Runs on food and music, will sing for chips and pasta.

Friday, January 01, 2016

More than a decade later...

December 31st, 2015  - January 1st, 2016


New year's eve.  Staying in.  Doing banking errands at home on my desktop, on new year's eve after turning down invitation to dinner gathering, has a surprisingly calming effect on the restless soul.

Banking done.  Decided to do some filing.  Condo maintenance bills, income tax papers, bank statements, signed contracts, insurance statements, etc.

I flipped right to the back of my contract folder, to look at all my old contracts, including my monthly salary slips from my day jobs.  What a journey back in time, to refresh my mind of how many ringgit I was pulling in for Lee Shu Fun, as an executive, as a chorus girl, a new wedding singer, a supporting actor, as main actor, as "function singer", as 'Diva of the night"...

There was an invoice dated July 8, 2007 where I billed the American Embassy for a performance of Negaraku at the 231st anniversary of US Independence reception at the Marriott KL, held on July 5th, 2007.  I remember having to go to the embassy office to sing Negaraku in an office, to audition for the job.  I was such a nerve wreck I sang like a moron.  Ellen, the sweet lady overseeing the process, let me send in another `audition tape' where I was able to sing properly.  When I actually perform the song at the reception, the whole evening felt like a miracle - just two seconds before I stepped into place and sang Negaraku with the American navy band, the massive truckload of butterflies in my stomach disappeared and I sang with a grace that I didn't know I was capable of.  I was proud to be a Malaysian who was picked to sing that night I guess.  Later on, Datuk Sharizat complimented me on the performance.

Somewhere in the neat pile of old invoices and payment slips, I found a photocopied examination report from Trinity, signed by (I think) Harold James, on December 2nd, 2004.  I scored 90 out of 100 for Performer's Certificate - Singing.  The four songs for the exam were La Promessa by Rossini, Haydn's With Verdure Clad, Schubert's Liebesbotschaft and Sondheim's Green Finch And Linnet Bird from Sweeney Todd.  I remember practising really hard for the exam.  When I stepped into the tiny classroom at UM to face my first ever singing examiner, a stern looking white gentleman no less - there must have been a maturity in my spirit back then, much more than I think I possessed, of how I coped with that kind of stress.  I'm impressed, just recalling this.  Oh, I also did something that I think nobody in Malaysia has done before - I took off my underwear minutes before going into the room, because the silly dress that I wore for the exam (I believe I was the only one that day/afternoon wearing a formal evening dress.  It was a form fitting black gown, something I imagine Holly Golightly and Audrey Hepburn would wear - that I bought at a Sydney flea market) was so bloody tight that my panty line was showing.  And I thought it was bad taste to perform beautiful repertoire in a nice dress with VPL.  My girlfriends from the classical singing circle would always laugh at me and think I did well because I didn't have my panties on.

Then there's a printed email dated May 14, 2003 from Sharanya Manivannan, to all the performers of a fundraiser for All Women's Action Society Malaysia, show titled "Crescendo: Raise Your Voice".  The performance was at No Black Tie, held on May 18th, 2003.  The other performers of the night included Bernice Chauly, Chacko Vadaketh, Harish Shankar (my pianist for the performance where I sang Hammerstein's Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man and Puccini's Quando Men'vo - god knows what was I thinking, to pick a Puccini), Jerome Kugan, Joanna Bassey, Markiza, Pete Teo, Saidah Rastam, Sharany of course, Shelley Leong, and Zedeck Siew.  Holy cow, 13 years later and looking at the names, a star-studded cast list - I can't recall how I got in that line-up.

It still feels like an accidental fluke.  How did I get from being a full time starstruck to being here?

Even though I'm glad to be here now, older and more confident; I will always reminisce my younger days' antics with fondness - when I walked up to Harith Iskander at Tower Records to tell him that I adore his work; that time after watching Gold Rain and Hailstone I asked for Jit Murad's signature and he planted a big kiss on my hand (am sure I didn't want to take a shower after that), when I chatted with Mew Chang Tsing on a bench outside of Actors Studio Theatre at Dataran...

I bet there were more happy moments like that if I read my old diaries.

I don't think I have the same balls I did when I was in my early twenties.  I can't think of anything crazy I have done in the last 5 years, that compares to those above.  Never been a big fan of being the most ambitious person on the block.  Insecure and doubtful are more like me.  Sure, I'm good at masking that now when I go on stage, I have had more than 10 years of getting good at faking it.

Walking on stage in the dark in a pair of Fion Poon stilettos next to an eleven-piece band at my own concert felt like walking on thin rope.  Basking under beautiful lights on stage and belting out originals felt like dream.  Taking a bow in front of full houses of audience felt like the best kind of birthday presents.

Now that I have done it and survived, I'm a little scared of what I have to achieve next.  Naturally, I'm expected to top that.

Perhaps I will, or perhaps I will not.  Que sera sera.

For now, I think I better take one thing at time.  Gotta stop competing all the time, and live a little.  2016, more holidays and more calmness at work.  I hope I find more wisdom.

Happy new year.


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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Found its way to the sky - "Into The Sky" official music video

Released on December 1st, 2015.

