SONGS OF THE DRAGON KILN
Ding Yi Music Company
Esplanade Recital Studio
3 December 2017)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 5 December 2017 with the title "Nostalgic ode to the dragon kiln".
This was not a concert in the traditional sense, but more a semi-interactive show-and-tell session accompanied by music from traditional Chinese instruments. Conducted and conceptualised by Quek Ling Kiong in collaboration with the team of composer Zechariah Goh Toh Chai, film director David Yap and heritage reseacher Lee Kok Leong, the concert centred on one of Singapore's dying trades – wood-fired pottery and porcelain created by a dragon kiln.
|Photo credit: Tails from the Lion City|
There are only two dragon kilns remaining in Singapore today, both located in Lorong Tawas (off Jalan Bahar), in the western reaches of the island. Come 2023, the 36-metre long brick-lined and clay-covered ovens, which can fire tens of thousands of pottery pieces at one go, will be no more as the government seeks to close them down. Gone, like traditional kampongs, fishing kelongs and long-demolished monuments like the National Theatre and National Library on
, these will become fading memories and mere footnotes in
history. Fort Canning
|Photo credit: The Finder Singapore|
Composer Goh's score was high on nostalgia, playing upon a recurring theme that was reminiscent of the Beatles hit song And I Love Her. Whether Freudian in intent or not, it certainly tugged on the heart-strings, especially when heard on Chee Jun Sian's cello or Yvonne Tay's guzheng. This memorable leitmotif accompanied the short film features on the
's history and touching words by potter Yulianti Tan,
descendant of its founder. Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle
Two percussionists struck on pots with resounding clarity as a prelude, and the films rolled successively like chapters of a storybook. The history of pottery, architecture of the dragon kiln, the production process and associated rituals were outlined in basic terms such that even a child could understand. This was also aided by conductor Quek's engaging banter in Mandarin and a smattering of English.
As if to pad up the concert's hour-long duration, there was a slide-show segment featuring pottery and porcelain from around the world, with
pingtan, Middle Eastern-flavoured music and a
version of Rasa Sayang being performed. The last was to represent the
legacy of Peranakan kamcheng. After which, a quiz was held with winners
taking home bits of pottery. Suzhou
Then audience members were given an opportunity to accompany the orchestra by hitting and blowing on a wide array of pots that had been lying on the stage floor from the beginning of the concert. Striking to Quek's baton, a symphony of cacophony ensued, much to the relish of the invited performers.
The final chapter was provided by soprano Cherie Tse who sang a mellifluous ode to a Jurong urn, with words by Choo Liang Liang, Lu Yi and composer Goh. It dwelled on the sweat and toil of three generations of potters and the thousands of beneficiaries of their artistry. On that note, one pondered whether this nation could afford to forget and bury its heritage in the all-conquering name of progress.