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Aspiring opera singer Lee Elaine tells Aref Omar of her goal to promote peace and understanding through music
“IF music be the food of love, play on.” The often quoted phrase from Shakespeare aptly describes Lee Elaine’s musical odyssey.
The cheery 22-year-old’s harmonic relationship with music goes way back when she was only 3. “My parents told me I was a natural, dancing and singing to TV shows, so they sent me to Yamaha music class to learn the organ,” says Lee during an interview at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre.
Born in Malacca and raised in KL, her interest grew stronger as she joined her school band, as well as choir, and regularly performed in year-end productions.
She also learnt to play the piano right up to Grade 8 and took part in various music competitions (she was awarded 4th Prize at the Classical Singing Competition 2010, was 1st Runner Up in the Roland E-Band Competition 2010 and part of the Top 5 band in the Battle of the Bands Competition 2011).
Along the way, she was awarded the title of Youngest Author by the Malaysia Book of Records for a book she wrote, entitled Ethnic Musical Instruments of Malaysia, while still studying in secondary school.
“I wanted to find out more about our country’s traditional instruments after watching a cultural show at Istana Budaya but there wasn’t any comprehensive reference books then,” she says.
So Lee did her own extensive research on the wide array of ethnic musical instruments of Malaysia.
“I had all this material and my family and friends encouraged me to share it by turning it into a book,” says Lee of her book which is recognised by ISME (International Society of Music Education).
She has since written two other books on positive living, Sunshine In Our Lives and Please Listen To Me.
Not a bad start for the young multi-instrumentalist, who is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s of Classical Music at UCSI with a major in classical voice. If all goes well, the aspiring opera singer will be heading overseas next year to continue her studies. But before that Lee will showcase her vocal prowess in Paper Crane: The Rise and Fall of A Musical Star.
Presented by The Actors Studio under its Seni Teater Rakyat series, the Joe Hasham-directed musical charts the triumphs and trials of rising Cantonese opera star Ah Kit’s (Roax Tan) and his dramatic rivalry with established stage star Fui Koh (Colin Kirton).
Lee plays Ah Kit’s love interest, Fei Mui, who is also the daughter of the troupe’s manager (Patrick Teoh). The musical will feature 18 supporting actors with musical direction from Mervyn Peters and original costume designs by Shingo Tokihiro (dialogue will be in Cantonese and English, with written explanations in printed handouts).
“Being in a musical is a dream come true for me,” she says of her debut performance in a theatre production.
Lee explains that choreographer Lex Lakshman Balakrishnan recommended her after the production team’s long search for a sweet, young girl who can sing didn’t pan out.
“I auditioned and got the role. I was very surprised but honoured to be part of this production,” she says.
The musical, written by Lim Chuang Yik and Teng Ky-Gan (of Broken Bridges and Ismail: The Last Days fame), will feature 10 English songs, nine bilingual tunes and one in Cantonese, backed by a live band.
Having performed many times in front of live audiences and on TV, Lee isn’t worried at all about the singing aspect.
“Honestly, in the beginning, my acting was really bad. I tried my best and worked very hard during the rehearsal period. Joe is very strict but that’s good,” she says, adding that she is much better now and ready for the challenge of portraying the bittersweet love story between her character and Ah Kit.
She explains that the paper crane symbolises the love between the two. “He taught her how to fold the paper crane when they first met and fell in love,” says Lee of a defining scene.
So who inspires her?
“My father, who’s a very family-oriented person,” says Lee, the eldest of three siblings when asked about her main influence.
“He went through a lot during his time, he didn’t have what we have now and I feel he guided us well,” she says of her father, a businessman in the IT industry.
The big fan of Korean soprano Sumi Jo says her love for music is borderless and she listens to all kinds (well, except for heavy metal).
Asked about her advice to other aspiring youths, she answers quickly with: “Just have passion in what you do, be disciplined and practise good time management, as well as never stop learning, that’s important.”
She adds that if she has time in the future, she’ll continue writing about music.
“I have long term plans to promote world peace through the universality of music. Perhaps something like the World Youth Choir which brings young singers from all over the world to perform together,” she says with a sparkle in her eye.
“I don’t know what exactly yet but I know I can do it.”