Voices From The Gramophone Concert 23rd February 2013 – A Reflection

Jason_Voices From The Gramophone Concert

Hi all,

It’s been awhile since I updated this blog and I thank all of you who have visited it to read the updates on my musical activities. I greatly appreciate the support from the bloggers who have liked this blog.

i wish to share my experience of performing at a concert that was deeply fascinating, scary, and educational at the same time. It also revealed to me the level of readiness I have to take on the demands of such a concert. It is a gig I will remember for life.

How did I get the gig? It started with a simple birthday greeting last year on Caspar Francis’, the music director of the show, on his facebook and a mention that I would love to work with him. Caspar and I go way back to when he was still schooling and I was in a Grunge/Progressive Rock band called Withered Tree. He was a fan of the band and had a strong aspiration to be a full-time musician. A couple of years after Withered Tree broke up, I re-established connection with Caspar on facebook and I learnt that he was doing his diploma at the School of Music and Audio Technology in the Singapore Polytechnic. Throughout the entire preparation for the concert, my respect for him grew. He worked very late nights to complete the MIDI tracks under a very tight schedule and he had to juggle that with his army commitments (National Service). He was a huge reason behind the success of the 2013 Voices From The Gramophone Concert.

Flash forward to a couple of months after I wished him Happy Birthday on his facebook wall,  he called me to ask if I was interested in doing this Chinese concert featuring Old Shanghai era (1930s to 1940s) songs. I said yes without a 2nd thought. 

In the weeks that followed leading to the concert, I received the MIDI backing tracks in batches along with the PDF scores and got down to woodshed on the songs. I made sure that I tried to get the feel authentic and here’s what I’ve learnt along the way:

1) The drums and/or percussion, if any, should not be upfront on these classic Old Shanghai era songs. Thus, I had to play with a very light touch and not go beyond the mezzo piano to mezzo forte volume level. 

2) Drums had to sound crisp and with a nice amount ring to them, not the dead or thuddy drums sounds of the last 30 years. 

3) The types of cymbals used were very critical to the overall sound and vibe of the songs. I knew that there had to be some vintage cymbal sounds in the mix and after going through a couple of cymbals, I settled on the following setup for the concert:

21″ SABIAN AAX Memphis Ride

18″ SOULTONE Extreme Crash 

18″ SOULTONE Vintage Crash

14″ SOULTONE Custom Brilliant Hi-Hats

The kit was provided for at the concert and it was an old TAMA 5-pc Rockstar kit with a floor tom that had a dead resonant head which the sound/backline company had to replace on my request. i was not going to settle for lousy sounds just because I had a less than ideal kit to work with. Probably one of the highlights of the day is me struggling to tune the floor tom for almost 2 hours!

For the snare drum, I used my gorgeous and most trusty LUDWIG Hand Hammered Chromed Aluminium Supraphonic snare that I affectionately refer to as “Linda”. 

4) It was a very interesting experience working with the MIDI backing tracks. Some of the instruments such as the strings and the Big Band horns were very laid back against the click. If I had stayed dead on the click, the groove would have been very unsettling. I thus had to learn to lay back with those instruments and yet remain tight with the click. 

Full band rehearsals commenced on 18th February 2013 and over the next 4 days at the studios of the ETC Music company, the producers of this concert, heralded by Mr. Melvinn Lee and Ms.Tandy Lim. The backing band consisted of Double Bass, Keyboards, Gu Zheng (a Chinese stringed instrument), Er-Hu (a Chinese version of the Violin), Drums and percussion effects from the Roland SPD-20 octapad. 

It was yet another educational experience having to rehearse and co-ordinate with the backing band, the lineup of different singers, and the producers themselves. Melvinn gave me specific instructions at the 18th February rehearsal that he wanted a finessed-type of drumming and a strong swing feel on the Big Band swing numbers (yes, Big Band Jazz was very much a part of the Old Shanghai musical culture back in it’s heyday

Doing my research on youtube with the original recordings of most of the songs, I got a huge insight into the way the singers of the Old Shanghai era phrased and felt the pulse in this type of music. It was a loose and very laid back type of singing with strong projection and lots of long notes. Almost operatic, if you will. Armed with this knowledge I could then know how to make the singers I’m going to perform with comfortable. 

Some singers that I performed with on the concert, and despite them having at least 10 to 15 years of experience singing, never had the opportunity to work with a live band let along click tracks, as they usually worked with Karaoke type backing tracks! It took a while for them to get into the groove of things during rehearsals but on the day itself, they pulled it off and good a good reception from the audience.

Full dress rehearsal and Showtime:

The concert venue was the historic Kallang Theatre situated beside the old National Stadium. The place was little run down but it had not lost it’s charm and it could had about 1,500 seats. I arrived at the venue just before the stipulated time of 11am and got straight to setting up the kit, tuning it, and doing a soundcheck. 


We had quite abit of time before the full dress rehearsal commenced and the highlight of that part of the day was helping to transport an exact replica of a pre-1930s Mercedes Benz car!! The band and I managed to take a picture of it and I’ll post it here as soon as I get it from Caspar. 

Throughout the full dress and the concert we had some scary moments with our in-ear monitors dropping out audio intermittently especially in the first half of the concert. You sure don’t want that when you’ve got sequences and click track to work with!! The bugs were resolved by the 2nd half and it went on smoothly ending in success. 

90% of the seats were filled at the concert with an audience of a very wide age group. The coolest thing, which I guess is needless to say, was performing for the very generation of concert attendees who had lived through that Old Shanghai period, heard the original songs, and owned the 78rpm vinyls. 

I will jump at the opportunity to do a gig like this again!!




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