Last week, I completed 50% of my journey as a Masters student in Music Composition at Michigan State University. If there is one thing that I have learned from this school year, it’s that a Masters program flies by quickly!

In my previous post, I was under a lot of pressure with deadlines, competitions, and institutes. I am glad to say that I won in the new music category of the MSU Honors Competition! With that said, my piece, Test Drive, will be performed by the new music ensemble, Musique 21 during the following school year. I will keep you posted on the performance soon.

With Brevard, I had no idea where I would land, since of all the institutions in the United States, Brevard is considered as one of the best institutes for composers. I was placed on their waiting list. This is great, since now I’m on their radar…meaning that they’ve noticed my potential and hopefully when next year arrives, I’ll have a better chance of getting accepted.

UNL Chamber Music Institute on the other hand, denied. To be honest, I was quite shocked with the denial, since I was on Brevard’s waiting list, but Nebraska, which is great for chamber music with very good composition (not like Brevard), denied. I guess this could be due to a small number of chamber ensembles that applied to the program. Whatever the reason was, I can’t complain too much with how successful my first year as a Masters student was.

For this summer, I have a lot of projects on my plate. For starters, I’ve been working on a song cycle for baritone voice, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (similar to the Pierrot Lunaire ensemble “Eighth Blackbird“). Silent Music is comprised of three songs based on poems from three poets: Ana Bozicevic, Patrick Phillips, and Floyd Skloot. I’ve been able to communicate with all three of them and they were thrilled that I was interested in using their work into a song format. Hoping to have this piece finished by the end of the summer.

Then, the big granddaddy of the two: my thesis! Kind of scary really. I’m planning to compose my thesis for full orchestra, and my goal is to complete it by the end of my first semester in order to use this piece for the Honors Competition in the Orchestra division, along with other institutions.

Hopefully, I can give you more updates on the progress of these works as well as giving you some heads-up on what’s going on.

Wow! It has been almost 2 months since I posted a new blog post. I have been very busy for the good and bad.

Since December, I had worked on movements II. and III. in “Test Drive” for the honors competition. The deadline was yesterday (2/15), the same day as the Nebraska deadline. The good news is that I submitted the materials for both events, but at a bitter cost…Two weeks ago, I finished the second movement of Test Drive, however I did not have anything going for the third movement. Normally, I would think “I have two movements down, one more to go” right? WRONG! It turned out that on February 7th, I have a brief outline sketched in pencil and 10 measures that my professor rejected during my lesson. To top it off, I had 8 days until the deadline!!

This was scary because I was very busy with Wind Symphony, which is going through a hectic schedule this month, along with other projects for school. Between the 7th and the 15th, I had lost sleep for four days, composed all day for the week while barely working on homework (and forgetting to assign new etudes to my students) and I injured my right elbow from falling on the sidewalk arm/knee first on the day BEFORE the deadline! Luckily, I was able to turn in my materials for the MSU competition early this morning.

So after the intense week and a half, I am quite tired, though I have one more application to send: Brevard.

My goal for my Masters degree is to build my résumé as strong as possible to study at a high-caliber college for my D.M.A. that is similar or better to MSU, but with a better composition studio to find a promising job (not that I’m saying MSU is bad, but I have been here for five years going on six. No need to stay for an extra three-four years).

By applying to Brevard (and hopefully get accepted to Brevard), I will have the opportunity to make my résumé stronger than ever imagined, as I will learn to write five big projects per week, have my pieces performed AND recorded, and study from a superior level of composers (one of whom won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Composition on the American Opera “Elmer Gantry” this year)! I know that Brevard is quite competitive when it comes to applications, however I am willing to work and edit as much as possible to make this goal a possibility.

The best case scenario would be to win the competition and get accepted to both Nebraska and Brevard. If one of these does not happen, then I will still be happy with whatever the outcomes turns out.

