It’s no secret that Wheaties are talented. This week, The Record sat down with three student composers on Wheaton’s campus who are using their passions and skills to compose music for film scores, talent shows, radio waves and beyond. The three composers talked about how they began their journeys, their accomplishments so far, and what they hope to do with their gifts in the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Elliot Leung: A Hong Kong native born with perfect pitch, sophomore Elliot Leung became interested in music at the age of five when he met his cello teacher. Over the years, Leung has taken lessons in piano, cello and concert percussion, using these skills to help in his music composition career. Leung is most passionate about composing film scores, and audiences can expect to hear epic, motivational music, as well as touching piano and soft strings that Leung hopes will move his listeners to tears. To find Leung’s work, check out his IMDb profile, his YouTube profile, or stop by his film scoring recital on Saturday, Jan. 31 at 4:30 p.m. in Edman 102.
- Credited on IMDb.com for a movie soundtrack
- Composed several YouTube advertisements
- Has music on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon.com
- Composed in Wheaton College football and men’s basketball hype videos
- Performed for Hans Zimmer, Jeremy Soul and David Ewman
- Conducted his first piece for a choir concert in eighth grade
WR: What inspires you?
EL: A lot of time, our creativity is very limited as a film score composer because, in the big picture, we are an asset to the director, and whatever the director wants, we have to do. I’ve done some YouTube advertisements, those super annoying “skip five-seconds.” And the football assignments, they don’t have any parameters, so I guess inspiration from there comes from either reading the story board — looking at the story board first, reading the script. Sometimes, they even have a cut of the movie to show me first … just some sort of frame to give me an idea of what it’s like. A lot of times, some composers, or some poets will write a poem, and after they write it, they will immediately sing a melody in their head because they are so attached to their words. At the end of the day, it’s really about what you listen to. My mentor from Hong Kong said, “You cannot reject any kind of musical style because any piece of music, even if it’s poorly written, has something to tell you.”
WR: After you get the idea, what’s the process of producing look like?
EL: Contrary to popular belief, our scores are actually produced by fake instruments. These fake instruments are extremely real. Like, for the football tracks, if I didn’t tell anybody, they would think there was a full orchestra. It’s all done from a program called Kontakt 5. It’s a plug-in in Logic, so it is kind of a sampling and recording program for mostly orchestral instruments, but a lot of others, too. We just plug in our media keyboard, then we sample it, then we play it and record it. The entire project gets recorded, and then you edit it after you record it, fine tune it a bit.
WR: Why do you love composing, and how do you hope to glorify God through what you do?
EL: At a very early age, I knew that I was happy when I made music. I wanted to be happy, and I didn’t find math happy, I didn’t find reading happy (laughing). Besides being happy, I want to be able to repay my parents.
I think writing motivational music motivates myself. I really like how music can motivate people. There’s a certain language that music speaks that you cannot speak in a normal language. It’s like a global language. Wherever you go, people know how to speak music. I really like that.
Robert Didier: Sophomore Robert Didier may come across as soft-spoken, but when listening to this music composition major speak about his work, his sense of humility and desire to share his passion with others is inspiring. Didier, who first became interested in music at age six when he began composing and creating art, describes his composition style as “eclectic,” with jazz, classical and electronic sounds fused together in an attempt to incorporate contemporary jazz harmony into classical style. You can find Didier’s work at robertdidier.com.
- Won second place in a national competition. Part of the reward was to have the piece performed live on the radio. Performed the piece in Evanston on 98.7 FM.
- Composes for independent film makers around Chicago
- Has music on soundcloud.com and robertdidier.com
WR: What is your musical experience?
RD: I’ve had experience composing for films — independent filmmakers around Chicago, some who I have relationships with, and I’ve also been pretty competitive with composition, entering in competitions in the nation and state, which I’ve always enjoyed.
WR: Where would you say you draw your inspiration from when composing?
RD: A lot of it is the metaphysical, really, and other art mediums inspire my music; other films, art films, paintings. It really puts me in a mood that helps me compose, and sometimes I don’t need anything, really, to stimulate the mood I’m in. Of course, I’ll just naturally be able to put something together. You can’t easily put a finger on where your inspiration comes from because it just comes. I just have to follow my intuition and see what happens.
WR: When you compose a piece, how does the whole process work?
RD: Most of the time, I compose by the piano because I enjoy the physical aspect of composition as well as, of course, the audible aspect of it. I often compose with my laptop, just typing the score into my computer software, but I think by the piano — I have this connection I’ve developed with the piano — its almost as if we both put my piece together.
