Renowned composer a shy debutant

Renowned composer a shy debutant
Lin Tian'ai is composing for a Broadway Musical that will likely open in New York in 2015.

Composer Lin Tian'ai is better known for writing songs for pop stars such as Sammi Cheng Sau-Man, Gigi Leung Wing-kei, and working on soundtracks of movies and TV series, including My Sassy Girl 2 and My Youth Who Call the Shots.

But she has often been asked if she'd like to do a movie or TV role or even cut her own music album. The attractive 29-year-old, with a clean image and ample talent, has the potential to become a star.

So, when her self-titled album recently debuted online, she faced the same question: Will she perform onstage or prefer to stay behind the scenes?

"Becoming a star has never been on my agenda. I like staying in the studio and working on my music. When I listen to my works, I feel happy. That's the feeling I can never get onstage," Lin says with confidence.

Her album, which she describes as a review of herself, contains a collection of songs written by her over the past decade.

As cautious as she may sound, Lin made her onstage foray on Aug 18, when she sang You Are the Dream, one of her songs, as pianist Li Yundi played along, at a charity event in Macao.

Initiated by Lin, who has volunteered her services to autistic children for the past six years, the gala has collected more than 7 million yuan (S$1.4 million) to promote artistic skills among them.

Back in the studio, she is now composing for a Broadway musical that tells the story of a family from 1930s Shanghai. Directed by Bob Lewis, the musical will open in New York in October 2015.

"There is love, hatred, revenge and war. I will focus on psychological changes in people from that era," Lin says. She is looking to finish some 14 songs and other musical compositions for it, by year-end.

Born in Qingdao in Shandong province, Lin dreamed of becoming a dancer as a child. But at the age of 15, when she wrote a song from the dormitory of a dancing school, her songwriting career had effectively begun.

She put down her song on paper and mailed it to her idol, Hong Kong pop singer-actress Sammi Cheng Sau-man's record company, Warner Music in Hong Kong.

"I didn't know how the rhythm and lyrics jumped into my head. I just wanted her to sing the song," Lin says.

To her surprise, two months later, she received a reply from the company, telling her that Cheng liked her song. Sandy Lai, then-music director of the record company, even flew to Shanghai from Hong Kong to meet Lin's parents with a contract. Though her parents turned down the offer, the episode left Lin pining to write more songs.

At 17, she had her first song published, which was titled Careful Love and performed by Hong Kong pop duo, Twins. In 2010, she was invited by Walt Disney Studios to write music for a Chinese version of the American film, High School Musical, a teen hit.

Lin took a yearlong break from work to study composing at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 2008. Her composition of an eight-minute symphonic work also won her a full scholarship.

Lin spends most of her days at home, writing music. She doesn't need to use instruments as she is able to work out the process of songwriting inside her head, Lin says. She records the rhythms and lyrics she thinks up on a smartphone.

"The more we collaborated, the more I realised that she really enjoys focusing on songwriting and listening to other singers interpret her works," says Keith Chan Siu-kei, a renowned Hong Kong lyricist and music producer, who has worked with Cantonese and Mandarin pop stars like Anita Mui and Alan Tam.

But some people, even those who have worked with her, may have doubted her abilities as a songwriter. That's also because many of the established Chinese songwriters are relatively older and they tend to be viewed as being intense, Lin says.

"I don't look like a songwriter. What I could do was to show them my works," she says. "My motto is 'always wear your invisible crown', which directs me toward what I want to do."

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