Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unk Dicko & the Garden Minstrels...part 1

Dick Yip and the Garden Minstrels entertaining a crowd of
more than 500 people at the Hwan Gardens Mid-Autumn Celebrations
Sat 18 Sept 2010.

Over the last 40 odd years, it was my privilege to have conducted Singalongs for a wide cross-section
of people. They include the community, schools, cubs and scouts, church gatherings, social events, picnics, camps,family get-together, National events...and more.
On many of my overseas trips,I have my ukulele and old songbook with me.
That has provided untold joy to many connected to my travels.
What a journey and experience it has all turned out to be.

What I discovered a long time ago by simple observation is this; many people like to sing ( but not alone)
especially songs they know and love. In any kind of gathering , the simple act of getting everyone to join
in a Singalong at whichever point in time, always increases the camaraderie, group spirit and therefore
the eventual SUCCESS for that event.

Early last year, out of the blue, I received a call from 87 year old "grand owl" uncle Tan Thoo Yang checking up on this much younger owl. He asked if I was still making music and singing the blues away. When I told him that singing and making music will always be a permanent and important part of my life...he let out that it was pretty much the same with him. As a matter of fact, he was still the Leader of the Kg Kembangan CC English Singalong Group, one which he had set up over 2 decades ago! I have done a number of blogposts about my being invited there to provide Ukulele accompaniment and to teach them songs not found in their song files. Please check them out under my Blog Archives.
Last year, Unk Thoo Yang could still drive. Unfortunately, being 88 this year and with his general health and eyesight not getting any better and having difficulty even walking, he had to give up driving completely. But his passion and zest for what he has been doing all these years has not diminished one bit.
He now books a cab from his home in Sg Gardens to Kembangan and vice-versa on Fridays, which is their
singalong day.
I was thinking of people like him and many other retired folks. Most have much time on their hand, love
getting together to sing and socialise but with no where to do this or anyone to turn to. You will need a regular venue and someone who could organise, know exactly what and how to do it, take charge and preferably be a permanent Leader and not just a temporary make this happen.
That was what occupied my mind in the following months leading to this year.
That was why I spent time re-organising my song and ukulele files this year so that I could prepare new
Singalong Files for what I had in mind.
Once everything was more or less ready, I patiently waited for an opportune time to make a serious
proposal to the CCC of S'goon Gardens.

That day came unexpectedly, with no advance planning at all.
It happened like this.
After our June Vietnam Trip, Mrs Lim Hwee Hua, MP for Sg Gardens and a Cabinet Minister, suggested that we have a slideshow of the better photos which many of us had taken individually. She graciously offered to host the event at her home, with dinner included.

So on a Saturday, several weeks later, all the GRLs of Sg Gardens were invited to her place. I was there with wifey D2. It was quite a large gathering that night. The weather was fine and the stars twinkled above as we sat by the poolside for the slideshow. A sumptious buffet dinner followed with much delicious local fare on the table. To top all that, 5 key GRLs had contributed jointly to provide 2 baskets of the very BEST durians available as post-dinner dessert. Everyone, except those "allergic" to the king
of fruits, had a bellyaching time to enjoy so much at one sitting!

What do you do next after such a surfeit of good food with wine and in such good company?
With much time on hand, with no planned programme for the evening other than the slideshow and a large gathering, what indeed? Just engage in idle chat the whole night?
And so it came to pass that the host Mrs Lim H H asked D2 whether I had my Ukulele with me.
When they came to ask me my reply was, " No not here....but I usually keep a ukulele in my car."
I asked, " Would you like to have a Singalong ? "
Answer was a definite " Certainly, that'll be good! ".

I then left the premises and walked to my car parked about 100 m away, got the ukulele
out and made my way back.
With no songsheets prepared, I played some old time favourites to set the sentimental mood.
As expected, most everyone gravitated to the source of the sweet music sounds by the poolside.
After several catchy songs, I stopped and asked if anyone had any song request. Haha...there were too many! In no time at all, soon as a song ended , another song request was proffered.
And it went on and on...until when we finally ended that unplanned Singalong, someone said loudly, " we should do this more often !"
My immediate response was , " WHY not? Would you all like that? I can organise and arrange
a weekly Singalong FOC for our kampong folks. No problem. Just get me a room, a place and leave the rest to me. But some of you must turn up !"
I drafted a proposal by email to CC staff
who brought the matter up for official discussion and approval at the CCC Meeting.
Here is the actual proposal I drafted.

Regular Singalong in English at the SERANGOON
Date: 28 July 2010
Hi Judy,
From the feedback that Daisie and other GRLs have given me, looks like there is enough interest and support to have a once a week Singalong session at our Serangoon.I have conducted such singalong very successfully in the past, when the CC was at the old place in Sg Gardens Way.
The music was provided by me with either a guitar or ukulele.We had some simple percussion instruments too.Later, I started teaching a few of them the guitar before formal lessons were introduced.
Here's my Plan for the proposed Singalong weekly session.
1. Day and Time: Every Wednesday from 8 - 10 pm ( Now it's 7.30 -10 )
2. Venue/Room: Serangoon CC, Room ...any that can seat comfortably 20 -30 for a start. A/con.
3. Song files : For a start, I would have to prepare 1- 2 files of songsheets organised properly in each file. Then CC can duplicate the 2 files of songs. Buy 10 transparent Sakura type files for each set. So for 2 sets we will need 20 files in all for a start. I know 10 files may not be enough for a group of 20 or more. But initially, they can share 2 to 1 file. We can always get more files when it is necessary later. Songfiles are better than fixed songbooks as file content can be changed and upgraded anytime. The Song Files will be kept at the CC in a place easy to retrieve when we have the Singalong.
4. Seating: There must be sufficient chairs for everyone.
5. Music: I will provide most of the music with my Ukuleles. If there is a guitar in the CC, I may use it from time to time. Edmund Tan used to play it too! If we have some percussion instruments in the CC it will be v good. If not, I can help buy some....not expensive.
6. Music stand: I will need at least 2 simple stands to put songsheets/files. If we have fine. If not can order..quite cheap.
7. Refreshments: I think I'll leave it to those involved to suggest for later sessions. So open to any suggestions.
8. Monitoring: Let's have a simple file. Those who come first time will need to fill in their names. Next to their names will be attendance box/line and I will tick if present. This is important to distinguish between "Regulars" and others who just "pop in" for curiosity's sake.
9. For WHOM: Anyone who is genuinely interested in relaxing with singing oldies, evergreens, popular songs in mainly ENGLISH will be welcomed. Priority for seniors, senior citizens among the GRLS first and then others.
10. When start: I am hoping we can kickstart this Singalong next Wednesday night
(4 August). Even if the songfiles are not ready yet by then, not a problem. I'll bring along many of my songbooks, files and with that we can have a pretty good guess what kind of songs others love to sing to. ( Good to know before preparing files).
Getting a good turnout is more important at start.
Dick Yip
"The Wise Old Owl"
CCC heartily approved the proposal and I went on an overdrive to prepare for the
very 1st session on Wed 4 August. That night there were only 5 of us...2 ukuleles, 1 guitar and 2 others. Were we disappointed ? None of the GRLs turned up except for D2 and Edmond. D2 thought I must have been very sad. No way, I told her. I was most happy. The next 2 sessions the number hovered around 5 - 6 in all. Then, what I knew would soon happen...happened. When others heard, by word of mouth, about the excellent sessions that were going on every Wednesday with everything provided for FOC and led by yours truly....the numbers started to increase dramatically.
One night we had about 20.
Presently, I have 2 guitarists, 3 ukulele players, and adhoc percussionists. Everyone sings.
Our repertoire of songs is growing weekly.
In this short span of less than 2 months, I have received invitations to perform at 3 public events.
Unk Dicko accepted the Challenge on behalf of my group.
The very 1st event was held last Sat 18 Sept at Hwan the top photo shows.
Our Singalong session in progress.
The guitar I was playing belongs to Edmond Tan who was present.

We have a number of percussion instruments to add "oomph"
to the songs.
Maraccas, castinets, tambourines, bamboo sticks, flat drums.
Anyone wanting to contribute any will be most welcome.

At our regular singalongs, we have lots of good fun and much laughter.
If you can sing pretty well sing!
If you can't sing too ALSO sing!
That's MY way. No one gets chased away. Everyone is truly interested and motivated.
They want to learn, to contribute, to be lead.
Above all, in time, the Garden Minstrels will know and be able to sing more songs than almost any similar type groups I know of.


jlow said...

hmmm, I wonder if I will see my photo on this blog...haha

unk Dicko said...

A photo as nice and sweet as that must be shared for all to see! It will be included in the next post.
Btw, Jenn some of the 'others' took some snapshots while I was with them.
Can you get them to email it to me?
I'll include as a special blogpost.
Thanks v much.

Andy Young* said...

Hello sir,
You are the epitome of fun and happiness.

unk Dicko said...

I'm just doing my little bit to enliven the life of others...thro songs and music.
Thank you Andy. You too have been an inspiration to a generation of now much older S'poreans.

jlow said...

I'm so humbled by your flattery. I have asked for the photos to be sent to you. Have a nice day!