Story behind Lalita

I first reIMG_2242ad about the AGO Student Commissioning Project in August last year when the TAO magazine arrived. I thought to myself, how boring it was not to allow a composer/organist to do it on her own. What I didn’t notice was that the winner in the previous year was actually someone that I know fairly well, Mr. Alex Meszler. At the beginning-of-school year organ studio party, he approached me and encouraged me to find someone to enter it, and I suggested in return that he should try it two years in a row, if he had a greater plan in mind. So that led to the piece, and the first organ composition I started (but not the first one that was completed, that went to a little chorale prelude).

The opening theme was written before it was decided to be an organ piece. I began the piece with another instrumentation in mind (percussion and flute, for another pair of my good friends), which allows me to explore dryness and silence better than the organ. Yet, I was determined that if I were writing something for organ, I would write something atypical to the organ repertoire and creating unusual sounds, so I did not even change a single note from my first draft. As I continued writing, the whole piece just laid in front of my eyes, which was a very interesting feeling. I never wrote anything as smooth as this piece, and it felt wonderful to just pour out notes after notes.

After completing the piece and look back, I could still recall the feeling of writing music effortlessly. However, writing for organ is simply a nightmare. I am writing something with organ in it, but not a solo piece. Just like writing for orchestra, I would think a thousand times before I decide on writing another solo organ piece.

That said, my first attempt of writing for orchestra is actually rearranging and orchestrating THIS EXACT PIECE. It is definitely too difficult for a large orchestra though.

As all the project requirements were completed, now Alex and I can head to our next destination in peace. Good luck at ASU Alex.

Lalita (2015)

Lalita is the name of one of the eight principal gopis in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. She is known as Krishna’s loving consort, with a fierce and loving personality. She is beautiful, smart, and spontaneous. Like other female deities in Hinduism, she possesses the feminine energy that is charming and enigmatic.

I started writing the piece with a very simple melody with a dance-like accompaniment, yet it is soon fused with much complexity in harmony and rhythm in a way I did not foresee. The crafting process was almost effortless, and I barely spent any time on designing the tonal language and formal structure. The name Lalita came to me by accident after I completed the piece. Though the work does not have any religious references, and I consider it as a piece of absolute music, Lalita’s mysterious beauty captures the spirit of the piece perfectly.

The piece was commissioned by the American Guild of Organists Student Commissioning Project 2016. Premiered by Alex Meszler at Bales Recital Hall, the University of Kansas on April 26, 2016. 

See more details from the AGO website.

Trio for Clarinet, Bassoon and Piano (2015)

The piece is based on a Cantonese Melody, which is a lullaby sung by a mother to her son. It also contains hope for the son to grow up well and be a good member of the family. I imagine that the young son was trying to act naughty as he listened to the song, but he could not resist the kind voice of and gradually fell asleep.

Premiered by Shirin Abvabi (clarinet), Miriam Brack Webber (bassoon) and Teng Fu (piano) on October 20, 2015 at Swarthout Recital Hall, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.



 

A Star Ferry Ride (2016)

Star Ferry is a major tourist attraction in Hong Kong. It has more than a hundred years of history, and the ferry carries passengers across the Victoria Harbour. As people wait for the ride and get aboard, one can hear the low-pitched ferry horn, beeps from the gates, lots of footsteps, and of course, water. I try to capture the sounds and the motion of the ferry in this piece.  The tuba represents the movement of the ferry, from getting ready to depart to its arrival on the other side of the Harbour, while the piano mimics the environmental noise where the ferry locates. The pitch content of the piece is completely taken from the opening gestures of the tuba part. They are arranged in a 9-chord series and are played several times before the series retrogrades.

premiered by Max Gerhart (tuba) and Christina Liu (piano) on April 6, 2016 at Swarthout Recital Hall, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 

To Thee, With Love — A Cèilidh (2015)

Cèilidh, in Scottish Gaelic language, is a social gathering with many dances.The set was written for Margaret Lambie as part of the collaboration project of the composition and flute studios. Margaret expressed her interest in Celtic music when we met, while I was firstly exposed to Scottish fiddling when I attended Silkroad’s Global Musician Workshop in summer 2015. I thought it would be interesting to write a piece for her in different Celtic styles.

This set of flute solo work is eventually inspired by Celtic and American fiddle tunes and folk songs (yet only one folk tune, Little Mary Cassidy, is quoted in the third movement). The three movements are written in American, Scottish and Irish styles respectively, and the titles are taken from poems from the same region. It is arranged to tell a simple love story – from the initial electrifying attraction, to the sacred promise, and finally the happiness dwelling within.

  1. I’ll Love Thee for those Sparkling Eyes — A Country Dance
  2. I’d Shelter Thee, I’d Shelter Thee — An Air
  3. To Love You in the Old High Way of Love — A Hornpipe

Premiered by Margaret Lambie on April 6, 2016.

