Wednesday, December 17, 2003
Love of the band keeps Wong from leaving school
Different places, different faces make up the colours of the Klang Valley. Star Metro discovers the different hues in the stories of Ordinary People whose daily lives revolve around the Valley. ESTHER CHANDRAN speaks to Jimmy Wong.
SOME people just can’t wait to get out of school to join the working world while others, like Jimmy Wong, wish they never had to leave their alma mater.
Wong, 39, an old boy of the Victoria Institution (SMK Victoria), virtually never left school after completing Form Six in 1983 - spending countless hours at school for band practice.
The IT professional-cum-businessman, has been the director of the Victoria Institution Cadet Corps Band (VICC) since 1987.
Even while studying at the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, United States, his holidays were mostly spent at the VI.
“Every time I returned home, I would somehow find myself at the VI coaching the band,” he reminisced with a smile.
It has been 16 years since Wong took on the responsibility of band director, a voluntary position he does not get paid for. However his dream of taking the band to greater heights was realised in July when the VICC won the parade category and clinched fourth place in the overall show competition at the World Championship for Marching Show Bands at Monza, Italy.
Being with the VICC boys has become part and parcel of his life that Wong spends more than 10 hours a week coaching the band on school days.
To Wong, helping the band to excel is his contribution as well as duty to his alma mater.
In finding ways to improve the band's performance, drill and style, Wong dedicates time watching band performances on compact discs and video.
He even schedules holidays to coincide with band competitions overseas.
“My holiday calendar is planned to coincide with band championships in other parts of the world as watching other bands perform is a good way of picking up ideas,” Wong said.
He has planned a year-end trip to Hong Kong, the Philippines or Indonesia where band championships are scheduled to take place.
Luckily for Wong, his wife Alison Lee, is a keen VICC fan and one-year-old daughter Jessica is already tapping her feet to band music.
Wong does not consider himself a hard taskmaster but instead treats the boys like friends. After all, as an ex-student, he understands the mind of a Victorian.
“There are certain traditions and characteristics of students here you don’t interfere with. I just allow them to grow in their own pace,” Wong said, adding that he would only interfere if the students stepped out of line.
“In order for a person to excel as a band member, he must have discipline, dedication and determination.
“Most students who join the band do not have any music background. They learn from scratch from their seniors and will eventually pass on their knowledge to younger Victorians,” Wong said.
Even though the VICC has carved a name for itself in the international arena, back home it has not won the national championship title since it last clinched the title in 1997.
The VICC has participated in international marching bands festivals in Australia and Japan and two competitions in Canada in 2000 and the most recent in Italy.
“Unfortunately, the better we are overseas, our performance and style have not impressed local judges.
“The boys are of course disappointed but they have the right attitude and all the makings of winners,” Wong said.
Wong believed local judges found the VICC’s new style sequence hard to accept as they clashed with the national band competition guidelines.
“The guidelines restrict the movement of static percussion instruments like timpang, marimba and concert bass drums. Only instruments one could march with are allowed to execute style sequence.
“International championships do not have such restrictions,’’ he said.
For instance, he added, in local championships, the drum major was required to drop the mace at the start and end with a salute to the VIPs present.
“Such regimented sequences are colonial and old fashioned, as even the drum major’s presence is not significant these days at international events.
“It is ridiculous to start a slow song and drop the mace as the act of dropping the mace, requires a fast beat number to fit the act,” Wong said. The VICC is famous for its marching styles with slow numbers such as Gersang’s Masih Aku Terasa.
Wong believed a band should be allowed to discover the progress and evolution of modern age marching band techniques by exploring new movements and expression of styles.
“Local rules limit the number of participants to not more than 80 students but I feel, more students should be allowed to participate.
“By doing so, you are encouraging students to be a part of a healthy extracurricular activity instead of wasting their time doing nothing,” he said.
Although it is the school holidays, Wong is busy once again, this time preparing his boys for the Penang International Cultural Carnival on Dec 31 and Jan 1.
Wong said the school had yet to decide on its participation at next year's World Championship for Marching Show Bands in England, as financing the entire team was no small feat.
“If we decide to go to England, it will be very expensive and will be tough on the parents,” he said.
While Wong takes care of the training, the VICC Band Booster Club plays a significant role by taking care of the students’ welfare and ensuring that they get extra classes and tuition while preparing for championships.
It is also active in fund raising activities for the VICC.
“There are areas we need to improve ourselves in as we aim to score better in the display category at the world championships,” Wong said.
His involvement has also spurred other VI old boys to follow in his lead.
“I now have assistants, old boys like me who don’t expect to be paid but they come to be with the band for the sheer love of it.
“There are also a few who are taking music at university and I believe it is their involvement and exposure in the band that has led them to make music a part of their lives,” Wong said.
2004 - Champion - Kuala Lumpur Interstate Marching Band Competition
2001 - SEA Games - Closing Ceremony along with Catholic High School Band in Kuala Lumpur