Having spent his past two years at the Royal Northern College of Music under the study of British Composers Adam Gorb and Paul Patterson, Singaporean composer Lee Jinjun will be completing his Master of Music in Composition this year.
“RNCM has been a very fruitful experience. I’ve learnt a lot through the experimenting process with musicians who are very willing to help me in the learning, especially with string instruments. They are also very open to trying out new things, playing and recording new works!”
At RNCM, the composition department organizes works performance opportunities at a level not seen anywhere else in the world. There are 3 public concerts of composers’ orchestral works per year, an annual chamber music festival where 8 composers get to write chamber works to be performed, composer-organised concerts every term, and students also get to write for wind ensemble, string ensemble and sinfonietta concerts in college.
“Besides many opportunities to write music in school, I’ve also had two great teachers, Gorb and Patterson, who provided a lot of suggestions to help improve my pieces, and helped me see things that I never saw from my own composer’s tunnel vision. I am very thankful for them during my studies.”
Prior to entering the college, Jinjun has already been writing a lot of wind band and chamber music. His work ‘What Does the Future Hold?’ won first prize at the World Projects Composition Contest in 2014, and his composition ‘Variations on Chan Mali Chan” was premiered by trumpet virtuoso Joe Burgstaller in the same year, and later by soloist Steven Mead in the Euphonium edition.
“Many things have been stepping stones. Perhaps the most significant being the masterclass by AudioImage Wind Ensemble many years ago, where I had a piece played that caught the attention of conductor Adrian Tan, who then asked me to extend that work into the suite now known as Dances in Flight.
After it was conducted by Johan de Meij in 2013, my life as a composer snowballed from there, leading to the World Projects Contest win and composing Variations on Chan Mali Chan. I’m not sure if all of them would be breakthroughs, because life as a composer hasn’t certainly become easier – I guess they’re more like paths on a journey in life. That being said, I am very grateful that those opportunities came along, and for the people who have believed in me enough to continue giving me opportunities.”
His latest composition “Autumnal Fireworks” clinched the first prize at the Singapore International Band Festival (SIBF) Composition Competition this year in the Grade 4 category.
“To me, the ultimate prize is having it played, because that truly reflects the belief by the community that the work is good. It would have been pointless if nobody chose it even though I won. So I am thankful that there are (to my knowledge) at least two bands who have chosen it as part of their contest programme.”
Jinjun’s style of music is often considered as very rhythmically driven, with an ability to make people laugh (quote Mark Heron).
“I think I enjoy writing quirky, humorous and active music, but I have also been exploring the style of slow writing. ACJC Concert Band will be playing a piece of mine titled ‘Rebirth’ in July and it is much more dramatic, solemn and spiritual in nature, and will show a new side of me, one that is so rarely seen!”
“During my studies in RNCM, I was offered the chance to record a work with a wind ensemble for one of the classes, but was only given 15 minutes for the whole recording duration. Basically, if I were to do a 5 minute work, I could only do one sight-reading run – 5 minute of rehearsal and another 5 to record the final product. I had to think of something catchy, simple, and effective.
‘Operas on Parade’ has been an idea on my plate for a long time. Ever since ‘Symphonies on Parade’, I have envisioned this work as a sequel, but never had the opportunity to carry it out. When this opportunity came, I grabbed it and wrote the piece, and recorded it with some degree of success. Of course it wasn’t perfect, because I could only rehearse for 5 minutes. That said, it was a really fun experience conducting the RNCM wind ensemble, and the players enjoyed the piece; that mattered the most.
I will be continuing the series, because it is a good educational tool for students to be exposed to a lot of tunes, learn of their origins, and perhaps become a catalyst for music exploration. I will be doing ‘Pianos on Parade’ next, where I will throw in the most popular piano tunes into a march – watch this space!”
Through increased efforts by the band community to promote Singaporean composers and their music, more composers such as Jinjun himself have emerged over the last few years.
“I think the situation is improving, but it still can be better, especially internationally. Singapore has a small talent pool due to our small population, and it is only natural that we as composers are not often heard about internationally.
That being said, we have people like Benjamin Yeo being published by major publishers like C.L. Barnhouse, and that bears testament to our country possessing talent that can stand amongst the giants on the global stage.
Support has to start from home, and now even the Singapore Symphony Orchestra is increasing the number of local commissions, while more school bands are commissioning composers. For example, I was commissioned by St Patrick’s Secondary School half a year ago to write a piece for wind band and guitar ensemble.
I do highly encourage more bands to commission local composers, and collectively create a local repertoire of band works.”
As Jinjun plans to return home upon graduation to do some teaching work, he also looks to explore a few options for a doctorate.
“I already have a research topic in mind; one that will possibly create a whole new category of educational wind band music, so it’s all about finding the funding and the ground support wherever I decide to go.”
A contributing editor at TBP.