:)

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Friday, October 16, 2015

I Trust You, and brief encounters (FB posts)

August 26, 2015
"I trust you." I find myself saying that a lot in recent times. Whenever I say it I have a good feeling about my life - that I have been able to surrender my hope, faith and goals into others whom I have found and earned my trust. 
I think it's a wonderful feeling when you can tell someone that - "I trust you." Maybe in some ways, even more powerful than "I love you." More than love, is when that person has done things that tell me that I can lean on him/her, and hold hands with him/her to achieve dreams and goals together.
More often than not, I think great loves are those built on great trust and friendship. It's all interconnected - without trust, it's no way to build great friendships and partnerships. 
Over the past one week, I have been asked a few times about my blatant and prolonged singlehood since Justin. "So what is it now? You've gotten too picky haven't you?" I don't know if knowing what matters to me and being picky have become the same thing, haha.
Maybe many people go through partners in their lives, each time hoping to find the ultimate person who fulfils them, or a relationship that fulfils his/her soul. In the absence of that special man who fulfils me and the empty position of "partner/soul mate" - I found many fulfilling partnerships and platonic relationships that can seriously rival a seat named 'boyfriend'. 
Perhaps it's my luck, or perhaps I have done something good in my youth - I have been meeting and working with people and friends whom I say "I trust you" a lot to. Sure, no one can compare to what J has done for me; but what these friends have done for me are honestly, no less sincere and passionate like J's contribution in my life's path.
I am grateful for having these people in my journey. I hope I am doing all that I can to treasure their friendships. 
And so my answer to my friends who have asked me about seeking the next guy who would hold my hand is, "I think I have found him...but it's in fact, more than one of them...and sometimes it's not just men - it's like a whole bunch of wonderful special people, men and women." 
(Inspired to share this because of the planning of my upcoming music video shoot, am working with the crazy talented Tan Choo Harn - am so f*cking thrilled that he is making my MV - and whom I have been saying "I trust you." to, like 3 times a day)


September 22, 2015

I'm not bothered by brief encounters and having met people you can't keep in your daily routines, people we meet are messengers - carrying important lessons and insights that we can benefit from if we open our eyes, ears and hearts to them in the brief time we spend with them. Treasure all your chance encounters and friendships. ‪#‎reflections‬ ‪#‎janetwrites‬ ‪#‎friendships‬‪#‎messengers‬ ‪#‎lifelessons‬

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Zen @ Adult Ballet Class

Joining an adult ballet class.

The usual reaction from adults are usually:
"Huh?  For what actually?"
"How to do ballet now?  So old already."
"Can meh?"
"How do you do it?  Eee I cannot man, I'm not so flexible at all, sure die one."
"Do you need to do ballet for your singing?"

Actually I don't need it for my singing la.  Neither do you need adult ballet class for your interior or graphic design career, or for your event planning business, or your emcee career.  None of us in my adult ballet class is planning a professional ballet career.

And that's the point, for me at least.  (and to answer those who lament they are not good in being flexible or not good in dancing, hence joining a dance class is out of the question, my answer is that - I didn't sign up for dance/singing classes because I was good at the craft, I started because I want to learn to suck less at dancing and singing, and more importantly - because I enjoy singing and dancing, whether or not others are watching or listening)

This morning was my 4th class with Miss Nell​.  I have been doing the classes in ballet tights and leotard, no skirts - so my hips, bums are all in clear view of my own eyes, in figure hugging fashion.   At the end of every class we stand in front of Miss Nell's camera and (suck in) and strike a pose (or two, or three, four, five...).

Last week we jumped, many times.  The photos looked wonderful.  I have a room full of performers and actors as classmates and they know something about working the lens.  I looked at all the photos that was shared on social media and spotted myself in mid air.  The first reaction was self criticism - "My turn out sucks, my toes are not pointed enough, my legs are so kang-kang - no grace...I didn't realised my hips are THAT wide...in photos."

Those feelings stayed with me for a week, of course by the weekend I forgot about my wide hips and was glad that my legs and hips helped me through my almost 9-hour walk at Bersih 4. 

But when I face my reflection in the mirror this morning in class, my less than forgiving inner monologue started again. "Actually my legs are quite short, I always thought I had long legs for my height." "I have to work harder at weights to tone these muscles." "I wish my turn out is better, I have to not confuse that with clenching my butt." So the nagging voice stuck around for first half of the class.

And then I remembered the short documentary clip that Miss Nell shared with the class that I watched a few days ago, about an adult ballet class in San Francisco spearhead by Kathy Mata.  The 20-minute film sufficiently illustrated the importance of intention in what we do, in our choices. 

I looked up again at myself in the mirror in that thought, and I looked around my classroom at the strong-willed individuals next to me - most of us way past 30s and most of us have never learned ballet in our `younger youth' (I consider anyone under 50 a youth). 

"Remember this, Janet - we didn't join this class because we think we have beautiful and neat, flexible hips; or that we have beautiful and graceful ballerinas gait and turnouts.  We join because we want to work towards the better versions, and our best versions of our own ballerinas."  It was a moment of epiphany and relief.

So I concluded then, adult ballet classes are important for me (us) because: in this heavily glossed over society of digital imaging and aesthetic beauty-workship culture - it is mighty cathartic for a 38-year-old to face herself every week in ballet tights and leotard;  attempting jumps, plies, pony trots, tendus, demi-runs and making friends with her physical limitations; and her less than perfect body. 

I stopped for a moment and enjoyed that moment of truth and soak it all up.  Given all that I have in my life so far, I have lived to this ripe-young-age of 38 years of age and survived it.  All my limps are working fine still, and I have managed to stay in love with the finer things in life - arts and music after so many years.  I have earned my place to accept that my body is less than perfect, my tummy isn't as flat as I thought it is, and my legs are shorter than I remember. I am goddamn 38 years old.  I should be fucking proud to be doing this, gotta shut up that nagging voice and keep practising my turn out.

And then, life is, quite truly, fucking perfect.  Till the next class. Here's to remembering our intentions and keeping the gratitude.

Thank you to my beautiful (and noisy) classmates who are immensely inspiring. And to the "Miss Nell" who indulges us in our dreams and hopes. Love.



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Friday, July 24, 2015

Letters number one hundred and twenty nine: The days go on

Dearest J,

Two days ago, I finally packed your two pairs of pants away - the two pairs that have been hanging on the back of the master room door...since 2010.  Of course they were left hanging there intentionally, since you last left them there.  One blue jeans and one black working pants, a bit faded and one can't tell if it's really black or if it's brown.

