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Composer of The Month for Mar 2024: TAN Yuting



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 Mar 2024 is TAN Yuting. Yuting explores the interaction of different sounds and the manipulation of rhythm, texture, and timbre to create evocative soundscapes. She is currently teaching at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, National University of Singapore.


Interviewer: MOK Peck Yim



1. Could you tell us about your compositional journey over the past few years? 


The majority of my last few years were spent between Singapore and Chicago as I was completing my PhD in Composition at the University of Chicago. I graduated last June, moved back to Singapore and am now teaching at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.


As I now reflect on the past few years, I realised I have created music for a variety of different interdisciplinary collaborations - song cycles, music with a narrator, music with a chef preparing dimsum, live improvisations to accompany silent film and poetry recitals.


I have always been drawn to working with poetry or text, and this interest has grown even further after I took a poetry writing seminar at UChicago in 2020. I remember taking this class online when the world first went into lockdown, when everything felt miserable and it was hard to find motivation to compose with everything postponed indefinitely. At that time, it was so refreshing to have another creative outlet through writing poetry. In those few months, I actually wrote more poetry than music! Through this completely new experience, I discovered that there are several parallels between how I approach writing words and writing music. When it came time to write music again, I realised I had a better sense of myself as a composer.



2. Could you share how you understand the craft and process of composition? Perhaps you could share about a piece that outlines some of these processes.


When working with text, I am often interested in the tactile or visual associations between the words and the music that I am writing. Even before writing notes on a page, I take time to think about how to musically represent tactility and also certain visual imagery through sound. Before writing one of my recent pieces, “Fire and Spice” (based on my poem of the same title) for Ekmeles and Sandbox Percussion, this is what I did:





"Fire and Spice" premiered on May 1, 2023, at the Logan Center, University of Chicago. You can listen to a recording of the performance here: https://soundcloud.com/yuting_tan/fire-and-spice



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


I am currently working towards a new collaboration with Singaporean poet Samuel Lee. Samuel and I got to know each other last year, when we were commissioned to create a song cycle for The Opera People’s recital series, In Our Manner of Speaking. He wrote a collection of poems, from which I then chose a few to set to music for soprano, cello, and piano. The songs were performed by The Opera People last November at the Esplanade Recital Studio. This next project with Samuel is still in its nascent phase, but I am excited and hopeful for this next collaboration!



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


Be open. Listen more. Find other interests (artistic and otherwise) outside of music, and you may (re)discover something about yourself as a composer!


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