place to play music and perform,” said the 22-year-old who plays cello. “We thought, ‘Why not form a group and play together. This way, we get something out of our hangouts.’ ”
With the help from mentors, actual classical musicians, the group started to blossom. To date, OMM has 200 members — mostly in their early 20s. However, Ying Hao said, the orchestra is “open to those who share the same passion, regardless the age.” Some members, he added, are in their late 40s.
“We hold an audition to select new members,” he said. “If we think they are not good enough, we just tell them they are not ready.”
One of OMM’s young members, 19-year-old Kimberlyn Wu, has just finished school. She joined the orchestra in 2010 and has performed with it in more than 10 concerts.
“I am so proud to be a part of this orchestra,” said Wu, a violinist. “Not only can I channel my talent, but I also get the opportunity to learn from other players in the orchestra and from professionals.”
Registered as a society in Singapore, OMM is a volunteer orchestra, run by volunteers determined to do good through music.
Through concerts, the young philanthropists have managed to raise more than S$300,000 ($235,000) to support various causes including the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund and the Children’s Cancer Foundation.
“We are non-career musicians,” Ying Hao said. “We do it for the love of it, not for a living. We seek fun in it and at the same time we want to make the best use of it to help others.”
He also pointed out the growing interest in music among young Singaporeans. In general, he said, parents support their children who want to develop their musical talents but “are not too keen on letting their kids become musicians for their careers.”
“So, what usually happens is they try to balance the two: their academic life and passion for music,” explained Ying Hao, who is currently a student in business and accounting at Singapore Management University. “When I’m asked which one is more important, I say both. One complements the other.”
In the future, Ying Hao said, the orchestra hopes to find more opportunities to promote good causes.
OMM has become a household name by receiving positive reviews and appreciation in the country and overseas. In 2009, the orchestra received the HSBC Youth Excellence Award for Musical Excellence. A year later, it released CD recordings, one of which was selected as in-flight music by Singapore Airlines.
“I think we generally have good reviews for our performances,” Ying Hao said. “So, yeah, we’re quite pleased with what we do.”