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Composer of The Month for Jan-Feb 2024: Isaac Lim

Since 2020, the Composers Society of Singapore (CSS) has been releasing a monthly series for our Musings section, Composer of the Month! The Composer of the Month for Jan-Feb 2024 is Isaac LIM. He is an aspiring young composer who will be embarking on his composition degree in university, and has participated in various composition workshops and score readings by music ensembles such as the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and Ding Yi Music Company.

Interviewer: MOK Peck Yim

1. Could you tell us about yourself and your journey as a young composer?

Hi! I'm Isaac, a 19-year-old composer, currently serving NS, but will be studying composition in uni soon. I have always been making music; I learned both cello and piano since young and joined a choir, but only was introduced to writing music after attending a songwriting workshop when I was 14, taught by Singaporean singer-songwriter Dawn Fung. After the workshop, I discovered that I quite enjoyed writing music, but songwriting specifically wasn't quite for me. I started out writing choral pieces based on sacred texts, as that was something I was very familiar with singing in choir, but soon began to explore different styles, such as postromanticism, impressionism, and jazz, as well as different instrumentations, such as orchestras, string quartets, and chinese orchestra. I took lessons in composition under Ms. Chua Jon Lin, and attended various composition workshops and score readings, hosted by the likes of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Ding Yi Music Company, and Voices of Singapore.

2. Would you like to share a piece of music that you believe represents the current stage of your compositional journey? From this piece, could you share how you understand the craft and process of composition?

One piece I am quite proud of is Threads, a string quartet written for Duo Tarenna, for their concert 'parts + pieces' (Threads was also featured on CSS Score Follower Videos back in February). I think it represents my current stage of my compositional journey because it shifts through various harmonic styles, just as I like to write in various different styles. Threads hints at impressionism, rennaisance, atonality (kind of), and minimalism, sometimes changing very abruptly, yet not breaking the flow of the music. The process of writing this piece was a little challenging, as it was rather different from previous pieces I had worked on; in most of my compositions, I would focus on constructing the harmonies either linearly or vertically, and while both were important, one would generally take precedence over the other, depending on the intended effect of the music. However, for Threads, the concept was to have four separate melodies, or "threads", each with its own character, intertwining together to form a whole tapestry that is greater than and different from each individual thread's character. In chasing this idea, I had to be extremely careful in both the linear and vertical harmonies, making sure each instrument's melody made sense and remained faithful to its character, while also paying attention to the harmony of the ensemble as a whole, made even more crucial by the fact that I only used 4 instruments, each playing only one note at a time (for the A section at least), making each chord extention and inversion important.

3. What music are you working on at the moment?

I'm not currently working on any compositions, as it's rather difficult to compose in the army haha, but I am working on other projects related to arranging, recording, and producing; for example, I am currently in the process of editing together an a capella rendition of the hymn 'It Is Well With My Soul' (who knows, maybe by the time this interview is published, the project might be finished!) which I arranged, and got together a few friends to help me record.

4. Do you have any advice for aspiring Singaporean composers?

Don't be afraid to explore! Listen to lots of different styles of music, and even if you don't enjoy them, who knows? Inspiration can come from the strangest places. Don't pigeonhole yourself into a specific style just because you want to discover your 'voice'. Just write the music you enjoy and your voice will eventually come through, but at the same time, don't get too comfortable and never stop trying new things!



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