Some of you know that I conducted a concert featuring my own arrangements of Chinese and Western popular music in Sydney Town Hall in March this year. This event was organised by the Chinese Parents Association (CPA) for Children With Disabilities, and featured musicians from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music along with children in CPA’s music program and two guest soloists: soprano Sarah Wang, and Cantonese singer Edward Lee. It was a daunting experience for me – not only because this was a huge project in terms of arrangements, but especially since this was the first time I had conducted anything in public (with virtually no prior experience). And I got to do it in Sydney Town Hall! The concert was a great success, and afterwards CPA asked me to write some words recounting my experience of the concert. Here is my full statement:
When Miranda and Eleanore Vuong approached me last year about arranging and conducting music for a charity concert at Town Hall, I took the opportunity with little hesitation. Music, through its ability to express and communicate with great power all the complexities of human experience, brings together entire communities and cultures. For this simple fact alone, music has therefore often been used to advance important humanitarian causes. In the case of children with cognitive disabilities (including autism and down syndrome), and by extension their caregivers, music may strengthen their morale, and be a communal language through which they may express themselves – providing an important foothold for those who often feel isolated, helpless, and (to our societal shame) are often discriminated against. Working with the CPA children in the last few months, it was heartening to see firsthand how well children with disabilities respond to participation in musical activity.
I am therefore very pleased about the success of the CPAKidz Concert on 14 March 2015 at Sydney Town Hall. The concert represented a tremendous cooperative effort, with children with disabilities sharing the stage with professional and highly experienced student musicians, and dancers from the Jing Chen Dance School, performing to a hugely supportive audience of about 1000. As the music arranger and conductor for the concert, I decided it would not suffice merely to make simple and quick transcriptions. I wanted to make good use of the qualities of the string ensemble from the Sydney Conservatorium, which resulted in fully reworking the accompaniments for most of the songs in the program. In particular, I combined techniques of orchestration found in Western music with the highly distinctive melodies of Chinese popular music. Thus, the performances presented on the evening were truly unique interpretations created especially for the event, and I hope that the merging of Chinese and Western ‘musics’ is an appropriate homage to the long-thriving Chinese-Australian community, and celebrates the multiculturalism of modern Australia.
Working with renowned Chinese singer Edward Lee was a particular highlight of the concert, and in addition to his performances with the ensemble, it was wonderful to see Edward singing along with the CPAKidz as well. His performances made a great impression on everyone, and instilled positive energy and motivation in the children, who in turn gave spirited and dedicated performances. There is hardly a better proof than the success of this concert, that cognitive or physical disabilities are no barrier to meaningful and important achievements. I would like to congratulate once more, everyone who was involved in the concert. The names are too numerous to list here, but a few special mentions must be made: to Catherine Paix, who has built a strong relationship with the CPA children as their musical coach and mentor; to the guest soloists Sarah Wang, Paul Cheung, and Edward Lee, for their brilliant music-making; to the Sydney Conservatorium ensemble, who were a delight to work with throughout the entire rehearsal process, and who are committed to a professional standard of playing; to Alex and Nancy Ma for their artistic direction and planning; and finally, to the entire Chinese Parents Association – the children, parents, caregivers, volunteers, benefactors. Your dedicated work sets a shining example, and will inspire many others who are dealing with the daily challenges of living with disability, as well as the wider community.
Jonathan Mui, 4/4/15
Revised 22 July 2015