Move Forward, Youth [Munnaeru Vaalibaa] *
S. Jesudassan, Arr. A. Woods
At Tanjon Katong [Di Tanjong Katong] *
Traditional, Arr. A. Woods (b. 1996)
SingBites, Op.12 **
Nicholas Ho (b. 1992)
The Uwu Bird
The Bus Stop
Is My Lover Coming [Nim-I O-shi-neun-ji]
Kyu-Hwan Kim (1925-2011)
Mountain Sunset [San no eul]
Pan-Gil Park (1929-1998)
In Flowery Clouds [Kkot-kku-reum sso-ge]
Heung-Ryul Lee (1909-1980)
I’ll Be Here
Adam Gwon (b. 1979)
There Is a Balm in Gilead
Arr. Damien Sneed (b. 1979)
Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit
He’s Got the Whole World In His Hand
Arr. Margaret Bond (1913-1972)
*Commissioned by and written for Janani Sridhar
**Commissioned by Glow Music for this concert program
Folks Songs from Singapore: Notes from Janani Sridhar
We are opening our program with folk songs from my homeland, Singapore. I commissioned these arrangements and worked on the soundscape of these pieces with my dear friend Alex Woods, a collaborative pianist based in Minnesota. Singapore is a cultural hotpot, and we have four national languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. Two of these languages are represented in this set.
The first song, “Munnaeru Vaalibaa,” is a Tamil piece with lyrics by S. Jesudassan. Jesudassan was a school teacher by profession and taught Tamil. The poetry of the song encourages the youths of today to keep progressing and to lead the way, as they are the leaders of tomorrow and countries will look to them for guidance in times of need.
“Di Tanjong Katong” is one of Singapore’s most well-known folk songs. This piece is in Malay and paints a picture of Singapore during its old days as a fishing village, “Kampung.” The first verse tells the story of a lover pining for his beloved maiden who lives in the same village as him; the last verse reminds us of the importance of having good character, because even when our flesh fades away, our character will always be remembered.
SingBites, Op. 12: Notes from Nicholas Ho
Singlish is an English-based colloquial language drawing from aspects of the Malay, Chinese, and Tamil languages. I wanted to write Singlish art songs at first. Unfortunately, the body of Singlish poems is small, and I thought that outside of Singapore, these art songs would not be as appreciated. I thus shifted my focus towards a song cycle with the rough theme of “sights and smells” of Singapore. As a longtime overseas Singaporean living in the Midwest, I oftentimes missed Singapore, where I spent so much of my formative years.
I approached Janani, who graciously contributed the poems for this song cycle.
“Chicken Rice“ is one of Singapore’s national dishes. It is perhaps one of the most chicken-y dishes possible since all its essential components has chicken in it: the sliced, poached or roasted chicken (of course), the flavored rice made with aromatic spices and chicken fat, the clear broth in which the whole chickens are cooked, and the dipping chili sauce, for which some recipes even call for chicken fat! Importantly, as one of the most affordable meals while growing up, chicken rice remains a treasured part of many Singaporeans’ hearts.
“The Uwu Bird” is a whimsical take on the infamous Asian Koel, a species of bird common in Singapore. After arriving in the 1980s, their population increased dramatically. Singaporeans both love and hate this bird and call it the “Uwu bird” after its call. The “uwu” cry is adorable when we childishly mimic it, but these birds start their mating call at 5 A.M. in the morning!!
“The Bus Stop” depicts many Singaporeans’ struggle to catch the bus. Running after the busses while flagging them down at their stops and the complex web of emotions involved—especially in the sweltering Singaporean heat—can be just agonizing. 15 more minutes of anger and sadness until the next bus!
The heart of the song cycle lies in ”Singapore River.“ The River appears in the chorus of “Home,” arguably the most popular Singaporean National Day song, which starts with these lines:
“This is home, truly
Where I know I must be
Where my dreams wait for me
Where that river always flows.”
There is something truly nostalgic about the Singapore River to a Singaporean living overseas. It represents a story of change; a lifeline to generations of Singaporeans, the River contributed to the success of the modern city-state. Important cultural centers such as the Victoria Concert Hall, the Victoria Theatre, the Esplanade surround Singapore River, and this piece depicts the poet’s walk down memory lane, along the banks of her beloved country.
Korean Arts Songs: Notes from Yeon-Kyung Kim
Since the 1920s, Korean art songs have been written by Korean composers who studied Western Classical music, which was mainly introduced through Christian hymns. Korean art songs had their golden era in the 60s. Subjects of Korean art songs vary, such as love, nature, and home. The theme of longing for home is often found in Korean art songs due to the Japanese occupation in the 30s and 40s and the Korean War in the 50s. The love for country and anguish over lost family is expressed in texts disguised as romance because of government restriction on arts.
“Is My lover Coming?” [Nim-I O-shi-neun-ji] is written by Kyu-Hwan Kim, who is also a choral conductor. He set his songs to the texts of great Korean poets and also transcribed Korean folksongs. “Is My Lover Coming?” is popular among Koreans thanks to its simple melody and lyricism. The words, such as forget-me-not, moonlight, lily, and trembling heart, evoke a nocturnal and dreamy imagery.
