Working in harmony to strike chord with students

(From left) Senior teacher for music Abdul Hakim Mohd Udori, lead teacher in music Lim Hwee Sian, Mandopop songwriting duo Eric Ng and Xiaohan, and Dr Kelly Tang, senior academy officer for music at the Singapore Teachers' Academy for the Arts, are i
(From left) Senior teacher for music Abdul Hakim Mohd Udori, lead teacher in music Lim Hwee Sian, Mandopop songwriting duo Eric Ng and Xiaohan, and Dr Kelly Tang, senior academy officer for music at the Singapore Teachers' Academy for the Arts, are involved in Stories We Sing, a project to help schools in music teaching and learning.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Songwriters, educators team up to compose songs to enhance music teaching in schools

A new set of 12 songs will soon add to the current repertoire of folk songs sung in schools, such as Di Tanjong Katong and Munnaeru Vaalibaa that many Singaporeans have grown up with.

The songs, which explore aspects of Singapore life, are a fresh wave of local songs - given contemporary twists such as Mandopop and Malay pop rock - meant to help schools in music teaching and learning.

They are composed by a group of seven educators and 12 artists, who teamed up for the first time as part of a project called Stories We Sing. The team includes home-grown names like Cultural Medallion recipients Kelly Tang and Liang Wern Fook.

The project, a collaboration between the Singapore Teachers' Academy for the Arts and the National Arts Council, was launched yesterday at the URA Centre.

It aims to further improve the quality of music teaching and learning in schools with the creation of contemporary songs with a local touch. It includes a book on the songs and a set of 50 lesson ideas for music teachers on concepts such as rhythm and melody.

Six of the songs - meant for upper primary to lower secondary levels - are in English, and two each in the mother tongue languages, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

Some are about Singapore's urban landscape from East Coast to Telok Blangah, while others are about values, community and traditions.

One of the songs, Dui Shou, which means "to be a better me" in Mandarin, inspired by Olympic champion Joseph Schooling's win last year, encourages students to strive towards excellence.

CHALLENGING ASSIGNMENT

It was challenging because we are both parents and we are writing for our own children. It has to make a positive impact, it's not just a love song.

'COMPOSER ERIC NG, on writing a song for students with Mandopop lyricist Xiaohan.

Mandopop lyricist Xiaohan, 43, who wrote the song together with fellow composer Eric Ng, said notions of competition and winning were on her mind, as her daughter prepared for the Primary School Leaving Examination last year.

The duo, who have written songs for top Mandopop stars, including Tanya Chua, Eason Chan and A-Mei, said writing for students was actually "more stressful".

"It was challenging because we are both parents and we are writing for our own children. It has to make a positive impact, it's not just a love song," said Mr Ng, 41, who has a four-year-old daughter. "I'm just waiting for the day my daughter will say 'my limpeh (Hokkien for your father) wrote this song!' "

Mr S. P. Jeyarajadas Pandian, 61, who wrote En Veetiley (Tamil for My Home), said the primary aim of the songs is to teach elements of music such as instrumentation.

"We use the Indian bamboo flute at the start of the song, for instance, to represent sunrise," said the principal master teacher for Tamil language.

Dr Tang, who played a key role in the production of the songs, said: "Our hope is that students can relate to these songs and feel proud that they are written by fellow Singaporeans.

"We are hoping for these songs to be just the beginning, to empower and encourage young people to write their own songs," said the senior academy officer for music at the Singapore Teachers' Academy for the Arts.

The 56-year-old music educator, who collaborated with poet Aaron Lee to compose two songs in the collection, said that while folk songs like Chan Mali Chan are "evergreen and will continue to be embedded in Singapore's consciousness", music is something that evolves.

Ms Lim Hwee Sian, 47, a lead teacher in music who has introduced Dui Shou in her class of Secondary 2 girls at Cedar Girls' Secondary, said the students, including those who were not Chinese, enjoyed the song because it had a catchy beat.

She plans to use it as a starting activity for more students to learn songwriting from next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2017, with the headline 'Working in harmony to strike chord with students'. Print Edition | Subscribe