For Good Measure

Da Capo Conversations with Monica Chew and Valerie Liu

August 28, 2023 Monica Chew, Valerie Liu Episode 65
For Good Measure
Da Capo Conversations with Monica Chew and Valerie Liu
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For Good Measure, by Ensemble for These Times (E4TT)
Episode 65: Da Capo Conversations with Monica Chew and Valerie Liu

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 revisit Monica Chew’s and Valerie Liu’s perspectives on their paths to becoming a composer. If you enjoyed today’s conversation and want to know more about Monica Chew and Valerie Liu, check them out here and here. Parts of this episode originally premiered on June 17, 2022, on Youtube, click here and on April 18, 2022, 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

Co-Producer, Host, and E4TT co-founder: Nanette McGuinness
Co-Producer and Audio Engineer: Stephanie M. Neumann
Podcast Cover Art: Brennan Stokes
Interns: Sam Mason and Renata Volchinskaya

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Nanette McGuinness:  00:07
[INTRO MUSIC] Welcome to For Good Measure, an interview series celebrating diverse composers and other creative artists sponsored by a 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 our Da Capo Conversations, a mini series where we'll be giving familiar segments a topical twist [INTRO MUSIC ENDS]. Today, we revisit Monica Chew's and Valerie Liu's perspectives on their paths to becoming a composer. Here's what Monica Chew had to say.

Monica Chew:  00:40
During high school, I wanted to go to music school. When I graduated, and because of lack of funding from my parents, I just decided to go to the only undergraduate school that gave me a full ride, which was the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. And fortunately for me, I found a really wonderful piano teacher there. And I was able to simultaneously do a computer science degree. So that's how that happened in undergrad. And it was it was fun. I mean, it's fun to make things I like to make anything really. So making music, making tools, making software. Yeah, so I think they're both very friendly fields for creatives. I haven't been composing for really very long, just less than five years, I think it's been four years. The reason I started composing was actually pretty typical of the hubris that a lot of engineers exhibit, which is that they think they can do anything like, "How hard could it be right?" And so I had this thought that maybe I could write some music. And nobody really discouraged me. So I just decided to do it. And I did it. And it probably wasn't very good. But you know, it was a lot of fun. And my first composition project was actually a song cycle that I wrote, for my friend who, you know, Jamie Lee, and we did it, we did it together. And that was part of what made it really fun is working with a friend. And, you know, I, what I learned about composing over the past couple of years, is that it's really important to me to be able to provide music for other players that they, they enjoy playing and it fulfills a need for them.

Nanette McGuinness:  03:01
Here's what Valerie Liu had to say.

Valerie Liu:  03:03
Growing up in an Asian family, my parents desire us to be a doctor, a nurse, or a lawyer engineer, when we choose our profession. Their strong influence definitely played a part. My brother used to study engineering, and I studied nursing. But eventually, we both changed our career path. I studied music privately was encouraged, but not formally. From their perspective, they think formally it was it was something you should not do, it was greatly discouraged because of its uncertainty in the job field. And its income on stableness. So it's actually kind of funny, because when I started studying music formally, I was doing it secretly while still working as a nurse. I didn't want to start a war at home, and I wasn't ready to tell them because I know very so I need to quit nursing completely, so that I can focus 100% on my music study. I also know sometimes you can't tell others prematurely about your plan, because they can stop it and tell you you can't do it. So when I finally told them, it wasn't a pleasant time. But at that time, I was mentally prepared to stand by my decision. I already got accepted to an excellent grad school. I was about to quit nursing. I was certain this is something I want to do. Um, so to me being an Asian American woman, you're expected to listen to your parents or relatives that are older than you. It does feel like that whenever I want to make major changes, it takes so much convincing to get their approval. And it's crazy that I seek their approval so desperate. It took me a while to realize that it is okay not to get their approval. What's that saying that, like they're older, they have more life experiences, they are wiser. But I think that sometimes our experiences can offer well, it can offer great insights. But it can also limit us where if we have negative experiences in the past, it can instill fear in us so strongly that we will just dream of something and but won't proceed to make it a reality. Not to discredit those who have more experiences. But I think that what you're destined to do is more important than your past experiences. In my opinion, your purpose outweighs everything. The danger is to settle the next best thing, but not the best thing in life. Living there seeing familiar territory and entering it into territory is actually very scary for me. It's a bit uncomfortable at times, pursuing something new and something so different. It is, it is very exciting. However, when I decided to change my career, I did feel a strong calling into the music field. At the same time, something else happened in my personal life, sort of gave a further push. My dad just passed away. It was a dark time for me. I didn't have a good relationship with my father. I was hoping to improve the situation, some time in my lifetime. But it was too late. He passed away before I had a chance to do that. I wish I had done more, put more effort, and sooner than late. My, my father had a tough life. But he loved his job. He was a writer, a journalist. He lights up every time he talks about his work. I want to be like that, you know, doing something you love. Music is what I love. And I think my father is guiding me somehow as a mentor. Looking and remembering the way he immersed so deeply in his work gave me the courage to head towards a new direction.

Nanette McGuinness:  08:04
[OUTRO MUSIC] Thank you for listening to For Good Measure's Da Capo Conversations, and a special thank you to our guests 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, or 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 co-producer and audio engineer Stephanie M. Neumann. Remember to keep supporting equity in the arts and tune in next week "for good measure" [OUTRO MUSIC ENDS].

Today we revisit Valerie Liu’s and Monica Chew’s perspectives on their paths to becoming a composer.
Here's what Monica Chew had to say:
Here's what Valerie Liu had to say: