Thursday October 4, 2012
By FIONA HO
Imee Ooi, music composer for the upcoming production, Princess Wen Cheng: The Musical, shares some of the magic of the music.
IF a few staccato chords conjure the image of zest and vibrancy, or a bar of menacing minors bring to mind a preying ghoul, you’ve responded to the works of a musical composer. In musicals like Mamma Mia! and The Phantom Of The Opera, the composer weaves a musical accompaniment that seeps into speech and action to create a mood.
As invisible as these musical motives may seem on stage, they can linger long after a curtain call, triggering memories of exciting adventures or impending doom. Making the magic happen is all part of a day’s work for music composers like Imee Ooi.
Ooi, who is also a music producer, arranger and vocalist, as well as a classical pianist by training, shares the inner-workings of her trade with Star2. It is way harder than it appears. For one, it takes plenty of hard decisions and hard work to create a seamless score.
First, agreements must be reached with the director of the concept. Next, music has to be written to correspond with the tone to a specific scene and at exactly the right length. Then, the scores need to be fleshed out, instrumentations have to be arranged, musicians hired and the adjustments to their vocals made.
Miraculously, Ooi managed to complete the score to Princess Wen Cheng: The Musical, in just three months. The process came naturally for the composer, who is known for her reinterpretations of traditional Buddhist chants, mantras and dharanis (typically from languages like Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan and Mandarin), into sung versions by accompanying musical scores.
Ooi, who is a staunch Buddhist and a vegetarian, says she draws inspiration from the spirited princess in this Chinese musical production. Princess Wen Cheng, the legendary figure known for her courage and wisdom, was the niece of the powerful Tang Dynasty Emperor Taizong.
She was to marry King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet (then known as Tubo) as part of a peace treaty and had left home some 1,300 years ago to fulfil her honour and duty.
On her journey to Tibet, the princess faced a myriad of challenges and uncertainties, but went on to win the heart of Tibetans with her wisdom and compassion, and became their most beloved queen.
She was also credited with introducing Buddhism and Tang culture to the region. In some versions, the princess is said to be the embodiment of the bodhisattva, an enlightened existence or an enlightened being, Ooi says. “I look at it from that point of view when I’m writing my music.”
In Princess Wen Cheng: The Musical, Ooi strives for a sense of majesty and grandeur. “I think it is very important to be able to convey the aura of a palace or the breezy atmosphere of a vast open land in the mountain,” she says.
“The music has to always correspond with the backdrop and it sets a mood – whether there is love in the air, or if there’s hatred or vengeance. Music can do wonders in delivering an emotion.”
The show, produced by Asia Musical Productions (AMP), made its debut in 2008 in Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur, and has since travelled abroad to perform in Taipei, Taiwan, and Beijing and Xi’an in China. Now, it is set for a second restaging at Istana Budaya from Oct 13 to 28.
The production boasts some 40 to 50 musical arrangements, Ooi notes. “Even the dialogues are sung and those required some very intricate arrangements.”
On their tour to China, Ooi shares: “Audiences have come up to tell us that it is a very colourful musical presentation. They think that this is a very special genre of music and it is something that they’ve never heard before.”
In earlier interviews, AMP’s founder and musical director Ho Lin Huay has called the production an East-West marriage of Chinese history and Broadway pizzazz.
“What we are doing is telling a story that is set in China with modern music, but without losing the essence of its traditional background,” Ho was quoted saying.
Here, the chatty composer elaborates: “It is neither oriental nor Western. It’s not necessarily Malaysian either, as it is not done in typical Malaysian style.
“I don’t think we need to categorise the musical or set boundaries as to where the musical belongs. It’s ultimately about telling a story and setting the mood for it and enhancing it with music.”
Ooi, whose grandparents and parents had also been musically-inclined, likens composing to cooking: “Anybody can cook, but our cooking will taste different, depending on the proportion of ingredients we put in, the amount of heat we use, what we put in first, and how we bring together the different elements.
“This is my flavour,” she concludes. Ooi, a long-time friend of Ho’s, has been involved in all her productions ever since the director made her musical debut with Siddharta in 1999.
Ooi also runs her own music label, I.M.M Musicworks, and has released over 20 albums to date.
Other notable performances by AMP include Above Full Moon (2004), The Perfect Circle (2006), Princess Wen Cheng (2008), Kita (2010) and Singing Market (2010).
> Princess Wen Cheng: The Musical will be staged at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur, from Oct 13 to 28. It is presented by Magnum, with co-sponsors MCA, Berjaya, Cosway, Sime Darby Foundation and Sports Toto.
The Star and two of its radio stations, 988 and Capital FM, are the official media.
Tickets to the musical are priced between RM53 and RM333 for matinee shows and RM63 and RM383 for evening shows.
For more information, call 03-9222 8811/018-266 6900 or log on to ticketch arge.com.my/asiamusicalproductions.com.