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Agnes Alpuerto and Say Tola / Khmer Times Share:
Musica Felice - which means Happy Music in English - is a choir composed of classical singers from different nations. Say Tola

‘Where words fail, music speaks,’ says Hans Christian Andersen. He surely is right. Music has been considered time and time again as healer of the sick, comforter of the broken, binder of the disconnected. But Japanese musician Miwako Fujiwara has given music another role – provider of the disadvantaged. In a concert she led last week, Fujiwara aimed to give assistance to two organisations whose causes reflect that of her own. Agnes Alpuerto and Say Tola witness Fujiwara’s Musica Felice as they filled Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra with music for a cause.

If one needs a tangible validation that the East and West can meet at the center and blend beautifully, Miwako Fujiwara’s Musica Felice is but one great deal – in music, at least. And last week’s charity concert was successful in bringing about a kind of unity and harmony that banked heavily on the differences in races, cultures and languages.

All clad in black, 34 singers and a group of Khmer musicians were led by conductor Miwako Fujiwara in creating a concert that echoed beyond the walls of Sofitel Phnom Pehn Phokeethra’s Grand Ballroom. The choir, composed of French, Russians, Filipinos, Japanese, Khmer, Americans, Australians and other nationalities, sang at least 18 musical pieces – from Gabriel Faure’s ‘Agnus Dei’ to Shigeru Umebayashi’s ‘In The Mood For Love’.

Miwako Fujiwara (center) said this year’s charity concert featured more challenging repertoires. Photo: Say Tola

All of the songs used foreign languages. The classical ‘Berceuse’ was sang in French and ‘Ave Verum’ in Latin. Despite not understanding the full meanings of the pieces, everyone in the audience clapped in synchrony as the choir sang the upbeat Israeli folk song ‘Havana Nagila’.

“Even from the start, it has always been my dream to combine the music of the West and the East.I want to create something from diversity. And we did it now. I am happy that this turned out to be a success,” said Japanese-born Fujiwara.

But more than staging a concert that showcased foreign classical pieces from well-known composers, Fujiwara has also given the spotlight to the Khmer musicians of the Tola Say Music School.

Miwako Fujiwara’s Musica Felice was established in 2015. Photo: Say Tola

Nine local musicians brought tro so, pin, roneat, korng, khloy, pey pok and other traditional Khmer instruments up on stage, and played ‘Konseng Krohom’, a Khmer wedding song, which was a great feast for the audiences’ ears. The musicians also accompanied the choir throughout the second part of the concert, along with pianist Etienne Chenevier.

“The talent of musicians in Cambodia continues to inspire me, with the vibrant culture and beautiful instruments providing exciting opportunities for creativity,” said Fujiwara, adding that she has studied tro herself and has always wanted to make it the concert star.

But the event wasn’t just a showcase of musical excellence. Fujiwara explained that the proceeds will be given to the music school and to Banteay Prieb, a training center for young people with physical disabilities.

Tola Say (center) showcased traditional Khmer instruments along with his group from the Tola Say Music School. Photo: Say Tola

“I personally know the people in Tola Say Music School and Banteay Prieb. I already visited their places and agreed to give them the money we will earn from this concert. I personally believe in their causes. There are actually many people and organisations coming to us for help. It’s hard to choose. So we help in ways we can,” explained Fujiwara.

Tola Say, the founder of the music school, said his team is happy to not just receive help from Musica Felice, but to perform with the choir as well and be able to show traditional instruments to a crowd of more than 700.

“I plan to open classes for those who want to learn more about music. With the money we will be getting tonight, the school will buy musical instruments the students can use. We will be teaching four forms of traditional music including mohory, pinpeat and wedding songs,” said Say. He added that Fujiwara’s choir group has become an instrument for local musicians such as himself to get the opportunity to exhibit their talents and promote the almost fading lustre of the traditional instruments of Cambodia.

Conductor Miwako Fujiwara poses with the Khmer musicians from Tola Say Music School.

Having lived in Cambodia for eight years now, Fujiwara is committed to always give musicians and singers, locals and foreigners, a big space where they can freely and proudly put their flair on public view. This is the very reason she founded Musica Felice in the first place in 2015.

“I was teaching piano and voice when many people came to me and asked if I can do choir. That’s why I tried,” shared Fujiwara, noting how the three-year old choir became more of a community than a mere singing group meeting on weekly basis.

For last Sunday’s concert, Fujiwara shared that the choir practiced on Wednesdays. The Khmer team, led by Tola Say, practiced on a different schedule before they were combined with the choir and executed the blendings between the local instruments, the piano and the choral repertoire. Undoubtedly, everything went well.

Adding to the concert’s classical and emotional vibes were the video and photo displays of the Musica Felice, Tola Say Music School and Banteay Prieb and how they, as separate groups and as interconnected communities, are unifying music, culture and charity in the most beautiful, melodic and artistic way.

With Fujiwara’s pursuit to uphold classical music, Tola Say’s aim to encourage more Cambodians to learn traditional instruments, and Banteay Prieb’s objective to give disabled people equal chance to learning and working, there is clearly a happy future to look forward to for everyone in Cambodia.

And Musical Felice, which translates to happy music, will then be everyone’s kind of sound.

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