Local songs join ranks of established music



The Sing Song Company

The Arts House Chamber

Last Friday

There was one notable absentee from this weekend's Lieder Festival - lieder. Instead, to mark Singapore's 50th anniversary, all three concerts were devoted to Singaporean art-songs. What should we call this new musical genre? Liederlah? Sing Song?

The name Sing Song has already been taken by the loose cooperative of singers whose brainchild this annual festival is. At the core of The Sing Song Club is pianist Shane Thio, who performed in all 20 songs at Friday night's opening concert. He maintained an utterly unflustered presence, giving generous support to the singers and perfectly capturing the essence of each song.

His was a daunting task, not least when faced with the challenge of eight specially commissioned songs.

Adrian Poon performed these new works. And very impressive he was too, speaking, singing and vocalising while interpreting a raft of wildly varying musical styles.

Liong Kit Yeng set him a challenge with two Chinese songs which were decades apart in their musical style and continents apart in their musical language.

But that was nothing to what Hoh Chung Shih's song-cycle C)ODE(X demanded of both Poon and Thio.

Taking four of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's speeches - which Poon read out first - Hoh metaphorically ripped them to shreds and threw the individual words up into the air to land at random. Some fell across Poon's vocal range (and beyond), some got scattered around the keyboard, and some even ended up on the lips of Thio.

It was interesting, but possibly a little too pointillist to be convincing.

The rest of the programme was divided equally among the singers.

Joanna Paul gave a captivating account of the pinnacle of Singapore art-songs, Tsao Chieh's haunting House On Ann Siang Hill.

And while arranger Juliette Lai stuck firmly to a dated 1950s idiom, it gave Paul a wonderful chance to wow the large audience with her vivid take on Getaran Jiwa.

There was the whiff of the Victorian parlour about Leong Yoon Pin's songs, which suited Anna Koor's fruity vocal qualities.

Composer Zechariah Goh clearly likes to tear singer and pianist apart, which seriously discomforted William Lim in Where Are You, My Little Ones?. For once, his masterly projection was unsettled by a vocal line which forced him way out of his comfort zone.

In contrast, Jennifer Lien soared effortlessly in Kelly Tang's ironic setting of Blake's Tyger.

Previous festivals have focused on German lieder, French chanson and the English art song. In this fifth festival, The Sing Song Club gave us something altogether new. The music was uneven, but it undoubtedly showed that Singapore is evolving a musical genre which can stand proudly alongside the established repertory.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2015, with the headline 'Local songs join ranks of established music'. Print Edition | Subscribe