[WLJ Intern Interview] Cui Yi Hao on School’s Out! Discover Jazz

As a student growing up in Singapore, I never got much exposure to Jazz as a genre. Even though I joined the school band and played the trumpet, I only discovered jazz much later into my musical journey. Once I did, however, I fell in love.

It is thus a serendipity of sorts for me to now work on a project that brings awareness of Jazz to students. I would have loved such an opportunity for myself back when I just picked up the trumpet, though it is immensely more rewarding to take a part in offering this opportunity instead. 

We Love Jazz took me on as an intern for this educational outreach concert. I was tasked with the role of Tech Manager, which doesn’t quite encapsulate all the meaningful experiences and learning opportunities that came with the role. 

Well, this picture sums up one of the most exciting parts of my very multi-faceted working experience for the concert. Apart from the usual Tech Management duties such as drafting tech riders, stage plots and liaising with the production team, I got to try my hands at lighting design and operation!

Aya and Ashlee were delightful to work with as they trusted me and allowed me my own creative freedom. We had some fun moments in the concert planned, such as a fight scene where the horn players would play Donna Lee while the singers sang Back Home Again in Indiana. We also did a jazz mashup of Billie Eilish’s Bad Guy. These moments were dramatic, and drama calls for “Lights!”

It was a steep learning curve for me to complement the already wonderful music in this concert, but Esplanade’s staff were very helpful and helped me with all the tools needed to do just that. Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the end product and hope my lighting decisions were able to help the student audiences enjoy the concert more.

On that note, a big part of jazz is improvisation. As a musician, I took that with me to the control room. At one point during the audience interaction segment, a student mentioned she played the saxophone. Of course, I threw a spotlight on our dear friend and saxophonist Tete Saxmanbecause it felt right in the moment. And feeling right in the moment is a big part of what makes Jazz, Jazz. 

When people think “Jazz”, they think cheerful dancing and swinging rhythms. As we look deeper, however, we realise a much deeper, darker and heavier history that brought Jazz to where it is today. Christy Smith, a veteran of the genre, shared a lot of insight into the history and tradition with the team throughout this journey of ours. We wanted to bring across these heavier aspects of the Jazz tradition to the audience, yet do it in a light-hearted manner. Education is never easy and this may have been the most difficult project for many on the team.

For that reason, I really felt the importance of each team member’s role and contributions. While being a “Tech Manager” allows a concert to happen, making the concert meaningful and ultimately impacting our audiences is a whole different ball game. It was only through the creative inputs of each and every team member, the careful curation of a script that entertained while educated, the humour that each musician brought to very serious music and all the behind the scenes work that made this educational concert a success.

Speaking of behind the scenes, I never got to go up on stage even at the end while the staff were invited up (had to operate the lights even then!). But that allowed me to walk through the streams of students after the concert had ended without being recognised. I got to hear everyone chatting and discussing (somewhat noisily, in a good way) as they slowly left the concert hall. 

“I think I like Jazz”

“I loved the different instruments!”

“I liked (insert song name)”

Yes, I heard so much positive feedback, it was hard for me to keep track! The excitement that I saw and felt in these students; It was the same excitement that took over my senses when I was the same 15 year old kid. That’s when I knew that we succeeded.

Hopefully, this is just the first step. I believe in the greatness of the music, that it deserves more appreciation and can reach out to more people. I believe there are many out there who have been waiting to discover jazz their entire lives, or in this case, to discover jazz in the next few decades of their lives. 

Playing good music is just one small slice in a large pie. I got to see first-hand how important all the other factors are in serving the music. That playing music and making music happen may not be the same things at all. That creating opportunities and awareness is a duty that we as musicians have to take on. 

Looking forward to our next project, and spreading the love of Jazz!

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