Corrinne May - Sowing Songs of Hope.
The great English 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, America celebrated civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and debated abortion issues in the wake of the anniversary of “Roe Vs Wade”, the case which led to the legalization of abortion in America. 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 from the 70’s and 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 self-titled debut album 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 the album ‘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 an 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, Corrinne 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’.
In 2010, Corrinne was invited to write the theme song for Singapore’s National Day,. She penned a heartfelt song of gratitude to her nation and titled it ‘Song For Singapore’. She performed the song for 30,000 people at the Padang on National Day itself and the performance was broadcast to the rest of Singapore.
Back in the States, following the tradition of travelling troubadours, Corrinne continues to play in acoustic venues across the U.S where she is based. She has held residencies at Los Angeles 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 11 years and continues to live there with her two cats, her music-producer husband Kavin and her baby daughter, Claire, who was born in April 2009. She is currently enjoying her new role as a mother and hopes to share her fifth album by the middle of 2011.
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 my songs 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.”