High stakes? Drum major doesn't miss a beat

Drum major Chua Keng Hwee tosses his mace during the military tattoo segment. The military expert, who also had to control the tempo of the music played by the combined band, went on to deftly catch the staff.
Drum major Chua Keng Hwee tosses his mace during the military tattoo segment. The military expert, who also had to control the tempo of the music played by the combined band, went on to deftly catch the staff.
The Singapore Navy’s Naval Diving Unit contingent (above) is one of four Guard of Honour contingents marching in this year’s parade and ceremony segments. The other Guard of Honour contingents are from the air force’s Air Power Generation Comma
The Singapore Navy’s Naval Diving Unit contingent (above) is one of four Guard of Honour contingents marching in this year’s parade and ceremony segments. The other Guard of Honour contingents are from the air force’s Air Power Generation Command, the army’s 1st Commando Battalion and the police force’s Police Training Command.
A contingent from the Police Training Command sends a ripple of excitement through the spectators as they march up the aisles carrying their MP5 sub-machine guns. Instead of the traditional march past, this “Onward March” into the crowd by the co
A contingent from the Police Training Command sends a ripple of excitement through the spectators as they march up the aisles carrying their MP5 sub-machine guns. Instead of the traditional march past, this “Onward March” into the crowd by the contingents is meant to signify that all Singaporeans have a part to play in the nation’s progress.

With thousands of eyes on him, drum major Chua Keng Hwee tossed his mace high in the air.

It was a routine the 29-year-old military expert had done many times before, during practice and parade rehearsals. But the pressure to perform remained.

"Every throw is different... It is scarier and harder to focus during previews (compared with rehearsals) because you feel everyone's eyes on you," said ME1 Chua.

During the National Day Parade last night, he executed the drill beautifully, catching the mace with aplomb thrice.

As drum major, he also had to control the tempo of the music played by the combined band that the contingents depended on to stay synchronised.

ME1 Chua said: "I was very honoured to be drum major for this year's parade. It's always been a dream to lead a band for a national-level event."

  • TRAINING

  • Since late April, parade participants had been training hard in four-hour sessions on Saturdays at Nee Soon Camp, where the exact dimensions of the NDP stage were recreated to give them the feel of the actual space at the National Stadium.

  • AT THE PARADE

    We were a bit disappointed that we could not see the fireworks inside. But I was excited about the flying people. Previously, there were aeroplanes;now there are flying people. When I see the parade, it reminds me that Singapore is safe.

    SCHOOL BUS ASSISTANT ADONICA CHIA, 42, with her daughter Jia En, five.

  • This is the first NDP we have ever been able to com eto. It was amazing. We have watched the show for so many years on TV, but nothing compares to seeing it live. 

    FINANCE EXECUTIVE PETER DASS, 53, with his wife, nurse Catherine Paul, 52.

  • I wish for prosperity and peace in Singapore and, like Mr Lee Kuan Yew had said, I hope that Singaporeans will continue to co-exist, regardless of religion.

    PROGRAMME CONSULTANT FRANCISER (left), 55, with company director Seet Kok Heng, 49, who volunteered at the parade.

In all, 31 military and civilian contingents, made up of more than 1,400 participants, were on stage representing the five pillars of total defence, including members of the elite commando unit.

The parade also had its very first female colours ensign, ME4 Toh Xuan Ting, who bore the colours of the Medical Corps.

The combined band, formed with members of the Singapore Police Force and Singapore Armed Forces, kicked off the parade segment together with the Singapore Armed Forces Precision Drill Squad.

The soldiers marched in curved lines that converged and diverged, producing various formations that represent Singapore's diversity and unity.

Although the audience could not directly see the customary fly-past of the national flag this year, many eagerly reached out to unfurl 16 large Singapore flags which were passed up the stadium stands as the National Anthem was played.

The contingents capped off the segment with a rousing finale, as they marched upwards into the stands where the audience was.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'High stakes? Drum major doesn't miss a beat'. Print Edition | Subscribe