"Everyone can come up with a melody": Yi-Ting Lu on finding her composer self
Photos provided by Yi-Ting Lu
Yi-Ting Lu is a Taiwanese composer, writing pieces that focus on exploring the experience of timelessness evoked through fragmented musical experiences. Having graduated from Taipei National University of the Arts, completed a Master's degree in Music Composition at the Manhattan School of Music and currently pursuing a PhD in Music Composition at Northwestern University, she has received the 2021 Transient Canvas Composition Fellowship program, 2020 Nief-Norf International Call for Scores, 2020 Thailand New Music and Arts Symposium Call for Scores, among others. Yi-Ting's compositions have been performed, awarded, and/or commissioned by the Arditti Quartet, Ensemble Suono Giallo, Ensemble vocal Les Métaboles, Ensemble Mise-en, PushBack Collective, Quatuor Tana, Yarn/Wire, 3PeopleMusic, and others.

Like many composers, Yi-Ting got into music by playing piano and Chinese instruments. Getting into composition only during her senior year of high school, she decided to continue exploring the field, completing her undergraduate training in Taiwan. "I always wanted to be a composer, but was never sure if I could be one," the musician recounts, describing how that put a lot of pressure on her. "For me, being a composer [was something] serious — you have [to have] training and know what you're doing… Everyone can come up with a melody."
Traveling to New York to pursue a Master's degree at Manhattan School of Music, the feeling burdened her even more, especially given that all of her classmates were at a very high level and she felt like she wasn't good enough to be around them. "Being around talented colleagues motivated me, and I questioned if I could be an inspiring composer like them," she adds.

Even after completing her graduate studies, Lu was dubious about her future. Unsure about continuing, as Lu says, the conventional education path as others had suggested, she decided to take a break from composition for the first time in ten years. "I took a gap year because I didn't know if I want[ed] to be a composer," she admits, talking about how she tried giving lessons to young children and found it's not the path she wants to follow. "It is through this process that I realized composing is now an irreplaceable part of my life, hence I returned back and applied for a PhD."

Now being a third year PhD student at Northwestern University Bienen School of Music, Yi-Ting tells me the experience is quite different from what she had expected. "I was always surrounded by people who are in the arts," she explains, talking of her past education. "It's quite interesting, [since now] I can know different kinds of people." At the same time, the workload is heavier compared to a conservatory: in a university, you have more academic load. As Yi-Ting says, adjusting to writing so many papers was a huge shift in itself, but also an exciting one as she has learned a lot through the academic requirements.

On top of having an extraordinary faculty and rigorous academic environment, it was crucial for the composer to have a myriad of collaboration opportunities. "Not every school has their own ensembles and music performance students," she says.
Bienen's environment, on the other hand, is built in a way where you get an opportunity and commissions from other students and ensembles, and it also invites outside performers every year. Another perk was getting exposed to courses outside of composition and music — Yi-Ting began taking classes in gender studies, because as an Asian female composer, she questions the hierarchy of composition. "In the history of music, it's mostly white men [that] dominate. I want to know more about women composers and employ these ideas in my compositions," she elucidates.

Looking into the future, the composer says that although she imagines possible pathways, the route always ends up being different. "Who knows if I'll graduate," she laughs, saying that she hopes to finish her PhD, but doesn't want to force herself to complete it if there are more meaningful things to do. Telling me about her "every day is your youngest day" mindset, Yi-Ting is planning to get a teaching job, and expects to find the balance between that and continuing to compose.

At the same time, she understands plans are bound to change, so it's important to have your ears open, while also being able to say no to information. Another key aspect is meeting new people and expanding your network, which Lu admits was almost impossible for her to do from the outset due to her shy character. "It's really hard to build connections because of different backgrounds," she adds. "For me, it's more [that] I build connections with my friends — my commissions mostly [come] from [them]." Yi-Ting doesn't have a set goal to build them, but it's the genuine wish to become friends with the people whose work she finds engaging that drives her to expand her outreach.

Whenever younger students ask Yi-Ting for advice, she doesn't know if it's the right thing to do. "The process of struggle is necessary," the composer elaborates. "When you struggle with [something] and figure it out, the satisfaction turns out [to be] much better than what the people told you to do." Making mistakes is part of the journey — just interpret them as experiences and keep an open mind.
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