“Mountain Sunset” [San no eul] is written by Pan-Gil Park, who studied music in the U.S. and was determined to compose art songs that resonate with Koreans. The piece is about the loneliness and longing for a lover that the poet felt while looking at the sunset over a mountain. The alternation of 5 and 4 beat meters, long phrases, and depth of emotion make this song difficult to sing.
“In Flowery Clouds” [Kkot-kku-reum sso-ge] is by Heung-Lyeol Lee, whose numerous compositions are notable contributions to the 20th-century Korean classical music repertoire. This song begins with joy and delightfulness. The dark middle section describes people who suffered from the cold and hunger during the Japanese occupation. The music transitions back to and concludes with joy and ecstasy.
American Voices: Notes from Janani Sridhar
“I’ll Be Here” is a song from the musical Ordinary Days by American composer Adam Gwon. This work premiered in 2009, and this song revolves around a story of love and loss during the events of 9/11.
Our program concludes with a trio of spirituals. The first two selections are jazz-influenced spirituals by contemporary African American composer Damien Sneed. Sneed has worked with illustrious musicians including Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, Jessye Norman, and Stevie Wonder, to name a few. He was also a recipient of the Sphinx Medal of Excellence, an award presented to emerging Black and Latinx leaders in classical music.
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand” is arranged by African American composer Margaret Bonds who was a virtuosic pianist and composer. She wrote a variety of works ranging from instrumental to vocal music and excelled in writing music in different genres.
Janani Sridhar made headlines as the first Singaporean to win the top prize at the Llangollen International Musical Eistedfodd. The competition, commonly billed as “The Musical Olympics,” is held in Wales and had her competing against over 6,000 other global competitors. Janani was the first singer to have received the HSBC Youth Excellence Award, and her debut recital, Janani @ Esplanade, raised over $150,000 for the President’s Star Charity. In her native country, Janani has performed several times with the Singapore Lyric Opera, and had the honor of singing the national anthem, “Majulah Singapura,” at the internationally broadcast inaugural Formula One Grand Prix.
At home in opera, Janani has performed various operatic roles with renowned companies including Singapore Lyric Opera, Salt Marsh Opera, Opera NEO, Toledo Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, LOLA, and Fort Worth Opera.
As a passionate proponent of contemporary music, Janani has premiered “this is us” and Moments Near New York by composer Evette Tuáfek. She was also selected to be a part of Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers festival which showcases new operatic works.
Sought after as a pedagogue, Janani has taught in Singapore, New York, Connecticut, Texas and Louisiana. Her students have received full marks in statewide music examinations, achieved top rankings in music competitions, and won chairs in both regional and statewide choirs. Janani has served as an adjudicator for the Texas Private School Music Educators Association and National Association of Teachers of Singing. Currently, she serves as Assistant Professor of Voice at the Hurley School of Music.
Janani holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Manhattan School of Music, and Stony Brook University. Some of Janani’s most recent season performances includes her debut at Carnegie Hall in Poulenc’s Gloria.
Pianist Yeon-Kyung Kim maintains an active performing career, having appeared recently in multiple venues across Cincinnati, Indiana, Western Illinois, Detroit Metropolitan area, and Seoul, South Korea. She is a 1st prize winner in Chamber music at Seoul Art Concours, where she played as a founding member of Quartet Y. She was recently appointed as a staff pianist at Western Illinois University.
Yeon-Kyung is also an experienced teacher and presents her pedagogy research at the National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy (Frances Clark Center) and Music Teachers National Association Conference, regionally and nationally. Most recently, her article on asynchronous teaching video was featured in American Music Teacher, a peer-reviewed journal of MTNA.
As an advocate of performing arts and showcasing young artists to their community, Yeon-Kyung has founded a non-profit organization, Glow Music. In 2022, She presented the piano solo pieces by Korean composers to the Cincinnati audience.
Yeon-Kyung is from South Korea and now in the final phase of her DMA in piano performance CCM. Her teachers include James Tocco, Aviram Reichert, Christopher Harding, and Emile Naoumoff.
Nicholas Ho recently premiered his Twelve Études for solo piano at Victoria Concert Hall, Singapore. In the past, he premiered his Three Songs for mezzo-soprano and piano in Chicago. One of his most recent compositions, Elegy – In Memory of Rosalie, a flute and cello duet, was premiered in Banff, Canada, in February 2019. His Sonata for Violin and Piano also received its full premiere in Cincinnati, Ohio, in March 2020. Nicholas studied composition privately with eminent Singaporean composer Tan Chan Boon.
As a pianist, Nicholas hails from Singapore and holds degrees from Indiana University and the Chicago College of Performing Arts, where he studied with Edward Auer. He had previously studied with American pianist Tedd Joselson in Singapore. His performance of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto was described by The Straits Times as “electrifying”. Also an avid recitalist, Nicholas has given numerous recitals in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for various charitable causes. In addition, he has also given Asian and American premieres of new solo piano works. Nicholas is graduating with his Doctorate of Musical Arts degree at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, under the tutelage of Israeli-American pianist Ran Dank. Nicholas is an Arabesque Records artist.