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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Choral) in D Minor

By Dr. Francis Tan


Heah Joo Seang Hall

St Xavier’s Institution

7th April 2024



Almost exactly one month short of the double centenary of its premier in May 1824 Penang Philharmonic Orchestra and chorus put on a performance of the Ninth Symphony and completed the Beethoven symphonic cycle.


It was a nostalgic return to the Alma Mater.


SXI was the first school founded in Malaya by the Catholic Christian brothers from Ireland when they arrived in the country in 1853 to offer free education to the local students.

A century later the school buildings were razed by falling bombs during the Japanese occupation of Malaya.


St Xavier’s Institution rose from the rubble in 1954 , rebuilt by the returning LaSallian brothers and contributions from the local population . A modernesque school was designed to cater for the needs of the increasing numbers of students deprived of education during the war years.


The hall was named after Mr Heah Joo Seang , a wealthy magnate and former student of St Xavier’s who made his fortune in rubber and trading . Mr Heah made a personal donation of 50000 ringgit which was a princely sum in those days.


It was a “joy” to see the Heah Joo Seang hall filling up to near capacity with over 400 ticket patrons. The neo-deco hall with its high pitched ceiling, linoleum floor , classic proscenium elevated wooden stage fronted by the school crest and motto ‘Labour Omni Vincit’ (Labour Conquers All).



The hall had undergone renovation in 2015 with the welcome installation of air-conditioning units , generously donated by former students.


Memories of school events came back : school assemblies, physical education classes, art exhibitions, speech days, debates, movies screened on special days , badminton training and competitions , sweaty public examinations , happier operettas , pantomines, and orchestral performances.


In the 1960s till the 1980s SXI was one of the few schools in the state that could boast of a school orchestra, which was the “baby” of Brother Michael Paulin.


A tall poised Canadian with a reputation for strict discipline and was aptly nicknamed “Lau Hor” (Old Tiger) he had a love for music and performance . Brother Michael created an entire school orchestra made up of students and teachers playing in the different sections and was its conductor until retirement.


The PPO musicians 50+ occupied the “pit” area below the stage , while the combined choirs of Penang Philharmonic Chorus and Chamber Choir 80 + , led by vocal four soloists came out at the fourth movement and completely filled the stage.


As PPO conductor Ng Choong Yen raised his baton and the opening strains of Beethoven’s most famous symphony filled the 75 year old school hall it was a wonderful musical experience for the participants audience and performers . The climax was the tumultuous final movement as the musicians combined with the choirs and soloists sang the words ‘ An die Freude’ (Ode to Joy) penned by German poet Freidrich Schiller.


Indeed an Ode to Joy, with a message of Hope ,Peace and Harmony especially this season marking the end of the month of Ramadan and the celebration of Hari Raya Adil Fitri.


Francis Tan

(studied at St Xavier’s 1960 – 1970, and was a member of the school orchestra)




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