Held once every two years, the Singapore Youth Festival allows performing arts CCAs from every school (primary to junior college) to showcase their talents and attain awards.
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Unhealthy level of obsession with victory
For every Singaporean student that has ever been in any performing arts CCA, the biannual Singapore Youth Festival would probably be what you will be working towards your entire CCA life.
I was a band member in my secondary school days, and my conductor never failed to remind us that SYF was the real deal we need to clinch to prove our worth. Of course, there were other competitions and major performances we attended but it seemed as though this youth festival precedes in importance relative to any other event.
I'm going to be brutally honest. I think most schools are too obsessed with superficial accolades and accomplishments from these national competition. The obsession level is unhealthy. The crazy (I would also say inhumane) trainings solely for this competition has robbed me of my joy for making music and playing pieces.
While my band was preparing for this competition, the endless and tiresome sessions saturated by tantrums thrown by our frustrated conductor sure made me feel helpless and... confused.
I hope schools and leaders-in-charge of CCA groups can re-focus on the main purpose of co-curricular activities: to develop students holistically and allow them room to explore their interests. When the fixation with victory begins to cloud such noble visions, we've lost the essence having a CCA.
One of the highlights in life
Every student who has been in a performing art CCA would know of SYF. SYF was pretty much the highlight of secondary school life for me as I've participated it in twice in a span of four years. This bi-annual competition certainly brought about a lot of stress for juniors and seniors alike, with strict auditions starting off the SYF season followed by training once every two days in the weeks leading up to the actual competition date. However, my most memorable moments with the school's choir wouldn't have happened if not for SYF, and those are memories that are deeply etched in my heart.
In the past, the judging criteria for schools were as follows: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Gold with Honours, and it was a very prestigious thing to be able to get Gold/with Honours back in the day. Heard that they have scraped this assessment system, to which I feel loses the importance of SYF, though I'm not sure if others feel the same.
Just like how an athlete has their competitions, SYF is The Competition for performing arts students. A bronze/silver/gold label on your school's band/choir/orchestra would last you for two years, until the next time you change it. It's not an understatement to say that the SYF periods were extremely tough, but it was exactly those difficult times that made for the moments that I'll remember even when I turn 40 as it was the times that made me grow as an individual, be it my performing self or not.
Not sure if SYF is still as prominent amongst performing arts CCA students nowadays, but those days were golden indeed.
A judge of calibre
I had always thought that this event was one that truly determined the calibre and the standard of art related performances or works. From the different types of performances from dance to drama to visual art, the judging criteria used to be strict and stringent to the extent that only the best would receive the highest award.
Subsequently, however, with the new improvement of the government trying to reduce the pressure of competition in the arts, the grading criteria was changed. I personally find that the new ruling lose the idea of distinguishing the best in their field in order to make everyone feel good about themselves.
Back in primary school, I joined choir as my CCA and as expected, I was automatically enrolled in SYF once the competition date arrives. It was supposed to be a stressful experience for those who partake in that competition. However for me, I guessed I was too young to understand the seriousness of SYF. Thus, I took that performances quite lightly and enjoyed myself throughout.
Although almost a decade have passed since I’ve last been in an SYF competition, the ambiance from the Victoria concert hall and the multiple practices which I have went through were still deeply etched in my memory.
Being in the SYF was definitely a very memorable experience for me. However, deep down inside I’m still wondering, what was the point of all these competitions?
The Singapore Youth Festival is a showcase of the different performing arts in Singapore. It has been around ever since I was in primary school, and it was always common to see students stressing out over their performance. Back then, SYF was graded using Gold with Honours, Gold, Silver, Bronze but they have recently revamped the grading system to Distinction, Merit and Participation. This revamp was met with mixed reviews, but I do feel that this change doesn't really benefit anyone because it takes a bit of glamour away from the SYF. It was super difficult to achieve a Gold with Honours, but apparently a Distinction certification is awarded so often that it loses its appeal.
Nonetheless, the SYF is a great way to showcase talents and performances that students really train hard for. I like the idea behind SYF, that it allows students to take pride in their showcase and really work for the award level that they want. To keep fellow members of the public in the loop and to evoke a more inclusive atmosphere, the SYF also had a Twitter account to inform followers of the different performances and awards respectively. Not a bad idea as I fully appreciated knowing what was going on behind the curtains of this exclusive festival.
Amazing experience, but stressful competition
Having been in performing arts ever since primary school, I can totally understand the stress that comes with the preparation for SYF. SYF is the biggest thing that ever happens for any performing arts CCA and the worst part-you only get one shot at it.
When it comes down to it, nobody really cares how much time and effort you spent practicing, or how many bruises and injuries you got. Because all you have is that 5-10 mins on stage to wow the judges and bring glory to your school. It doesn’t get better with the awards, (even though the system had been tweaked a little), because they only serve as a label and brands each school’s performing arts according to what that had achieved for SYF.
