From Shunned Orchestra to Big Hit

There were only 10 members when the Nanyang Polytechnic Chinese Orchestra (NYPCO) was first started in 1994. The Orchestra played traditional music, which most students could not appreciate, and thus had problems attracting members. Seeing the problem, then Student Affairs officer Ms Karen Ang decided that the Orchestra needed a change in repertoire.


Her reasons were simple, if she found traditional music hard to understand, she could not expect others to understand it. She knew the Orchestra needed to dive into the current trends and popular genres if it wanted to grow as a CCA. So in 2003, she engaged Mr Mike Chiang, a former erhu player with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra to join the team as its conductor.


Known for his unique ability to create fresh sounds from Chinese instruments, Mr Chiang led NYPCO out of status quo and towards something it had never tried before – playing pop music with Chinese orchestra instruments.


Although the students were initially sceptical of playing pop music, they went along with his instinct.


The Orchestra put together a line-up of popular songs from drama series for their first concert, Growing Up, in 2004. As the audience remembered the songs, they gave positive feedback and expressed surprise that NYPCO was capable of playing such music.


NYPCO knew they were on the right track, so they experimented with different genres such as world music, rock, Mandarin pop and ultimately, Korean pop. The Orchestra performed a KPOP medley at its 2010 Youth Olympics Games encore performance at the Esplanade which went viral on YouTube, attaining more than 200,000 views in just two weeks.


With over 400,000 hits today, the YouTube video also attracted the attention of Big Bang member, Seung Ri, who acknowledged their performance in a Tweet.


NYPCO rode on the wave and held its first K-Attack concert in 2011. Since then, the Orchestra has been playing to sold-out concerts at the Esplanade every year.


Mr Chiang’s dedication to the Orchestra is unparalleled. He would listen to the songs more frequently than its members, and ensure that the renditions sound similar to the actual songs.


NYPCO has also received perfect scores from all the judges at the 2007 Australian International Music Festival and won a gold medal at the Asia Pacific Chinese Music Exchange and Competition in 2011.


Said Chloe Quek, a Diploma in Business Management student, who plays the Zhong Ruan and E-Ruan (an electronic Zhong Ruan - a Chinese plucked string instrument): “If you want to achieve something you never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”


No longer a shunned orchestra, NYPCO now stands tall in a class of its own.


Because We Can

- By Germaine Leow, Diploma in Mass Media Management


For more Because We Can stories, please click here.