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 May 2023 is MOK Peck Yim. She is a composer and MOE scholar who is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Composition at King's College London.
Interviewer: Ng Yu Hng
Usually I'd start by exploring a composer's journey and background, but perhaps let's begin with a question that is specific to your recent experience studying your Master's in Music degree in London: how do you find the contemporary classical music scene there, and how (if at all) it has influenced or inspired your music-making?
I think that the contemporary classical music scene in London is really vibrant, there are always ongoing performances that I can attend and be exposed to refreshing new ideas. I enjoy attending these performances as they challenge me to think about music in ways that I may not have thought of before, and I find it interesting to see how composers convey large, abstract ideas through their works.
As an MOE scholar, education is an integral aspect of your music-making. How has this exciting journey influenced your compositional approach?
Being an educator has allowed me to gain the perspective of viewing things from both a micro and macro perspective. When guiding my students to achieve a goal, I usually have to scaffold it for them. This involves breaking the goal down into smaller, more manageable parts for them. In doing so, this ensures that they are able to accomplish the respective parts successfully, and all this happens whilst building towards the larger end goal in mind. From my experiences in teaching students, this has influenced my compositional approach and helped me to view my composition from different perspectives, in that I am able to envision the whole outline of the piece whilst not losing sight of the finer compositional details.
Can you describe your creative process when composing a new piece of music? How do you approach generating ideas and developing them into a finished composition? I usually get inspiration on the whim - it comes to me in the form of melodies, or perhaps I may be inspired by more abstract concepts and will mull over it and ideas emerge from that. I also derive inspiration from everyday life, even simple moments like a walk in the park can also be potential for inspiration as I find joy in these little moments. With the initial idea I have, it usually springs forth and emerges from itself naturally. I would usually continue writing up till the point where I feel a little stuck. When that point comes, I normally review whatever I have written and rework the idea accordingly. It is a constant process of refining what I have written till the piece is complete.
How do you think an audience's experience of contemporary classical music differs from that of more traditional classical music, and how do you approach crafting a listening experience that engages and challenges the audience?
I think that an audience's experience of contemporary classical music as compared to traditional classical music would be quite different. There is greater variety in instrumentation for contemporary classical music, and this offers more possibilities for experimentation and highlighting newfound technical effects on the instruments. Furthermore, contemporary classical music also offers a new spin on traditional concepts of classical music, and this would challenge the audience to listen even more closely and deeply as it differs from the music they may be used to hearing. In crafting a listening experience that engages and challenges the audience, I think that it is essential to strike a balance between having aspects in the music that the audience are able to relate to whilst still retaining the authenticity of one's own expression and creative spirit to explore new grounds in the music. A follow-up on the previous question's theme: what role do you see contemporary classical music playing in today's society, and how do you hope your own compositions contribute to this landscape?
I view contemporary classical music as the bridge between people of various walks of life. Music is a common language across people, and they do not necessarily need to be studying music in order to appreciate it. Through the shared listening experience, I believe that this can be avenues for people to relate to, or perhaps be conversational starting points that can hopefully bring people together. Sometimes, contemporary classical music can even function as grounds for advocating social causes and can be the entry point to starting difficult conversations as well. I hope that my own compositions can help in spurring people to reflect more deeply on such issues.
What music are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on a symphonic poem for wind band. Another large-scale project that I will be working on in the summer is the upcoming musical by King's College London Singapore Society whereby I will be composing songs for their production.
Also, since you have worked with professional musicians/ensembles (e.g. Lontano Ensemble), what are some tips you would give to aspiring composers who have yet to have the opportunity to have their music performed professionally?
I would advise them to keep an open mind and to continue composing, as you never know when opportunities might arise and you may get the chance to showcase your pieces!