Sowing Songs of Hope in ‘Beautiful Seed’
The great American writer Gilbert Chesterton once wrote : “If seeds in the black earth can turn into such beautiful roses, what might not the heart of man become in its long journey toward the stars?”
That philosophy of hope, of looking beyond the surface, and seeking a deeper beauty and meaning to the everyday moments of life has always driven and inspired singer-songwriter Corrinne May. In her songs, the scars sustained through life’s challenges become the fertile soil in which the seeds of hope are sown.
“Beautiful Seed” is the title of Corrinne May’s life-affirming fourth album and it is the fruit of a songwriting period stretching over the course of the past one and a half years. The title song itself was inspired by the image of an unborn child, hand-painted by a friend on his car bumper and bearing the message “Let the Little Stinker Live”. Around the same time, the nation celebrated civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and debated abortion issues in the wake of the “Roe Vs Wade” anniversary. This sequence of events inspired Corrinne to reflect about the sanctity of life, the reality that we all begin life, in essence as a ‘seed’, and the difference one person’s life can make. For, as she writes in the song “Beautiful Seed” : “There is hope in every heartbeat/ Tiny as it seems/ You’re a beautiful seed”.
She elaborates : “My goal in writing a lot of these songs, was to make an album full of hope, full of optimistic joy. I think we often forget how the smallest, most seemingly insignificant things can have such beautiful possibilities. All it takes is one person to make a difference in this world. People like Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. testify to this fact. But often, we are so afraid to try, to speak up, or to make a difference.”
Corrinne’s own desire to make a difference was bolstered after she underwent minor heart surgery in March 2007 to fix a rapid heartbeat. During the month it took her to recover, she found herself undergoing a spiritual awakening and began pouring her reflections into her blog. “My heart was literally re-wired. I became more aware of God’s hand in my life. I began to look deeper into things I had once overlooked. I felt compelled to write about things I had been afraid to write about before.”
Raised from birth as a Catholic, Corrinne has always drawn inspiration from her faith, weaving it subtly into her songs. However, in Beautiful Seed, she takes the bold step of casting aside her apprehensions and puts forth some of her most specifically Christian songs to date. In ‘Five Loaves and Two Fishes’, she writes ‘Take my five loaves and two fishes/ Do with it as you will/ I surrender’ and in ‘33’, she reflects upon reaching the same age as Jesus was when he died.
The sound of the album in ‘Beautiful Seed’ continues the musical signature that Corrinne has become known for, Hallmark-esque piano/strings, ballad-flavoured songs paired with lyrics of soul-baring sincerity, sung with piercing fragility. However, there is a new spirit of adventure in Corrinne’s musical palette on songs like “Scars (Stronger For Life)” and “Green-Eyed Monster” where she embraces an unusual minor key motif, retro-sounding drums and guitar. On ‘Shelter (Cherry Blossom Edition)’ she uses a Japanese-music inspired piano motif, complete with Taiko drums.
Corrinne’s own roots lie in Asia, more specifically, the island nation of Singapore where she was born. Named after her mother’s favourite song ‘Corinna, Corinna’, she trained in classical piano from the age of 5 and won her first songwriting competition at 15, modeling her earliest songs after popular songs in the 80’s such as those by The Carpenters, U2, Hall and Oates and Abba. She grew up a self-confessed tomboy, choosing to join the cadet corps over the school choir. There, she earned her marksmanship on the AR-15 rifle and spent hours with her fellow platoon-mates shouting military commands and marching up and down her school’s parade square. She was also a school prefect at an academically elite, all-girl’s high school, and regularly sent her fellow students to detention over too-short skirt hemlines or too-long fingernails.
Thankfully, that soon gave way to more artistic pursuits. She honed her love for Shakespeare with an honours degree in English Literature at the National University of Singapore, and pursued her passion for songwriting and film-scoring at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, graduating with a Bachelor of Music. She then moved to Los Angeles to pursue her musical aspirations.
She released her debut album Corrinne May in 2001 and the album featured the ballad “If You Didn’t Love Me”, co-written with iconic songwriters Carole King and Carole Bayer Sager. The album also earned her the “Kerrville New Folk Award” among 600 contenders at the Kerrville Folk Festival in Kerrville, TX and the Performing Songwriter Magazine praised the album, calling it a “touching and enchanting record”. The album was subsequently re-titled Fly Away and released in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore and the title track’s music video was featured on MTV Asia. Her song ‘Journey’ was covered by popular Mandarin singers Angela Zhang and Gigi Leung and became a hit after being featured as a theme song in the Taiwanese drama ‘Dolphin Bay Lovers.’
