A language that goes beyond words – Jazz music | A List
Singaporean vocalist Rani Singam and Japanese pianist Akira Ishii are collaborating on an upcoming concert. (Photo: Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay)

A language that goes beyond words – Jazz music | A List

Music is a wonderful and powerful form of communication. It speaks to people from all walks of life, regardless of culture and language.

But what about musicians who don’t speak each other’s language and have to create work together? How do they communicate easily and without misunderstanding? Singapore jazz singer Rani Singam and veteran Japanese jazz pianist Akira Ishii know this challenge intimately.

They both have a limited knowledge of each other’s spoken language – English and Japanese, but this has not stopped them from collaborating, and for a second time. They first performed together in Japan in 2018, and their upcoming jazz concert, Chōwa – In Harmony, at the Esplanade is a nod to the Japanese concept of harmonious partnership.

Their secret to working together – their shared language, jazz.

Ishii, in an email interview, says: “There is more to music than words. We recognise and respect each other and immerse ourselves in the sounds played by each other.”

Singam adds: “The key is to really listen to each other so that we can communicate appropriately. As we share a common jazz vocabulary, it is possible to read one another. Of course, this understanding and rapport grows over time as we work together more often.”

Help from Google translate and emojis has also eased their communication challenges, along with fellow musicians and mutual friends who volunteer to translate for them.

The improvisational nature of jazz, which requires musicians to anticipate and riff off their band mates’ compositions, also taught the pair a lesson on successful partnership: mutual respect and an appreciation of the other’s strengths help to create music that is harmonious.

Singam says: “Ishii-san is a wonderful partner on stage who plays a strong and supportive role with a lot of sensitivity and heart.”

You wouldn’t guess from their intimate piano and voice duet that they faced any communication challenges.

Details about Chōwa – In Harmony here.

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