The chances of becoming a professional musical composer after only experimenting with a music-producing computer application a few years beforehand seem incredibly unlikely. However, Jennifer Lindsay made this possible. In 2006, she was making songs through Garageband on her Mac computer. Today, she has composed and arranged songs for the musical I, Ching.
Lindsay, who was born in San Diego, Calif., is a violinist, soprano, composer, systems engineer and concertmistress. By 2006, she had just received her master’s of science in computer science from The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “Maryland is usually very cold in the winter. So, instead of going out and being social, I would just stay home,” she said. “I had bought a new Mac computer, and there was this one program on it called Garageband. So, I started playing around with it, writing cool songs. Eventually, I would finish one, and I would write lyrics and add vocals to it. Then, I’d send it to my parents and my friends.”
Lindsay pursued this hobby for several years until her friends and family suggested that she take this music-producing a step further. “Finally people were like, ‘Why don’t you just put all these songs on a CD because these are really good songs. We are actually listening to them. We aren’t just giving you platitude,’” she said. “So, eventually, I got my act together and put out a CD in 2009.”
Lindsay’s CD was called Songs in the Dark. “She not only sang every song,” her mother Gloria said. “But she wrote all the lyrics. She composed all the music. She did all the mixing, and she did all the orchestrations.”
Mary Au, the producer of I, Ching, was having difficulty finding a composer. “She had already tried out another composer,” Lindsay said. “He wrote some songs for her, and she didn’t like the way it sounded. So, Mary recommended me.” Au had collaborated and performed with Lindsay in the past. She had also listened to Lindsay’s CD before, which triggered her to ask Lindsay to be a part of the performance.
It was about two years ago when Au introduced the script to Lindsay. Lindsay was not familiar with any of the Chinese history behind the play. I, Ching, written by Hong Kong’s first woman director, Cecile Tang Shu Shuen, is about the life if Jiang Ching, wife of Mao Tsedong, a Chinese communist revolutionary, political theorist and politician. Lindsay ended up researching and buying books on Ching to better understand her character.
“So I went off, and a couple weeks later, I came back with the idea of one of the songs that’s also called ‘I, Ching’ and [Au] fell in love with it,” Lindsay said. She also produced “New Age Woman” and “Fool Me No More” in addition to “I, Ching,” which came to be one of the signature songs in the musical. After writing the songs, she performed them on a CD. That way, the cast could hear the way they were supposed to sound.
There are 16 songs in the musical. Not only did Lindsay compose three songs, but she also arranged 10 of the remaining 13. “That means she worked over the music itself, and a lot of times she enhanced it or turned it into something else,” Gloria said. “It turned out really well because it was being presented to an American audience.” Lindsay explained that since everyone had different styles in their music, the order of the songs had to be arranged so that they had a better flow. There is a variety of different types of music in the play, such as jazz, ballade, rock and roll, Beijing opera and Chinese symphonic music. The other composers are Stoa Lau, Lowell Lo, Tin Chee and Zhou Tian. Lindsay is the only American composer.
“Music is in her heart,” Gloria said about Lindsay. “She just has this ability. She overcame all these obstacles– not just overcame them– she succeeded in life.” Gloria wrote a book titled Triumph Over Trauma about Lindsay’s loss of oxygen at birth, the challenges that followed and how her mother helped her overcome them.
At birth, Lindsay received an abnormal brain scan after swallowing her mother’s meconium. Doing so can block oxygen from entering the lungs and result in severe learning disabilities. “The doctors thought her future looked pretty bleak,” Gloria noted. “I vowed to do whatever I could to help her.” She worked with Lindsay by stimulating her intellectually as well as physically. One of the techniques she used was flashcards. By the time Lindsay was 8 months old, she could read words. By the age of 3, she could read at a third-grade level. At 13, she was attending Orange Coast College as their top student in biochemistry.
Lindsay now holds: a bachelor’s in mathematics from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California; a master’s in operations research from Columbia University in New York; as well as her master’s from the The Johns Hopkins University. She currently works as a software engineer in Long Beach.
In addition, Lindsay is an artist. “I’ve written five books, and she’s illustrated beautiful sketches for my poetry. She’s even written short stories and poetry,” Gloria added. “She is like that. She’s interested in many things. She used to curl too! She was on a curling team.” Curling is a sport in which players slide stones across a sheet of ice toward four target rings.
However, none of these other hobbies will ever take the place of Lindsay’s number-one passion– music. “You really have to keep dedicating yourself– producing music– because it could make a difference years from now,” she said. “Back in 2009, when I released the CD, I had no idea it would be this kind of musical opportunity. And back in 2006, when I started playing around with Garageband, I had no idea that would lead me to produce a CD. It’s interesting to see the things I’ve done, several years prior, ended up getting me jobs and opportunities. The lesson to that is to keep producing music. Five years from now, who knows? This musical may even get me a job writing another musical on Broadway.”
I, Ching will be performed on Friday, Sept. 21 at 7:30pm and Saturday, Sept. 22 at 2pm and 7:30pm at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. For ticket information, visit ichingthemusical.com .