So far, I’m having a relaxing but amazing birthday today; cruising on my new Macbook Pro that I got 2 days ago. (side note: I just want to say that Macs are THE computer to go to…especially if you are looking into a career that involves media!)

2011 was a very interesting year for me. To keep this part of the post concise, I will only point out a few moments that happened to me this year.

  • Accepted to Michigan State and Ohio State for masters in music comp.; enrolled at MSU.
  • Runner-up in the MSU Composition Honors Competition.
  • The première of the Saxophone Concerto which people/critics show that the Concerto is “the best piece written since Fantonium (2009)” and “the piece that raised the bar in the MSU comp. studio throughout” (quotation references are not mentioned from me unless you ask).
  • First performance of a transcription performed by the Jackson Symphony Orchestra (Jackson, MI).
  • Premiere of Concert Etudes I 11/1/2011
  • Premiere of Four Days: I. Andante for tuba/euph trio arrangement. 11/16/2011
  • Test Drive was born.
  • Currently managing my tuba/euph studio.

…maybe that was more than a few moments, but as you can see, this was a great year for me. For 2012, I will push myself like I never have before and will attempt to meet high goals. My composition goals for 2012 are as follows:

  • Win the MSU Honors Composition Competition (chamber ensemble).
  • Get accepted into the Nebraska Institute of Music for this summer.
  • Perform “The Two Siblings”, “Test Drive”, and others TBA.
  • Compose for voice.
  • Have a few pieces performed out-of-state.
  • Have many of my pieces re-recorded for doctoral programs.
  • Begin my thesis which is now TBA.
  • Have a composition student.

Although many of these goals are not easy, I am more than willing to strive for perfection and reach these goals with no fear. I’m ready, 2012. Are you?


Hi everyone,

Two weeks after the premiere of Concert Etudes I, the piece is now on youtube. Please note that movements I, III, and VI, were performed due to the timing of the recital. I hope to have this piece performed in it entirety very soon.

For now, enjoy!!

Last semester, spring of 2011, I competed in Michigan State’s Composition Competition. The judge for this competition was none other than David Maslanka. We received an email of Maslanka’s comment about our pieces, and one of the comments that he said to all of us was the following: “I want to say to take everybody’s computer away and make them write by hand. [In other words], Learn to hear internally and at the piano without [the] benefit of computer playback” – Maslanka, email.

I did not actually experiment with this method until two months ago when I began writing the third movement of The Two Siblings (sax/euph duet). At first I thought, “This is taking forever!” But shortly, I realized that this was easier for me to compose than using Finale from start to finish. Before I go on, I’m not here to say those who exclusively compose by Finale or Sibelius are wrong, but I’m comparing the pros and cons between the two methods.

Compose by Finale/Sibelius

One of the benefits of using music notation software are the large assessment of tools that a composer can use. They are quite accessible and easy to use. In addition, they are a great way to make music scores look professional (as long as you know what you are doing). You can also change the size of the paper, score, everything in the music with a couple clicks. In addition, you can erase and edit in a short amount of time (even though it still takes forever to edit). Now for the cons. The main problem with music notation software is the playback. I can imagine that many of you reading this are thinking “But that’s the best part of Finale!! I do not need to play any instruments. I don’t need to listen to a band. I don’t even need to think! I just sit back and enjoy the sweet sounds of video game music right in my ears!!” I can not emphasis this fact any more: the playback will disorient the natural sounds and capabilities of the instrument, therefore the composer will assume that if the particular motive sounds good on the computer, then it will sound amazing in person. In other words, it’s not real! In addition, MIDI playback is absolutely HORRIBLE!! (really!) MIDI, along with other sound libraries, can deceive your ears by making music sound either disturbing, or somewhat decent. The point is that these sound libraries, such as GOP4 and COMB2, try to recreate real sound to help the user on how his/her music will sound in person, yet even if they sound exactly like an authentic Saxophone, it will never match a live instrument. Another problem are the tools used in these programs. I might be contradicting myself here, but the available tools on Finale/Sibelius are amazing: convenient and easy, but it is very easy for someone to get distracted by these tools and not pay attention to the realistic results to the real musicians. That is why so many young composers’ sounds so fragmented. You have so many options to work with, along with playback, that when you hear a motive that sounds so EPIC, you will use that motive REGARDLESS OF WHAT ELSE IS GOING ON IN THE PIECE!