She followed that with Safe in a Crazy World in 2005 and the songs ‘Everything in Its Time’ (co-written with Carole Bayer Sager) and ‘Save Me’ were featured in the Singapore television series ‘Chase’ which helped to propel the album to the top of the Singapore charts for two weeks. As a result of the album’s success, she had a string of sold-out concerts at the Esplanade Concert Hall and recital halls in Singapore.
2006 saw the release of the Christmas record The Gift which featured a song ‘The Answer’. The song featured lyrics by Corrinne May, set to the much beloved tune of ‘Jupiter’ from Gustav Holst ‘The Planets’ suite. The album also featured a acapella music setting to the prayer ‘Hail Mary’. The Christmas concert held in conjunction with the album’s release saw Corrinne performing on stage with a 24-piece choir, an 8-piece string ensemble and a full band. The concert, staged at the Esplanade Concert Hall, was a sold-out success.
Beautiful Seed released by Warner Music Singapore in late summer 2007 has gone platinum in Singapore, with sales exceeding 15,000, after achieving gold status within its first month. After debuting the material from the album at a sold-out concert in Singapore’s 1600-seat University Cultural Center Hall in August, May embarked on her very first tour of Japan, doing in-store shows to standing room only crowds at Tower Records locations in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka. She also debuted the material for her Los Angeles fans in a full-band concert at the 800-seater Aratani Theatre.
In recognition of her contributions to the Singapore and regional music scenes, Corrinne received the Young Composer of the Year award and Wings of Excellence award from COMPASS, the performing rights society of Singapore. She was also honoured by her alumni, the National University of Singapore who presented her with the ‘Outstanding Young Alumni Award’.
Back in the States, following the tradition of travelling troubadours, Corrinne continues to play in acoustic venues and college campuses across the U.S where she is based. She has held residencies at L.A clubs like Genghis Cohen and The Mint and is also a ‘Quiet on the Set’ (ASCAP’s pre-eminent songwriter showcase) alum. She is a part of the collective singer-songwriter alliance ‘Don’t Call Us Tori’ whose members are hand-picked to represent the best of the piano-playing female singer-songwriter sub-genre of popular music in Los Angeles. Corrinne has called Los Angeles her geographical home for the past 8 years and continues to live there with her two cats and her music-producer husband.
Over the course of her music career, she has learnt to appreciate the winding journey as it unfolds. “I believe that there is a reason for everything, good and bad, that we have to go through. We truly are seeds, with all the potential to blossom in abundant ways that we might never think possible.”
“I hope that, just like a Mitch Alboum book or an episode of Oprah, the songs in Beautiful Seed will help people to reflect on their own lives, and to hope in all the beauty that lies in each of us. Yes, in the heart of every man, woman and even every unborn child.”
STORIES BEHIND THE SONGS on 'BEAUTIFUL SEED'
1) Love Song For #1
I love observing nature. I love looking up at the stars, or the clouds and trees, knowing that the God who created all this beauty also created me. This is a song of gratitude and love.
Friends support and help each other through difficult times. This song is about friendship.
It is a song to a friend to tell her that I will be here for her through the difficulty she is going through. All she has to do is call me and I will help her in whatever way I can.
3) On The Side Of Me
This is a song about the power of love. No matter how unloveable I think I am, there is someone who loves me a lot. Loves me despite all my faults, my failures, despite my bad habits. I think it’s wonderful to be loved for who I am, no matter what.
4) Five Loaves and Two Fishes
This song is based on my favourite bible story. The story is about how Jesus made a miracle happen by taking five loaves and two fishes offered by a little boy, and using that to feed 5000 people.
I think it’s an amazing story about how, no matter how small we may think about what we have to offer, we should trust that our offerings, our gifts are never wasted. Our gifts and our talents should be treasured for they can be used in many beautiful ways.
5) Beautiful Seed
I think people often forget how the smallest, most seemingly insignificant things can have such beautiful possibilities. All it takes is one person to make a difference in this world. People like Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. testify to this fact. But often, we are so afraid to try, to speak up, or to make a difference.
I named the album and the song ‘Beautiful Seed’ because I think that a seed is a wonderful metaphor for our lives. We are all like seeds. Seeds grow unseen in the soil and then sprout, and some seed become the biggest, most majestic trees and others grow to eventually bear wonderful fruit, and yet others, grow to provide shade. We are like trees. When we are in our mother’s womb, no one can see us growing, but we are there. And all the potential for our lives is present in that moment, small as we are at that point in our lives, we are who we are now because of what we’ve gone through. And just knowing that, makes me sad to read about the increasing numbers of abortions that occur. People have forgotten that all the potential for life comes from something small, seemingly insignificant, seemingly lifeless.
