According to research, only 13.2% of music composers are women. Aiming to break barriers, Dr. Sun Yue, a Chinese-born composer and pianist, is helping to shape the arts through music. She is known for her musical language, which is diverse, vibrant, and interdisciplinary. From classical to hip-hop, she draws inspiration from a variety of styles, themes, and the world around her. With a doctoral degree in Music Composition from Florida State University, Dr. Sun received the prestigious “Ellen Taaffe Zwilich” award. Whether composing music or educating the next generation of musicians, she aims to bring new ideas to life that connect and move the people around her. We sat down with Dr. Sun Yue to learn more about her music and process.
What is your typical day, and how do you make it productive?
My days are simple, yet productive. I don’t usually get up too early in the morning since I am a bit of a night owl. I will start with coffee, grab something to eat, feed my cats, walk my dogs, and plan my day. If I have students, I plan the teaching and listen to music examples that require demonstration for them. On the days I don’t have students, I play piano while improvising and recording any ideas that comes to mind. I usually compose music at night, which can sometimes last for hours as I am at my most creative. To make my day productive, planning is the key. I can easily track what is due, what is urgent, and what isn’t. However, the composition itself is not compatible with “productivity.” Some days just might not be a good day for creativity.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Bringing ideas to life can involve various aspects including those that are meaningful to me. I particularly love to compose music for my friends who are also musicians. Because we know each other, we share similar thoughts to some degree. They understand my music and good ideas always start by thinking of them. Music is a beautiful form of communication both with my friends and with my audience.
What’s one trend that excites you?
ChatGPT. I once tried to incorporate several words like Bailey (my dog’s name) in a song. I asked ChatGPT to help write lyrics for me. It is a fun tool to get ideas, but only as a starting point because you have to be careful with copyright.
What is one habit that helps you be productive?
Set small goals because there are many tasks to be achieved in life. Some are important and time-consuming. If we only focus on the long-term goal, it is easy to become frustrated and lost. My strategy is to analyze the big picture, break things into small pieces, and conquer them one-by-one.
What advice would you give your younger self?
There are many things I would tell my younger self, like not staying in my comfort zone. It can be fascinating to try something new and learn from the unknown. I would also remind myself to keep trying. Don’t say no or feel hesitant. Try hard and focus on the present.
What is the one thing you repeatedly do and recommend everyone else do?
Stop waiting until the conditions are perfect. I learned that through experience. If I wait for perfection to start something, I’ll be waiting forever. Everything can’t be “perfect.”
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?
Take a break and go outdoors. As a composer, I spend most of my time in front of my computer or with my instruments. It can be very stressful sometimes. Whenever I feel less creative, I’ll go outside and enjoy fun activities such as kayaking, fishing, or enjoying the beautiful springs of Florida.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business or advance in your career?
Observing. Using it as a process to intently pay attention, I can gather specific information to further assess. I love to compose music for people I know and that comes from watching them closely on the performance stage, observing their musical interpretation, and how they breathe when performing. This helps to create visual images when composing music specifically for the performer. I also observe the world around me to get inspired. After I moved to Florida, I would always hear owls at night outside my home. I’ve since recorded their sound and even notated the rhythm of how they speak, which I might use in my future music.
What is one failure in your career, how did you overcome it, and what lessons did you take away from it?
When I pursued my master’s degree, I missed a unique opportunity to work with a great music ensemble. At the time, I felt hesitant to introduce my music to people that I was not familiar with. But the good thing is that I learned from that experience. When you use an action to overcome something, the fear, and hesitation will just disappear.
What is the best $100 you recently spent?
I upgraded my notation software, Finale. There are new features in the latest version that are useful and helpful to my work.
Do you have a favorite book or podcast from which you’ve received much value?
Set Boundaries Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab. This book helps me understand the importance of setting boundaries and how to successfully do it. It also reminds me that I don’t have to be a perfect person.
What’s a movie or series you recently enjoyed and why?
Big Beast. I love animals and documentaries about them. If it has great music, that’s even better. Watching this kind of series helps me to relax and keep learning new things.
- Set small goals because there are many tasks to be achieved in life.
- Analyze the big picture, break things into small pieces, and conquer them one-by-one.
- Stop waiting until the conditions are perfect.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.