Fine music for Mother's Day at the Sound of Dragon festival

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Chocolate is usually welcome, as is brunch—so long as it comes with a mean mimosa. But if you really want to do something special for Mom, consider taking her to Lee Pui Ming’s Mother’s Day (May 11) performance at the Sound of Dragon festival. And if she has a soft spot for shidaiqu, so much the better.

Admittedly, the Toronto-based Lee is primarily known as a collaborator with adventurous movement artists like Vancouver’s own Kokoro Dance; as a composer of dramatic, landscape-inspired tone poems; or as a no-holds-barred improvising pianist. But for this one-off event she’s delving into the pre-Cantopop sounds of Hong Kong, in honour of her own late mother.

“My mother passed away a little over a year ago,” says Lee, who’ll also appear as part of Improviser’s Playland on Friday (May 9), and with the Express Your Voice Choir on Saturday (May 10). “She was a very celebrated voice teacher in Hong Kong, with a lot of students in the entertainment industry: movie stars, TV stars, singing stars. And what that meant, growing up for me, was that she was teaching these students nine or 10 hours a day, in our home. I basically heard all the popular songs from that time and the times before; I just grew up with them in my ears and in my body.”

Lee says that she’ll be playing this time-tested material relatively straight—“They’re songs,” she stresses—but she also notes that some of her wilder inclinations can also be traced back to those early days.

“It’s really kind of interesting for me, as I’m pulling some of these songs together, to remember hearing her bad harmonies,” she explains with a laugh. “She’d accompany her students, and I guess my ears were keen enough to hear, like, ‘Oh, Mom, what did you use that chord for?’ In other words, the spirit of improvising was always there!”

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