Recently, I read about how scientists managed to grow a date palm plant from a 2000 year old seed. How amazing.
Bad habits are hard to break. But sometimes, the best thing to do is to find a new way of doing things, to leave the things that are not good for us. This song is about making the decision to start anew, to do things right, to leave the bad situations behind.
7) Scars (Stronger For Life)
Scars form whenever we hurt ourselves, if we have an injury to our bodies, our bodies respond by healing, and often, forming scar tissues over the wounds. The scar tissue is usually thicker and stronger than our normal skin. In our lives, we often encounter events, or situations with people that hurt us, for eg, a lot of us have gone through the painful feeling of a break-up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or the loss of a loved one, or the pain of being ill. I believe that when we go through the sad and painful events in our lives, we eventually heal, and we become stronger as a result of the challenges we experience.
8) City of Angels
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 8 years and it’s always struck me as a very interesting city.
It is a city of contradictions, a city of opposites, a lot of glitz and glamour juxtaposed with poverty and grit. It is a city in a desert, and in many ways, the desert is often not just a physical, geographical reality. I feel that the desert, has a deeper, metaphorical meaning in this city. People are often thirsty, hungry for love. Of course, this is a reality everywhere in the world, but it feels more intense here in Los Angeles.
So I thought I’d pour my thoughts into a song.
9) My Little Nephew
The first time I held my nephew in my arms was a wonderful moment of realization that I am now an aunty to my brother’s son. Children change so fast as they grow and my nephew lives in Singapore, as does the rest of my family. I on the other hand, live far away in Los Angeles and despite my wanting to be able to see him change and grow, and to be around for family gatherings such as his birthday, it’s hard to only see him now and then, whenever I go back to Singapore. I sat down at the piano one day, and wrote a song for him.
10) Slow Down
It’s hard to watch my grandparents getting older, and walking a little slower as the years go by. I thought about how life starts off with kids, teenagers and young adults rushing around with the exuberance of youth, and how, as we get older, we all slow down.
I also thought about how sometimes, working adults run around so much, focused on careers, on all the things in life that seem so important, that they lose sight of the really important things in life, things like time with the family, for instance.
11) Green-Eyed Monster
The term ‘Green-Eyed Monster’ is used to describe someone who is jealous about somebody else’s success.
I think most of us have been through an occasion where we find ourselves comparing our own achievements with those of our peers. Sometimes, in comparing ourselves with others, we end up feeling bitter and resentful, and that is not the way that we should be feeling. I wanted to write a song to tell myself that there is no use in comparing myself to others. I have my own story to tell. I have my own path to walk. No one else can walk the path I am meant to walk. So I should not compare my own life with others. It is a waste of energy and time. So I decided to write a song about this.
12) On My Way
I’ve travelled a lot over the past few years, to Singapore, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington, Maine, Philadelphia, etc. as I’m often going to various cities to perform my music. Most of the time, I’m on the road by myself, driving to various venues. Sometimes I get lost, sometimes, I get into traffic jams…
I think that life is like being on a journey. We have a final destination to get to. We’re all travelers on this road of life. I think that life is like a winding road where it’s hard sometimes to figure out where the road is going to go, and sometimes it’s easy to get lost and confused. ‘On My Way’ is a song of hope and encouragement, that no matter how far the journey is, every little step that we take, brings us closer to our final destination, and as long as we keep on walking that journey, we will get where we need to be eventually.
When I turned 33 last year, I thought to myself, that Jesus was 33 when he lived his last year on earth. I thought that it was pretty amazing that I was now the same age as him. So somehow, that made me wonder how it would have been if I had lived during the time of Jesus. Would our paths have crossed? Would we have been friends?
It also got me thinking that some lives are so short, just like Jesus’ was, and some lives are much longer. But ultimately it doesn’t matter how short or long someone’s life was; what matters is that life is lived to the fullest, no matter how much time you are given to live.
14) Shelter (Cherry Blossom Edition)
Even though I listen to mostly English pop music, as a child I often listened to the Chinese pop melodies that my grandmother would play on the radio, and my father would teach me some Asian folk songs. I was inspired to write a Asian-styled piano arrangement to ‘Shelter’ after listening to Kavin’s string arrangement for the song. Lately, I’ve been experimenting more with pentatonic keys and modes and so, I decided to try an Asian-styled arrangement on the piano. I loved it very much, so we decided to include it in the album because it adds a different, more dramatic feel to the song.
