His Cool Compositions For NDP 2022 And NS55 Are Music To Our Ears
When it comes to National Day Parade (NDP) theme songs, everyone’s a critic. I should know. I became one earlier this week. And I’ll be the first to acknowledge how much worse and more stressful it must be to be the composer of an NDP theme song than having all your wisdom teeth extracted at once. (Just go to the comments section of any NDP music video on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean. The vitriol in some of them! )
So, hats off to award-winning producer, singer, songwriter and composer Don Richmond, for gamely taking on the role of Music Director (again) for this year’s NDP – he was also Music Director in 2016 - and for writing "Stronger Together", the NDP 2022 theme song performed by Taufik Batisah and The Island Voices.
Not only that, the 46-year-old – who composed music and lyrics for 2014’s “Ah Boys To Men The Musical” (in English, Mandarin and Hokkien, okay) as well as scored numerous TV series – was tasked to write a theme song to celebrate 55 years of national service (NS55) this year.
We talk to the prolific Music Man about how his experiences with the COVID-19 situation played a part in “Stronger Together”, and whether the creative well ever runs dry (choi!).
As Music Director, what's the most challenging part about capturing Singapore’s multicultural nature, so that it’s a “tasty rojak” rather than a “chapalang stew”?
I think the most challenging part is to always make it a point to not fall back on typical familiar scenarios. The songs need to be familiar for the crowd to get behind, but as I’ve spoken to friends and people of different races, the sentiment is always: “Eh! NDP got no other cultural songs ah? Always the same… you think our race only got this song is it?”
So this year, I wanted to dig a little deeper into what the various cultures would want to see represented. That’s why with the Malay segment, I thought we could reintroduce a song by the legendary P. Ramlee to an audience that might not necessarily know the song – it’s very beautiful.
Similarly, when I delved further into Chinese culture, I was almost shocked that a national treasure like Liu Ling Ling has never been invited to perform at NDP, so I knew I had to try to feature her in some form – and the gamble paid off. She gets the loudest cheers each public rehearsal!
You’re no stranger to NDP nor writing NDP songs (you also composed “Tomorrow’s Here Today” in 2016). Touch wood, but does the well ever run dry for such material?
No, I don’t think the well ever truly runs dry. You don’t really know if you are gonna be the one writing the theme song next year. So for me, I always write as if it’s gonna be my last time. And then when the call comes again, you think about it, then you have self-doubt for about one month, and then you just take it bit by bit!
How did your experience with the COVID-19 sitch play a part in the writing of “Stronger Together”?
Coming out of the pandemic, the last thing you want is a theme song that is trying to tell people what to do. If you look at theme songs from the past, “recognise you can play a part, let it come right from your heart, be prepared to give a little more” - I grew up with songs like that, but I think we are in an era, especially coming out of these two years, where you want to celebrate the people - your friends, your family, your community. In the end, you are really celebrating your country.
What sort of stories did I want to tell? For me, it was: no matter how bad it is, you are grateful and graceful at the same time. In 2020, I thought I was never gonna be commissioned to write anything again. I started working for my gym, and then gyms had to close. Then I started working for my friend’s restaurant. And the biggest lesson I learned was: you are not what you do for work; it doesn’t define you. And that sort of liberated me, and I realised a lot of people probably went through the same thing.
So, the theme song should be about finding ways to lift each other up, to be better than your initial fears.
Not many people have the chance to use their passion and their talents for national events on such a big scale. How does it feel being able to contribute your talent as the Music Director of NDP to celebrate the nation’s birthday?
You know, as I said, there was a point when I thought I was never gonna be commissioned to write another piece of music. So for me, this is a bonus more than anything else, and I really love the collaborative effect of having to work with multimedia and choreographers.
Week after week, when you see the crowds enjoy themselves and everyone’s taking their videos and uploading them on social media, then you realise, wow, okay, you’re really part of something that’s so much bigger than the sum of everyone put together. And I’m just glad that I get to do the music, you know?
This year, you also had the privilege of writing the NS55 theme song, “Back in the Day”. What was the most inspiring part of your NS, well, back in the day?
I was in the Field Defence Squadron in the Air Force. I remember distinctively during BMT a sergeant of mine would also reiterate: “Pain is only temporary. Tough times don’t last forever.” And that idea has always sat within me throughout my entire life.