Music composition is an art that helps musicians use their creativity and put down their ideas in the form of music. The beauty of this is that it can be played by an abundance of people. Meanwhile, the composer is given extreme satisfaction knowing their work is practiced and even applauded for. There is no age limit either, and it’s not always an older musician behind the sheet music.
“The greatest joy that came out of the project was hearing my piece being played with expression, by real humans,” shared junior Ashlee Sung about her experience and the night that changed her life.
Just recently, at the 2022 AHS Winter Concert, Ashlee conducted her self-composed piece, Mistletoe Berries; which was played by Symphony Orchestra and Wind Ensemble members. Having the chance to orchestrate and conduct a whole symphony helped her become more confident, not only as a musician but also as a leader.
Ashlee described her hardships during the songwriting process, including “teaching [herself] how to conduct, tackling the ‘trouble spots’ in rehearsals, making multiple versions,” and one of the biggest parts, “finding a good balance of sound between instruments.”
Although Ashlee said, “The winter concert was certainly the best night of my life,” she still thinks about how her music can improve. An important part was to handle the instrumentation better. In Mistletoe Berries, flute and clarinet parts were included, and other details were muffled out by the other instruments, she explained. As a resolution, she hopes to take future consideration when thinking of each instrument’s dynamic ranges, overall shaping the orchestra into having parts where everyone is well-projected.
Another memorable piece was in the 2019 AHS Winter Concert, Undaunted - written and conducted by Martina Chen. She described the experience as an opportunity to have different perspectives on the other instruments while also becoming better at understanding what conductors convey using their batons. She was glad to have taken this chance in hopes of challenging herself, as she wrote music for First Avenue Middle School beforehand.
However, the process of music composition isn’t always a smooth trial. Martina explained how she often removed and reworked numerous parts of her piece. “Parts didn’t sound right like they didn’t belong in the same piece as the rest of the material,” she said, including her schedule being conflicting and interfering with her songwriting.
“I felt a lot of pressure to impress people,” Martina recalled. This 6-month project also led to her feeling a large amount of stress, especially for being so young (she was only 16-17) at the time.
Now older and wiser, Martina realized one thing she could’ve worked better on. She explained, “You’re not going to regret failing to appease imaginary people in four years, but you might regret spending your limited time being stressed and miserable instead of enjoying yourself.”
While it’s been over four years since Undaunted was performed, Martina currently majors in music composition, continuing her passion for songwriting. As a college student, she doesn’t write as much orchestra music anymore, as it’s time-consuming, but she still participates in composing for smaller groups.
The music writing process is usually rough and tedious, but a huge feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction is rewarded. Both Ashlee and Martina said that they were proud to partake in music composition and would want to continue in the future. This kind of project is a good way to outdo yourself and go beyond your comfort zone. You may even learn a few new things!