Malaysian conductor promotes Malaysian music abroad

KUALA LUMPUR (Sin Chew Daily/ANN) – Malaysia should not be famous due to air disasters but for its cultural variety.

Four years ago, when Tracy Wong from Ipoh taught in Canada, the locals responded to her nationality as “that is a country where MH370 and MH17 took place”. She was saddened by such remark, saying, “Does our country only have air disaster as its image at international level?”

She wanted to change the foreigners’ perception of Malaysia.

After spending some time to teach the Canadian children, a group of them perform traditional Malay songs Wau Bulan (Moon Kite) and Dikir Barat, bringing Malaysian culture into the international arena.

The conductor of this choir is Wong herself.

In an email reply, Wong, who is now in Toronto, Canada, said she introduced Kelantan folk song Wau Bulan to the Hamilton Children and Choir.

“When I first joined the choir and introduced myself, their respond was: she came from the country where the air tragedies took place. I was very sad.

Tracy Wong. – PHOTOS: SIN CHEW DAILY
Hamilton Children Choir group members during practice session of Wau Bulan

“I tried to look for a way to resolve the sense of defeat that Malaysia should not be ‘famous’ for air disasters but its variety in culture.”

Hence, she shared the Malaysian music with the Canadian children, the other side of Malaysia.

“I make sure their pronunciation is accurate and I personally demonstrate the dance moves. I explain the meaning of each movement.

“To me, Malay folk song has the magic to unite the community with enormous positive energy,’’ she said.

Wong, who led the choir, said this was a breakthrough of the Canadian choir.

She said, “I personally witnessed the formation of the power in the choir group and encourage others to love Malaysian music. This is really fantastic!”

Wong admitted that a foreign choir group faces some form of challenge in such performance as it has not been in touch with the Malay Language and its culture.

Nevertheless, when they started to learn, they experienced the fun and attracted by Malay folk songs.

It took the choir several months to learn about the language, style and dance movements in 2016.

“The choir practise twice in a week. Each practice is three hours. They learn about 20 songs including Wau Bulan,” she said.

She said the Hamilton children choir put an amazing effort in practice, something not every choir is able to deliver.

“The Canadian children are able to master the language, style and basic tone of the song. I am proud of them,’’ she said.

Wong is not only a conductor of the choir group but also a performer, a pianist, a composer, a music educator and has many qualifications related to music. She holds a doctorate degree in Musical Arts (choral conducting) from Toronto University, a degree in performance from New Castle University in Australia and diploma in piano performance and vocal in Trinity College London.

Prior to relocating to Canada, she led the Kuala Lumpur children choir group, Harmonix youth choir group, and was assistant head of Youth Circle of Arts.

She conducted workshops in Malaysia, Brunei, Canada, France and Portugal on pop music and modern Jazz Quartet.

Wong joined the Hamilton Children Choir in 2015 and was invited to teach the children to perform Wau Bulan after listening to other children choir’s performance.

In March 2017, the choir group was invited to perform in the United States (US) where the choir decided to perform Wau Bulan in a performance witnessed by renowned musicians, conductors, performers and choir groups in the world.

“Prior to the performance, I thanked the group for bringing Malaysian music to international level which showcase Malaysia and in memory of those who lost their lives in the Malaysian Airline air disasters.”

Many shed tears listening to the tribute and the choir group delivered its best on stage.

Wong then received many emails from conductors in the US and Canada requesting her to share and teach performance of Wau Bulan.

Singapore has listed Dikir Barat under the category of intangible cultural heritage of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listing this year.

Dikir Barat is a traditional Malay folk music in Kelantan with a 100 per cent local dialect to sing Malay poems. The performance is popular in rural areas of east coast of Peninsula Malaysia and originated from southern Thailand.

It is performed by a group of 12-16 people. There are two lead singers, Tok Juara and Tujat Karut, huge drum rebana ibu, small drum rebana anak, tuned gong-chime, maracas and flutes made of bamboos.

Dikir Barat is performed during gatherings and harvest seasons.

In Singapore, it is often performed during competitions and celebrations. The lyrics and melodies are pre-recorded and performed by men. Performance by women is getting more popular now.