Bravissimo! July 2021

Reinventing a Classic: Where I Belong

From arranging songs for concerts to designing audio for video games, Avik Chari rarely misses a beat. Recently featured on The Straits Times, Avik is a multi-talented musician, composer and arranger, who also got a job as music librarian at the SSO. These include a rearrangement of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy for string quartet, which was performed at SSO’s SG-Japan 55 Concert earlier this year, and Dawn, a medley of Christmas carols performed at SSO’s Christmas Fundraiser last year.

His latest project is a new rendition of the National Day song, Where I Belong, in a new arrangement for vocalists, choir, solo violin, and orchestra. The SSO marks the 20th anniversary of this classic in collaboration with its original singer/songwriter, Tanya Chua, in a music video which will be released on SSO’s Facebook page on 1 August 2021.

We speak to the rising composer about his work at the SSO, and learn more about his latest project!

You are a librarian with the SSO. I think many of our readers are not familiar with what an SSO Librarian does. Do you take care of books? :)

Much to your disappointment, I do not actually deal with many books at work! This is a common misconception about music librarians. We organise and catalogue items, like a typical librarian – but of music scores and parts. Our main role is to acquire and prepare these scores for concerts, ensuring that performers are able to effectively read and perform from them, and ensure the music itself is historically accurate.

At times, I feel like a historian looking through errata lists on parts that were engraved over 50 years ago, for music written more than two centuries back.

Victoria Concert Hall

Our music library is located at Victoria Concert Hall and is a comfortable working space, with some views of Marina Bay Sands – a great area to prepare music!

Tell us, how did you feel when you were asked to take on this arranging project for SSO’s National Day music video?

I received this project in May earlier this year, and felt quite pressured! As a Singaporean, I knew this song has been with us for 20 years. It is an unbeatable National Day classic which I had to present in the best way possible, while also showcasing our brilliant orchestra in a truly symphonic way.

This was one of my favourite songs growing up, and it was an interesting challenge to bring this soft, often understated piece to the size of an orchestra. I also wanted to give it a little bit of my personal touch – adding a sense of struggle and most importantly, some quirkiness.

A typical day of Avik working on a composition.

With familiar songs, there is bound to be an expectation from audiences, which is understandable. Although arranging this piece was challenging, I am really happy with how it turned out, and cannot wait for Singaporeans to enjoy this rendition.

What were some challenges you have faced as a composer? What is your proudest achievement to date?

One of the greatest challenges as a composer is to find your own sound. I think as an artist it is a never-ending search, but with every new project, you feel like you are getting somewhere. I started to find the types of musical concepts I enjoy bringing to the table, and explore how to use them even in genres that I do not usually write in.

I am also proud to share a personal project, where I release one piece of music per month. Besides keeping me focused and productive, it also guides me on this continuous search of “my sound”.

What are some wishes you have for Singapore this National Day?

This National Day, my wish is for the COVID-19 situation to improve in Singapore. I also hope more Singaporeans would come forward to support the arts sector, such as through supporting our work and concerts. With many events continually cancelled due to the changing COVID-19 measures, we will still work hard to bring you memorable experiences online, and live where possible.

Be sure to catch the upcoming National Day music video on 1 August 2021 on SSO’s Facebook, featuring our very own orchestra, vocalists as well as Singapore’s one and only Tanya Chua!

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