Can't put a name to this behaviour - deliberately not packing away 100% of your belongings here.  Is it a secret desire, a secret wish that having your things around will make the memories of you linger longer?

What really happens is that I keep living, and moving forward with my life...but every time I start to clean up your things little by little - the moment I confront my decision to move the items away from its existing position, I am plunged straight to the hollowness and poignancy of the state of things: you  were here before.

I also finally clean out your bedside drawer, the tiny drawer on your side - what used to be your side of the bed.  I took my time before I picked out each and every piece of old receipts, used tissues, unused tissues, name cards, folded notes and what not - and placed them gently into a plastic bag, to be thrown away.  I found a 1 Ringgit note stuck in between a receipt.  These were the contents of your pockets then.  Your habit of emptying your pockets into this little drawer.

Clearing this drawer was a little more painful than the two pants - I checked the pockets of the pants, nothing left.

This home is a little cleaner and neater now, despite it being older now.  There are cracks on the cheap bathroom basin cabinets, the pale green kitchen blind is now stained with the years.

I really dig cleaning the flat, bit by bit, corner by corner, room to room.  Decluttering it slowly makes me feel "ready" for anything ahead.

Will I ever be fully ready for all that's to come? Will I have the courage to make things, people come to me?

Don't know, just live from day to day...

No complaints.

Forever,

B

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Friday, July 03, 2015

Food over sex

So I sat down in front of my living room window and stared at the 1230am traffic on Jalan Ipoh, 21 floors below...with a freshly toasted bran bread spread with my most delicious latest find in the supermarket - homemade honey and almond butter spread.

As I took my last few bites while purring with utmost satisfaction...a small voice inside my head uttered, "Oh my gawd I think I prefer this than having a man making love to me."

.....

Gosh, is that me talking?" ....then I stopped in my track and tried to analyse my feeling and that voice.

"Is it really so?"

Well, for one - if you buy the right peanut butter and check its expiry date and have a toaster that works and a piece of fine bread - you can always guarantee your orga...foodgasm.

Yea, it's easier.  Satisfaction always guaranteed.  With sex with another person, so many other factors at play.  So, Many.

This topic is as old as...




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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Memories: breakup then and now

"Your face looks like it's been hit by a truck."  The first joke after our breakup.  He coaxed me to stop crying, well I didn't stop right away but that did make me laugh.

My first and only breakup was in 2004, after our first two years together.  Second year was lots of small but unpleasant fights, I grew overly dependant on him, the passion and fun were lost in the mundanity of a lifeless routine - I was too young and foolish to see that it was going to pieces, slowly.

"I don't remember the last time we have fun together anymore.  When we fight so much nowadays, it makes us forget all the good things we had."

"I didn't miss you when I was away."
"So what?" I said.
"I don't think we should do this anymore."

Though it was done gently, it was my first.  The gentle blow hit me like a truck indeed.  We lay in the darkened room and discussed what to do next.  There was no yelling or scolding.  All of that were done months before and led to the quiet explosion of that night when he said he didn't want to do this anymore.

Heart broke into pieces, tear gate flushed and there was no turning back.  But looking back now, I remember it was all very gentle, extremely gentle.

I remember we even went out for a night stroll in the city, Bukit Bintang area.  Either the night we broke up or the night after.  I wore a cotton army hat to cover my swollen eyes, favourite blue jeans, a black bra and a black see through mesh blouse.  He took a photo of me that night, the print is somewhere in some box in some corner of my house now.

We walked gently, talked gently, the gentle farewell to romance I guess.

After I found a place to move in to, he took me shopping at IKEA and bought me a few book shelves for my new home.  We took everything back ourselves and he stayed the day to assemble everything for me.  I bought a brand new super single bed.  My new place was beautiful, small, and clean.  My chief tenant was an aircraft engineer who lived in the master room and he kept the flat wonderfully clean.

It wasn't all easy and pretty like my new rented room of course - buying things for my new home was the easy part.  Walking away from the relationship in one piece took a lot more effort.  My colleagues back then were lovely bunch, I can't remember exactly what they did for me but I remember them being lovely to me.  The first few weeks were terrible - focusing at work and keeping a calm composure.

Before my move out of his place, watching him coming home late at night and being confused was hard.  Once he came home, evidently he had one too many drinks, he walked to our bed with his helmet still on his head and proceed to lie down.  I could only imagined what was on his mind, the not knowing was painful.  I wrote an entry about the not knowing and the cease of communication:


it hurts me to see you like this.  
it hurts to know that i don't know how you feel. 
it hurts even more to know that i have probably never really know how you feel. 
it hurts like crazy to know that i have stopped being the person you confide in at the end of the day. 

i'm still here. 

you've hurt me but i'm still here, you can cry on my shoulders. 
yes i know it's stupid but my heart tells me to. 
you may not love me anymore but i'm still the same person you talked to. 

damn it, i'm still the same person. 

you are feeling unjust that the world hasn't given you what you deserve for your efforts. 
you are feeling tired in the head and in the mind. 
you are feeling unhappy, i can tell from your face. 

if only i can be that person you confide things to again... 
if only. 

He was very very kind to me, he helped me set up the new life.  After the new home was installed, I was independent again.  I wrote a lot of blog entries, I read books, I went out and have many meals alone, some with friends.  And he would be around sometimes, we stayed as good friends.  Back to our old days before our romance - we chatted at Mamak after work.

"Move out of his space, and let the bastard miss you." My best friend told me when she first got over the initial shock of the news.

The breakup was good for me - it forces me to grow up, to reflect on myself, and to chase after my independence and discover my art again (and that is another story).

The breakup was good for him - for him to break away from an almost abusive relationship and to reclaim his right for a more loving friend and relationship.

