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AN INTERVIEW WITH COMPOSER MENTOR
JEN WANG

1) Can you please share with us your journey into choral music and how you became involved in Listening to the Future?

I developed a love for choral music and composition thanks to the music programs at my schools; it’s really thanks to those teachers that I became a composer. It happened more than once that teachers dedicated time outside of school to running choral ensembles for those of us who were interested. In high school, my teachers also supported my composing, and my choir and orchestra teachers were some of the first people to play my pieces. At the time, a life in composing felt unattainable, and they made it feel possible. I ended up going on to study composition in college and grad school, singing in choirs along the way.

As a grad student at UC Berkeley, I assisted our choral conductor for two years: sitting in on auditions, singing in rehearsals, running sectionals, and doing some diction coaching. It was a fantastic experience, but it also struck me that in my composition studies, I had learned relatively little about writing for voice and/or writing for choral ensembles. Sometimes, in composition programs, it can be difficult to find musicians or conductors who are deeply interested in new music, and our hands-on experiences with large ensembles or certain instruments (like voice) can be limited as a result. At times, it felt like the only way to really learn about writing choral music was to be a choral singer already, to have that firsthand knowledge of our quirky little subculture. That’s a wonderful and perfectly valid path, but there’s also a need for more formal opportunities for musicians who aren’t lucky enough to grow up singing in a choir. (Even for those of us who do, a little more structure wouldn’t hurt!)

I have been singing in the Pasadena Chorale since 2017, and have always loved the idea of Listening To The Future. It’s a program that not only engages young musicians who may not have studied composition before; it’s also an opportunity to write for choir that is rare at any level. It doesn’t presume that you’re already an expert; instead, it assumes that you’re a beginner, and is built to help you grow. As a one-time teenager who couldn’t afford private music instruction, I’m especially proud of the fact that it’s a free program.

2) How has it been working with the young composers in this year's program?

It has been a blast! This year’s composers are talented, energetic, funny, and engaged. They’ve been such a pleasure to work with and get to know, and I’m so excited to see where they go next.

3) What do you hope the audience will take with them from their experience on Saturday?

In some ways, composing feels like a series of experiments: you follow an interest, you try something, you listen to the results, and you learn what you want to try in your next experiment. In these pieces, you’ll hear five wonderful young musicians exploring what sort of music they enjoy writing, and how to write it. Studying composition means developing creatively as well as technically, and that process never ends. I hope that the audience will be amazed by the talent and creativity on display, will enjoy the beauty and the fun of these pieces, and will also feel excited (as I do!) about how these voices grow in the future.

 

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