5 Sketches of Water (2014)

The 5 short pieces written in 2014 were inspired by 5 quotes from poems and Quran, all of which described different forms of water. The deeper meanings of the quotes, however, were related to memories, aging and death. I tried to mimic water on the piano by using different figures, and the form of each piece was modelled after the content in the text. The piece was written in loving memory of my Grandmother Huang Yeying (1932-2014), who passed away on the day I started working on the piece.

  1. The River
  2. Soft Rain
  3. Snow Flakes
  4. Vapor
  5. Still Water

Recorded by Qichen Jiang in October 2015, premiered by Neal Long on April 6, 2016.

Senior Composition Recital

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It happened. My senior composition recital was held on April 6, 2016.

Starting composing 3 years ago, and I barely wrote anything last school year, I actually made it to the end with a recital than ran badly overtime. It was definitely a miracle. I am also very grateful for all these people, who gave me a lot of encouragement and support. Without them my music wouldn’t be heard.

I still barely felt the existence of the recital, I am still very confused that it actually was over. (or, I barely realized that it was coming also) All I know is that it is just the very beginning of more compositions to come, and more people will know that there will be some weird music coming up.

One of my colleagues gave me his organ piece the day after the recital, that made me think what I could still do for the organ world. I hate how the organ society works, I am not happy that I’m stuck with those standard repertoire by the masters’ (in Schenker’s style of speech), I want to do something different, maybe I could specialize in “ultra-new” works by composers that are not organists. And I could perform pieces by great contemporary composers which organists do not care about.

More to be discovered in my musical life.

“I’ll Love Thee for Those Sparkling Eyes”

十一月把研究院申請辦妥以後,這些日子在寫的是flute studio委約composition studio而作的solo flute work。我被指派為一名碩士生Margaret寫一首八分鐘的”advanced solo flute work”,而和她的傾談之中,發現她平日多聽Celtic音樂。那時我正被Celtic fiddling所吸引,於是決定以這為題材,配上一些和celtic regions有關的詩句作命題。研究之中又決定加入一點點美國fiddling style。最後這小組曲由三首短作曲組成,一首用了Texas style,一首模仿Scottish style,另一首用了Irish song作原本。每個樂章的命題都是來自當地詩人的詩句(如果不計較美國的不同地域…)。

I. “I’ll Love Thee for those Sparkling Eyes” – A Country Dance (George Moses Horton)
II. “I’d Shelter Thee, I’d Shelter Thee” – An Air (Robert Burns)
III. “To Love You in the Old High Way of Love” – A Hornpipe (William Butler Yeats)

明顯地,當中有一個童話式愛情故事吧,但只不過是一個的想像。這些日子看見身邊很多的友人都有交往的對象,甚至愈來愈多舊同學開始談婚論嫁。有時在想,怎麼自己會身在外國,孑然一身,又不可能安頓下來呢。大約我是把自己對愛的一點點期待投射到這作品之上吧。我當初只是想著第一樂章是偶遇,第二樂章,兩人相愛,男生一心愛護著這女孩,想保護她一輩子,第三樂章,就是他們向對方作愛的承諾。

早前已經起了II和III的稿,這個早上,趁這天是學期最後一課,我想把I的初稿給老師過目,在學期完結前把稿子都交給演奏者。最初對這個樂章沒有甚麼頭緒。看了聽了不少的tunes開始對Texas style有了認識以後,定了調,開始亂寫。但到了某個位置,我突然想到了一個故事。一個牛仔在跳著line dance/square dance/ whatever dance that is的時候,突然被一雙極雪亮的眼睛迷住,身邊的音樂都聽不見了。他一心想認識那女孩,千方百計地邀請她共舞。女孩佻皮地拒絕了幾次,但最後還是應邀。這個故事又剛巧把整個系列完整起來。

有一名男士對我說過”You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.”他來自Western Kansas,正正是一個牛仔,現在在KC area當政治顧問。我和他在網上認識,談了幾天還是很投契,於是約了見面。第一次約會時,我倆還是可以不斷地談著,對話內容可以嚴肅,也可以很瘋狂;不過同時間,我很清楚我倆之間就算是多親密,我對他沒有那種想去愛的感覺(也許是因為他一早已警告了我),也完全沒可能發展甚麼關係。大約是,互相吸引、喜歡,但因為時間地點而不相愛。快兩個月以後的這天,我倆還在定期見面,沒有愛情,但又不只是友情。這個早上一邊寫著曲子,一邊想著當代的感情、關係是多麼的古怪和複雜。

在我工作的教會裡大多都是老人家,要找慶祝結婚金禧、鑽禧的夫婦多的是。他們大約是我見過的一些最甜蜜的夫婦,又常常告訴我,一個好的伴侶就是會出現,不要亂找,只要等待。有時不是不相信,只是,現在世界太亂,人心太複雜。網絡世界轉得太快,一切來去匆匆。

當一個作曲家最好的地方,是可以把自己投射到另一個時空,寫著自己嚮往和的事和情。