On January 22, when our students take the stage at Carnegie Hall, it will be a special homecoming for UNIS alumnus Elliot Chang. That day he will get an opportunity musicians and composers dream of when the UNIS orchestra plays a piece, "Dancing in the Redwoods," Elliot wrote. Recently, the Doctoral student at the University of California-Berkeley took a moment to speak with us.
When were you a student at UNIS?
I was a UNIS 'survivor', Class of 2012.
What instruments did you play as a student?
I studied piano primarily but picked up the cello as my second instrument in Middle 1.
How did being in the music program help you at UNIS and in college?
IB Music Higher with Patricio Diaz was my favorite class during my 12 years at UNIS. I not only matured as a musician but also grew as a more articulate thinker. The music program helped provide me with a comfortable stage to test my composition and performance limits.
It so happened that two of the four IB Music Higher students in my year attended jazz conservatory to pursue professional music careers. Being surrounded every day by a group of culturally diverse friends with a united appreciation for music, I was better prepared to start my college program in Environmental Engineering, during which time I would befriend a diverse group of people who all cared deeply about the environment.
What inspired you to write the piece?
My main goal was to capture the cultural diversity that I experienced as a UNIS student. To that end, I was inspired by a lyrical Scottish folk tune, "Hùg Air A' Bhonaid Mhòir", that resonated with me as material that could both help meet my main goal and also guide me in a unique direction. The originating folk tune that inspired me reminded me of the beauty of nature, a new theme I have taken up as a composer in recent years. The final product turned out quite nicely as both a tribute to UNIS' cultural charm and my appreciation for nature.
What do you hope students learn from playing the piece?
Musically, the students will be exposed to one example of modern concert music. There is sometimes a stigma against contemporary compositions because of their abstractness or perhaps their atonal complexity. However, I aim to show students by example that modern music also has a successful branch of composers who write in a much more tonal, familiar, and accessible language. By enjoying playing my music, I hope the students open their minds to not simply learning traditional classical music but also becoming appreciative of what living composers have to offer today.
What advice would you give to students at UNIS now?
It has been a challenge balancing the roles of a PhD student and a concert composer. Not knowing anyone else who is pursuing both disciplines at this combined level, I have had to make my own path and set my own unique goals. I advise students to reflect deeply on what they "like" versus what they truly "love" to do. Like myself, if students find themselves in a position where they love two disciplines and cannot choose simply one, I would tell them to be courageous and not back down from the challenge of creating a whole new path altogether.
For more information about Elliot please visit http://www.elliotchangmusic.com/