WR: You mentioned that you’ve performed one of your compositions on the radio. Can you elaborate?
RD: It was part of a national competition that I won second place in, with Metamorphosis. Part of the reward was to have it performed on the radio. I performed the piece live in Evanston, 98.7, and it was a really good experience because it also connected me to a lot of other composers who were very knowledgeable, and I still keep in touch with them a little bit.
WR: Why do you love what you do, and what motivates you to continue doing it? How are you using this experience to serve God?
RD: I’m here at Wheaton figuring out how I’m going to serve God with my music. In the meantime, music serves as a very contemplative, reflective, communicative thing for myself and helps me as I develop my own faith and as I share my faith with others. Music is very spiritual, and I think that it’s most important to acknowledge the fact that music comes from God. Though I don’t explicitly put a Christian label on it, the music is coming from God. It’s hard to explain why I do what I do, or the feelings I get, because it’s the reason I put it to music — because I can’t put it in words.
YoungMin You: Junior YoungMin You is a composition major. The recipient of the first place and people’s choice awards at this year’s talent show, You’s joy and gratitude for God’s faithfulness is apparent and contagious. You became interested in music when he was seven, but before he came to Wheaton, had only a few music lessons as a child. You loves mixing sounds to create a product that is unique and “very complex.” You hopes for an element of surprise in his music, challenging his audience to listen without expectations. You can find You’s work at youngminyou.com, or on his YouTube channel, YoungMinYou.
- Won First Place and People’s Choice Award in the 2014 Wheaton College Talent Show with his piece, “Beethoven’s Theme and Variations”
- Has a Facebook page and YouTube channel: Young Min You
- Has music online at youngminyou.com
WR: What was your inspiration for the talent show?
YMY: I didn’t even know I was going to audition until the day before the audition. I started praying about it, and I was like “Why not? That’s what I do all the time for fun.” I play for people’s joy; I love when people get happy when I play. As I was praying, I went to the conservatory, sat in front of the piano and started praying. I wanted to start with classical, but I knew it was going to be on family weekend, so I wanted to put some different stuff — old songs, pop songs, Disney songs, so when people hear it, everyone in the audience can recognize or like, despite their age and gender. I was asking God, “How are these people going to react? What will they feel?” I couldn’t have done this last year. God has taught me a lot compositionally — it’s not just putting random music together. I did the audition and they loved it, and I was like, “Wow! Praise God!”
WR: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
YMY: I want to live my life as if there’s no tomorrow. When I look at God, there’s no measurement between us. Often times, we try so hard to impress God through what we’re doing — because it sounds good to us, we expect it to sound good to God, as well. But I realized that everything that I do is going to look silly to God. God is the one who made music itself. Who are we to try to please God? We get so discouraged thinking we disgraced God, but everything that we play already is a mess to God, and it makes no sense. People say, “All the glory to God,” but still get discouraged by their own performances. I feel like people don’t see their heart — they focus so much more on what they hear and what they see. I am the kind of person who believes that when, even if I play one key on the piano, the Holy Spirit can work through that note and people can be changed. I know that what I did for the talent show might have looked really impressive, but I don’t care how people see that. Why does it matter what other people see of my performance when I claim that I’m doing it from God? The talent show, for me, was a great reminder that I can feel this way. The way that I’m feeling, I know it’s not me, but it’s God working in my life. It was a great reminder that God told me, that as long as I keep this art, he is going to bring more and more into my life. We often ask God for more and more when we can’t even handle this one gift that God has given us. God reminded me that as long as I can keep this art and take care of this keyboard, make the most beautiful music — as long as I’m trying to please only God, he will bring me a much bigger stage in my life, and I’ll be ready.
WR: Do you have any hopes and dreams for the future?
YMY: My vision in my life right now, I tell this to everyone, and I’m not ashamed to say it: The only reason why I do music is to help God be more famous. Music, I feel like, can touch so many people and break the wall down. There’s not as much of a boundary — everywhere you go, you hear music. Everyone appreciates it. I just know that I have a gift in music, and that is the easiest way for me to approach people and to be able to open up and share my heart for God. I don’t care what I end up doing; the thing that I feel God is calling me to do is — I’m a composer, so I’ll be composing a lot, and I’ll be in the states after I graduate; I’m not pursuing grad school. I want to be able to travel around a lot and be able to share the music. I want to bring everything together, rather than focusing on just one thing.