The breakup was good for us - we reset the friendship, reviewed our behaviour and started fresh as friends again. Our friendship was rekindled and we got to remind ourselves again why we enjoyed each other's company at the first place.

I know I was lucky to have only gone through only one breakup in my life, and what more, one that broke my ego and built me up again.  I don't know what you can learn from my story, it's just me putting them down in words, and share my reflection of what was experienced back then - all of 11 years ago.

We eventually got back together again, about 7 months later, as a couple.  The partnership took to a great new height and we hardly have fights after that, we bonded more, we truly appreciated each other more, we became 'bestest' of friends.  We live and let live and we promised each each other to grow old together, marriage or no marriage - we want to be each other soul mate.

So that is my happy ending breakup story.

I wrote this as a self-preparation for an imminent separation of a very different kind of relationship.  Romantic or platonic, I think separation and breakups are there to teach us and help us become stronger and better people.


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Monday, April 27, 2015

Letters number one hundred and twenty-eight: The days go on

Dearest J,

I just finished reading Kafka On The Shore.  Don't think Murakami was one of the authors you read...? Not sure.

The album is out, the two-night concert was a success.  For a little while, of a few days, many friends and friends of friends talked about it.

It was all so overwhelming and gosh, I didn't know where my strength came from..

To work non-stop under the great stress of finishing recordings and organising the concert; of preparing myself for the concert: face my songs and the audience, and brave the enormous beauty of the 11-person ensemble for Restless Heart.

Yet I've lived.  I think I'm enjoying the fruits of my labour - my mind is pretty clear now for most part  - in the sense that I allow myself to sit back and enjoy the smallest and most important pleasure of being an artist now: the afterglow, the quiet afterglow.

Like today...

I woke up a minute before 8am, stayed in bed...slept a while more.  Woke up again a while later and drifted between reading Kafka and checking FB and sleeping more.  Got up finally at 10am.  I put some porridge to boil, hung up laundry, slowly stir fry some vegetables (long beans and broccoli), sautéed needle mushrooms, branched purple cabbage with olive oil and soy sauce, fried an egg.  I ate two bowls of porridge with the dishes, over the novel; I ate slowly and took my time to wash the dishes.  After lunch I treat myself further - reading on the sofa, not enough, I poured myself the Yozu sake I bought from Kobe.  I napped in between reading and finally finished the novel at 3pm.

What a life right.

Put all those months of rushing between gigs and recordings and late night meetings and rehearsals and deadlines and stress and sleepless nights and not eating well and getting skinny into perspective...

Every now and then, more so now that I can slow down pace, I think about you and wonder about all sorts of things.

Even though I move fast on my toes and sometimes too fast to catch a breathe, I always, often wondered why life would be if you're still around.

Would I have made the album?  Would I write songs?  Will we go to London together?  .....

What I know for sure is that if you were here when I make the album and concert, you'd be really happy for me and proud of it all for me.

Your parents and Mama came to the concert on first night.  I gave copies of my CD to Alex, Yan and your parents.  Your mom asked for 5 copies to sell for me.

The journey after this is pretty much...another chapter, I guess the chapter before and up to the point of concert was called "WORK IT".  What comes after this is perhaps "Make It Last"?

The memories of you will last for a long long time.  I like this conversation at the end pages of Kafka On The Shore a lot, put it down here for you:

"Are memories such an important thing?"
"It depends," she replies, and closes her eyes. "In some cases they're the most important thing there is." 
"Yet you burned them up." 


Forever yours,

B




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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Restless Heart - people who love people who chase dreams...

FB entry on November 29th, 2014

[album-pre-sale] [love-for-sale] Ling TangYeo Yann YannCoby Zai & Moo Siew Keh -- thank you for supporting my debut album (it's titled 'Restless Heart')!! 
I stood at the foyer of KLPac after watching Raj And The End of Tragedy (don't miss it - ends on Sunday!!), and lamented my incredible emotional state of mind to the usual suspects of Melissa Teoh and Wong Horngyihwho have been following my private updates on how the album is progressing.
When I turned around and saw Ling and gang, few exchange of "Wassup" later - Ling fished out her wallet immediately upon hearing that I am pre-selling my album...and the rest of the gang followed suit, a chorus of "Of course we wanna support you and your album!" they sang... THANK YOU my friends 
"I sold 4 albums tonight! After watching Raj!" I told my vocal producer via a text, after I got home.
"Love is all around  " Seah Song-fan reminded me.
"But calm down. Seriously. This is an order." He said.

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Restless Heart - album-making diary #4 (January 7th, 2015)

 FB entry on January 7th, 2015

[album-making-diary] [Restless Heart album] My friends told me this is the closest I would get to being pregnant - giving birth to an album. I cannot agree more.

All the hours spent inside the studio and near the studio (lunch break, dinner break, suppers, brunch, breakfast, etc); all the hours spent there chatting, working, eating, dreaming, arguing, laughing and crying - I guess, are like the ups and downs of someone waiting to go into labour.

It dawned on me only a short while ago (weeks) that for first timer in album-making, am charging in this brand new field with am ambition so colossal that you would think am either stupid or foolish, or both. A full album of 10 songs that I hope to complete within two moths, all of the songs selected vastly challenging.


If it wasn't for my ego (to finish what I have started) and how foolishly dreamy I am - I would have deem this project suicidal and lethal and raise the white flag. Secondly, "the show must go on" - for the love of those who believe in me and became part of the project and left me a piece of themselves - without these lovers I cannot go on.

We started recording vocals on the 4th song last night. The album title song is now ready to be mixed. It was emotional to listen to the rough mix of Restless Heart and recalled the years I have behind me since I first learn this killer song. I told my producer Seah Song-fan that I am finally proud, of myself (not because the singing on the track is perfect) - for the work that have gone into the song. Thank you Zalina Lee and Elvira Arul for lending your crazy magic in the back up vocals. And Tay Cher Siang for being bossy enough to make me do this, much much love to you, stay bossy.

