Conservatory Professor inducted into prestigious honor society

Dr. Chen Yi, professor of composition at UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, will be among 11 new members inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters this May.

“The AAAL is a prestigious honor society of the country’s leading writers, composers, artists and architects with 250 life members,” Dr. Chen said.

Although her work has been highly accomplished and celebrated throughout her career, Dr. Chen still sees the honor as encouraging.

“I am humbled and grateful to be a part of the family, and think that I have the responsibility to work harder for our society,” she said.

Dr. Chen has taught at UMKC since 1998. Over the course of that time, she has continued to inspire and be inspired by her students.

“I always love working with student composers because the feedback between all of us is the most inspiring and stimulating,” she said. “I have also worked closely and extensively with my UMKC colleagues and students during the past 20 years, with many new music projects and cultural exchange programs.”

Dr. Chen feels they’ve helped each other grow and contribute to the community, and she is grateful to UMKC for the support given to her over the years.

A native of China, Dr. Chen’s work blends the sounds, instrumentations and traditions of the East and West.

“I’ve learned Western classical music since childhood, and also studied Chinese traditional music systematically before coming to America,” she said. “It’s my goal to write music that blends Chinese and Western traditions, transcending cultural and musical boundaries.”

Dr. Chen described her process of composing music as a personal one, very much reflective of her own life and experiences.

“You can hear my personal voice in my music, which is deeply rooted in my mother tongue, with Chinese expression and aesthetics, yet it’s also virtuosic and dramatic, with idiomatic writing for mostly Western instruments,” she said. “The more you learn different languages deeply, the more you know how to combine them naturally and seamlessly, as a hybrid.”

Dr. Chen wishes to continue to inspire her students and creatives alike, offering this advice to aspiring composers:

“1) Go deeply into your life. Love nature and people and the society, feel the beauty and effect of your passion, and 2) work hard to produce music that meets your head (meaning music that is technically refined) and that meets your heart (music that is sincere and original). Music is a universal language, so it’s ideal that we could use our music to share with many others, in order to help improve understanding between peoples with different cultural backgrounds, and bring peace in the world.”

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