Siti saves the classics

Azman Ahmad
Aug 29 2005

PERHAPS one way to educate and eventually convert more Malaysians to appreciate our own classic compositions – songs which were written by our forefathers in music – is to have them presented by popular names.

Really, more often than not, such songs (usually with a certain patriotic undertone) could be enjoyed more when it is presented by a famed vocalist.

Instrumentals? Well, most of us would be a little cold about it. Let’s not be hypocritical and just face the embarrassing fact.

Most local music lovers dread going to concerts which are filled with nothing but instrumental pieces.

For instance, we have not been trained to appreciate classical music. Our merriment has always been about music and singing and dancing.

So, you can expect what kind of turn out you’d get at a concert featuring ‘heavy classical works’, despite them being the legacy and poignant memorials left behind by great world-renowned or established local composers.

Just ask the people at Istana Budaya if there had been a full house audience for concerts they organised which featured instrumental music extravaganza without a singer to serve as a carrot.

Really, most who flock to concerts of this nature would usually be music students, and those whose family members or friends happen to be part of the performing group. The minority? Die-hard ‘serious’ music buffs, which we have to admit are a rare breed.

So it would not be incorrect to suspect that the presence of national diva Siti Nurhaliza at the staging of Irama Tanah Pusaka at Istana Budaya recently helped pack the hall.

She was the sole singer that night who sparkled with two numbers – only at the end of the almost one-and-a half-hour concert. Yet, her die-hard fans did not mind sitting through all the earlier instrumental numbers although many were seen not to be too attentive, especially when some unfamiliar or uninspiring pieces were played.

Held to usher in the coming Independence Day celebration, it was graced by the presence of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who suggested that this concert be held.

The Prime Minister voiced his idea after launching a book of the same title last year with the hope that this concert would expose the younger generation to, and make them appreciate, patriotic songs which have been preserved from generation to generation.

Performed by the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) under the baton of the charismatic Mustafa Fuzer Nawi, many in the audience must be the heads or representatives from the various Government agencies who were assigned to attend the concert.

As for the ticket-buying audience, the number was quite encouraging. After all, it was worth the money to see their idol – Siti – singing, besides enjoying some uplifting patriotic songs in the comfort of an air-cond hall for only RM20 (the cheapest ticket in addition to the RM30 and RM50 tickets).

The concert kicked off with a short but poignant narration. Then, the party mood was set with a brilliant Tanah Pusaka, originally composed by Ahmad Merican (with Dol Ramli’s lyrics). It was the overture of the evening, and the piece was arranged by Ramlan Imam. It was a refreshing appetiser really, especially when the lilting music offered some clever manoeuvres, putting the audience in a euphoric state.

The large video display in the backdrop with images of waterfalls, lush forest and vast padi fields added a nostalgic touch to this piece done in various moods including march and swing.

Next came the Suite Patriotik, a medley of Kemegahan Negaraku (Jimmy Boyle/Dol Baharin), Berjaya (Saiful Bahari) and Bahtera Merdeka, arranged by Datuk Johari Salleh.

Disappointingly, this segment turned out to be quite a letdown maybe due to the loud and chaotic percussions which killed the harmonious blend of the woodwind and string sections.

However, it was somehow redeemed with the simple march parade by dancers clad in white overalls proudly waving the Malaysian flags.

As for Suite Gemilang, the spotlight was on Khairil Johari Johar’s piano solo on Malaysia Tanah Air Ku.

Yet, it was Putera Puteri, the next solo piano by James P. Boyle which really lit up the entire stage after a spell of dull moments.

Suite Nostalgia, featuring Mohar on flute was enchanting to say the least, not only musically but also visually.

Jauh-Jauh, on the other hand, was made more exciting with the beautifully attired Khor Jee Fei regally plucking the huge white harp.

As for the Raphosdy Pantai Malaysia segment, it was the solo accordion by Lokman Ayob on Tanjung Puteri, after an earlier number Chendering (solo vibes by Adrianne Nicholas Palikat) and Pulau Langkawi (by NSO) which stole the audience’s attention.

To reflect the harmonious existence of Malaysia’s multi-racial society, the Seleksi Romantika succeeded in portraying Lim Hui Chieh on solo Ghu Zheng.

The vibrating trademark sound of her Chinese traditional instrument on the classic Tudung Periuk gave goose bumps to some in the audience, earning loud applause.

Equally appealing was Ahmad Razli Ayob doing a solo viola on Rancak Bertemu and Kumar Karthigesu who hypnotised the house with his solo sitar on the seductive Lenggang Mak Limah.

When the Finale Dendang Rakyat was done in medley, combining instruments such as sapelele, gambustar, Gu Zheng and sittar came out, the crowd started to let loose by clapping along.

Surely, almost everybody must be familiar with popular folk songs like Enjit-Enjit Semut, Trek Tek Tek, Anak Ikan, Rasa Sayang and Jingli Nona.

With almost everyone in a party mood by then, the night was further heated up by Siti Nurhaliza who serenaded Tanah Pusaka.

The following day’s performance saw Aishah taking centrestage, singing two numbers at this two-day patriotic instrumental music extravaganza.

Clad in a sparkling black lace long kebaya worn with a figure-hugging batik sarong, she charmed the audience with her stunning looks and soaring high vocals. For encore, the much-loved young diva offered Bahtera Merdeka which served as the most memorable song of the night.

It was indeed a worthwhile concert to attend not only for all the unforgettable patriotic songs performed, as the show also served as a reminder on the true meaning of Merdeka.

If only the repertoire of the seemingly endless instrumental music had been interspersed with a few more songs by the invited singer, you would probably see less people in the audience yawning, leafing through the pages of the programme book repeatedly or worse, taking a nap.

To entice the ordinary crowd, long instrumental pieces should be avoided or at least break the boring monotony of such music pieces with vocal performances. This will offer the audience a reprieve if they felt a particular arrangement dull…