Students write Chinese songs with a Singaporean soul in xinyao challenge

Jayne Peh Hin Peng (left) and Lim Kian Hui won third place and first place in the Songwriting (Open) Category in the "Xin Kong Xia" National Schools Xinyao Songwriting Competition 2020.
Jayne Peh Hin Peng (left) and Lim Kian Hui won third place and first place in the Songwriting (Open) Category in the "Xin Kong Xia" National Schools Xinyao Songwriting Competition 2020.PHOTOS: COURTESY OF JAYNE PEH, COURTESY OF LIM KIAN HUI

SINGAPORE - Sixteen-year-old Jayne Peh Hin Peng has been writing songs since she was 11, but it was only this year that she started penning Chinese songs, inspired by an immersion trip to China at the end of last year.

Despite being new to this, two of her Chinese songs made the winning list at a local competition.

The Nanyang Girls' High School Secondary 4 student finished first and third in two categories with two different songs she wrote for this year's "Xin Kong Xia" National Schools Xinyao Songwriting Competition.

The competition aims to promote awareness and appreciation of xinyao, a term that refers to local Chinese music culture, as well as to ignite students' love for learning the Chinese language through composing Chinese songs.

As for "Xin Kong Xia", it means "under Singaporean skies".

This year, 336 students from 60 schools submitted a total of 267 entries, the highest number of entries received in six years of the competition.

This was in part due to a new category in which participants without a musical background could submit the lyrics to an already-composed tune.

The entries were judged by a panel made up of music industry veterans, with the results announced at a hybrid on-site and virtual award ceremony on Monday (Nov 23) that was streamed live.

Ms Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Education as well as Social and Family Development was guest of honour.

Ms Sun, who also chairs the Committee to Promote Chinese Language Learning (CPCLL), announced the champion of each of the three competition categories.

Jayne won first in the Songwriting (Creative) Category, in which students wrote songs drawing inspiration from their Chinese textbooks.

Her song "Qing Gan Yin Hang" (Bank of Emotions) describes how people should build up relationships such as kinship and friendship.

She also placed third in the Songwriting (Open) Category, where students could write about anything they wished.

Her song "Shou Hou" (Watching Over) was inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jayne counts American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift as an inspiration but added that it was her first year penning songs in Chinese.

As a first-time participant, Jayne said she felt motivated to improve her standard of Chinese.

"I am looking at my fellow competitors and I am in awe of their grasp of the language," she added.

Like Jayne, the winners in the other two categories are first-time participants in the competition.

Mr Lim Kian Hui, 25, a final-year chemical engineering student at the National University of Singapore won the Songwriting (Open) Category with his song "Ju Dian" (Full Stop).

It is about putting an end to a relationship.

As someone who grew up in a Mandarin-speaking family, writing a Chinese song was not a problem for him, but he said the challenge was coming up with lyrics that people could relate to.


Zhou Yun Qing is the winner of the Lyrics Writing Category in the "Xin Kong Xia" National Schools Xinyao Songwriting Competition 2020. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ZHOU YUN QING

Zhou Yun Qing, 14, a Secondary 2 student of CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School won the Lyrics Writing Category, in which students penned the lyrics to a tune composed by local composer and singer, Li Fey Huei, who was one of the eight judges.

Yun Qing wanted her lyrics to be uplifting. It referenced chasing dreams and the need for perseverance.

The tune "Xin Kong Xia" will also be the theme song for next year's competition.

Prizes were given this year to 22 students, including those who placed second and third and those who won merit awards.

The champions in the two songwriting categories each won $1,500 and a pair of tickets to a xinyao concert to be held later, while the champion of the lyric writing category won $500 and a pair of tickets to a xinyao concert.

The competition was co-organised by the CPCLL, Jurong Pioneer Junior College, Lianhe Zaobao and TCR Music Station.

A showcase of the winning songs is planned for next year at the Esplanade.

For more details on the winners and CPCLL events, go to this website.