NS days inspire winner of Chinese Songwriting Festival

Lee Hong Shen Elton performs his winning piece Please Remember Me at the inaugural Singapore Chinese Songwriting Festival.
Lee Hong Shen Elton performs his winning piece Please Remember Me at the inaugural Singapore Chinese Songwriting Festival.PHOTO: OCEAN BUTTERFLIES MUSIC

National serviceman Lee Hong Shen Elton, a winner at the Singapore Chinese Songwriting Festival, writes songs during his army stint because he misses his friends

Being in national service sparked the creativity of the winner of the inaugural Singapore Chinese Songwriting Festival, called SG:SW2017 - I Write The Songs, which held its finale concert last Saturday night.

Full-time national serviceman Lee Hong Shen Elton, 19, beat 11 other contenders with his power ballad, Please Remember Me, to win the Best Song Award.

Organised by home-grown record label Ocean Butterflies Music and the Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (Compass), the concert at *Scape The Ground Theatre, hosted by YES 933 DJs Chen Ning and Kunhua, was attended by about 400 concertgoers.

Four other prizes were given out: the Lyrics (Merit) award, Melody (Merit) Award, Best Vocal Performance and a popularity award, which was decided by public votes via Facebook.

Lee, who is serving his national service as a commando after he enlisted at the beginning of the year, says being in NS had him "starting to recall good memories of junior college". This spurred his songwriting, which he first started at the age of 15.

The former Hwa Chong Institution student says: "The inspiration was because I missed my friends. For the past few months in the army, I've set a goal to write one song a week.

"When night falls when you're in the jungle, you can look at the stars or fall asleep," he says. Instead, he uses such pockets of time to write songs, jotting down snippets of inspiration in a notebook nearly every day.

Drawn to ballads which he says are "more saleable", he has many sources of inspiration, ranging from Korean dramas - such as "scenes where the man is knocked down by a car and suffers temporary memory loss" - to philosophical books written in Chinese.

His musical idols are Singaporean singer-songwriter JJ Lin and Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou.

"Both have the talent to sing and play on the piano at the same time," says Lee, who also played on the keyboard as he sang last Saturday, accompanied by other musicians on the violin, drums and bass guitar. Lee has completed his Grade 7 examination for piano and taught himself how to play the guitar.

He says he wants to be a singer-songwriter. "My true passion is music. I don't express myself well with words. I use songs to record my emotions."

Apart from this win, which comes with $2,000 in cash and other prizes, he sold a song he wrote for use in a local Mandarin television production broadcast last year and is a songwriter for a local music publisher.

He describes his win as "surreal".

"When I joined this competition, I wanted to see where I stood (among other songwriters)."

The elder of two sons, Lee says he was influenced by his parents, a housewife and a financial planner, both in their 40s, who are fans of xinyao, a Singapore music movement which took off in the 1980s.

"I'm trying to add more modern touches (to xinyao). Now people want to hear more emo (emotional) stuff," he says.

Competition judge and veteran singer Hu Haiquan from Chinese rock duo Yu Quan praises Lee's song, Please Remember Me, as "a complete and mature" composition.

He says the overall standard is high and bodes well for the future of Chinese songwriting, though more practice and polish are needed.

Besides Hu, the panel of judges comprised veteran composer Lee Wei Song, xinyao pioneer Liang Wern Fook, Zennon Goh, music director at Ocean Butterflies Music, and singer-songwriter Yong Bang.

Other acts that stood out at the concert included Jayven Koh, 36, who works in the construction industry. He won an award for the lyrics of his song, Hei Xiao Gui (Hey Little Rascal), which was inspired by his six-year-old daughter, the elder of his two children.

Another heart-warming act had 15-year-old Wang Zhenghao playing the dizi, a Chinese flute, while his father, music teacher Wang Jun, 48, sang their song, Sai Bian Xue (Snow At The Border).

The elder Mr Wang is based in Liaoning, China, and had come to Singapore to perform.

Graphic designer Ryan Poh, 28, who attended the concert, says: "I was quite surprised at the standard overall. It was enjoyable."

The nationwide songwriting competition drew 428 entries, more than double the number expected, before they were whittled down in stages to the final 12 contestants who performed last Saturday, says Mr Colin Goh, managing director of co-organiser Ocean Butterflies Music.

He adds: "It shows there are a lot of people writing songs. Given the right platform, they will come."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 02, 2017, with the headline 'NS days inspire'. Print Edition | Subscribe