Han Chin Toh ’22 is a four-year Senior from Singapore. Toh enjoys singing and arranging vocal pieces. On campus, he is part of multiple musical groups including Keynotes, The Fidelio Society, and Chorus. Toh is also a co-head for Downbeat, a prefect in Stearns, and a New International Student Orientation (NISO) World Partner. Outside of music, Toh is also an avid watcher of “Grey’s Anatomy.”
1. What is music arrangement?
All of my arrangements are vocal arrangements—I’m very interested in a cappella music. Arranging to me is taking songs that already exist, and then [trying] to make it your own and [trying] to make it for a vocal group. [If] you change the style of the song, or if you rewrite background parts, taking from instruments and moving them into vocal lines, you can actually compose a little bit. You can create completely new parts in the song if you want to, you can mix things together. It is arranging, but it’s also your own creativity whenever you want to put that in.
2. How do you choose which pieces to arrange?
It’s hard to say because sometimes you’re just listening to a song and you can picture your group doing it. I’m in Downbeat and Keynotes right now, and they both have different energies. As you listen to songs, you might think of one song matching Keynotes and then one song matching Downbeat more. I usually arrange for Downbeat as a co-head while my friend [Sebastian Altomare ’23], who’s the co-head of Keynotes, arranges for Keynotes. I’d say it’s really about getting to know the people in your group first, and then going out and listening to music as you normally would.
3. Are there any artists that you look up to?
There are so many. Right now I would say that I listen a lot to this artist called YEBBA. I also try to reference pieces by Jacob Collier, [who’s] really pushing the limits of what is in mainstream and pop music. I think there’s one song called “All I need,” [where] in between every chorus, it doesn’t go up by a half step, it goes up half of that distance, so you can’t play it on a piano. In terms of arrangers themselves, Isaiah Carter and Elliott Von Wendt, those are two of my favorite arrangers because they keep surprising everyone with what you can do. [There’s this] a cappella piece, adapting a song called “715-CRΣΣKS” by Bon Iver, [that] sounds like a complete heavy electronic production, but [Von Wendt] turned it into something that sounds really choral.
4. When did you first start exploring an interest in music?
Ninth grade was very exploratory for me. I wasn’t sure where my interests were, so I just decided to give everything a shot. I actually didn’t make it into a cappella and a lot of music groups in my ninth grade year, because I had very little experience. But I think it was really watching all the campus performances from a cappella groups. I remember going to Grasshopper my ninth grade year, and watching Yorkies and Keynotes perform. It seemed like such a fun community where people would just make music together but also become really close. So that really pushed me [in] my Lower year to go for it again, try out, audition, and I’m so glad that I did.
5. What’s one of your favorite memories at Andover?
It’s funny, because I was remote for a really long time, for the entirety of my Upper year and my Lower spring, but honestly I’d say this past fall. I keep thinking about organizing the International Student Orientation—I think that’s one of my best memories. It was a short 2-day period, we were all wearing these bright pink NISO shirts, and I was just so happy to see everyone come back, and for myself to see everyone again. [I run] the International Club with a close friend, [Noemi Elliott ’22], [and] we have club meetings during the week, and we do more big gatherings and events on campus throughout the year, just to have some space for international students to hang out. This is all motivated by coming here as an international student myself and wanting to create a little more space and support and network for us all.
6. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I really miss home recently, because I haven’t been back in a while, so I’d say Mee Pok. Basically, it’s like a flat noodle in Singapore, and it’s also with this chili oil sort of thing. You have it with soup, and it’s one of my favorite things to eat back home.
7. Do you have a favorite TV show?
My friends know this, and they make fun of me, but I love “Grey’s Anatomy” so much. I have watched all of “Grey’s Anatomy” so far, and season 19 is coming out sometime this year. I think a lot of characters cycle in and out, but some that stayed long enough, they’re my favorite. It’s funny, because the first couple of seasons get a bit draggy, and whenever I tell my friends this, they’re like ‘then why would you even watch it,’ right? But I promise it gets better.
8. What do you like most about singing in a cappella groups?
When I was remote for the entirety of my Upper year, I really missed singing with people. So a cappella music is very special to me because it’s music that I cannot sing alone, and not only in terms of in real time I can’t sing multiple parts, but also no matter how hard I try I can’t sing soprano either. Whenever I’m arranging or singing, I’m thinking about how everyone in the group, we’re all friends and we’re here to just share our joy of music, and have fun when things may be very stressful in the middle of the year. I feel so lucky to have felt this sense of belonging to music, and I hope that through all of these groups, other new members can feel the same way too.
9. What’s one of your favorite performances that you took part in, and why?
I’d have to say it’s “Let My Love Be Heard” by Jake Runestad, which I sang with Fidelio in our Family Weekend Choral Concert this past fall. It’s one of my favorite pieces because of how it starts from a gentle opening and then gradually builds up to a powerful moment later. It’s a song that makes dissonance sound really beautiful and has a lot of harmonies that I’m still trying to unpack. It feels like every time we rehearse it, I hear and come across something new. It’s also a really meaningful performance to me because it’s my first ever in-person choral concert, since being remote for a year and a half, and also my first in-person performance with the entirety of Fidelio.
10. Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’m going to be 28 in ten years, that’s wild…but I don’t really know. Right now I’m hoping to go into a little bit of science in college, though I don’t know if that necessarily transfers directly into my career and everything. I hope that I do something that is meaningful to me, that could be related to science or not. I hope I’m doing some music still, and I hope that I’m with family and friends.
Subscribe to The Phillipian Newsletter!
Read the week’s top stories from The Phillipian, curated for your inbox. Subscribe here!