A movement celebrating the joy of song emerges in Kuala Lumpur


'The arts scene can be quite closed and cliquey. I want to break those barriers and make everyone feel welcome,' says Sarah (left), about the Turn Up & Sing series. Photo: Sarah Imran

On a recent Saturday afternoon, in the middle of the usual cacophony of urban life, strains of an old melody echoed from Rumah Tangsi through the streets of Kuala Lumpur – P. Ramlee’s classic Tunggu Sekejap was brought to life by a motley group of about 100 people dressed in batik, kebaya and baju Melayu.

It was, indeed, heartwarming to see the multiracial mix of young and old who had turned up – parents and their adult children, siblings, cousins, partners and friends.

At the heart of the music stood multi-talented musician, actor, teacher and entrepreneur Sarah Imran, happily sharing her undeniable passion for the arts via The Sound Collective (TSC).

Promoted on social media as “No auditions, no judgment, no commitment,” TSC’s Turn Up & Sing series offers an immersive experience where participants gather to celebrate the joy of song and the connections it fosters.

For the love of song

“I believe that music-making in community, in collaboration with other people, is a fundamental human need. The Sound Collective wants to provide a safe space for this to happen, especially in this day and age when it is so hard to come by and needed the most,” says Sarah, 26, who is of Punjabi-Malay parentage.

She elaborates that historically, it was common for our ancestors to sit around and sing together.

“When they did this they weren’t singing to hit the right notes or to attain perfection, rather they were singing about the things they’d seen, they were singing about morals and lessons to share with each other, they were singing about universal themes like love, friendship and survival; they were singing to connect with one another and foster a bond. And perhaps sometimes they just sang for the sake of singing!” she adds.

Sarah leading the recent Turn Up & Sing session at Rumah Tangsi in KL, which was a packed out affair. Photo: Sarah Imran Sarah leading the recent Turn Up & Sing session at Rumah Tangsi in KL, which was a packed out affair. Photo: Sarah Imran

In today's modern world, socialising has become less common, with many of us living in isolated bubbles. In a city like KL, communal singing gatherings are rare. And if they do happen, they're often part of a production or involve auditions, typically with a close-knit group from the performing arts scene.

“I was interested in creating a safe space where people would be able to just come together, forget all of that, and just sing.”

If you were present at Turn Up & Sing in April, you’d have noticed that Sarah does plan and conduct the singing.

“I try to semi-train during that session. If we are able to create a beautiful sound together, that could be quite empowering for those who turn up. After the last session, for example, many of the participants came up to me and said they had never harmonised with anyone before and I just love that we had created the space and opportunity for that to happen,” she says.

For Tunggu Sekejap, as well as the previous Turn Up & Sing session’s Pure Imagination (from musical fantasy Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory), Sarah led the group in three-part harmony, with arrangements worked out from scratch.

“I hadn’t initially planned to work on the parts. But when I selected Pure Imagination I couldn’t find an arrangement that I liked. I was looking at all sorts of databases for three- and two-part harmonies, but there were none that really resonated with me ... so I decided to write my own. It was very well received, and I enjoyed doing it. It was nice to see my own creation coming to life. So for the second session I decided I would write my own arrangement again, and that it could become a unique part of the series,” says Sarah.

“We wouldn’t just be pulling up a song that’s already available. I wanted TSC to have its own identity and over time it will contribute to my own growth as a musician to explore my own style of choral arrangement.”

Sarah hopes to go from three to four-and six-part harmony some day when Turn Up & Sing manages to recruit more followers.

“We went from having 30 people at our first meeting to over a 100 at our second. Next, we’re already gearing up for The Bee Gees’ How Deep Is Your Love at The Godown (arts venue) in KL, on June 1. It’s one of my favourite songs to harmonise to, and I can’t wait to write the arrangement for it.”

The Sound Collective, led by Sarah (right), tuning up for a performance at the 'Tangsestra' concert series at Rumah Tangsi in Kuala Lumpur on May 11. Photo: Sarah Imran The Sound Collective, led by Sarah (right), tuning up for a performance at the 'Tangsestra' concert series at Rumah Tangsi in Kuala Lumpur on May 11. Photo: Sarah Imran

During each session, TSC selects one piece of music for participants to rehearse and express themselves through singing. In the three-hour session, there are lively vocal warm-ups, sectional rehearsals, exploration of lyrics, mood, and emotions, shaping key musical moments, and plenty of singing.

