Music from the Heart

This article was written for Little Day Out, a Singapore-based family portal. Little Day Out chats with Puss in Boots’ songwriter Bang Wenfu, and gets into the groove of how music makes a musical sing…

“Every piece of music I write must have heart and soul. In theatre, writing without heart and soul is a crime. The songs must touch the audience as much as the story and performance.”

I Theatre’s resident songwriter Bang Wenfu is a veteran in the music scene. He is local artiste Kit Chan’s close collaborator, and has written numerous hit songs for luminaries such as Jacky Cheung, S.H.E. and Stefanie Sun among others. Wenfu is also a seasoned music director and producer, having led the musical charge for the inaugural Singapore Day in New York in 2007 as well as the 2009 Total Defence mini-musical at Suntec City.

Given his extensive composing experience in the commercial world, what then is the difference when writing for the drama stage?

“In musical theatre, coherence of the songs to specific themes of the show is important, so I tend to lay out the template for each song before I actually start composing.”

Wenfu elaborated that he would first imagine himself in the historical or cultural setting of the play before he actually starts work. He would then begin the writing process, which is mostly from detailed research into specific genres of music. He sometimes gets inspiration after travelling or reading or listening to music.
Travelling or visiting new places could provide the inspiration
needed to write a piece of good music.
How was Wenfu first inspired to enter the songwriting industry? The composer revealed that his love for music began at childhood. Because he felt that he was not good in anything else, Wenfu tried to reproduce on the piano whatever that he had heard on the radio. This did not sit well with his piano teacher, who detested all non-classical forms of music. Ironically it was the teacher’s disdain that helped fuel Wenfu’s determination and curiosity to explore. He elaborates, “Every genre of music has its own charm and ability to attract listeners. Each must be given respect for the loyal audience it commands.”

In writing the music for Puss in Boots, Little Day Out asked whether it was music or lyrics that came first. Wenfu expressed a preference for the lyrics to come first. He noted that a good lyricist was important as he would understand the writer’s intention for the song before he started composing. Agreeing, producer Brian Seward told Little Day Out that there is a dynamic relationship between scriptwriter and composer. The scriptwriter decides when dialogue should be written as a song. He recites the lyrics as if they were poetry and the composer comes up with a melody from there. 

Puss in Boots is part of ACE! Festival 2014. It will be shown at the Drama Centre Theatre in Singapore from May 22 to 31, and in the PJ Live Arts Theatre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from June 16 to 22.

You may refer to the Little Day Out website for more information on the Puss in Boots production. 

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