Though I bashed this category quite a bit, I still use Finale, but only when I’m “publishing”/editing my pieces, and/or arranging music.

Compose by Hand (Old School)

There are many benefits to composing by hand. One of them is flexibility. Although you can not control how your staves look, you can add any marking just the way you want it, such as adding aleatoric boxes, customizing time signatures, omitting barlines…anything really! In addition, Sibelius/Finale contain a lot of tools that you can use to write music. One benefit, in my opinion, to composing by hand is the lack of distractions to writing. Finale is amazing in so many levels, but there’s too many options for me to choose, and sometimes they make composing much more complicated than it should. By hand, I can focus a lot more on only the ACTUAL composing part of the process. As far as how to hear your music, you can either play your music on a piano, play it on your instrument (if possible), or you can give it to a musician who would be willing to check your music out. One of the cons for this method is the editing process. Since you write in pencil, you will be erasing literally all the time. In fact, time is a big problem when writing by hand. When comparing finale to hand, it could take about 10 minutes or less to write 10 measures on finale where it could take about 20 minutes, or more to write 10 measures by hand.

I highly recommend writing by hand, however I would also consider using Finale/Sibelius for editing purposes. Everyone has their own preferences about which method is better. The only way to find which method is the right one for you, is to try both methods out.

BTW: the recordings from the Premieres Concert are here, so I will post Concert Etudes I on Youtube tomorrow!

This Tuesday on November 1st is the first Premieres Concert of the 2011-2012 school year! Originally, the first Premieres Concert would have been October 18th, but due to a lack of pieces, the concert was cancelled.

I am very excited for this premieres concert in particular, because this is the first time that my music is in a concert along with six graduate colleagues of mine! In addition, this premieres concert has a variety of chamber ensembles: from a piano solo to a piece that requires 5-10 TVs and DVD players!! I will be premiering Concert Etudes I which I started to write earlier in February. With Sangmi Lim playing my music for the THIRD time (personal record!!), I know that this piece will go well. (side note: I asked Sangmi yesterday to play this piece, because the pianist before had a fever, and still does.)

Unfortunately, since all of the students who operated on the webcast of many premieres concert are not at Michigan State any more, there is not a webcast for this concert (if it does, I’ll let you know), so what I’ll do is that once the CD is complete, I’ll post the piece on Youtube and on this site. For those that live in the Mid-Michigan area, I hope you can attend this concert; it is a concert that you will NOT want to miss! Hart Recital Hall, East Lansing, MI. Michigan State University.

Hello! I would like to point out that in the previous post, the pianist who will be performing my Concert Etudes I is Tzu-Yi Chang, not Chia-Ying Huang. In a few weeks, I will post a link to the webcast of this performance!

Recently, Dr. Ricardo Lorenz sent an email to our studio about a problem with the undergraduate premieres concert. He stated that there is only one piece on the program (maybe I’m wrong about this since the last time I checked this was last weekend). The only solution is to merge the undergraduate premieres with the graduate premieres.

Here’s my advice for those who are MSU undergraduate composers: it happens! haha. I understand that a lot of freshman/new undergrads in the studio, I also understand that many of you may not have a substantial amount of recently completed works. For example: I never had a piece of mine performed until my sophomore year, even though I started composition lessons later than usual. So what I’m saying, is that it is very common to not première a piece right away, however you should première something very soon. Otherwise, you may fall into the habit of avoiding your pieces being performed (well that’s a bit of an over exaggeration, but you know what I mean!). I guarantee that here at MSU, many of the musicians are very talented and they are more than willing to look at or even perform your pieces, that is if you ask them ahead of time.