Notes from the East

The Philharmonic Society of Selangor, one of the oldest in Malaysia, performs on August 28 in Chennai along with the Mellow Circle Choir.

Updated - March 29, 2016 05:48 pm IST

Published - August 27, 2015 04:20 pm IST

Members of the Philharmonic Society of Selangor Photo: Barry Ong, Light at play photography

Members of the Philharmonic Society of Selangor Photo: Barry Ong, Light at play photography

Back in 1958, a cohort of British expatriates in Malaysia would often meet up in the name of theatre and music. Before long, these rendezvous translated into numerous staged productions every year, and this is how the Philharmonic Society of Selangor, fondly called The Phil, came about.

While a few members exhibited their skills on stage, acting and crooning away, the others buoyantly manoeuvred behind-the-scenes — culling props, setting the stage and even ticketing.

In the 1980s, the members realised that they had lost touch with each other between productions and went on to form the choir that practised and performed all year long.

For them, it was an opportunity to get together and do something they enjoyed. But what outlines The Phil’s time-tested aim is encouraging the promotion of arts and music, and most importantly, contributing surpluses from their productions to other charitable bodies — an act ritually followed for the last 57 years. Now the 300-member Malaysian choir is all set to come to Chennai.

The Phil is collaborating with Mellow Circle Choir, for the fifth edition of The Magic of Music on August 29, in aid of Prathyasha, the home of hope for children with HIV  (founded by Mellow Circle).

Incidentally, The Phil’s show is in conjecture with Malaysia’s Independence Day, which falls on August 31. 

Augustine Paul will conduct the Mellow Circle Choir, while the Mellow Band, SoulSync, will back up the choir. 

Vijay Victor and Swati Sadhwani of 9th Step Entertainment have choreographed some peppy numbers for the show. 

In addition to churning out a selection of contemporary, pop and rock songs such as ‘The Celebration’, ‘Orinoco Flow’, ‘YMCA’, ‘California Dreamin’, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ and more, the audience will also be treated to a few Malaysian songs, says Cheryl Teh, chairperson and choir director for The Philharmonic Society of Selangor.

“Of course, there will be translations for the audience to understand and enjoy the songs,” she adds. “Our choir members will be performing in traditional Malaysian clothes.”

Recalling her first encounter with The Phil, Cheryl says she was a teenager when she played the violin as part of the orchestra that accompanied the society’s musical production Guys and Dolls

“Later, I joined them as a singer. In 2003, I helped the choir prepare for their season that year, and in 2009, the society invited me to serve as the chairperson of the society as well as the choir director, positions I’ve held since then,” recounts Cheryl, who has had no formal training in music.

“I have always been musically inclined; learned the piano, violin and viola as a child; performed with orchestras in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia; worked with numerous musical theatre companies as a rehearsal pianist; and even attended the Community Choir Leadership Program in Canada.”

However, with new responsibilities came new challenges for Cheryl.

“In 2009, the membership was dwindling and the society was on the cusp of disappearance. I then checked into the model and programming of the choir, and refurbished it into a non-auditioned community choir. With the right strategies in place, the choir soon proliferated and we now have over 300 members, in the age bracket of 10 and 83, with 120 plus attending regular rehearsals every week,” beams the choir conductor.

Today, from empty nesters to young members who come with their parents, the choir is like an extended family for many — a fact palpable in all their posts and behind-the-scenes photographs on social media.

“Just like a family, we have our share of laughter and tears, misunderstandings and happy times,” she says.   

This saw them going places, literally as well. The choir has performed for royalty, the Commonwealth Games, Dewan Filharmonik Petronas and has performed several times in Australia as well.

The choir is currently focusing more on developing the community choir and group singing, because they believe that the human voice is the easiest instrument to carry around and the easiest to train as well. Eventually, with the influx of funds, the choir intends to bring in instrumentalists to accompany some of their future productions.

Interestingly, meeting and singing for Chennai music lovers is not the only agenda on their itinerary.

“Malaysians are avid foodies, so local food is something we intend to explore; especially the biryanis. A few plan to visit Pondicherry and other major tourist spots. As for all of us, this may be our first visit to Chennai, but definitely not the last,” smiles Cheryl.  

The Magic of Music 5 will be held at Sir Mutha Venkata Subba Rao Hall, Harrington Road, on August 29, at 7 p.m.

Donor passes are available in denominations of Rs. 5,000, Rs. 1,000, Rs. 600 and Rs. 300 and can be booked on

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