For Good Measure

Monica Chew - Part 4

June 19, 2023 Monica Chew Episode 55
For Good Measure
Monica Chew - Part 4
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For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 56: Monica Chew (part 4)

Looking for a way to listen to diverse creators and to support equity in the arts? Tune in weekly to For Good Measure!

In this week’s episode, we talk to Monica Chew about her compositional process and how this is affected by being a pianist, as well as her thoughts on the future of music technology. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Monica Chew, check her out here: Parts of this episode originally premiered on June 2022, found on Youtube, click here

This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors, like you. Want to support For Good Measure and E4TT? Make a tax-deductible donation or sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the podcast!

Intro music: “Trifolium” by Gabriela Ortiz, performed by E4TT (Ilana Blumberg, violin; Abigail Monroe, cello; Margaret Halbig, piano),  as part of “Below the Surface: Music by Women Composers,” January 29, 2022
Outro music: “Lake Turkana” by Marcus Norris, performed by E4TT (Margaret Halbig, piano), as part of “Alchemy,” October 15, 2021

Transcription courtesy of

Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Interns: Roziht Edwards and Merve Tokar

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Nanette McGuinness:

[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to For Good Measure, an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists sponsored by grant from the California Arts Council. I'm Nanette McGuinness, artistic executive director of Ensemble For These Times. In this week's episode, we continue with our conversation with Monica Chew, who joined us in June 2022[INTRO MUSIC ENDS]. What is your compositional process?

Monica Chew:

That it's something I'm trying so hard to figure out. And the only thing that I found to work reliably is having a date, a venue and an ensemble. And each piece so far has been a little different in its conception and how it goes, sometimes it's really fast like that clarinet miniature that just got premiered. I think that's because I didn't have any decisions to make other than what to write. I mean, the deadline was that day, there's for one instrument, which only has like three and a half octaves, or whatever. And it's just like, eliminates a lot of angst. But if it's, if it's something like, oh, let's say that I want to write a tuba piece for next spring, it just opens this whole can of worms in my head of who should I write for? And how long is it? And where is it going to be? And when do we need to have the score ready. And the more the more clearly, I see the the more clearly I see the underperformance the easier it is to actually get something out with a caveat that I am not particularly good at writing for myself. Actually haven't written very much piano music. My first piano piece was actually I played it in June, and I wrote it like, the week before and finish the score the day before. So it was not a great experience stress wise. I'm actually pretty good at writing for writing for people who have limited rehearsal time. We'll see. So, yeah.

Nanette McGuinness:

Does being a pianist affect your composing? Do you mostly write at the piano?

Monica Chew:

I would say that being a pianist leads to a lot of neurotic feelings on my part about composing because as a pianist, I'm really blessed to have an enormous amount of literature that no other single instrument or vocalist could even begin to approach. And that's both a wonderful treasure. And also incredibly intimidating because there's this feeling that everything has already been written for the piano. And there's nothing new. There's no new way that I can say anything on piano. And that's not very conducive to being creative. Feeling like there's nothing new to say. So it's very strange, but I actually have an easier time improvising on on clavichord, because I'm, I don't know, I've just had too many piano lessons. I would love to write for a slightly larger ensemble. I don't want to see orchestra because I'm not. I'm not terribly interested in orchestral writing right now. That I would love to write for like Piro Piro ensemble or, or something totally different, like, I don't know, woodwind quintet, or, I don't know, um, something that I don't have very much experience with as a player. Part of the enjoyment that I get out of studying music is just exploring new territory. And I love I love looking at repertoire for instruments that are relatively unknown to me. Like, I don't know double bass or countertenors or something.

Nanette McGuinness:

What do you see as the next step in music technology? Anything you'd like to see happen?

Monica Chew:

So I think that past year has illustrated the need for video conferencing technology that's really easy to use for musicians. Even just for something relatively simple like a, like a piano lesson, or a voice lesson, it's, it took, I think it took zoom, maybe six months to introduce Music Mode after the start of COVID. And, you know, that was really just like a bundling of checkboxes. That would make the setup easier to use original sound and turn off echo cancellation on all this stuff, which you must do in order to play music over any, any platform. So I tried everything that was out there, I think I tried. I tried Zoom, Stream Yard, Google Meet, Jamkazam, Jamulus, Ninjam, JackTrip, you know, all that stuff. And it was all with the exception of like one or two things, it was all terrible experience. And it's just, it's an incredible expense, and time for all these people who want to listen to each other and play for each other to go through the same silly sequence of debugging every time right. So what I would love to see in music technology is just huge usability improvements, especially since we don't really know when COVID is ending, if it ends, so I'm expecting remote collaborations to continue.

Nanette McGuinness:

[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure, and a special thank you to our guest, Monica Chew for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to our podcast by clicking on the subscribe button and support us by sharing it with your friends, posting about it on social media and leaving us a rating and a review. To learn more about E4TT Our concert season online and in the Bay Area where to make a tax deductible donation, please visit us at This podcast is made possible in part by a grant from the California Arts Council and generous donors like you. "For Good Measure" is produced by Nanette McGuinness and Ensemble for These Times, and designed by Brennan Stokes. With special thanks to audio engineer extraordinaire Stephanie Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure." [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS]

What is your compositional process?
Does being a pianist affect your composing? Do you mostly write at the piano?
What do you see as the next step in music technology? Anything you’d like to see happen?