Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Interview: Teng Xiang-Ting and Leslie Tay - 16 Dec 2017

If you are in the mood for festive music, vocal recital Sure on this Shining Night is surely your cup of tea. Singaporean opera stars Teng Xiang-Ting, Alvin Tan and Leslie Tay join pianist Pauline Lee to present a Christmas-themed concert, with a programme consisting of spirituals, sacred classics and a hilarious newly composed piece by local composer Lee Jin-Jun and writer Aaron Lee.

We had a chat with Teng Xiang-Ting and Leslie Tay to discuss what we can look forward to, as well as their respective musical journeys. Read on to find out what we discussed!

The Mad Scene: Tell us about your programme, what are you performing and why did you choose these selections?

Leslie: Since the concert is the weekend before Christmas, we decided to choose pieces that were themed around the season. It was also motivated by my wanting to revisit the idea of a Christmas themed recital which I did for a graduation recital in school several years ago. We have Christmas art songs by Debussy and Ravel along with familiar sacred favourites like Schubert's Ave Maria and Mozart's Laudate Dominum.

Xiang-Ting: Adding on to what Leslie said, we hoped to share a variety of Christmas-themed songs with our audience. We are not just the popular carols that we usually listen to in malls; instead audiences will get to experience Christmas across various cultures, languages, and time, signifies different things – joy, home-coming, worship but also reminders of war and loneliness. We wanted to put together a programme that explored a wider palette of Christmas music through classical singing.

The Mad Scene: How did you guys decide to perform in a recital together?

Leslie: It was really the idea of our pianist Pauline. We have all individually sung with each other in different productions and concerts but have never all performed in the same show. Pauline thought it would be a nice idea to get us all together to perform!

Xiang-Ting: I can’t put this better! Pauline hatched the idea, we got together more than a year ago and decided we wanted to make music together, looked at our calendars, and 16th December 2017 happened to be the ideal date for us. So here we finally are!

Pauline Lee
The Mad Scene: What highlights in this concert programme can the audience look forward to?

Xiang-Ting: For those who like classical sacred songs, they will be able to enjoy the two classical favourites, Schubert’s Ave Maria and Mozart’s Laudate Dominum, sung by Alvin and myself respectively. Moving along the timeline, we have other gems by composers such as Ravel and Bernstein, and on the other end.

Leslie and I will also be singing a duet by the American choral composer, Morten Lauridsen, called Sure on this Shining Night – after which the concert has been named. This particular arrangement for mixed duet manages to capture the mystic, serene quality which is characteristic of so many of Lauridsen’s choral pieces – and will hopefully bring some light and peace into the evening.

Leslie: You will also get to hear a newly composed comic Christmas scene about shopping, our favourite Singaporean pastime. In addition, baritone Alvin Tan and I have been singing a lot of duets in recent years and friends have jokingly called us the Bromance duo. We decided to include Andrea Bocelli's The Prayer to showcase our budding vocal bromance!

Left to right: Pauline, Alvin and Leslie
The Mad Scene: Take us back to the beginning, what inspired your love for singing and music?

Xiang-Ting: I can’t remember when or how it first began – my earliest memories are of observing the trees outside my grandmother’s home and listening to their rustling leaves for hours. That might have been the first ‘song’, or when I started to be intrigued by the sounds around me.

And then of course there was Disney, and for a brief period when I was about seven, Spice Girls. I remember forcing a boy from my kindergarten school bus to sing the last two lines of Aladdin’s A Whole New World with me, just so I could have someone to duet with. He only sat with me that one time though!

Leslie: I was just born with it I guess. My earliest memories of singing are of me (I must have been only 4 or 5, grabbing my aunt's measuring tape (she was a seamstress) and jumping onto the bed (my imagined stage) and singing Abba's Dancing Queen (don't judge). 

The Mad Scene: How has your love for music informed your life?

Leslie: It has made me appreciate our shared humanity a whole lot more. In a world that is increasingly fragmented and divided, music is one thing that connects us all. It transcends time as well as geographical, linguistic and cultural boundaries. It touches us in such a profound and spiritual way. It helps me make sense of this world despite the rapid and constant changes our modern society experiences.

Xiang-Ting: Music has taught me to find the courage to be vulnerable, to learn to be honest with oneself and others, to learn to work with others and trust that what we’re working on is so much bigger than ourselves, to re-learn the joys of living in the moment, and to appreciate that everyone’s voice is unique and has a precious place in this life: these are just some of the things that music continues to teach me.

The Mad Scene: What has been the biggest challenges in your musical journey?

Xiang-Ting: Learning how to let my expectations be enabling and not disabling. I’m both a dreamer and a worrier, and quite often the biggest hindrance to myself. Prior to pursuing music full-time, my experience growing up had been quite a ‘safe’ one. Learning to fall and get up again, and learning to walk confidently despite knowing that I will fall again, has been one of biggest paradigm shifts. This journey has been a journey of faith and trust more than anything.

Leslie: My confidence in my own ability. Somewhere between my earliest childhood dreams and my present life, I grew up and the reality of life happened. I have been told I wasn't good enough many times in the past and I started believing it. It took me a long time to start thinking about my voice positively and to start really enjoying singing again.

The Mad Scene: What are your future plans after this recital, music or otherwise?

Xiang-Ting: I’m currently based in Switzerland, singing and studying at the Swiss Opera Studio that is part of the Hochschule der K√ľnste Bern (HKB). I’ll be flying back to Switzerland after the new year to continue my work there – I have several musical engagements such as the Studio’s Opera Scenes, an early music masterclass, and a recital with a few colleagues from the Studio to look forward to in January. I’m also excited to continue learning with my new singing teacher there, Professor Michelle Breedt, in 2018. Apart from these, I’ll be working hard preparing for auditions and singing where life takes me.

Leslie: 2018 is shaping up to be a busy year with several projects happening. There is a musical, two operas, an art installation and a recital of Russian songs (the thought of which is both thrilling and scary because I haven't done much Russian before!). I am also looking forward to continuing to teach the many wonderful students I work with and to see how much more vocal progress they make in 2018!

Sure on This Shining Night is on 16 December 2017, shows at 6pm and 8pm. Click here for the full programme, and check out the Events Page for tickets!

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