Putting together Sing50

The Sing50 creative committee comprises (from left) conductor Chan Tze Law, finale arranger Indra Ismail, creative director Jeremiah Choy, music director Kenn Chua and Music & Movement CEO Lim Sek.
The Sing50 creative committee comprises (from left) conductor Chan Tze Law, finale arranger Indra Ismail, creative director Jeremiah Choy, music director Kenn Chua and Music & Movement CEO Lim Sek.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Team of 80 worked on the mega concert celebrating 50 years of Singapore music

It took a team of 80 people more than 11/2 years to put together a mega concert celebrating 50 years of Singapore music.

Next Friday, the Sing50 concert organisers will finally see their efforts come to life when the historic musical spectacle is staged in front of 45,000 people at the new National Stadium.

More than 70 artists - including household names such as Stefanie Sun, JJ Lin, Dick Lee, Ramli Sarip and Tracy Huang, as well as young rising stars such as Shigga Shay and Reuby - will belt out the most iconic Singapore tunes from the past five decades.

They will be joined by a 1,000-strong choir, 50 pianists, the 100-strong Metropolitan Festival Orchestra and 14 rappers. Many are members of the public who were selected through auditions. Also performing are rapper apl.de.ap from American hip-hop group The Black Eyed Peas and renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

The concert's creative director, Mr Jeremiah Choy, hopes the concert will educate the public about the rich heritage of Singapore music and stimulate a new generation of home-grown talent.

"We often hear people say that Singapore has no music or pop songs, but we do. Due to the lack of technology in the past, many musicians had no opportunity to share their music with the rest of Singapore.

"If people enjoy the concert and their interest in Singapore music is piqued, hopefully 10 more songwriters and 10 more musicians will emerge among the 45,000 people."

Sing50 is organised by The Straits Times (ST) and The Business Times (BT) and produced by non-profit arts-and-culture organisation The Rice Company. It is sponsored by Mapletree Investments, Resorts World Sentosa and Zurich Insurance, with support from Steinway Gallery Singapore.

The original idea was to hold a classical concert to mark the nation's Golden Jubilee. It was proposed by Ms Celine Goh, general manager of Steinway Gallery Singapore, which has been a partner of the ST and BT annual charity concert, ChildAid, since 2012.

She approached BT editor Alvin Tay in January last year and suggested putting 50 grand pianos on stage at a concert hall. The idea then evolved to holding a pop concert at the National Stadium to honour 50 years of Singapore music.

At the forefront of the Sing50 creative committee is Mr Choy, 52, who has directed more than 100 productions and helmed ChildAid since 2011. Also on the committee are music director Kenn Chua, finale arranger Indra Ismail, orchestra conductor Chan Tze Law and Mr Lim Sek, chief executive of entertainment company Music & Movement.

Expected to draw more than 45,000 people, Sing50 is the largest and most ambitious concert the five men have worked on. One of their main challenges was to condense five decades of Singapore's musical legacy into a two-hour concert.

Mr Chua, 48, who has played in live concert bands for regional superstars such as A-mei and Sandy Lam, helms the resident band for Sing50. He says: "We are talking about rock, pop, classical, jazz and much more. It is going to be very technically difficult to encompass everything in one show as well as represent all the artists for who they are."

Mr Lim, 56, adds with a laugh: "If we had a choice, we would invite everybody to perform, but the show would be two weeks long. We went through a wide spectrum of genres and hope the public will be happy with our choices."

There are 18 items on the programme, and about 80 popular local melodies that cut across different genres and four languages will be performed.

The organising committee, co-chaired by ST deputy editor Alan John and Mr Tay, spent more than three months deciding on the songs shortlisted by the creative committee. They had help from a resource panel of music industry professionals, journalists and artists, including DJ Brian Richmond, Tamil Murasu deputy news editor Tamilavel, xinyao pioneer Liang Wern Fook and Berita Harian's lifestyle, art and entertainment editor Hanim Mohd Salleh. Members of the public also suggested songs not on the setlist.

Music for the grand finale, which will comprise five original Singapore compositions and involve more than 1,200 singers and instrumentalists, is being arranged by Mr Indra, younger brother of the late Cultural Medallion recipient Iskandar Ismail.

Mr Indra, 49, says: "It is challenging because I have to make sure the arrangement does not come out messy. Everyone has his own part to play and we have to decide on the order of the songs, which have different tempos."

Logistics-wise, it is also a race against the clock for the team as the stage will be set up only on the night of Aug 3.

Mr Choy says: "We have so many items and people, but only three days to move in 50 grand pianos, build a stage big enough for all the performers, rehearse and conduct soundchecks. It's like organising the National Day Parade, except without the army."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2015, with the headline 'Putting together Sing50'. Print Edition | Subscribe