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Irene Huang.jpeg
Irene Huang
First prize winner in Ages 15-18 division
Winning composition: Deaf Pillows
How old were you when you started composing?
I've always loved coming up with melodies in my spare time, but it wasn't until the age of 12 that I started putting ideas down into notation and creating finished works. In 2019, I formed a chamber group with my school friends consisting of piano, violin, cello, flute, and oboe. Since our instrumentation was quite unique and our repertoire quite limited, I ended up writing two pieces for our ensemble taht we performed at school and community events. This was a fun, wholesome experience that definitely encouraged me to pursue my passion in composing music!

What do you love most about composing music?
My favourite part of composition is getting to hear my pieces played by musicians (sometimes including myself) for the first time, especially after hours of listening to the MIDI playback on repeat. There is something so gratifying about witnessing my own creation being brought to life, and I am always excited to experience this very special moment. In terms of the composing process itself, I love the beginning steps of searching for inspiration and letting my mind run wild when transforming said inspiration into music.

Tell us a little about your winning YWCC composition
"Deaf Pillows" is a single-movement work for piano and violin composed in the summer of 2023. It is inspired by the powerful theme of guilt in William Shakespeare's play, Macbeth. In particular, this piece references Act V Scene 1, where Lady Macbeth is revealed to have slowly descended into madness since taking part in the murder of the former King. She sleepwalks nightly and is haunted by the invisible blood that cannot be washed off her hands. Upon seeing this, her doctor proclaims: "Infected minds / To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets" - hence the title of this work.

"Deaf Pillows" begins by setting a dreamy, mystical atmosphere to imitate a person's temporary state of mind as they balance on the brink of sleep. It eventually slips into a dark, uneasy state of unconsciousness to foreshadow the tumult that is to come. The second half of the piece contrasts greatly with the first, as the music gradually builds in volume and intensity. The ending climax represents suicide, in particular that of Lady Macbeth, when she surrenders herself to death as self-retribution for her past sins. Throughout the work, the interval of a tritone plays a prevalent role to indicate the fearful apprehensiveness of regret. In the last few measures of the piece, the incessant tritone finally disappears to mark Lady Macbeth's fateful end. In conclusion, "Deaf Pillows" is a work intended to highlight the disconcerting side of dreams and how remorse will always torment a person, whether it be in the wakefulness of daytime or the troubled oblivion of night.

What was your process/approach to composing your piece for YWCC?
After familiarizing myself with the scene in Macbeth I chose to base my piece on, the first thing I thought about was structure, as that tends to be something I struggle with later in the composition process. Next, I established some musical themes I hoped to incorporate into my piece and took on a more dissonant approach (tritone being the highlight interval) to portray the nightmarish quality of this work. Another aspect I paid extra attention to was interaction between the two instruments to give listeners a hint as to what is happening. This basic plan helped guide my composition process and smoothen out any major bumps I could have had along the way.

What is your advice to someone who is interested in composing a piece but does not know where to start?
As someone who has been in this situation many times, I would say the most important thing is finding a source of inspiration that you can truly connect with. I find that musical ideas come a lot easier to me when I feel particularly strongly about the piece I am writing. Having a meaningful source of inspiration lessens the daunting feeling of starting a new piece and allows us to focus entirely on the power of music-making.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
My favourite movie is "The Sound of Music"! (watched it over a dozen times 😆)
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