The songs on this album requires the full spectrum of a singer's voice and abilities - thanks to the faith (and talent) that my composers/arranger have on me, for writing beautiful but complicated materials that call for a `super singer' to take on. The range, tone and character required to do the songs well are frankly, beyond me at the moment. "What were you thinking Janet??" I guess I wasn't thinking enough when the material came to me, I fell in love with the songs and with my own stories and I dived head in, now my body is wet and and cold but my soul is very happy, despite being very scared.

Of course then came along the madness and intensity of an artist from another planet, Song-fan Seah who was crazy enough to say "Let me help you." Without even knowing the album material first, he invested his belief in me.

Now months later, and hundreds of hours of coaching later - Song-fan is still deep in coaxing and guiding the better versions of me to come into light. His bottomless energy (is freaking out of the world that I think he is alien) and tireless approach in teaching moved me so and help me stay focus in the recording booth - no matter how many times I have been asked to sing a line, I keep going, because he can.

Constructive feedback from Song-fan and colleagues help me discover so much of my own voice I never heard or know. It is like living under the same roof with this person for so many years and now for the first time, discovering a new, extremely attractive side of her that you have previously overlooked. Or like staying in the same house all your life but never ever step foot in a room full of treasures - and discovering it after 10 years (this one calls for a separate entry).

I can hear my own voice now, some are clear and confident, some are shy and unsure of itself, yet. There's still so much to do before I wrap the vocal recording of all 10 songs and am happy to say that I'm hooked on the process of discovering. The work is tedious and at times rather gruesome but the rewards are...I have no word for it.

It's a good time to be alive now. Thank you for reading this long post and I hope to share more stories again soon. The studio schedule is hectic this month (this is the last stretch of the race) but there will be lots of updates soon, regarding the Restless Heart concert this March at DPAC. - so sit tight and stay tune.

Album cover shoot next week!!! Weeeeeeee!
#restlessheart #janetleealbum #albummaking #debutalbum #janetleemusic#grateful #living #album #music #janetwrites #diary

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Restless Heart - album-making diary #3 (December 16th, 2014)

FB entry on Dec 16th on my FB page :) 
[restless-heart-debut-album] As I scramble to piece the album together with my villagers and the occasional foreign troupes in the music department, I have to sit myself down now and get started with the album cover and CD booklet artwork concepts.  



Images, visions and colours flying towards me and past me from all directions (it's all inside my head, mind you)...I ask myself, "Who are you? What are you?" "What were your favourite portraits?" I open pages and website of my favourite fashion blogger Scott Schuman (The Sartorialist) and walk among the pages of his two books, hoping to find versions of myself there. 

When I answer the question of what I am, the only answer I have so far is: a bohemian with a restless heart. This photo was taken last year at The Star for a feature interview...you can tell who was the stylist for the look  What do you think? The direction of a maybe...slightly glam-up bohemian..

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Restless Heart - album-making diary #2 (Nov 18th, 2014)

FB entry on November 18th, 2014

[debut-album-making-diary] Vocal recording for one song down! "Molihua" (Jasmine Flower) recording done last night at close to midnight! 9 more songs to go!  

I recorded half the song back in early September and then everyone got absolutely swamped by other projects and gigs so there was a void of two months. The singing in September was beautiful and polished, with Cecilia Yap with me in the studio then, pulling me up to my maximum in the bel-canto and folk-singing department. When we got back to the studio last week for Molihua, we decided to start afresh from the top.

And what a gruelling session it was in the first two hours! With just me and the 'fat mic' (our nick for this studio mic - sE Gemini) in the dark recording room - I faced my worst enemy: the voice that talk down at me in my head. Put me on stage to face thousands of people and it's a breeze...but in that darkened studio with me and 'fat mic' - I couldn't quite shake off the nerves that haunt my singing, not until at least 90 mins later after we started the recording.

So when the whole song was done after 4 hours, I called it a miracle. The two men who help me give birth to the miracle, Song-fan Seah 谢松汎 Link and Alex Ls Tan coaxed, cajoled, adjusted and edited here and there to produce a recording of me singing Molihua from beginning to end - you dudes rock my world. Mind you, it's not a short song either, 5:45 mins.

Last night we had Miss Cecilia Yap back in the studio after two long months, this time not to coach me - but to sing on the track. The clip below is a tiny snippet of her gold on this song. Song-fan and her put together vocal parts that elevate my song to high heavens of....Machu Picchu and beyond (that was my mental picture/journey when I recorded the song). To have a recording of Cecilia's voice next to mine has got to be a thrilling milestone for me - a teacher who not only never gives up on correcting my stubborn bad habits, also a generous musician.

After we see Cecilia off where she rushed home to three `waiting tenors/baritones' for a rehearsal and class, we sat down and had some birthday cake - specially hand-delivered by Selina Kok at the studio for birthday Song-fan. We worked from 1030pm to midnight, re-recorded my vocals that needed fixing. Pitching, colour, adding stories...pitching! At the moment, auto tune is not an option on this album...why? That requires a separate entry on that, technical explanation.

The most valuable lesson I've learnt from this outing: Confidence is the next most important thing you need after talent and training. The one thing I lack in the studio now, but am working on it and I am CONFIDENT that I will only get better with each recording.

I have a good feeling about this album. The songs need wings 
#molihua #debutalbum #janetleealbum #restlessheart #janetleemusic #friends#grateful #living #music #recording #studio #starmountstudios #janetwrites#wvctrioplus1 #songfan

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Letter number one hundred and twenty seven: the days go on

Dearest J,

I have been in an emotional constant roller-coaster ride the past few months.  Endless negotiations (with myself) and pep talks, fears and hopes, nightmares and anxieties, fantasies and premonitions - facing the crucial milestones of my career.

