The Composition Department
The BMus degree in composition at Yong Siew Toh (YST) is designed as a launchpad for a future generation of composers. It balances a structured training program with space for students to discover and explore their own musical passions. It is a program that helps students find a unique voice and begin to speak through their music with confidence. Some may decide to become film music composers, focus on work with theater and dance, write experimental electronic music or cutting edge contemporary orchestra works, or compose for their own ensemble that blends instruments from diverse cultural traditions. Whatever their direction, the composition program at YST aims to challenge students intellectually while supporting them in the pursuit of their dreams.
The composition programme offers exposure to a range of compositional approaches from which students develop their own artistic voices. A major in music composition at YST Conservatory includes weekly hour-long private lessons with a composition mentor along with modules in orchestration, computer music, and the analysis and history of contemporary music. Majors participate in the weekly Composers' Forum where they share their work and receive feedback from peers and mentors as well as learn about contemporary music through guest artist presentations and analysis of important contemporary works.
But beyond major study modules, composition abounds at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music because it is a key component in all analysis and composition modules. In the core curriculum, for instance, all music majors compose in various styles. In tonal counterpoint class, students compose in the style of Bach. In the module called Concerto and Cadenza, students write a cadenza for a concerto of their choosing. There are modules on collaborative composition, experimental music realization, sonata forms, modal counterpoint, and jazz, amongst many others. All are opportunities to compose. There are also a number of computer music modules addressing synthesis and signal processing, the creation of works for live instruments and electronics, and algorithmically generated music. Composition majors also learn to record and edit their music for professional presentation as well as submission to international performance and study opportunities.
Composition majors undertake a minimum of 2 projects each semester. The nature of the projects is determined in consultation with a student's major study instructor. Projects range from short solo works to large ensemble pieces or even works for orchestra. Projects involving electronics and computers are also encouraged. In the senior year, composition majors complete a Senior Year Project, including a minimum of 25 minutes of music, publicly presented and recorded. As part of the Senior Year Project, students offer a public presentation on their works.
One of the most important elements of training in contemporary music composition is access to performance opportunities. It's one thing to compose a work; it's another to hear it performed, and performed well. The YST composition programme takes that aspect of the degree very seriously. There are numerous performance opportunities for composition majors. Our own student new music ensemble, OpusNovus, rehearses and premieres student works each semester. And in every year, leading contemporary music specialists from around the globe visit the conservatory and offer performances of student works. In the past, we've hosted the Ensemble Multilaterale from Paris, the Elision Ensemble of Australia, the TIMF Ensemble from Seoul, amongst others. Because the composition department is a small, select community of approximately 15 students, it's easy for students to take advantage of these opportunities. It is also possible for students to organize their friends to play their new work and present it on Noon Recital, our lunchtime concert series.
YST Conservatory is one of the few conservatories in the world to have a working studio dedicated to composers. The composition studio is a state-of-the-art facility that maintains workstations designed specifically for the needs of working contemporary composers. Each station hosts a Mac Pro computer with a pair of 27" high resolution monitors, a MIDI keyboard, and audio interface. Three of the stations have pivot monitors for use when you're composing for orchestra or larger ensembles. The software on these machines is comprehensive for working composers. There are multiple digital audio workstations. We maintain licenses for both Sibelius and Finale for music engraving as well as high end virtual instrument libraries including the Vienna Symphonic Library, NotePerformer, ConTimbre, and IRCAM's Prepared Piano, letting one hear the music as it is developed. We also maintain the complete collection of software from IRCAM, the renowned Parisian research center for computer music. In addition, there is a separate studio dedicated to more advanced projects, featuring 8-channel surround speakers, a large collection of analog synthesis modules, an 88-key ROLI SeaBoard, and additional software for sound design, mixing and mastering, including a sophisticated collection of plugins from Native Instruments, Brainworx, Wave Arts, Lexicon, and others.
Music Technology & Computer Music
Recording as Creative Practice
Music and Machines
Synthesis and Signal Processing
Composition and Contemporary Music Ensembles
The conservatory's ensemble dedicated to contemporary music, particularly works from the last 50 years. The module leaders aim to engage students with a diverse range of new approaches to composition, programming landmark works along with composers from diﬀerent regions and aesthetics concerns. Each semester students learn solo, chamber, and large ensemble pieces. All instrumentalists in the Conservatory are scheduled into at least one semester of OpusNovus which is also available as an additional free elective for those who might wish for further exposure to contemporary music.
In this module, students propose projects and select mentors to lead them in those projects. In that regard, it is like an independent study. Collaboratory exists for projects involving collaborative composition and improvisation (like activities in Collaborative Music Making), realizations of experimental works involving graphic, indeterminate, or text-‐based scores, and new works with electronics and live instruments.