TSC came to fruition earlier this year when Sarah was inspired by “some guys in New York” she saw on Instagram.

“They were meeting up in abandoned basements doing what they called CircleSinging – just choosing a song and singing it. I found it quite beautiful!

“Nobody had done anything like that in KL yet and I felt it was only a matter of time before somebody did, so I decided I wanted to be the one who starts!”

The road back to music

From her early days of being enchanted by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, to her teenage Guitar Hero rock, punk and heavy metal adventures, Sarah’s musical odyssey has been one of discovery and devotion.

“Music has been a constant in my life,” she happily shares.

“I wanted to be on stage and to be doing what the stars of the musicals were all doing.”

Her love for music led her to explore diverse genres and immerse herself in musical theatre while at the Mutiara International Grammar School in Selangor.

“My twin sister and I were always singing, and I was also always in a show, very much a part of the whole performing arts scene.”

Sarah is grateful that her parents sent her for lessons when she took an interest in the piano.

‘I believe that music-making in community, in collaboration with other people, is a fundamental human need,’ says Sarah, who has created quite a buzz among music fans with her Turn Up & Sing series in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Sarah Imran‘I believe that music-making in community, in collaboration with other people, is a fundamental human need,’ says Sarah, who has created quite a buzz among music fans with her Turn Up & Sing series in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: Sarah Imran

“I think they enjoyed having music at home and the joy that it brought to all of us.”

Sarah has performed in musicals, plays and concerts in venues including KLPac, The Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), KuAsh Theatre and The Saloma Theatre in Kuala Lumpur.

She sought professional guidance in expanding her vocal range beyond her natural alto voice, training under Debra Abraham at Rockstarz Performing Arts Studio, and Dr Casey Koh at Broadway Academy, deepening her understanding and appreciation for singing as a holistic practice.

Transitioning to Britain for more academic pursuits in law, Sarah remained deeply involved in the theatre scene, balancing lectures at the University of Liverpool with theatrical engagements, actively applying all the skills she had picked up, and gaining invaluable experience with the Richmond Shakespeare Society and then at the Actors Temple and the MetFilm School in London.

Armed with a law degree and a masters in international marketing, Sarah ventured into the corporate world, joining the family sustainable-tech business, and taking on consulting projects with Unicef and UNDP.

Yet, amidst the hustle and bustle of corporate life, Sarah found herself longing for the euphoria of creating music and connecting with others.

“I was starting to not recognise myself anymore and I felt like I needed to embrace my true identity again,” she says.

Determined to reignite her passion, Sarah returned to her roots, embracing music once more.

She performed more frequently, teaching private vocal lessons, then took on a part-time position at Surin International School and later Nexus International School, finding solace and fulfilment in sharing her knowledge and talent with others.

“Teaching became a form of release for me,” she explains. “I enjoyed it, and my students were achieving results. Which is when I thought that I should take this more seriously.”

Soon enough, TSC was born – a vision of community, collaboration and celebration through music.

With TSC, Sarah aims to break barriers and foster inclusivity in the arts scene.

“The arts scene can be quite closed and cliquey,” she observes. “I want to break those barriers and make everyone feel welcome.”

TSC, Sarah says, isn’t just about singing – it’s about forging connections, embracing diversity and rediscovering the power of music to unite and uplift.

“It’s vulnerable. Lots of people have to put on a brave face every day, but when you come to these sessions, you can just let go.”

The response so far has been overwhelming, with participants from all walks of life coming together to share in the joy of music.

“It’s surreal,” admits Sarah, her eyes shining with excitement. “People have been so supportive, and the energy in the room is incredible.”

But Sarah’s vision extends beyond singing. With plans to incorporate instruments into future sessions, she hopes to inspire a new generation to embrace Malaysia’s rich musical heritage.

“There’s an electric energy when we make music together,” she enthuses.

“And I want to share that energy with the world.”

More info about Turn Up & Sing here.

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