Saturday, May 18, 2024

CWU music professor’s latest composition earning worldwide acclaim

ELLENSBURG - Dr. Jiyoun Chung, who holds a doctorate in musical composition from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, felt like she was on to something big when she wrote her dance-inspired composition, “Freestyle Battle,” two years ago.

But the assistant professor of music composition at Central Washington University had no idea how big the piece would get until it started winning awards and being performed by chamber orchestras around the world.

After being selected for the 2023 LunART Festival earlier this year, “Freestyle Battle” was awarded the PatsyLu Prize by the International Alliance for Women in Music (IAWM) in the annual Search for New Music Competition.

Chung said she drew inspiration for the one-of-a-kind composition by watching B-boys dance groups—more commonly known as break dancers—on YouTube in 2021.

“I found that what the B-boys do is very similar to what musicians do in chamber music,” said the South Korean-born Chung, who is beginning her third year with the CWU Department of Music faculty.

“They play with different textures like unison, solo, homophony, and polyphony, and they have a canon, improvisation, cadenza, techniques, and artistry,” she added. “Everything you see and hear in chamber music is in there, so I studied their movements a little deeper and then started writing this piece, which is a musical depiction of those movements.”

Chung described “Freestyle Battle” as a reinterpretation and reimagination of the movements of breakdancing, such as toprock, downrock, power moves, and freeze.

New-York based contemporary chamber music ensemble Unheard-of//Ensemble premiered the piece in July 2021, and it has since been performed by the Society for New Music (New York), Fear No Music (Oregon), Tempo Ensemble (California), 10th Wave Collective (Minnesota), and Ensemble Metamorphosis (Serbia).

In early June, “Freestyle Battle” was performed by the LunART ensemble at their Gala concert in Madison, Wisconsin. The weeklong festival featured public performances, exhibitions, workshops, and collaborations that support, promote, and celebrate women in the arts.

More recently, Chung added the PatsyLu Prize from the IAWM to her résumé—an even more prestigious award in the music composition community.

The Search for New Music Competition, now in its 42nd year, recognizes the accomplishments of IAWM member composers and seeks to create awareness of the musical contributions of women around the world. This year’s call for scores received 105 submissions from 17 countries.

Chung said winning awards from LunArt and IAWN are both tremendous honors, and she thanked all of the ensembles that have performed the piece over the past two years.

“None of this would have been possible without the support of the women of the international music community,” she said. “I also want to thank my friends and colleagues at CWU for their support and passion for new music.”

Chung said her main goal with her compositions is to make her musical language accessible. She views her work as a way of speaking to a broader range of audiences, explaining that she is always looking for new ways to connect dance and music, popular music and classical music, street culture and concert culture, and younger audiences and older audiences.

“This piece has helped me create a broad connection with younger audiences—including my students—because it’s so energetic and exciting,” she said. “It’s been really rewarding to hear so many people say they have fun listening to it and performing it.”

Chung hopes her CWU students be able to relate to “Freestyle Battle” and her other more contemporary works. She is currently the only composition professor the CWU Music faculty, which gives her an added sense of responsibility to mentor the young musicians of tomorrow.

“When you work with young people, you’re educating them in the ways of music,” Chung said. “I hope I can connect with them on a different level—maybe just not just their professor, but also as someone who’s actually doing something out in the world with their music.”