We had the good fortune of connecting with Kwan Leung Ling and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kwan Leung, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I started practicing Suona (a Chinese wind instrument) when I was ten years old, focusing on traditional Chinese music in Hong Kong. After ten years of traditional Chinese musical training, I decided to embark on my new music journey in the United States, starting my Western musical training. This has put me at risk of language barriers — Communicational, musical, and cultural . I started my first semester in the U.S. with a weird class schedule – a 7:30 a.m. class and an evening class. This schedule made me wake up at 4 am in order to catch a bus by 5 am and travel from home across downtown, just to be at school on time. I still remember the fear of traveling by myself on a pitch dark morning. Although the ride was tough, I prepared myself a diversified playlist of Western music, from early to modern ages, to listen to during my four-hour bus commute. As a traditional Chinese music instrumentalist, I lacked knowledge in Western music and the playlist helped me to understand Western music quicker. This story might sound like a struggle, but I am very grateful for it because it gave me the time I needed to learn Western music, further preparing me for my career, and made my story even more colorful.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a Composer and Suona (Traditional Chinese double reed instrument) performer born and raised in Hong Kong. Personally, I consider my musical style to have been influenced by my national identity and upbringing. Hong Kong is a city bursting with international life and color, and my music often concerns itself with finding fusions between cultural music styles.
I began practising Suona at the age of twelve under the personal tutelage of Yazhi Guo, the former Principal Suona of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. I was later enrolled in the Junior Music Program at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts from 2004 to 2012 under the tutelage of Guo and Hang Leung Law.
Coming from a traditional Chinese musical background from Hong Kong, one of my goals as a composer is to bring new spices into Chinese music, and I have been experimenting with incorporating new ideas from my artistic journey into my Chinese music writing. My piece Organic Geometry II, written for traditional Chinese instruments Dizi and Zhongruan and performed by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra in their concert Music from the Heart, incorporated elements of graffiti I found in Los Angeles while I was studying in CalArts and surrounded by tons of visual artists.
I hold a B.F.A. (California Institute of the Arts) and M.M. (University of Missouri-Kansas City) in Music Composition, and I am currently completing my Doctor of Musical Arts in Music Composition at the UMKC, exploring new sounds by absorbing different cultures into my own music under the tutelage of Chen Yi, Yotam Haber, Paul Rudy and Zhou Long. During my time at UMKC and CalArts, I have explored a variety of art forms. The experiences of collaborating with artists from different fields have become my secret stock and strengthened my understanding of the synergetic capacities of music.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The Chinese restaurants around the Arcadia area are very good and are reminiscent of the flavors of Hong Kong. It has the Hong Kong vibe, be it the attitude or the language, and people would speak Cantonese to me at the restaurant. My favorite restaurant at Arcadia is “Garden Café – Arcadia”, you will get most of the Hong Kong food culture there.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would like to give a shout out to the UMKC Music Composition Department for inspiring me everyday by talking to professors and classmates. People at the department are very respectful to each other’s artworks and provide professional feedback. As a composer/performer, I think this is the best way to learn.