Composing the V.I. Centenary Song
by Loh Kok Kin
Loh Kok Kin attended the V.I. from 1991 to 1995. His V. I. credentials are quite unassailable. His mother, Choo Hooi Sin, did her Sixth Form at the V.I. in 1967 - 1968, while dad, Loh Kung Sing, was the V.I. Senior Biology teacher in 1969 and Head of Science in 1970. Kok Kin distinguished himself at the V.I. by topping his form for four years running, winning in the process the Madam Stephen Sya Scholarship, the Dato’ Dr. R. S. McCoy Scholarship, the Tan Sri Dr. Tan Chee Khoon Scholarship and the Treacher Scholarship. He was also Head Monitor of his Form from 1991 to 1993. A keen scout, he was the National Contingent secretary at the 1994 15th Asia-Pacific Scout Jamboree. In 1995, he was simultaneously Troop Leader of the 2nd KL Scout Group (a.k.a. the Victoria Scout Group), Captain of Lee Kuan Yew House (leading his House to victory on Sports Day), and the Chairman of the V. I. Museum Board. An accomplished pianist, he provided accompaniment for the weekly singing of the School Song during school assemblies. He was runner-up in the K. L. State Debating Championship for the Tan Sri Wira Arshad trophy in 1995.
Kok Kin is currently reading Economics (Honours) and Law (Honours) at the University of Sydney, Australia.
He recalls here how he composed the Centenary Song for the School in 1993.
oleridge had Kubla Khan and Mozart had his Piano Sonata in A Minor. I may not sit with such artists upon the heights of Olympus, yet mine is a similar story about how a cocktail of raw emotions unleashed an important composition. Except that here it wasn't opium or a death that inspired me - it was mainly gratefulness, plus a dash of envy. And here, too, the resulting art form was neither pure poetry nor pure music - it was the Victoria Institution Centenary Song.
The Centenary Song as we know it might not have been born in this form at all. There was an earlier piece which I composed in March 1993 entitled For A Century which was submitted for the V.I. Centenary Song Composition Contest. It went:
We pledge our lives to thee
Acclaimed is thy glory
Acknowledged is thy wisdom
For all a century
O Mother Victoria we honour thee
For we are your children Victorians
Thou has stood mightily for a century
Full of glory and excellence
We are your knights in honour and glory
Fighting for victory, toiling to the end
Champions have we been, supreme we all shall be
Spirit endure us right to the end
In hindsight, I could not have been happier that it was rejected. Composed in 2/4 time, with a chorus and two verses, and set to a march tempo, I thought it befitted a boys' school. Any boys' school, perhaps, but definitely not the V.I.
My interest in composing another song waned as tests, school assignments, camps, scout projects and music exams kept me busy. But, conversely, it was all this, and more, that continued to gnaw away at the back of my mind and so kept the desire to compose burning. The V.I. had taught me lessons of relentless endurance (like not sleeping on four-night camps - 40 winks yes, sleep no), humility in pursuit of excellence (my Form 2 Maths teacher used to hurl our books out of class if we forgot the negative sign), respect (sometimes impishly) for authority (who can forget those stern personages in blue at morning lines?) and much more. I had to give something back!
Enter the BBGS Centenary Dinner in May 1993 at Putra World Trade Centre. I grudgingly attended after my mother, being an ex-BBGSian (and ex-Victorian), insisted that this be a family affair. The night plodded along rather ordinarily for me when suddenly towards the end of the function, the Muses struck with their magic. I saw, as the BBGS Centenary Song was rendered, the thousands of present and former huddled in groups, swaying to the rhythm, with tears trickling down their cheeks and wide smiles stretched across their faces. Never had collective emotion been so real to me! And soon after, a detailed feature on the BBGS Centenary Celebration and its Centenary Song appeared on a full page of Utusan Malaysia. Why wasn't there a similar V.I. feature article, I asked? I didn't need any more prompting.
It must have been divine intervention, because I cannot explain how I managed to compose the song, plus refinements, in just less than a week. I suppose it was the June holidays then and I had few other distractions (apart from a looming campfire and my PMR exam in September). I had never composed any music before other than that earlier song. But I reasoned that since I wanted the power of the music to be the prime mover, I composed the melody first, unlike the earlier song, when the lyrics were written first.
