This is the third instalment of the Charting Pathways series, where YST graduates look back on their experience at the Conservatory, and give us a peek at their plans for the future.
In this article, we hear Mick's personal reflection on the bold steps he has taken as a musician through his overseas stints in Baltimore and Frankfurt, as well as his collaborative site-specific work Pieces, which was presented at the recent Sounding Now Festival.
Mick graduates with a BMus in Composition and a double major in European Studies. He took part in YST's Joint Degree Programme, which is held in partnership with the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, USA.
For me, music began as a rebellion. When I decided to study music, my parents were concerned to say the least, especially because almost all successful applicants to YST had received more rigorous musical training than me. Initially I had my reservations too - but over the last four years, breaking out of my comfort zone, diving in the deep end in the spirit of adventure, and learning through immersion have become recurrent motifs in my life.
To break out of the cosy and familiar environs of Singapore, I applied for the Joint Degree Programme at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, USA. In Baltimore, I was forced to adapt to American college culture, and formed meaningful relationships with the people who guided and supported me through this process. One such person was my music history professor, Dr Andrew Talle. He had lived in Germany as a graduate student and could thus understand my experience adjusting to various aspects of American culture as a foreign student. At the same time, I had lived in Berlin for some time myself, and we were thus able to quickly establish a good rapport.
Dr Talle later offered to supervise my capstone project in musicology, and with financial support from YST, I travelled to Frankfurt am Main in December 2016 for my research. I have since presented my findings at the Bach Colloquium 2017 as well as the Frankfurter Telemann Symposium 2017; they are scheduled to be published in journals in the coming year.
As a composer, I never want to write the same piece twice. Each semester, I compose two works, and at least one is a venture into the unknown — my recent site-specific work Pieces, written for my Final Year Project at YST, belongs in that category. Pieces is a collaboration with Kristie Sim Ze Ming, a Chinese ink painter studying at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) in Singapore. The work features 157 minutes of music - although I’d never written a work of this length, I saw no reason to stop learning. While it might have been prudent to be conservative for my Final Year Project, I was confident that I could count on the guidance of my mentor, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean (Composition and Contemporary Music) Peter Edwards, and the support of YST.
Throughout the collaborative process, we were given liberties including, but not limited to, staying in the YST Conservatory building overnight to work in the space - something that pleasantly surprised my collaborator, Kristie. With the building on lockdown, we had exclusive use of the foyer to put to test different arrangements of fragmented chairs - a privilege which is rare in other installation spaces. Providing us the space to experiment is a statement of trust that YST has in students, which emboldens us to take risks in our learning process. On top of giving us invaluable guidance on a weekly basis throughout the composition process, Prof. Edwards allowed Pieces to be exhibited during the 2018 Sounding Now Festival, ensuring that the work would reach an international audience.
In the last four years, I have been supported in my learning process in YST and across various partner institutions. I have equally been touched by the dedication and knowledge of the numerous faculty and staff members I have interacted with. Although I look forward to the next adventure, graduating from YST will be a bittersweet moment, as I move on from the memories and friendships formed here. Nonetheless, I feel confident that the lessons I have learned here will help me succeed wherever I choose to go next.
View and listen to Pieces: