Reflections on the Derwent Valley Concert Band’s Malaysia Tour 2018

On the 9th of July, 2018, 46 musicians from the Derwent Valley Concert Band with nine support crew embarked on their tenth overseas tour – this time to the tropical country of Malaysia. For many members, this was their first tour with the Band and even a first international trip for some. The youngest tourer was only 10 years old and the most senior just 75 years young. Also touring with the Band was the amazing Mia Palencia – singer, composer and music educator. Her song cycle, Pengertian Suite, was commissioned by the DVCB especially for the tour.

On this tour, the Band also had the honour of presenting the Malaysian première performances of Taiping Suite, a work by Mr Paul Baker – composer, musician, conductor and principal of the British Academy of Performing Arts. Paul worked incredibly hard to make our tour run as smoothly and successfully as possible organising on our behalf rehearsal and performance venues, transport, accommodation and publicity for the West Malaysia leg of the tour.

The DVCB’s first performance was at Taylor’s International School in Kuala Lumpur on the 11th of July, and was opened by Group Captain Wendy Horder, Defence Adviser to the Australian High Commission. The concert featured the world première performance of Mia’s Pengertian Suite, a modern-day immigrant story which incorporates traditional Sabahan musical elements into a contemporary setting.This work was performed on three more occasions during the tour. During the time in KL, the band had an opportunity for sightseeing, visiting the magnificent Batu Caves, the National Palace, the Petronas Twin Towers, and the sprawling Central Market.

The next day (12th), the Band packed up and headed to Ipoh where they received a celebrity welcome from the Sam Tet Secondary School community including a magnificent lunch provided by the Star Mansion Restaurant. The inviting atmosphere and delicious food was a treat for all, and the variety of tropical (and smelly) fruits available made it a real Malaysian experience! The Band then had a joint rehearsal with Sam Tet musicians who were also the Band’s gracious hosts for dinner.  The tables were organised into band sections so that DVCB members had a chance to get to know the Sam Tet students. Their English was excellent and our band members gained an insight into their studious lives. The evening’s concert, named the International Amity Music Exchange Programme and Concert 2018 (IAMEPC’18) was long, as is customary in Malaysia. There were many welcome speeches from local government and school dignitaries, presentations, and a joint program of music with the school’s concert band – then lots of photos! It was an amazing experience playing for such a big crowd that seemed to enjoy every second of the night.

The next stop was Taiping. Following a rather late-night arrival, band members were up early the next day for a guided tour of the city and (another) excellent lunch. The city tour took everyone to the sights of Taiping several of which are pictured musically in Mr Baker’s piece: the sights and sounds of ‘The Old Market’, ‘The Kopitiam’, a traditional coffee shop found in Malaysia – this movement featured a traditional plucked string instrument called a Guzheng, ‘The Lake Gardens’– a solo violin depicts the beauty and serenity of this lovely area of the city, and the finale, ‘Maxwell Hill’, depictsthe British influence on the region. The concert that evening attracted over 500 people, many of whom had travelled large distances from outlying areas. Naturally, the Taiping Suite,conducted by the composer, was a crowd favourite and it was a great delight to bring Taiping to life in musical form.

The next town for the DVCB and crew was Georgetown on the island of Penang. Part of the journey required a drive over a 24km bridge, 16.9km of which is over water, making it the longest bridge in Southeast Asia. The concert that night was presented at the Hin Bus Depot – a beautiful outdoor venue under a wooden canopy with fairy lights strung around the exterior. Performing outdoors meant that the instruments suffered somewhat from the heat, with some tuning slides set so far out that they were falling out of the instruments. However, the lovely atmosphere, appreciative audience, and welcoming members of the Penang Philharmonic Orchestra and young musicians from local schools made it all worthwhile. On the 15th, the Band had a rare day off which was spent sight-seeing around Georgetown in groups, some choosing guided tours. In 2008, Georgetown was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site so there were many interesting places to visit including Penang Hill, Penang Botanic Gardens, and Fort Cornwallis.

On the 16th, the Band left Penang by plane for Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of Sabah. Once clear of the terminal, the group boarded a bus and travelled 100kms north-east to enjoy a cruise on the Klias River. This experience came in three parts: an afternoon cruise, dinner, and then a night cruise. The afternoon was filled with sightings of monkeys, lizards, and beautiful scenery – lots of photos! However, the night cruise offered a rare and beautiful firefly experience as they lit up the trees and blended with the night’s stars. The next day was spent at the Kian Kok Middle School. The Band was given a lovely welcome from the students and staff. The concert there was another success and it was a delight to play alongside the Kian Kok student musicians. After the concert, and many photos, the Band left for the Borneo Cultural Village. This experience offered traditional food, drink, dance and music performances, and provided an insight into the original Malay tribal lifestyle.

The next morning (the 18th) was a relaxing one for all. A boat trip had been arranged to the islands of Mumutik, Taman Tunku Abdul Rahman, and Palau Manukin. The water was warm and clear, providing beautiful snorkelling opportunities. Those not snorkelling could go zip-lining, take a glass bottom boat ride, or even try parasailing. After lunch, everyone re-boarded the boats and sped back to Kota Kinabalu for a sound check for the last concert. The Band had been invited to perform as the special guest artists at the Sabah Rotary Club Pearl Installation Night. There were delegates from several countries around the region, and guests included the Australian Deputy High Commissioner. To be invited to play at such an event was an honour and Mia’s performance was as always of the highest quality, but being in her home town, it was met with an especially enthusiastic response. The DVCB would like to acknowledge and thank Rosie Chong of the Sabah Rotary Club Pearl for planning and organising every aspect of the Band’s time in Sabah. There could not have been a better way to conclude this year’s tour.

Once again, the Band has served as a significant Music Ambassador for Tasmania and Australia on this tour, just as it has done on the previous nine trips to various continents and countries around the globe. The age range of those who travelled on this trip was from ten to seventy-five years, and the value of such trips as these, both in personal and professional development is immeasurable.

The other fact that needs to be emphasized is, that the Band is entirely self-funded. The Band hopes that Governments, Local, State and Federal along with those who are responsible for prioritising Arts funding will eventually recognise in a tangible way, the value of community institutions such as the Derwent Valley Concert Band.

For photos please visit our Gallery page.