Sheena Hong: Diamond in the Rough
As we took our seats at the Esplanade Concourse a postcard and a smile bade us a warm welcome. At the other end of the smile was Sheena Hong, our entertainment for the night.
It was the first time I’d experienced a performer giving out publicity materials to the audience herself, but in truth it was a nice humble first impression that served as a fitting prelude to the singer’s set.
Performing as part of Esplanade’s Postcards From Home series, the third-year Berklee College of Music student was accompanied by fellow Singaporean and Berklee student Caleb Tay on the piano.
The duo kicked things off with a cover of “Ordinary” by American Contemporary Christian music group Tim Be Told and a rendition of jazz standard “Skylark”, a song that reflected Berklee’s primary focus on jazz.
A couple of originals were then unleashed during the relatively short set (though of course the pair played for three consecutive nights), including “Rhyme”, a song written after Sheena’s first semester during a period of emotional inner-conflict, and “Show Me”, a song that Sheena and Caleb spent 20 hours trying to record, but still hasn’t finished.
An attempt at a Mandarin song came next in the form of Tanya Chua’s “陌生人” (Stranger), which by all accounts was a pretty good effort, even if the pronunciation wasn’t so precise. Not our favourite of the set though.
The set closed with a pretty refreshing version of “Part Of Me” by Katy Perry, who Sheena cited as a big inspiration, and was the closest item in the set to mainstream pop. The young lass later admitted she was trying to stay away from big pop hits.
Amidst the slightly awkward banter that went on in between each song, it was obvious the kind of training the two had firmly behind them. Each piece was performed with the kind of technical precision not often seen in our local musicians.
Sheena’s voice was really pleasant to listen to, especially during jazz numbers where we’re assuming she’s more formally trained. A lot of the time though, we expected her to open up the taps a lot more and let loose a powerful voice we could totally imagine her unleashing.
Caleb’s piano accompaniment was excellent as well and we really appreciated the ample airtime dedicated within each song to a gratuitous solo jam on the keys.
At the same time, the performance felt a bit too controlled, perhaps too reserved. It felt like a recital and while we don’t doubt it as a really good one, it lacked that little bit of uninhibited expression that would’ve pushed it beyond what it was.
But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t enjoy ourselves. We can definitely see the immense, raw potential that Sheena and Caleb both possess, with or without each other, and chatting with them after the show it was clear that these very folks love what they do.
We want to see these two perform again in Singapore and contribute to the local music scene. Given the musical talent they already possess, we hope they take it a step further.
Perhaps after they wrap up their formal training, they’ll be back to continue developing our budding music industry. Till then, I guess we’ll just have to share them with Boston.
1. Ordinary by Tim Be Told (cover)
2. Skylark (cover)
4. Show Me
5. 陌生人 (Stranger) by Tanya Chua (cover)
6. Part of Me by Katy Perry (cover)