UCSI University Music degree graduate finds success in the USA
Musician and composer Onn San hopes to put local music on the world map,
writes Dennis Chua, in the article below taken from News Straits Times
IN just a few short years, budding composer Onn San can be proud to say that his work has made an impact in the vast landscape of local musical theatre. Naturally, he is excited to take his craft to the next level.
The 29-year-old, born San Weng Onn, boasts a short but impressive resume since his return from postgraduate studies at New York University, in the United States.
The younger of two brothers, San is a music director, soundscape creator and producer with a masters in musical theatre from New York University (2008-2010) and a classical music degree from UCSI, Kuala Lumpur (2002-2004).
His first major project upon returning from the US was The Secret Life Of Nora, produced by and starring Datin Seri Tiara Jacquelina. San says he had a great time working with Tiara and music director Roslan Aziz, whom he describes as “perfectionists and professionals”.
He was nominated best composer for Nora in the Boh Cameronian Arts Awards
2011. In 2008, San did the music for the film Jarum Halus, directed by Mark Tan and starring Juliana Ibrahim, Razif Hashim and Christian New.
For the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre’s (KLPaC) Tunku The Musical a few years back, he was the assistant to conductor Mervyn Peters.
“I loved this wonderfully Malaysian musical, and I’m a good friend of its brilliant lyricist Teng Ky-Gan, whose other credits include Broken Bridges,” says San.
Music runs in San’s family. His uncle is lyricist Alex San who wrote songs for Hong Kong pop king Jacky Cheung.
San, who studied in Sekolah Menengah Jenis Kebangsaan Setapak, Kuala Lumpur,
says making music was his childhood dream. “My parents always knew I loved music, though my mother initially wanted me to study psychology,” he says.
His businessman father is a music lover who had his own band, The Strangers, which played the music of The Shadows. “I grew up listening to pop and rock and admiring Bon Jovi among others. Gradually, I became impressed with the orchestral music of John Williams and Elliot Goldenthal,” says San.
San took piano lessons from his aunt, from 10 to 19. In 1998, he wrote a patriotic song, Malaysiaku, for the EON Song Competition.
“I made it to the finals. I later did short orchestral pieces,” he says.
Two music teachers inspired him greatly — Shin Lai Kuan and Dr Png Tean
Hwa, his lecturers in UCSI. “They saw the potential in me and motivated me to reach for the stars,” he says.
San’s initial musical scores were for two homegrown plays — Green Tea The Musical for UCSI (with a 30-member orchestra) and Drunk Before Dawn for the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) church (with a 20-member orchestra).
Last year, he worked on the musical Everworld for SIB.
San visited Florida shortly after graduating from UCSI and spent six months there with a family of musicians, the Sanborns.
“I performed with, arranged and composed for them. They encouraged me to go
to New York University and the rest is history,” he says.
His debut album Epomania has just been completed. He spent a year on it, and says its music is for future film scores.
“They are original songs — Triton, Lapetus, Enceladus, Oberon, Earth, Rhea, Rain Myrrh, Callisto, Umbriel, Nemesis, Battle Cry and Shion, named mostly after planets,” he says.
Battle Cry is performed by singer and songwriter Grace Sng, while Stephanie Van Driesen of Cabaret fame sings Earth, Rain Myrrh and Rhea.
“There is a music video for Earth featuring Van Driesen and choreographers
Suhaili Micheline and Kenny Shin. It is directed by Abhilash Chandra,” says San. “All these songs are created with a virtual orchestra. I’ve purchased sound libraries over the years.”
His album (which he calls his “pet project”) is now available on i-Tunes, and he hopes to release the CDs in April.
San has also composed music for web advertisements both locally and abroad. “I’ve also composed for short films and documentaries including Who Are The Chinese?, The Customer and Maybe It’s You.”
In the US, he helmed the orchestra for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat starring American Idol’s
Melinda Doolittle in 2009.
“She is such an awesome singer,” he says, adding that he also conducted King David The Musical starring David M Sanborn.
“When I graduated I composed for musicals Eau Blanche and The Meatball.”
San is now arranging and composing for KLPaC’s new theatre production, Ruby Moon, directed by Chris Ling. It will open in March.
He says he’d love to compose for Hollywood but adds that “my immediate dream
is to write a Malaysian musical that taps into our rich musical heritage.”
MUSIC COURSES OFFERED AT UCSI UNIVERSITY
- MMus in Performance Studies
- BMus (Hons) Classical Music
- BMus (Hons) Contemporary Music
- Foundation in Music
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