Thank you for your response to this post.
Yes, I agree with you that this is not a competition. It never was meant to be one. However, be it a competition or no, schools have always taken the SYF as a competition.
This is unhealthy. Principals exert pressure on the teachers, who then in turn exert pressure on the students and some times instructors.
In fact, I always tell my students that the most important thing is to have fun and in the process, learn something in terms of ensemble work, team work and musicality. But in the end, schools' mentality isn't about the learning, team work and fun, rather about what award would the students get.
It will take many years before the schools can change this perspective, I'm afraid.
Next, let me justify why I say that big ensembles win.
Firstly, like you said, more instruments means a larger, richer sound and therefore a better performance for the audience. My idea of a big ensemble is something like Millenia Institute's or Siglap Secondary - where they utilise not only a huge number of angklungs, but also kulintangs as well as other instruments.
Digressing a little, here comes the part wherein I am confused as to why the angklung and kulintang are grouped together because in Indonesia, the angklungs are played alone, and are certainly not accompanied by the kulintang. This is simply because of geographical differences. The angklung has been used and played by the Sundanese (West Java) since ancient times, whereas the kulintang is used more frequently in Eastern Indonesia, like Sulawesi. Furthermore, the wooden kulintangs that have always been used in the SYF do not come from Indonesia, but rather, originated from the Phillipines.
I've always been amazed at the lack of research by the MOE personnel. Do they know for instance that the kulintang of Indonesia are made up of kettle-gongs not wooden keys, thus the term coined for the kulintang ensemble: gong-chime family? So shouldn't the kettle-gong kulintang be used instead of the wooden ones?
By using the wooden kulintang, does this then not classify the kulintang under the "other" instruments category?
In my opinion, what I could see on SYF day was that the kulintangs overshadowed the angklungs most of the time. Of course, seeing that one is an instrument capable of more sustaining power, mellower timbre and depends on the hitting capacity of the mallet-wielder, one would understand why. But if this is an Angklung category in the SYF, why would one then choose to have so many kulintangs in proportion to the angklungs, when he/she knows that the incidence of the kulintangs drowning out the angklungs would be greater?
And then to add on to that would be to introduce other instruments. I actually don't find the "other" instruments a problem. I myself have used them in my arrangements. What I am concerned is the role they play in the ensemble. Do they have solo roles? Or do they just play accompaniments to the angklungs or provide sound effects or enhance the music?
I actually think that the performances by Siglap Sec and Millenia Institute were great and musically interesting, especially MI's orchestral-like arrangement. But to me, the roles of the angklung in their performances were sadly diminished and eclipsed by other instruments.
The best performance of the day I felt, went to Crescent Girls School. The instructor used only the angklung, kulintang, and a hi-hat/cymbal for her second song. The angklung parts utilized both the rhythmic and melodic aspects, the kulintang played accents and accompaniment figures that did not clash with nor steal the spotlight from the angklungs and the hi-hat/cymbal combination gave an added rhythmic boost to the whole ensemble. That performance I felt really showcased the angklungs and was easily the best performance of the day, musically. However, they only got a silver.
Thats why I say that big ensembles win gold. Not only just vast amounts of angklungs, but kulintangs as well as other instruments. Oh, and not forgetting the choreography that has become consistent with schools under Mr Khamis.
One really wonders.