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03 Jan 2020

CSS Composer of the Month for Jan 2020: TAN Yuting

The Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) kickstarts 2020 with a new monthly series for our Musings section called Composer of the Month!

The first composer to be featured is TAN Yuting, a Singaporean composer based in Chicago! She is doing her Ph.D. in Composition at UChicago.

TAN Yuting

Interviewer: Emily KOH

How did you get into composition?

I was in the Music Elective Programme (MEP) in secondary school and we had to choose either the performance track or the composition track for the GCE O Level examinations. I chose composition, because I was never much of a performer. So, I guess I really started composing because I had to. However, I continued writing music after that and realized that I really enjoy the process of creating music as well as the rehearsal process with musicians, so I carried on.

You are working on your Ph.D. in Composition at UChicago, and were previously at Peabody Institute and YST. Who did you study with at these schools, why did you choose to attend these institutions, and how do they differ from one another?

I chose to study at these schools, because they made sense for my development as a composer at each point of my life.

When I was at YST and Peabody Institute, I studied with only one teacher throughout each programme. I worked with A/Prof Ho Chee Kong at YST and Prof Oscar Bettison at Peabody. At UChicago now, we rotate teachers each year for the first three years and thereafter choose an advisor for our dissertation. I am working with Profs Anthony Cheung, Sam Pluta, and Augusta Read Thomas.

UChicago is also very different from YST and Peabody, which are both conservatories. In YST and Peabody, I was surrounded by student performers, but now in UChicago, I am surrounded by music theorists, musicologists, and ethnomusicologists. It is a completely different learning environment to me and definitely puts me out of my comfort zone as I was in a conservatory for six years.

How are the new music scenes in Chicago, Baltimore and Singapore different? What would you like to see more in Singapore?

I think the new music concerts in Chicago and Baltimore tend to be more casual and interactive. Some concerts were held in more intimate and informal settings and the musicians or composers would talk to the audience about each piece performed during the concert. People gather after the concerts to hang out and talk to musicians and composers about the music.

I think I see this happening with more concerts in Singapore as well, which I really like. Many people probably still find classical music and new music, especially, unapproachable, but I think making the concert experience more informal and engaging will really help. 

Choose three adjectives to describe your music.

Tactile, rhythmic, instinctive.

Your recent saxophone quartet work points, lines, angles, planes was premiered by ~Nois saxophone quartet. How did that come to be? Did you know who you were writing for when you composed the work? How does the pitch/non-pitched sounds coalesce together in this work?


points, lines, angles, planes was written for one of our student-led projects supported by the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition at the University of Chicago. I knew that we were working with ~Nois saxophone quartet and we had the opportunity to workshop our sketches with them. We also worked with a lighting designer, Slick Jorgensen, for the concert, and the seven pieces were performed one after another without pause. The musicians moved around and interacted with the space, playing different pieces in different spaces of the gallery, and the audience was also free to move around throughout the concert. I think all these factors contributed to the immersive experience of the entire concert.

My piece depicts the basic elements of geometry using contrasting musical textures. Therefore, I think of the pitched and non-pitched sounds as different textural blocks (although some of them share similarities in rhythm or pitch material), and juxtapose them with one another throughout the piece.