We had the good fortune of connecting with Shaun Chen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shaun, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I think that risk taking is imperative for one’s personal and professional growth in any realm. By regularly kicking myself out of my comfort zone and shifting that equilibrium, I force myself into situations in which I have no choice but to learn and adapt. This approach has helped me steer clear of the complacency that might result from homeostasis, and find new ways to develop my creativity and thrive even amidst suboptimal circumstances. As a musician, I feel that it is this impetus to innovate rather than conform, that results in the most fruitful and fulfilling of collaborative relationships. With every new artistic partnership, I have experienced the special brand of magical synergy that is birthed when one comes together with adventurous minds of different artistic backgrounds or cultures to create a work of art, fusing the unique perspectives we have brought to the table to explore what we want to say together, honing our skills in the process and inspiring even more artistry in ourselves, and more importantly the listeners and viewers privy to the experience.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I love storytelling and working with people. This is probably why I enjoy writing music as much as I enjoy conducting it, and why I strongly believe in cross-collaboration between art forms. I find that the best kind of art is created through collaboration, especially across mediums, be they film, dance, opera, visual art, theatre, or immersive experiences. Having been born and raised in Malaysia, I find myself constantly drawing from my Southeast Asian musical and cultural background when I compose, being simultaneously informed by both my Malaysian-Chinese heritage and my training in the Western-European classical tradition. Whether I’m writing concert or film music, I always endeavor to immerse the listener in the sound worlds of the emotional journeys my music invites them to embark on. One lesson I’ve learned through my journey is that the world doesn’t owe you anything. It irks me to see other young artists who approach their careers with a sense of entitlement, expecting to be given a shot solely on the basis of their talent, as it were. Rather than sitting around waiting for an opportunity to come by, I believe that one should set out to create their own opportunities where there are none, making full use of any and all resources at hand, all while being grounded and mindful of the realities of their situation. I’ve also learned that being the hardest working person in the room does pay off, and that investing time in building genuine relationships with people is extremely important. I am grateful for the time I spent at the Berklee College of Music furthering my studies in composition, film scoring, and conducting. My peers and professors there were vital in shaping me into the musician I am today. As a child, the most memorable visits to the concert hall were the ones that engaged me multi-sensorily (film music concerts live to picture, ballets, operas, themed family concerts). When I look back and think about what inspired me very early on and pushed me to pursue a life in music, it is moments like these that first spring to mind. As a conductor today, I hope to pay it forward to the next generation of young music lovers by recreating these amazing experiences with the goal of giving them what I was given, hoping to inspire them the same way I was. One of my dreams as a music director is to curate a concert series influenced by Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts. In addition to being able to tell these stories through my music as a composer and conductor, I am exceedingly passionate about helping others tell theirs, especially those that do not have the relatively easier access to music education and the concert hall that I have had the privilege of having. As a composer of concert music, I am a strong advocate of new music programming. I think that it is the responsibility of large, established orchestras that already have a large following and donor base to use their position to program even more new works in their season, rather than leave the job to new music ensembles. I love working with other contemporary composers in bringing their music to life, and helping them achieve their musical vision by doing all I can to bridge the connection between the composer, performers, and listeners.
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.
I love heading up to Temescal Canyon for hikes! If you like jazz, I’d head to Vibrato Grill in Beverly Glen. They’ve got the best live music. Can’t wait to head back there once COVID isn’t a thing anymore. If you’re craving some Southeast Asian food, I’d highly recommend Simpang Asia, an Indonesian restaurant that has amazing satay and nasi bungkus. If you want to get out of the city and escape some of that light and air pollution, one of my favorite stargazing spots is somewhere along Templin Highway that cuts through Angeles National Forest, just off the 5.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
One of my best friends and frequent collaborators, composer/conductor Christian-Frédéric Bloquert. Ever since we met at Berklee, we have been spurring each other on to dare to make the craziest artistic choices and embark on unconventional undertakings, due in no small part to the support and guidance from our dear friend and mentor, Dr Richard Carrick.
Other: www.soundcloud.com/shaunchenmusic www.imdb.me/shaunchen
Ryan Fogal Lila Wildy Quillin