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How one school in Singapore is keeping the Arts alive

By ITS Education Asia

The challenge of staying connected with the Arts through Covid-19 restrictions is not one that should be underestimated. But for Tanglin Trust School in Singapore, such endeavour is at the very heart of their Arts ethos, and there was no question that the show must go on

 A quick look at the school’s website, and you will find “a desire to be creative while persevering through challenges” is a key motto for the Arts at Tanglin. A deeper look at Tanglin’s history reveals this to be more than a vision statement or expression of intent; it is a long-held belief that has been enacted time and again since the school was founded 95 years ago. Dance performances, music recitals, nativities and a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream all took place while WWII, epidemics and the Malayan Emergency threatened school closure.

Fast forward to 2020, and creative morale remains strong, with technical innovation keeping the Arts centre stage through current restrictions.

This November’s Senior Ensembles Concert: Music Around the World, is a prime example. Broadcast on the school’s website and YouTube channel, the online performance has been viewed more then 10,000 times – the largest audience of any show in Tanglin’s history. However, it took all the spirit of their can-do history to make it happen, for various reasons.

With the concert comprising 19 separate performances, each one had to be carefully reworked to adhere to local restrictions: the Chamber Orchestra was a strings-only group in light of a ban on flute and clarinet; the Guitar Group was capped at 20 players to ensure social distancing; and the Chamber Choir performed as individual singers due to a ban on group singing.

To create a cohesive show, all performances were separately recorded and then painstakingly edited together. “It was a massive job,” says Head of Music Helen Owain, “usually, our concerts at Tanglin are a well-oiled machine – there’s a system. We've had to find new ways to do things this time around.”

One key part of the concert is the performance by the new Year 7 cohort – a tradition of the annual show. “Normally, the year group would all sing together, that’s around 200 students,” says Head of Arts Richie Baxter, “obviously, that’s not been possible this year. Instead, each class did its own performance; and we recorded a gamelan under the school’s banyan tree.”




There was also a new approach for the introductions that preface each performance. Helen explains, “The introductions were recorded in the Film department; the students stood in front of a green screen, onto which images of the country associated with each piece of music were projected.”

“Of course, there was a lot of filming and editing to be done. Our technicians put together the individual Chamber Choir performances, an outside company edited the Senior Choir performances, and a professional videographer worked on others.” 

While the process was extensive, Head of Arts Richie Baxter is delighted that both staff and students keenly persevered. “I do know of schools that have 'shut up shop' this term due to the restrictions, but here there is definitely the enthusiasm to continue here. For us, it’s a real positive that the Arts can respond in such creative ways.”

While the faculty is hoping restrictions will ease in 2021, it is preparing for future performances in ways that are possible today.

“The Drama department is still very active,” explains Richie, “but rehearsals and performances are socially distanced. In the case of our Term 2 performance of Grease, the cast are rehearsing in bigger spaces and other elements of the show have been modified.”

“Auditions were not permitted when they were due to take place in September, but one-to-one singing lessons were so Stephania Yiannouka (an intern in the Drama department and a professional vocalist) worked with each of the auditioning students and recorded their sessions. Casting for Grease was decided from those videos.”

Stephania can see some positives in this approach, “everyone’s voice is different and it is nice to be able to focus on one person at a time. I want the students to learn how to control their voices properly, while also learning to push the boundaries of where we can take it. As a vocal coach, there is nothing more wonderful than your students discovering they can sing something they never thought they could.”

Not only working with the restrictions, but using them to their advantage, is a theme across the Arts faculty at Tanglin. Richie concludes, “What’s most important is that all our students are still learning, and utilising all the skills they would usually gain from these kinds of experiences. Creativity at the school is very much alive!” 


About Tanglin Trust School Singapore

Founded in 1925, Tanglin Trust School has been delivering a first class, British-based education in Singapore for 90 + years. It is a not-for-profit, all-through school that enrols more than 2,800 students from nursery through to sixth form. It follows the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and UK National Curriculum. Senior students’ study for their IGCSEs and have the choice of IBDP or A Levels in Years 12-13.

Dulwich College Singapore

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