Before I went to bed last night I had a thought about you, and the departure.  This is my reading of our story at this juncture of my life:

You met me and you took me in in your youthful but safe wings of love and care.  Though we both grew and mature into our own passions and as best friends - I felt more like the flower being cared and groomed in the garden of this romance, and you the carefree but certain gardener.

When you left, though it felt like at first that I got ejected out of the safe and warm green room and left alone in the wild jungle...

But now I feel all different and new now, 4 years apart and a gazillion emotional and spiritual awakenings later.  Your departure is what forced me to grow into the fiercely alive person who holds on to dreams and waiting questions, I became more patient with uncertainties and future, and with my own shortcomings.

You leave me so that I be better than what I was yesterday.

A somewhat tragic equation at first...since there is no turning back to that day of your Ulu Yam ride, I take this in a strike that this is how it's meant to be: You must leave me to make me a better human.

And how lucky that we have shared those wonderful 8 years (warts and all) together as lovers and best friends - the ingredients for my growing in the last 4 years.

I am good, am not sad anymore today.  We have lived and that's what matter.

I love you, forever and more,
B

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Be your songs...Janet

Own your songs, Janet.

Go on, fly.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

the stranger in town

Loneliness is, ....was a stranger here.
But he knocked my door and dropped his bag at my feet,
Saying he needed a place to stay for a week or two.
"It's full everywhere else."

I look him in the eye,
"OK, only for a while."
- a case of hesitation and reluctance gave way to kindness?
He walked in and declared,
"What a nice home you have, for a tired stranger like me."

Hmm, gosh, I hope he likes the same books that I read.
I made tea and sat next to him,
"I don't drink coffee, but there are some 2-in-1 over there in the second drawer.  Help yourself."
He smiled while staring at my painting on the wall and said,
"No worries dear, I'll have whatever you're having."



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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Letter number one hundred and twenty-six: The days go on

Dearest J,

I needed a break from my huge entanglement of work, desk work and music work...so,

I sat myself down and watched Sex And The City again, my first time since the last time I finished watching its last episode in season 6...and the two SITC movies.   Ordered a vege pizza, finished it while watching Carrie Bradshaw smart-assed her way around NYC.  I opened a can of beer..some Holland beer that was too bitter for me, good thing I had ordered a bottle of 7-up too from Dominos so I could mix it into the beer I otherwise wouldn't want to finish.

My first bunch of beers I brought home to this flat, for myself...bought them at this dingy shop downstairs of Petaling Street Art House after watching WVC Trio+1 gig - 7 ringgit for a bottle of Hoegarden.

I was having a real grand time enjoying myself on the couch, felling smug that I had pizza, beer and watched about 7 episodes of Sex And The City...then EJ jazz dude, his reply to my whatsapp message came in.  He is busy with his wedding preparation and he can't send in his music early for my rehearsals for a show in October...a show with 3 other singers, and two directors involved.  Wedding, of course I have to be forgiving, and understanding.

I just felt like crying then, like a need to just cry, whine and rant over something petty like work (which is what I feel married to now) -- and what I needed, is you.  I wanted to cry and whine to you, about work and my frustration.  You used to be the best shoulder to cry on, you say the right stuff to make me feel good again.

Like that time when I had a bad rehearsal with Evelyn for that Mozart gig in NBT.

And that time when I lost the singing competition again...

And that time after the Villas Lobos gig with 10 cellists...when I heard the recording of my horrible singing of Bachianas Brazilleiras No. 5.

You also said all the right stuff when I was happy with my work.  You told me I was getting to sing more and more, I was getting to be so much better on stage, I was getting around -- with gigs.  You told me one day you would just retire and be at home playing computer games because you won't need to work anymore, because my singing jobs one day, could pay for the life for two of us.

You were so proud of me.

Well, I think you would be really proud of me now if you were here.  You could listen to the first batch of raw recordings I have now for my album.  Who would have thought one day this would come to me, my own album, originals, recording booth, bands, writers...

Am going to dedicated this debut album to you.

Miss you very much,

J


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Workout diary: Session #24, July 16th

a) warm up @ 7 min jogging

b) Pull down @ 18kg @ 15 reps x 5 sets
Bicep curl @ 14 lbs @ 15 reps x 5 sets

c) chest press @ 18kg + triceps dips x 4 sets @ 15 reps

d) dead lift @ 18kg @ 12 reps + squats @ 15 lbs @ 15 reps x 4 sets

e) walking lunges @ 14 lbs x 4 sets


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Workout diary: Session #23, July 9th

a) warm up - jogging @ 6min

b) squats @ 15 reps @ 15 lbs x 5 sets

c) calf raise @ 8 lbs @ 30 reps x 5 sets

d) walking lunges with shoulder press x 18 lbs x 4 sets

e) side plank @ 20 reps x 4 sets

superman plank @ 6 lbs @ 20 reps x 4 sets

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Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Workout diary: Session #22, July 8th

a) warm up @ jogging @ 6min

b) pulldown @ 18kg @ 15 reps x 4 sets
rowing @ 16 lbs @ 15 reps x 4 sets

c) lateral raise @ 16 lbs @ 15 reps x 4 sets
reverse fly @ 8 lbs @ 15 reps x 4 sets

d) push up - variations: diamond / normal / wide @ 10 reps x 4 sets

e) ankle reach (oblique) left and right @ 10 reps x 3 sets

f) twist sit up - left and right @ 10 reps x 3 sets

g) sit-up @ 20 reps x 3 sets

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Monday, July 07, 2014

Starting out - debut album making diary #1 (July 5th)

Remember taking notes in class, at lectures?  Only you yourself understand your own handwriting and notes, scribbles and symbols, codes and anecdotes... I want to record whatever I can remember from the session yesterday so that I could remember what I need to execute now, as well as providing a diary of this journey so I could look back to this day in future.

