TWU

Music major James Tseung composes for TWU's jazz ensemble and orchestra, uses digital tools and gains hands-on experience in working with musicians

It was a passion for music and desire to become a composer that first brought James Tseung from Hong Kong to study at Trinity Western University.

Since then, the music major has worked on multiple concerts and productions on campus. He has written for and performed in several TWU theatre productions and jazz concerts, and has even composed for TWU's 50-foot bell tower.

This semester, James is busy rehearsing with the university's orchestra. That's because the orchestra, under the direction of Dr. Jon Thompson, will be playing James' original composition, “Theme of 1A,” in the upcoming spring concerts.

Growing up, James never imagined he would one day compose music for musicians in Canada.

We spoke with James about his journey to TWU and some highlights of his career in music composition thus far.

TWU
James Tseung has written for and performed in several TWU theatre productions and jazz concerts, and has also composed for TWU's bell tower.

When he first heard about Trinity Western University from a cousin who had also attended TWU, James was drawn to the opportunity to expand his horizons and to study at a place where faith is part of the educational experience.

With the support of faculty and staff, James was soon invited to participate in several projects, where he was able to develop his talents and skills in his area of passion. 


“It is always exciting to hear how your piece sounds when played by real musicians...I learned how to write a good piece so that [musicians] can have fun, but the piece is not so challenging that it is unplayable—and also, it sounds good.”


'Simple answer—I love music.'

James' passion for music developed in middle school and by the time he arrived at high school graduation, James was clear: “Music is the only way [for me] to express myself,” he said, “I just can’t imagine what I could be doing other than music.”

Given this, it was natural for James to focus on a field of study. In fact, when asked how he chose his major, James replied right away, “Simple answer—I love music.”

When asked what instruments he plays, however, the answer was less straightforward. “That’s a tricky question,” he began. As it turns out, although James’ specialty is percussion instruments—especially drums and the vibraphone—piano and guitar are two more instruments within James’ core expertise. Beyond these, the multi-skilled musician has also dabbled in trumpet and flute. What's more, he is dexterous within the world of software tools and digitally created sounds.


Through testing out his pieces with other musicians on campus, he has learned what to pay attention to when writing music, how to compose better, and how to communicate with musicians.


TWU
James Tseung has been composing for and playing in TWU's jazz ensemble, Jazz Combo.

Composing for jazz musicians

In addition to his breath of instrumental capacities, James has specialized in a genre of music too. “I love jazz,” he emphasized, “Jazz is my main genre of music.”

In fact, one of his favourite experiences at TWU has been composing for TWU's jazz ensemble, Jazz Combo. His composition, “Encounter,” was performed by the Jazz Combo in the most recent spring concert.

“It is always exciting to hear how your piece sounds when played by real musicians,” he reflected on the experience.

Compositional and communication skills gained at TWU

Being at TWU has provided James with access to musicians and opportunities to experiment with his craft. Through testing out his pieces with other musicians on campus, he has learned what to pay attention to when writing music, how to compose better, and how to communicate with musicians.

“I learned how to write a good piece so that [musicians] can have fun, but the piece is not so challenging that it is unplayable—and also, it sounds good."

TWU
James Tseung, together with fellow Music major Anthony Nootebos, composed the soundtrack for TWU's 2020 production of Without Rule of Law, which was a hybrid of film and stage performance.

Composing an original soundtrack for a Theatre production

In addition to composing jazz works, James has a track record of working with theatre. In 2020, when the Theatre department decided to produce a hybrid of film and stage performance for the fall production of Without Rule of Law, James composed the soundtrack for the play, with the help of fellow Music major Anthony Nootebos.

The team used the software Logic Pro to weave together digital sounds with live instrumental recordings. “It was a fun experience,” James recalls. He and Anthony composed music for the entire production, which had a running time of about two hours. Having to produce such a volume of work within a one semester challenged their creativity and sharpened their composition skills.

This past spring, the young composer accomplished another challenge: composing for and playing music on a 15-bell chime housed within TWU’s 50-foot campus bell tower.

TWU
James Tseung has composed and played music on a 15-bell chime housed within TWU’s 50-foot campus bell tower.

“I couldn’t imagine I could do something huge like that. Playing such a huge instrument—it’s pretty cool,” he said.

Dr. Jon Thompson recommended James to this project, which was supported by a bursary provided by Heather Alloway. TWU Library staff member Shawn Brouwer worked alongside James over the duration of the semester to provide guidance.

The project included creating an arrangement of a classic hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," for Easter. In addition, James composed a new four-note change sequence for the chime, and he further created a completely original piece, tailored for the occasion. He also journaled the process of his work for the benefit of future chime musicians to follow. 

TWU Library staff member Shawn Brouwer, who has been looking after the chimes for many years, comments, “I’ve enjoyed learning the special terms related to campanology (the art of bell-ringing). It’s a really wonderful and under-appreciated instrument, but I’m glad to keep it ringing by doing simple things like supporting talented students like James.”

TWU
James Tseung worked on a compositional project for TWU's bell tower, supported by a bursary provided by Heather Alloway, and under the supervision of TWU Library staff member Shawn Brouwer.

As for James, he has many dreams beyond TWU. When he graduates, he intends to continue in his area of passion. “I’m hoping to do something in music after graduation, [perhaps] getting gigs as a drummer or percussionist. Maybe composing for films or short videos,” he muses, “and to keep working on my own projects. That would be my most ideal scenario.”


About TWU's School of the Arts, Media + Culture

At TWU, you are invited to immerse yourself in what you love best, whether it’s visual or performing arts, media, or communication. Grow with others who are just as passionate and exceptional as you. That’s the beauty of learning in community. You’ll find your people here. Learn more at School of the Arts, Media + Culture.


About Trinity Western University

Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is a global Christian liberal arts university. We are dedicated to equipping students to discover meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. Drawing upon the riches of the Christian tradition, seeking to unite faith and reason through teaching and scholarship, Trinity Western University is a degree-granting research institution offering liberal arts and sciences as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has four locations in Canada: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, and Ottawa. Learn more at www.twu.ca or follow us on Instagram @trinitywestern, Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.


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