Nostalgic ode to the dragon kiln

REVIEW / CONCERT

SONGS OF THE DRAGON KILN

Ding Yi Music Company

Esplanade Recital Studio/Sunday Chang Tou Liang

This was not a concert in the traditional sense, but more a semi-interactive show-and-tell session accompanied by music from traditional Chinese instruments.

Conducted by Quek Ling Kiong and conceptualised by composer Zechariah Goh Toh Chai, film director David Yap and heritage researcher Lee Kok Leong, the concert centred on one of Singapore's dying trades - wood-fired pottery and porcelain created by a dragon kiln.

There are only two dragon kilns remaining in Singapore, both located in Lorong Tawas off Jalan Bahar, in the western reaches of the island.

Come 2023, the 36m-long brick-lined and clay-covered ovens, which can fire tens of thousands of pottery pieces at a time, will be no more as the Government seeks to close them down.

Gone, like the traditional kampung, fishing kelong and long-demolished buildings such as the National Theatre and National Library in Fort Canning, these will become fading memories and mere footnotes in history.

Goh's score was high on nostalgia, playing on a recurring theme that was reminiscent of the Beatles' hit song, And I Love Her. Whether Freudian in intent or not, it certainly tugged at the heart-strings, especially when heard on Chee Jun Sian's cello or Yvonne Tay's guzheng.

This memorable leitmotif accompanied the short film features on the Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle's history and touching words by potter Yulianti Tan, descendant of its founder.

Two percussionists struck on pots with resounding clarity as a prelude and the films rolled successively like chapters of a storybook.

The history of pottery, architecture of the dragon kiln, the production process and associated rituals were outlined in basic terms such that even a child could understand.

This was also aided by Quek's engaging banter in Mandarin and a smattering of English.

As if to pad up the concert's hour-long duration, there was a slideshow segment featuring pottery and porcelain from around the world, with Suzhou pingtan, Middle Eastern-flavoured music and a version of Rasa Sayang being performed.

The last was to represent the legacy of Peranakan kamcheng (storage jars), after which a quiz was held, with winners taking home bits of pottery.

Then, audience members were given an opportunity to accompany the orchestra by hitting and blowing on a wide array of pots that had been lying on the stage floor from the beginning of the concert.

Striking to Quek's baton, a symphony of cacophony ensued, much to the delight of the invited performers.

The final chapter was provided by soprano Cherie Tse, who sang a mellifluous ode to a Jurong urn, with words by Choo Liang Liang, Lu Yi and Goh. It dwelled on the sweat and toil of three generations of potters and the thousands of beneficiaries of their artistry.

On that note, one pondered whether this nation could afford to forget and bury its heritage in the all-conquering name of progress.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2017, with the headline 'Nostalgic ode to the dragon kiln'. Print Edition | Subscribe