SINGAPOREAN SINGER-SONGWRITER Corrinne May's latest album, "Beautiful Seed" sold more than 6,000 copies in Singapore in the first week after its Aug 6 launching. It is currently the Number One album on HMV charts. This 34-year-old parishioner of St. Ignatius is based in Los Angeles with her producer-husband Kavin and their two cats.
Corrinne went to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston in 1999. Although she had always known that she wanted to pursue a career in music, she had not always planned to be a singer.
Rather, she had thought she would work in the background, in sound-engineering, for example. Berklee changed that and she recorded her first album five years later. Her debut featured tracks co-written with Grammy-winning songwriters Carole King and Carole Bayer Sager. Corrinne has since received accolades from the likes of Harpers Bazaar, FHM, and Music Connection. Her songs have been played on MTV, and covered by other artistes including Tanya Chua, Joi Chua, Gigi Leung, and Angela Zhang. They have also been featured in Taiwanese movie "Love on Dolphin Bay" and Hong Kong movie "So Close".
There are traces of Corrinne's Catholic faith in her music, especially in her latest albums. Corinne is back home in Singapore until Aug 31. She performed for 1,700 National University of Singapore (NUS) students in the University Cultural Centre Concert Hall on Aug 3.
Joyce Gan of CatholicNews met with Corrinne recently to ask her about her life and her love, her music and her faith.
Q: What is the role of music in your life?
Corrinne: Music comforts me. When I'm feeling down I will gravitate to my piano and just play a couple of verses. Music helps to colour my experiences as well. It sets the mood for me. It's my joy. I feel like it's been given for a purpose and I'm exploring that purpose. It's a beautiful thing.
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Q: How has being Catholic inspired your journey into music-making?
Corrinne: It started during my time in NUS when I joined the music ministry in NUS Catholic Students Society. It helped when I met other students who were sharing and practising their faith. Initially I was very shy about such things. But through our weekly meetings I began to practise the Catholic faith more openly. And I finally got the enthusiasm!
Part of our ministry was also to stage concerts for freshmen. It was the first time I began to perform for a purpose. The emphasis was always about letting the Holy Spirit lead us to incorporate Scripture and to minister through our performances to the new Catholics.
I found the missing link between using music as a gift and how to use it for God. It took me a while to learn more about my faith. But when you start owning your faith, it becomes more a part of who you are.
Q: Have you always known music was your calling in life?
Corrinne: Quite early on I knew I was gifted in some way through music. My choir teacher would be teaching everyone to sing in one melody and I would be in one corner, harmonizing and wondering why everyone else couldn't or weren't interested.
The calling didn't really seep into me until I was in college. I knew it was something I wanted to do because I had written all these songs. I interned at a record company but I thought music would be a job for me.
It was in NUS that I figured music is so much more. It's a universal language in that sense. Every little step from then was to discover how else to use it. Even after I went to Berklee, I still thought I would come back and do background. But in Berklee, there were a lot of musicians just putting themselves out there to perform their songs and that encouraged me to do the same.
Doing that helped me discover the joy of music and performing.
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Q: How much inspiration do you draw from God and how much of your faith is expressed in your music?
Corrinne: It has only been since Pope John Paul II died in 2005 that I've felt more compelled to share certain aspects of my faith in my songs. I wanted to learn more about him, and I read that his motto for life and for a lot of how he lived, was "everything through Mary". I thought if the pope is inspired, then I have to find out more about this, because I didn't really understand Mary's role in the Christian faith. Since then, she's been helping me to get more acquainted with her son Jesus.
I get a lot of inspiration from God's role in my life. I find that I'm looking more at the world around me and trying to look deeper into the surface. Especially in this previous album, I was trying to find where God is among the people that I meet. I'm definitely keeping my eye open for him, be it through people he sends my way or in the situations I find myself in. When I journal I try to look for a deeper meaning beyond what's happening in my life so I am consciously looking for God's hand.
In this most recent album, there're two songs (explicitly Christian) - "Five Loaves and Two Fishes" and "33" (the age Jesus died) - that are some of the most biblical songs I've written and initially I was scared to put them up there.
When I initially played it for Kavin, he had his reservations too. But he too shared that his favourite song was also "Five Loaves" and I took that as a sign that I shouldn't be afraid to include it in the album.
The amazing thing is that I found that non-Christians enjoy them too. A friend shared with me that he liked "Five Loaves" best because it comforts him. He doesn't need to know the whole story but it's one he appreciates.
It comforts me to know that it's not something that's beyond people's understanding so, hopefully, more people will seek to learn the story behind this song. I'm still evolving my style of song-writing. It seems that as I continue my journey in faith and in Jesus, the concept and notion of love takes on a different meaning. Previously love means 'puppy love' or love between people. Now it means more of "Love is God and God is Love" Now, when I write about love, I'm often thinking about God's love for me. I draw my inspiration from that, and when I get affirmed by people, I realize that I'm walking the right path.
Q: Do you have a prevalent message in your songs?
Corrinne: I guess it is that there's always hope, that everything will work out in the end. And that we'll see how God's plan has always been from the beginning and how beautiful it will be in the end.
Corrinne held a Conversation@CANA The Catholic Centre on Aug 30 where she shared more about her faith journey and talked about the inspiration behind the songs she writes. Podcasts of the event can be found at the CN podcast page.