But having said that, SYF did help forge amazing memories within my CCA. The preparation for SYF is one of the things that will stay with me for a long time, and still make me smile as I look back at those times. More importantly, SYF is truly a growing process, as an individual performer and as an entire CCA. SYF was tough, but I can be sure I came out stronger than I was before.
As a performing arts student, I always got extremely excited when Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) was around the corner.
Although the mention of SYF never fails to bring smiles to my face, it also brings back a few unpleasant memories. Having to participate in SYF would mean that part of the after-school revision time were catered to hardcore dance practices. As a result, it was a tough period for a newbie like me to cope with both dance and academics. Thankfully, I found my balance between these two commitments.
Despite the loss of revision time, dance practices have allowed me to gain more knowledge about dance history and the different genres of dance. Moreover, it showed me the significance of teamwork for any absentees will affect the dance piece greatly. Following that, team-coordination, emotions, facial expressions and even our stamina have to be of top-notch condition to ensure that the overall performance is magnificent.
Now that I am recalling the times of me being a dancer for 6 years, I feel so grateful and thankful for my dance coaches and team-mates for the great guidance and for imparting such useful and intrinsic worth of dance movements and knowledge to me.
To sum it up, SYF has served its purpose to spread awareness of the arts to students and to allow students, like me, to begin appreciating the arts. Moreover, SYF has, indirectly, turned every single one of the performers to become someone of greater resilience, perseverance and one who strives for excellence on and off stage.
Bringing out the best in students
"Hey guys, I'm afraid this will be my last time joining you all for this month! See you guys after my SYF kay!"
I couldn't help smiling to myself on receiving this message from a fellow member of our newly-formed ensemble group a few days back.
Though I'd never been part of a performing arts CCA back in my secondary school and junior college days, the Singapore Youth Festival was definitely hard to miss when it came – with colourful (and sometimes clashing) harmonies reverberating throughout the school, sightings of students hitting the floor with the most elegant dancework and a noticeable increase in the number of students nodding off in classes after weeks of late-night practices, it was a time where limits were stretched, management skills tested and friendships grown.
While many of my peers often lamented about the judging system being a bane, especially during the festival season, views were often changed after the festival season, where friendly competition and a tangible goal to work towards were seen to bring out the best in students. I will always recall the satisfaction I had seen in my peers whenever their respective performing arts groups had clinched that once elusive Gold with Honours after months of tireless practice – not so much because of the award itself, but the intangible reward of being able to attain the best standards that they could, and having grown in the process.
All in all, the SYF is certainly an excellent platform for students to discover their artistic talents and a defining event for students. While as with most school competitions and judging systems, it is hard to avoid an aggressive achievement orientation, which often draws much criticism as a result, I believe that systems are only as damaging as we choose to make them to be. If students and schools alike are able to embrace this event as an opportunity to challenge the limits of what the best possible is, rather than a mere competition ground or striving for a banding, I believe the event would definitely prove a most worthwhile and rewarding experience, regardless of the eventual award.
I was a band member in a secondary school that didn't bear any records of an SYF medal. All they had was the certificate of participation. It spurred me to inject the band with the vitality that they need to clinch a medal of any colour.
The rehearsals were severely time consuming, I could barely recognise the outside world the moment I step out of the studio room. My eyes looked like it was being stamped by a panda's paw. The eye bags beneath my eyes expanded extensively till even a 50 cent coin could be snuggled into it. I witnessed senior members hair morph from black to grey after being reprimanded by the instructor frequently. SYF training was indeed a gruelling process.
After years, hours and minutes of practice, the performance on the official stage itself seemed to last for several seconds. We attained a bronze medal. It was certainly a memorably satisfying outcome since it is a far cry from the usual ordinary certificate of participation.
eye-opener, but not a representataive assessment of performances
Frankly speaking, I honestly think SYF should NOT be used as a marker or indicator to judge a band’s performance, much less use it to categorise the school bands into four categories - gold, silver, bronze, or certificate of participation. Been there, done that. It was both an eye-opener but an extremely mentally exhausting experience, because it was just so competitive that it was not even enjoyable anymore.
It might not be a very viable and practical option, but I think the various awards of gold, silver etc should only be used as a motivator for the students. The performing art group’s performance at the stage, at that time is definitely not representative of the capabilities, potential and abilities of the entire group. I believe a cumulative grading and assessment of the group’s performance over a period of time will be an accurate indicator of the group’s abilities.
That aside, I believe it is a prestigious events that all students look forward to – some finally have their moments to shine with solos, whilst some just want the experience of performing on stage. For me, it helped to forget bonds between all of us as members of the military band. Through the tough night practices, anxiety and stress that we all went through together, it helped to create a profound sense of connection between us.