Monday, 20 August 2007

The Complexities of Choral Speaking

It's been a month since I started polling our favourite BBGS traditions, and it appears that Choral Speaking is the runaway favourite! So, here's another dose of nostalgia for all you BBGSians out there ;-)

Before choral-speaking gained nation-wide popularity among secondary schools in Malaysia, it was the pride (and pain!) of all BBGSians. The art of reciting poetry as a group, focussed primarily on pronunciation, expression and volume. Where appropriate, we would introduce special effects to highlight a particular mood within the poem.

I recently found a poem, written by Mak Mei Ling from Form 5 Science 3, in the 1983 School Magazine. The poem so accurately and humourously describes the annual pilgrimage of BBGSians to the altar of the Inter-Class Choral Speaking Competition.

The Complexities of Choral Speaking

Oh help... That particular time of the year

Has inevitably arrived -

It's Choral Speaking time again.

Choral Speaking?

A certain aura of panic surrounds

The usually stable BBGSians

The very word

Sends chills down our spines.

Librarians in the city

Are naturally mystified

Over the sudden popularity

Of their poetry books

As we comb and rummage

Through them in our zeal.

After days and days

Of searching, reading and rejecting poems,

We come to the conclusion

That no one has yet to produce

A poem striking enough

To suit our sophisticated tastes.

Having no alternatives,

We turn to our class' budding writers

And beg, cajole and even threaten them

To produce a top notch poem

In exactly 24 hours,

No matter how empty or void

They claim their heads to be.

Having secured our Tennysons and Kiplings,

We now struggle to choose a prize winning topic.

"What shall we speak on this year?"


"I know, our PTA toilet project!"

"Uh-ah" "World War Three?"

"How about banning Choral Speaking forever!"


After many hours of brain wracking

And hair tearing sessions,

Our self-proclaimed geniuses

Complete their royal assignment

But, the heartache is far from over

As up crops a totally new problem -

How exactly do we pronounce

All these lip twising

Tongue rolling

And mind boggling words?

Everyone has their own version

Of how the poem should be recited

"...this way...."

", that way..."

Insults are thrown

Egos are bashed

Reducing our poor Choral Speakers

Into nothing but "Quarrel" speakers

Amidst the catastrophe

A star is born - our conductor.

See her face twist

See her hands fly here and there.

She calms our frayed nerves

And reassures us that

We do not sound as terrible

As everyone says we do.

Yet, it is she who tortures us

With countless hours of practice

Turning our lovely, harmonious voices

Into miserable, pathetic croaks.

After what seems to be

An eternity of voice projection,

We are forced to go on stage.

Behind the shaking knees,

Cold fingers and chattering teeth,

One comforting thought

Remains in our hearts -

For we know that

If we never pull through to the semifinals,

The 38 of us overworked, underpraised

Angels in Bata shoes

Need never, ever go through

The complexities of Choral Speaking again.


Unknown said...

Wow! You've done an AMAZING job with this blog Joanna. You also look terrific. I remember being really scared of you in school as you wore a fierce scowl most times (it worked!). Thanks for bringing back all the good memories. it would be great to have BBGS alumni post up some photos of themselves and families and write a little bit about what they're doing now.

Belle Lee Luer aka Tinkerbell Love Lee

Joanna Yeoh said...

It's great to hear from you, Belle! And thanks for the encouragement. Please do forward photos & stories of alumni (yourself included) and I'd be happy to post it on this blog.

P/S: Sorry for personifying the scary prefect in school. I lived under the misguided notion that fear equates to authority. How silly!

Rayhana said...

Dear Joanna,

On the topic of choral speaking, I was wondering if you have that poem, I think it was called London Town?

I remember googling for it a couple of years back and I could find it but now to no avail!

The london day begins..
... the first birds in Trafalgar Square..
"Choc ices choc ices, lovely choc ices.."

Do you know that one?

pinsym said...

Of all the things that BB has given to me, the most concrete is presentation skills from choral speaking. I'm doing my graduate studies now in the US and its cynically speaking, it's almost more important than the content! Project, enunciate and make eye contact. I dare say few ex-choral speakers would find that difficult to do. It's what helps us to project confidence even when we're shaking inside, I think, and BB girls have confidence in spades.

The other thing is the way they wisely split up the english classes so that the best got to read literature. Looking back now, I realise there was incredible foresight in that, because the standard in Malaysia was starting to slide around then. Those teachers were amazing and so under-recognized.

Pin Sym. Class of '89.
@ Indiana, USA