Ding Yi Music Company's Dedric Wong on His Chinese Orchestra Journey
For many musicians, getting your name in the end credits of a Hollywood film would count as a big career highlight. Dedric Wong can proudly say that he has the first one in the bag for his contribution to the soundtrack of Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan, which was released locally in September.
Ding Yi Music Company, the homegrown Chinese chamber ensemble he co-founded in 2007 with a group of passionate music diploma course mates during their third year at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa), had collaborated with renowned British composers Harry Gregson-Williams and Richard Harvey in 2018 on Phoenix Orchestra, a music library of traditional Chinese instruments by Berlin-based software company Orchestral Tools. The recordings featuring Ding Yi musicians were subsequently used by Gregson-Williams for the Mulan soundtrack.
“Mulan was definitely the the biggest film we have been involved in,” says Wong, Ding Yi’s assistant conductor, who was among the ensemble’s 16 musicians who participated in the recording sessions in Thailand. “I was there to make sure that the authenticity of the music was captured because recorded tunes tend to lose an intensity that is only present in a live performance.”
The collaboration has further strengthened Ding Yi’s mission to cultivate the appreciation of Singapore Chinese chamber music by bridging traditional and contemporary Chinese music compositions. Known for its iconic Of Music Series, which elevates senses beyond music, Ding Yi recently collaborated with a group of healthcare workers here to bring a meaningful rendition of Michael Jackson’s Heal the World on its YouTube channel—a performance that received the thumbs-up from Singapore’s Prime Minister who shared it on his Facebook page.
As a conductor, the 34-year-old has developed an astute understanding of both the Eastern and Western styles of music, in order to shape the sound of the ensemble. For him, the key is to understand the cultural influences. “You can’t compare the ways you approach both Chinese and western compositions because they each come with different contexts and sets of difficulties,” Wong explains. “My time at the China Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where I pursued a master’s degree in orchestral conducting, provided me the chance to familiarise myself with Western compositions and orchestras.”
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Despite being a natural musician—Wong plays the Chinese suona, a traditional wind instrument used during weddings and funeral processions—his journey to becoming a conductor has not been easy. He faced his first hurdle at age 16 when he had to fight for a spot in his secondary school’s Chinese orchestra, and his decision to pursue a music diploma course at Nafa later on received much resistance from his parents. But it was at the renowned arts education institution where he discovered his true calling.
A performance is like a ritual and you have to respect the entire process
— Dedric Wong
“Conducting is difficult because you need to know the character and sound of each instrument to bring out the best of each of them,” he shares. “It’s also a career where you’ll find yourself getting better at over time. It’s always a learning process when you work with musicians and artists during rehearsals and performances.” Today, Wong has nine full-time musicians under his wing, working alongside Ding Yi’s principal conductor, Quek Ling Kiong.
- Photography Darren Gabriel Leow
- Art Direction Jana Tan
- Grooming Zoel Tee