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Ode to Taiping

How many musical compositions have two tunes of the Negara Ku and incorporated into a symphony? Well, that’s what Paul M. Baker of London did. And he aptly named it “Taiping”, a suite for a symphonic woodwind ensemble. The Taiping orchestral suite had its world premiere by the 70-member Portsmouth Band of the Royal Marines at their winter concert in November at St Mary’s Church, Fratton, Portsmouth, United Kingdom.

On why he incorporated melodies of the Negara Ku in to the suite, Baker had this to say, “It’s a juxtaposition between modern Malaysia and the reminders of British colonial rule.”

“It’s the original Perak state melody that later became the national anthem,” he added after the show, ‘A Musical Evening with Paul Baker’ attended by over fifty Taiping Heritage Society members and friends on Sunday, December 20 at the New Club, Taiping.

It took Baker, 56, a year to compose the song. He now lives in Petaling Jaya with his Taiping-born wife, Jasmine Chong Chee Wan, 42.

The 21-minute symphony came in four movements depicting icons in Taiping: The Old Market; The Kopitiam (coffee shop); The Lake Gardens and Maxwell Hill (Bukit Larut).

The first movement, the Old Market, began with the market coming to life and the pace picked up over many scenes until it closed to prepare for the next day. The second movement highlighted the kopitiam, with its many rustic characteristics while it was open. The third movement, the Lake Gardens, showcased its idyllic boating lakes, oriental pavilions, wide grasslands and wooded walks.

The final movement opened with looking up at a mist-shrouded Maxwell Hill. As the mist cleared, a Land Rover made its way up the winding road. The ride was said to be ‘hair-raising’ but there were moments to enjoy the view. Looking down at the highest point in the area, one was not sure whether this was a British colony or a part of Malaysia. The conflict between the feeling of once having been a British colony and an independent Malaysia was reflected in snippets of the Negara Ku with the fife and drum, the archetypal instruments of the British military in colonial times. This gradually developed into a full blown concert march in the English style, which was unmistakable but at the end, the Negara Ku came back in with full force. The final two bars reminded us that Taiping was very much Chinese in origin for Malaysia.

Baker grew up in England and started his musical career at seven in a choir. He performed in theatre, musicals and joined the Royal Marines School of Music at 16 to play the French horn. Baker’s musical resume included an engagement aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia and directorial portfolios of many musicals, like ‘The Rising Son’ and a number of oratories. Baker won the musical theatre award in Boh-Cameronian Awards Presentation 2015. The musical director, composer, arranger, lyricist and musician now teaches music and tutors in playing instruments.

Baker’s Taiping suite can be viewed on Youtube under the header, “World Premiere of Paul M Baker’s TAIPING SUITE by HM Royal Marines Band”.

Nirmal Ariyapala

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