‘Humbling, surreal’: Singaporean music arranger Lenny Wee makes his mark at US presidential inauguration

Singaporean music arranger and orchestrator Lenny Wee (bottom left in group photo) was the music director for Jennifer Lopez’s performance at the US presidential inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2021. — Instagram/Jennifer Lopez pic via TODAY
Singaporean music arranger and orchestrator Lenny Wee (bottom left in group photo) was the music director for Jennifer Lopez’s performance at the US presidential inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2021. — Instagram/Jennifer Lopez pic via TODAY

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SINGAPORE, Jan 22 — The widely-watched inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States included a behind-the-scenes slice of Singapore.

The ceremony, at the US Capitol building in Washington DC on Wednesday (Jan 20) (1am Thursday Singapore time) was graced by music stars such as Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen and Jennifer Lopez, who belted out performances to commemorate the event.

Few would have realised that Singaporean Lenny Wee, a US-based music arranger and orchestrator, was the music director for Lopez’s musical segment at the ceremony.

She performed folk song This Land is Your Land and another patriotic song America the Beautiful during the ceremony as Wee watched on.

He was one of only a relatively small number of people attending the event, which was held amid tight security and without the usual large live audience following political violence at the Capitol, the home of US Congress, on January 6.

Speaking to TODAY yesterday after returning to his home in Los Angeles from the inauguration, Wee, 37, said he felt “pretty safe” despite the unprecedented presence of security forces at the event.

“There were barricades and National Guards all around. So I don’t think anything would happen to me. And also when I went to the Capitol for rehearsals and stuff, there was so much security,” he said.

“Maybe I was a bit apprehensive about the feeling and about what people could try to do but because security was so tight, I don’t think there would have been an issue.”

Wee is no stranger to the American music industry, having worked on musical arrangements for high profile television shows such as American Idol and The Grammy Awards.

The former student of Anglo-Chinese Junior College has been in the industry since 2008, following his graduation from the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

His other high-profile achievements include orchestrating soul singer Gladys Knight’s performance of the American national anthem at the Super Bowl two years ago.

The Super Bowl, which is the annual championship game of the American National Football League, is the most-watched televised event in the US.

Wee told TODAY that it was an “honour” to receive a call two weeks ago from Lopez’s creative director to direct the musical segment.

He said that he had worked with Lopez before, having been part of her musical team during her Las Vegas residency at Planet Hollywood’s Zappos Theatre from 2016 to 2018.

Wee said that her team had approached him to oversee her performance for the inauguration given his specialty in live music and orchestra work.

“Because this was a grander event, they wanted something that had more gravitas than just dance music. They wanted something with a patriotic sound and a big orchestra, and that’s kind of where my skill set lies,” said Wee.

As the music director, Wee had to write the songs for the orchestra, hire musicians for the performance and put the musical arrangement together for Lopez.

The next two weeks were a blur for Wee who worked night and day to produce varying musical arrangements for Lopez and find out which songs she wanted to sing.

“When we finally decided we were doing these two songs, we kept the vibe she wanted but it was on me to decide how to adapt to that occasion and make it sound big, new and fresh and fit it in with her voice,” said Wee.

Due to social gathering restrictions, the final performance on Wednesday saw a live band of 60, instead of the usual 100. A recording by 30 other band members was played over the live performance.

Wee said that it was “humbling and surreal” to be part of a history-making event in the US.

While he did not get to meet Biden and US vice president Kamala Harris, Wee said he was not disappointed, having met them on separate occasions several years ago.

Besides the inauguration ceremony itself, Wee was also involved in the Celebrating America television special on Wednesday night, which replaced the usual concerts held in Washington DC to commemorate the inauguration.

The show featured performances by several artistes, including Demi Lovato, whose musical performance Wee pre-recorded arrangements for.

When asked what advice he has for Singaporean musicians looking to make it big in the industry, Wee urged them to go beyond thinking that making music is a dream or just a hobby.

“I think you can actually make it a career if you work hard at it, (such as) opening your ears and listening to more music and just ingesting everything you hear.” — TODAY

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