Matthew Thomas Soong

Composer

New Zealand

Author

About

Matthew grew up in New Zealand where he studied classical piano and arranging. During his high school years, he composed the music for three major musical productions along with a number of classically inspired piano works. In 2001 he moved to London and was keyboardist for various artists, as well as writing for and fronting his own band. Since returning to New Zealand, Matthew has been composing music for local theatre productions along with music and sound design for training and educational videos. He is a designer with the Soundsphere 3D sound technology project. His passion is to explore and create musical compositions.

Videos

Sheets

Interview

What does music mean to you personally?

I find music to be quite mysterious. The way it connects people is strange, the way it alters mood is strange. It has always fascinated me, that I can affect the way people feel by playing a certain combination of notes on my piano. For me personally, the creation of a new unknown piece is thrilling. It’s like diving into the ocean and pulling out different coloured gem stones, then, arranging them on the window sill. I find the process wonderful and it feels correct, it feels like I’m doing what I’m made to do. It makes me feel real.

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

There is world I’m drawn to when I’m writing. It’s like I’m going on an adventure into the unknown where I have command over infinite possibilities, but then often the possibilities have command over me. I do think the scope is broader than fantasy though. Music seems to be about patterns that reflect and affect reality. I guess it’s a beautiful mystery that is strangely wonderful.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

I actually build houses. I was at a crossroad when I was 17. Do you go to university and study composition or do I do a carpentry apprenticeship? My father was not keen on the former. My music teacher invited himself to dinner with the goal of convincing my father to reconsider. Out of respect for my father, I did the latter. The interesting thing is that the composition is in me and I can not help but write and create. I'm sure if it was the other way around, I wouldn’t subconsciously build a house! Was it the right decision? We will never know.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about the future?

I think the classical audience is older, but that is partly because as you get older you are able to appreciate classical music more. True art is enduring. In a fast paced world, true beauty takes time to appreciate and mature. This is good and bad. It is bad that classical music is often overlooked, but good because of the heightened contrast.

What do you envision the role of music to be in the 21st century? Do you see that there is a transformation of this role?

The core role of music, art and beauty has always been a connector to the transcendent. I don’t see that changing, it seems to be innate. However, accessibility has changed dramatically with both the gramophone and the internet. There are pros and cons, but I think the pros outweigh the cons.

Do you think that the musician today needs to be more creative? What is the role of creativity in the musical process for you?

Some people are musical, some people are creative, some people are both. Composers are definitely both. Actually, it's probably more like a spectrum or a cross fader with composers in the middle. Composers design the menu, musicians are the chefs. A good restaurant is one that can introduce you to new tastes while keeping you in comfort and in health. Otherwise, it's all salt and MSG. To be creative, you see the unrealised possibilities. I see artists as a type of leader, to bring people from one place to the next. I’d also add that at certian times in history, culture seems to be more receptive to the avant-garde and new expressions. Other times, not so much.

Do you think we as musicians can do something to attract the younger generation to music concerts? How would you do this?

Mindfulness and mental well being are the current buzz words, and for good reason. With the lack of meaning, social anxiety, depression that is prevalent, live music is a good antidote. There have been scientific studies in this area. I’m not saying its a 'fix all' but I am sure it can help. Government grants that see live music as merely cultural could start approaching it from a mental health angle also? - Everybody wins - musicians are healers.

Tell us about your creative process. What is your favorite piece (written by you) and how did you start working on it?

When I was a teen, I wrote a piece which required unique pitch tables and uncommon time. It was at a time in my life when I was questioning why, why about everything, why did it have to be this way, why don’t people like to investigate new things. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this is very much my personality (although now, i‘m not so naive). I performed the piece a few times and it was quite controversial in my small Christian clique. I was told that the piece was ‘evil’ or ‘inappropriate’. I was not trying to be rebellious, I was genuinely trying to investigate something. Ironically, the reaction received was largely what the music was trying to explain. This piece just wrote itself really, I didn’t know what I was really trying to express, but it became obvious to me once the piece was complete, and some time after. There seems to be subconscious thoughts bubbling away that need to escape in the form of music. The composition helps me figure out what I’m thinking about. This is not always the case though. Sometimes I actually know what I’m doing.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

Yes I can! Go to live orchestral and live music. There is a contract you make with yourself when you buy a ticket and sit in your seat at an opera. You have committed the next 2hrs of your life to the music, you can‘t leave, you have to sit there. Decide to fully embrace the experience. Slow down, Treat it like meditation for your soul. Find the beauty in this strange new language. Find the beauty in each note. Find the beauty in between each note. You will slowly find a love for classical music.

Do you think about the audience when composing?

It depends on what I’m composing. There does seem to be a tension. On one end, there's a radio jingle, and on the other, there's a self-indulgent soundscape. Both are fine depending on the context. I do like to aim for one while being conscious of the other. I have found that if I’m fully engrossed in what i‘m writing, I don’t think about the audience. If you can compose purely for yourself but others can relate, then it‘s a win, but for me, this rarely happens. I do think art can be found in both but sometimes found in neither.

What projects are coming up? Do you experiment in your projects?

I can’t help but experiment. In a sense, each project is an experiment. There seems to be a problem with this though, I‘m interested and curious about too many things. It would do me well to put some restrictions and limits so I can focus more clearly on one or fewer things. At least for a time. I would like to complete another 3 sets of 24 preludes as well as looking at wider orchestral compositions.