Two-time Grammy-winning composer Christopher Tin visited Beijing earlier this year to participate in the seventh International Schools Choral Music Society (ISCMS) festival hosted by Dulwich College Beijing (DCB). The highlight of the festival was the world premiere of his composition, “Temen Oblak.” Tin conducted a choir and orchestra entirely made up of musicians from international schools across Asia. We lent Tin an ear as he answered questions from Grade 7 to Grade 12 students at DCB about his musical career.
Harry Sha, 16, US
When did you start composing and what inspired you to compose?
I started composing when I was 16 years old. I got into composing accidentally. I was into musical theater and I thought I’d write a play and some songs to go along with it. My friends and I performed the play at my high school, and when I asked people “What did you think of the musical?” They said “The script was OK, but the songs were great.” So I thought, “OK, maybe that’s where my true strength lies – in writing music.” That’s how I got my start.
Michael Shen, 12, US
What are you favorite examples of music from different cultures?
I love African choral music and I love working with African gospel choirs. The song “Baba Yetu” has a style that is very near and dear to my heart.
Elizabeth Ji, 12, China
How many instruments do you play?
I play a number of instruments very poorly, [including]piano, guitar, and bass. I can [also]play a little bit of accordion, banjo, and mandolin – but again, very poorly. I was quite a good pianist, but over the years I focused my energies on writing and conducting music and now unfortunately the fingers don’t move as fast as they used to. An important part of being a composer is just having exposure to the way different groups of instruments work – percussion, woodwind, brass, string, whatever. Having had the experience of playing a number of musical instruments I now have a good sense of how to write for them all.
Kelly Liu, 15, China
How long did it take you to compose “Temen Oblak”?
It took a month and a half to compose, although I was also doing other things at the time. I spent a week coming up with the main melody and five more weeks fleshing it out, writing all the parts, the counterpoint, and the orchestrations. That’s about typical for an eight-minute classical piece.
Diana Zhao, 13, China
How many pieces have you composed in total?
I can’t tell you exactly; it’s in the hundreds. If you played everything I’ve written back-to-back, [it would be]a good two days’ worth of music.
Do you enjoy composing?
I enjoy composing very much. To me there’s no better way to spend a Friday night than sitting alone in my room with a piano, writing music.
Sakiko Ohara, 17, Japan
Do you have any advice for young musicians?
Always keep music a part of your life, because it’s a great retreat. Music can give you motivation and can relax you. It’s a means of developing camaraderie; if you sing in a choir, there’s no better feeling than standing there side-by-side with your friends, singing fortissimo. For those who want to pursue music professionally, don’t be afraid to try new things and take risks. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail miserably – but the harder you fail, the more you learn. Never be afraid to really go for it.
Elisabeth Henssler, 14, Germany
Why do you like composing in difficult languages?
Cultures around the world have different vocal traditions, like Bulgarian singing, African gospel music, Aboriginal children’s choirs, or Irish keening. I use a lot of different languages because I want to explore different traditions of music and to really do that well you have to do it in the original languages.
Belle Lu, 12, Taiwan
How has winning Grammys changed you?
Winning the Grammys has opened up more opportunities to do interesting things, like come out to Beijing and work with you all. But winning a big award should never change who you are. You got to where you are because of the person that you are.
Maggie Gonzalez, 14, Argentina
Did you take any music tests?
Standardized music tests are not very popular in the United States. I did take Music Theory Advanced Placement courses, but I didn’t go through the Royal School’s testing system or anything like that.
Jason Ryu, 11, South Korea
Who are your role models?
Steve Jobs was a role model for me. I met him many times because I went to high school with his daughter. He was a very passionate artist, very devoted to what he did. He wouldn’t compromise on his beliefs and was very confident in his opinions. That’s something I really admire about him and other artists like him.
Bjorn Shen, 16, Sweden
Sometimes when I’m composing, I can’t find inspiration. As a professional composer, do you find it hard to get inspired?
I don’t have to wait for inspiration. Once you become a professional, you step into readiness mode at the click of your fingers. I used to be like you. I would be cooking a meal and suddenly the main theme to my magnum opus would pop into my head, I’d think, “I better put this down now!” Nowadays I sit down and the music just comes. That’s eventually a point you’ll reach in your own composing career. Once you start doing it full time, inspiration never really becomes a problem. Creativity is just a thing that you turn on – like anything else.
Photos courtesy of Nimo Wanjau
This article originally appeared on p38-39 of the beijingkids April 2014 issue. Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com