Orchestrating good deeds through music

Orchestrating good deeds through music

SINGAPORE - When a ragtag group of teenage boys first approached Chan Tze Law in 2006 for help - they wanted to set up their own volunteer orchestra - the maestro had doubts that the ambitious idea would work.

"I said to them, 'Well, if you are really that keen on doing this, send me a proposal'. I was thinking, of course, that this was a bunch of 16-year-old boys - I'd never get a proposal because the next day they'd go off and play football," recalls Prof Chan.

Much to his surprise, they kept to their word, and thus the Orchestra of the Music Makers (OMM) was born.

After 18 months of intensive planning, OMM gave its debut performance at the HSBC Youth Excellence Awards in 2008. The opportunity to perform involved a stroke of luck - just as OMM's founding members were looking for a stage, the organisers of the HSBC event were in urgent need of an orchestra.

"Within days of offering them the opportunity, they managed to form a full orchestra," says Goh Kong Aik, head of HSBC Group Communications and Corporate Sustainability.

"It really shows you what can happen when youth and passion are combined," he adds, marvelling at OMM's ability to gather 80 members - who had previously played in various student and youth orchestras - at such short notice.

One year after that first performance, OMM became the first group to clinch HSBC's Youth Excellence Award for music, bagging $200,000 to fund its operations. "Excellence is a really nebulous quality, but we knew this group exemplified that - not just with their skills, but also with their drive to do good and give back to the community," says Mr Goh.

Today, the five-year-old ensemble has around 140 active members, with an average age of 23.

To celebrate its fifth anniversary, OMM is putting on a one-night-only performance at the Esplanade Concert Hall next Wednesday. The evening will showcase masterworks by Beethoven and Wagner, and will include performances by Munich- based soprano Felicitas Fuchs and Singapore-born pianist Melvyn Tan.

As a self-professed "volunteer philanthropic orchestra", all of OMM's members play for free in order to raise funds for worthy causes - including Prof Chan, who is the ensemble's music director and conductor.

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