So these notes may not be cohesive or anything close to it...just my scribbles :)

July 5th, Saturday 3-6pm.

So here we go...am a bag of emotions, all mixed up.  There's going to be lots of growing up to do in the next few months, or should I say, there's no better way to grow up than to give yourself a decision to make an album, produce it yourself - that is certainly an express lane to growing up - fast.

Song-fan gave me a call few weeks ago to chat about a potential music project that he is hoping to embark on soon, with me :) being the people we are, one topic leads swiftly to others and came my album making topic... "You didn't tell me it's going to be this soon!?" He exclaimed over the phone.  I told him it's going to be just me and my vocal coaches - for the album - to nail the singing parts.  He offered to vocal produce for me.  "Really?!!  Nobody has been interested to produce my singing for this and I thought my repertoire too odd and the project too `shiok-sendiri' to approach anyone else, besides...I can't afford it I suppose.." I confessed.

Anyway, we are going to see things go before he and I make a deal on this one.  He told me to start some studio hours now to get myself comfortable singing in a recording booth.  So we had our first session yesterday.  It went better than I thought :) I was as clueless as anything but now I know, I need a vocal producer.

Song-fan started singing from a young age, trained and worked as audio engineer, more than a decade  of voice-over works and 9 years in performing arts and now, TV.  His understanding of studio recording and his talent in coaching are now looking to be quite indispensable for my recording...ya, really.

We worked on two songs yesterday - Carmen and Restless Heart.  Carmen was selected as an exercise piece because it has a good range of dynamics, quite wordy (hence good for working on my Mandarin diction) and big tessitura.  Restless Heart (composition by Cher Siang with my lyrics) was chosen because a) I have the minus one track, b) stark difference of style from Carmen, c) it's going to be in the album.

Notes to self, tips for studio recording:  (credits to Song-fan's coaching)

1) Volume of singing in the booth: calculated and controlled - often a lower volume of singing in the recording booth helps achieve much more expressions and finesse.  Volume and projection used on a live stage for live audience may not work at recording.  Key words: focus, intimate, close range projection, "subtle intensity"...

2) Projection of audience in the booth: without any audience inside the booth, to help the performer/singer connect closer to the future audience - people who are going to pop the CD into the car stereo or a CD player - imagine the distance of the listener/audience from the mouth or face of the singer.  As close as the microphone?  An arm's reach away?  Once you have decided, you can gage the volume and intensity that should be applied onto your delivery.

We did the session in the recording room downstairs of StarMount Studio where the newly open little cafe is.  This soundproof room has a live feel and it was rather easy to sing in.  We tried my singing without any reverb on my mic (AKG condenser) - SF said that zero reverb setting is wonderful for hearing one own's pitching and flaws.  It was surprisingly...not as impossible as I thought it would be.

I started by singing through Carmen in one take, then all of us listened to the recording in the control room with Alex.  We heard the raw recording, void of effects and without the music too.  SF said the mic may have given my voice a rounder and warmer quality than my `normal voice'.

Tackling the first note of the song was a bitch that day.  The key was C#.  Ever since I started listening to myself more, singing my starting note for Carmen has often been a `hit-or-miss' affair...really annoying.  After many takes and working on my nerves, the C# got slightly better...I am reminded again that many a times, a problem in singing is greatly affected by our fears - a mental condition.  Your head could well ruin your music if you don't do something about it.

Volume.  I enjoyed singing in a much lower volume, singing close to the mic filter..and biting into the little nuances and expressions that could be heard crystal clear in my headphones.  I've done enough jingles to know the thrill of hearing everything amplified on studio condenser mics it's been a long time since my last recording of any song in full length.

We focused on the song's opening and up to the "L'amour" bits just before the main chorus of the song.  That went on for about an hour and then we moved on to Restless Heart.

I did a one take sing-through of the song.  After which SF gave me a rather gravely expression :) haha, there's much work - treatment and talk-through that was needed for this song.

Halfway through Alex needed to leave the control room for a bit to settle his piano-tuner business upstairs so we were left alone to work on the treatment, experimenting and discussion on the song.  Before Alex went upstairs I did another sing-through, with a much more gentle, subtle volume, varied dynamics.

"Don't just give the song attacks everywhere, volumes, and belt all through the song. "

What we covered / what SF requested/suggested:
a) recitative - reworked the idea of volume for this chunk and delivery of lyrics, like 'how to sing without sounding like singing".
b) treatment of tone and dynamics of the chorus
c) giving different dynamics and mood for the repeated higher notes in the song
d) changing breathing places for certain parts of chorus and making lyrical line longer without breathe place "...and I'm down on my knees I know you are smiling down on me."

might try to break the sentence proper into:

When the water runs dry and I'm down on my knees /
but I know you are smiling down on me saying' /
things will be all right /
when you start to sing /


e) giving the word 'sigh' its rightful tone of sigh :)

...lots to think about, to experiment, lots of questions, lots to be coached...and many songs to work through.  The panicky feeling will be replaced with excitement when I start to (well, I have started) work through these old and new songs.

We hung out at the studio cafe after the session, over coffees, tea, vegetarian mini pie, scones and cookies.  Alex specially mentioned the butter when he was serving the scones...true, the taste and texture of this salted butter named 'La Belle d'Andaine' (I asked to be shown the butter packaging) was pretty awesome.  I look forward to another session at the studio...and cafe.

Callista took lots of photos for me at the studio :)




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Sunday, July 06, 2014

Workout diary: Session #21, July 4th


I spent the weekend dragging my sore body all over town.  Sargent up my game on Friday with weights level I've never been before, though it was tough during the class...I didn't see the impact coming, till right after class at my steering wheels...woooaah, my arms just 'died' and the following day the `fun' begins.  He replied my whatsapp message "Aiyayai, you rest up ya...yup, today memang nak push you to the new limit..."