How did I get prepared? I needed quiet, so I waited until I was the only person at home one day. I needed intense inspiration too, so I rummaged through as much V.I. paraphernalia I could get - magazines, The Seladang newsletters, photos, exam papers, scout manuals ….. the list goes on. Thus the mood was set. I then let my fingers dance their way across the piano ivories. There was no telling where they would go - I just tried to ensure the melody sounded "nice" and that the chord progression made sense - and played until I deemed a phrase acceptable, and wrote the notes down. With the previous phrase as a springboard, I continued the process to find the next line. Surprisingly, after the music was composed, the lyrics just seemed to flow. In fact, even as the music was being played, I was already assigning words to some of the notes, that being one way of judging 'acceptability'.
When the new school term began, I took the composition to Mr Wong Kook Cheow, the bandmaster. His enthusiasm was astounding. The composition was only in his hands for one day (or was it two? well, certainly under a week), during which he received the endorsements of several music connoisseurs whose identities were never revealed to me. So it was off to the principal, Puan Robeahtun, without delay. A few days later, the birth of the V.I. Centenary Song was officially recognised.
But there was a caveat. Puan Robeahtun wanted a Bahasa Melayu version as well. I remember the day clearly - marching back to class from the principal's office, I retired to the back of the class and started writing. There was a Geography lesson on then, and I could have yelled "What about China?" to every statement the teacher was making, just to show I was paying attention to her. But she was too short (five feet may be over-rating it) to probably even notice anyone at the back of the class anyway. The next day, I handed the BM lyrics to Puan Robeahtun for her approval. She made a few modifications to the BM lyrics, but the bulk of it remained my composition. In the meantime, a choir was formed consisting of First and Second Formers and Form Six girls, with Patrick Soong as conductor and myself as pianist, to debut the song on Awards Day on 7 August.
Rather sadly, the song was only sung twice. True, I did recite the words at the farewell of Puan Robeahtun in 1995, and also at the First Formers orientation at the end of 1994, but in 1993 it was only performed at the Awards Ceremony and on the night of the Centenary Countdown, both events being held in the school. Perhaps due to the tight programme, the Committee did not schedule the song for the Centenary Dinner. Nonetheless most of the crowd at the dinner would have heard it at the Countdown anyway.
This V.I. Centenary Song was never meant to challenge the School Song in grandeur. Pretenders beware, as my (thankfully) dismal first draft proved to me that no other song can stir Victorians like the pieces by Mr. G. F. Jackson and Puan Zainab. The School Song has the perfect combination of words and melody to charge an electric atmosphere that conjures up all the strength and machismo in any Victorian. Thus any attempt to rival its pomp and splendour will merely fade into insignificance. As such, I treaded cautiously and chose an alternative mood - reflective sentimentality. The song must move people, I thought.
Although the song is not Kubla Khan or the Piano Sonata in A Minor, I hope it shares the timeless quality of these two great works. Timelessness because it is a reflective composition, not an academic one. It matters not what it means to me, but rather, what it means to the listener. Open a window and let the light shine onto that mirror of the past. Relish those images that flash across your mind. Only when the Song means different things and evokes different memories to different people, will it become the song it was meant to be.
LAGU SERATUS TAHUN VICTORIA INSTITUTION
To you Victoria our gifts of love
With blessings of God from above;
Through rain, storm or shine we stand by you,
A cent'ry of faith and hope so true.
You taught us to share, to lend a helping hand,
To care for all people and our friends,
The best in all we do, that should be our strife
And to live a rich abundant life.
Travel far and wide and search the clear blue skies,
There will never be a Victoria just like this;
Grateful hearts and thanks we offer to you,
For you are our pride
And now we come to you Victoria with love.
Ten decades of fame and glory attained,
For all Victorians to maintain;
To add a hundred more that is now our aim,
Evermore Victoria all the same.
Sanjungan kami padamu Victoria,
Limpahan kurnia yang esa;
Bersamamu mengharung cabaran,
Seabad penuh keyakinan.
Didikan ilmu dan nilai murni,
Pada sejagat kami berbakti,
Mencapai tahap yang mulia,
Menikmati hidup bahagia.
Jelajahlah seluruh dunia,
Victoria ini tiada bandingannya;
Kasih dan jasa dicurahkan,
Akan terus mencintaimu.
Cemerlang seabad terbukti sudah,
Untuk dipertahankan selalu;
Beratus tahun kami pohon restu,
Victoria teguh selamanya.
Last update on 23 November 2003.
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