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Exploring Song Composition by Preserving Traditional Culture

Written by: Lim Yu Shu (21S74)

Photo by: Lee Jia Min (20S65)

Lee Jia Min (20S65)

“If you started off with nothing, you have nothing to lose”, was what Lee Jia Min told herself bravely when she embarked on her songwriting journey. Inspired by the play “Kopitiam” co-produced by Esplanade and Dramabox, Jia Min wrote her winning piece, “Kopi-O”, which clinched first place in 2021’s Xinyao Creative songwriting competition.

As a Chinese Language and Literature student, Jia Min found the songwriting category interesting and it never occurred to her that the texts learned in school could be her muse. While learning “Kopitiam”, Jia Min felt the emotions conveyed through the play the struggles of maintaining an old-school coffee shop in the midst of a modern society that sought progress and consistent advancement. Coupled with her love for traditional coffee, Jia Min recreated a nostalgic picture of a traditional kopitiam through her song.

Her iconic starting line of the chorus “kopi o kopi o” resembles the classic song “Emotional Liaison” released in 1985, written by Mr Eric Moo, another illustrious Hwa Chong alumnus. By adopting the catchphrase, Jia Min narrated a shared reminiscence amongst the older generation as well as a childhood memory of hers. When inquired about the main message of her pièce de résistance, Jia Min light-heartedly said that is to encourage people to revisit the Kopitiam and enjoy a cup of kopi o!

Like all stories, Jia Min’s journey to success was not easy. “I struggled to find an appropriate narrative because I didn’t want the song to sound very sad or very ‘textbook’,” Jia Min remarked. Her biggest challenge was to condense a lengthy text into a three-minute song, while also finding a way to express her inner voice. With every challenge encountered, lay an opportunity for growth. Though the songwriting process was a nerve-wracking one, Jia Min learnt to give and take before submitting the final version of her lyrics.

Upon hearing the good news, Jia Min was elated, but she recognised that there were still areas for improvement in her work. Personally, Jia Min believed that her passion for Chinese language, her CCA, as well as the support received from the people around her have brought her this far.

Her CCA, Weyoung, provided her with ample resources for songwriting. With the encouragement of her seniors and batch mates, she envisioned the images in her song and completed her winning piece. Jia Min would also like to express her immense gratitude towards her supporters. Despite experiencing some tough times, she persevered with the help of her closest friends.

When asked about the significance of singing and composing Chinese songs, Jia Min said that music is a good way to get to know a language. “I think the Chinese language is beautiful,” Jia Min expressed, “and if you haven’t seen the beauty of it, listen to Chinese songs.”

Finally, Jia Min’s advice for juniors interested in music composition is to “just start writing”. Despite the limited knowledge she had about music theory, she still persevered her way through. She believes that anything is possible with passion as long as you keep on trying.

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