Yup, it was the day it looked like the bar was gonna crash on me in the crazy clean and jerk!

a) warm up @ 5 min

b) Clean & Jerk @ 4 sets @ 15kg

c) Arnold press @ 16 lbs + lateral raise @ 12 lbs + reverse fly @ 8 lbs x 10 reps x 4 sets

d) squats @ 30 lbs @ 15 reps x 4 sets (killer...mofo) 

e) calf raise @ 30 reps x 4 sets

g) dead lift (heaviest ever for me) @ 25kg x 4 sets @ 15 reps

CAYA LAH!  woooooot...hooked on pain, this little mad bitch in me...


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Workout diary: Session #20, July 1st

Had a nice portion of breakfast an hour before the session, of eggs, bread and butter.  But at the start of the walking lunges I got dizzy and had to sit out the last 2 sets :( Sargent had to rescue me by getting me sugary drinks from the vending machine...to think that was the start of Ramadan and I had wanted to not drink for an hour during the workout.

a) warm-up @ jogging @ 7mins

b) pulldown @ 5 sets @ 15 reps @ 18kg

c) push-ups @ 5 sets @ 15 reps

d) lunges @ 2 sets @ 15 lbs

e) jumping squats @ 2 sets @ 15 reps

"died" during the walking lunges and jumping squats, so Sargent Naim had to switch exercise to planks...

f) side plank @ 3 sets of 15 reps

g) side sit-up @ 3 sets of 20 reps

h) sit-ups @ 3 sets of 20 reps

i) jogging @ 5 mins

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Workout diaryy: Session #19, June 25th

Focus: upper body training 

a) warm up @ jogging @ 6min

b) pulldown 
- front pulldown @ 15 reps x 3 sets - weights: 14kg (1 set), 18kg (2 sets)
- back pulldown @ 15 reps x 3 sets - weights: 14kg (1st & 2nd set), 18kg (3rd set)

c) Rowing @ 4 sets @ 15 reps @ 18 lbs

d) reverse fly @ 4 sets @ 15 reps @ 8 lbs

e) Arnold press @ 4 sets @ 15 reps @ 16 lbs 

f) front raise @ 3 sets @ 15 reps @ 16 lbs

g) bicep curl @ 3 sets @ 15 reps @ 18 lbs 

h) sit-ups - side 
- 10 reps @ left & right @ 4 sets
- normal sit-up @ 10 reps @ 4 sets

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Workout diary: Session #18, June 20th

a) Warm up @ 5min jog on treadmill

b) Clean & Jerk @ 5 sets:
  1-3rd set @ 12 reps @ 14 lbs
  4th & 5th set @ 10 reps @ 20 lbs

c) Push ups @ 3 sets of 30 reps - variations: diamond, normal, wide

d) Walking lunges with bicep curls - 3 sets of 20 steps @ 16 lbs

e) Sit-ups @ 4 sets of 15 reps


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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Workout diary: Session #17, June 17th

a) Warm up - 6 min

b) Walking lunges with shoulder press @ 20 steps x 4 sets

c) Jumping squats - 15 reps x 4 sets

d) Pull down @ 18kg x 4 sets

e) Bicep curls @ 14 lbs @ 15 reps x 4 sets

f) Shoulder press - 18 lbs @ 12 reps x 4 sets & lateral raise - 8 lbs @ 12 reps x 4 sets

g) Sit-up - 30 reps x 4 sets (mix of normal sit-up and side)

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

FB post dated June 18th - "Que Sera Sera" by my dad

[what-I-learned-from-Dad-lastnight] In the rather toxic matrix of the city's hustle and bustle, am often blinded by small problems, temporary hurdles, etc...I often forget to look at the big picture and get a grip of "What's more important?" and "What's the big picture?"

Drove parents out earlier to visit friends, after I absent-mindedly ate my dinner with them at home - mind crowded and distracted (stressing over logistics for the concert project early next year, in conjunction with album release, etc).  My dad asked me from the backseat if I knew the song title of a famous English song, he started singing a tune that wasn't anywhere in tune and his lyrics didn't quite make sense.

"Dad I don't know this song, I cannot tell what you're singing." (I just wasn't present enough in the conversation nor I had the patience then to try to figure it out)

He started telling us that the lyrics of the songs is about not knowing what the future brings.  My mom immediately said, "Oh I know the song!" :) I knew mom knows that it's Que Sera Sera that dad was referring to - she also sang it better than dad.

So I put on the song in the car for them, Pink Martini's version of Que Sera Sera from the Sympathique album.  And dad started relating how life is indeed like the song itself - you cannot tell what the future brings.

It brought a smile to my face thinking how, as a kid back in school, to live this life I have now would have been the wildest dream.  Who would have thought that my parents would be cool enough to let me live the way I do when I first quit my day job?  Never in my wildest dreams as a kid did I dreamed of working on an album of my own; never would I have believed that one day I would live my days as a storyteller on stage, singing songs of dreams and hopes for live audiences who indulge with me - even though I have written more than once in school homework that my ambitions and dream jobs were these: author, novelist, actor, singer and dancer.

"Hey you", I tell myself, "This is the moment - of being alive, staying alive, ironing out problems, big and small...charging along; both your parents still around and they are playing witnesses to your life's events - of your big and small achievements - being proud to have given birth to you." "So why so grim?  There's nothing you can do that can't be done...nothing you can sing that can't be sung..."

Yea, I gotta learn to set my perspectives right and understand the scale of my `predicaments'.  So thank you dad, for singing the song, though out of tune and lyrics not quite right - you have taught me and reminded me last night on "what's more important".   Que Sera Sera.


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