Besides the above: please see the questions below:
1. What is the major influence in your music? Would you name artists and/or songs?
Growing up, I listened to quite a lot of classical music as I studied classical piano from a young age and had to play a lot of classical piano pieces. My favourite composers were Beethoven and Mozart. As I grew older, I listened to music arranged and composed by David Foster who writes very good melodies. I also listened to the Carpenters and to Abba, and to James Taylor. I loved the musical ‘My Fair Lady’. I also listened to a lot of Top 40 pop on radio. Nowadays, I’ve been listening more to artistes like Imogen Heap, John Mayer, Keane, Bobby McFerrin. I love Joni Mitchell’s lyrics. They inspire my own.
2. If you compare the new album with the previous works, what do you think is the largest difference?
I think the lyrics are a little more mature this time around and I write more songs about my personal convictions. Songs like ‘Beautiful Seed’ and ‘Five Loaves and Fishes’ are songs about beliefs that I cherish. I think that musically speaking, I am also trying different things in terms of writing more songs in a minor or modal key, such as the songs ‘Scars (Stronger For Life) and Green-Eyed Monster, so there is more of a richness to the music variety. I also helped to produce this album with Kavin and so I feel that my music, creative fingerprints are all over this album as I was more involved in this album with the way the music sounded.
3. When do you write songs? Is there any particular mood or feeling in which you like to write songs?
For this album, I wrote songs mostly in two places. One was at my piano in my room, usually in the night, when it’s just me at my piano, with a candle burning in a darkened room. The other place where I wrote my songs was in the coffeehouse that I went to almost everyday, during the daytime. I would sit at the coffeehouse with a cup of my favourite Darjeeling tea and write from 10 a.m to 2 p.m for most days. I would have at the table, my rhyming dictionary, my favourite pen, and my notebook of ideas, then I would look over the lyrics for songs that I needed to finish and write them, or I would write down ideas for new songs in my journal. I would write most of my lyrics this way. I would also have the melodies in my head and when I went home after writing at the coffeehouse, I would try out my music ideas on the piano in my room.
For writing songs, I have to be in a introspective, thoughtful frame of mind.
So it helps to sit at a coffeehouse. This particular coffeehouse also had a good vibe because there would be classical music playing in the background, and the furniture was very nice dark wood, so it looked classy, but very comfortable.
4. Some songwriters, by writing songs, releases their inner feelings, thoughts or visions, or escape from real world. To you, does song writing make your real life any easier or better?
Songwriting does help me to express my innermost thought and to express the things and emotions that I feel strongly about. It helps me to understand myself better and to deal with my sadness, my frustrations and my joys and happiness.
5. Song writing is in a sense expression of feelings or emotions.. Which feelings or emotions (such as, anger, joy, sadness…) is the easiest to express in your music?
It’s funny, but I do find that the easiest emotions to express in music are those that make me feel thoughtful, mellow or sad. I guess that when I’m sad about something, I get more emotional about it, and songs tend to flow easier that way. When I feel sad or pensive about something, it’s easier to sit at the piano and comfort myself by playing a good melody.
6. Is there any particular thing you do to create a atmosphere for recording (such as, lighting candle, etc)?
I turn down the lights so that the lights are not too bright. I like to light candles too, but during the recording for this album, I didn’t light candles because it got too warm in the studio.
For the songs ‘Love Song For #1’, ‘33’ and ‘My Little Nephew’, my husband and producer Kavin, left me alone in the house for a few hours with just the piano and so, it was easier to get into the mood of recording the songs, especially since these songs were more intimate since they are just vocals and piano arrangements. I felt more comfortable just putting all my emotions into the playing and recording of the songs when I was alone, with no one else to observe me.
7. Would you name other favorite writers, film directors, films, etc? Please also name your favorite musicians and artists.
Favourite writers : Pico Iyer, Jhumpa Lahiri, St.Therese of Liseux, Shel Silverstein, Anthony Bourdain.
Favourite films : Shawshank Redemption, Star Wars (original trilogy), Back to the Future, Prospero’s Books.
Favourite musicians : James Taylor, Sarah McLachlan, Bobby McFerrin, Take 6, Imogen Heap, John Mayer, U2, Dave Grusin.
9. What do you do in your spare time?
Take a drive to walk along the beach, or to walk at the farmer’s market, or 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica, go out with friends for a meal, go to the coffeehouse to write my journal or read and drink a nice cup of tea.
10. Please describe your character or preference in simple phrases, such as, outdoor active or staying home, dog lover or cat lover, good at cooking, like traveling, etc etc.
Tea drinker, cat lover, musician, singer-songwriter, good driver, catholic-christian,
piano-player, curious, optimistic.
11. What do you think you will be like in ten years?
Still writing and making music, maybe helping to mentor other singer-songwriters, perhaps having a family of my own.