Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Composer Spotlight – Composer Alan Chan

Composer Alan Chan

Linotype machines, nonsensical phrases, and jazz compositions, composer Alan Chan wrote to us at ACO about how all of these elements came together to help inspire his work “Etaoin Shldru,” which was read at the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute La Jolla Symphony New Music Readings on September 19 and 20 at University of California, San Diego’s Mandeville Auditorium. 

American Composers Orchestra: How did you find out about JCOI and what made you want to apply to the Institute? 
Alan Chan: I am interested to ACO’s program in the past and I read about JCOI via their website. After writing big band music for the last few years I think it is a good time to try to learn more about symphony orchestra and perhaps get a chance to write a new orchestral piece. 

ACO: What inspired you to compose the piece that you submitted to JCOI? 
AC: The idea came when I watched the documentary about Linotype machines. The nonsensical phrase “etaoin shldru” is used by Linotype operators to fill up the line when a typo is made. The letters of “etaoin shldru” are the most frequently used letters in the English language, and they are arranged on the 2 far left rows of Linotype machines, which provides an easy way for operators to just run the keys to fill up the line. So much of this is a trial piece for orchestra, thus I used this phrase as the title. 
ACO: After you found out that you were accepted to JCOI, how have you prepared yourself and your piece for the music readings that will take place? 
AC: I prepared about one minute of the piece in October for the submission, and when I was accepted in December, I have another few months to complete the piece. Of course ideas changed quite a bit in those months, as I get more ideas what I want to say in the music. During the course of composing, I did revisit of some of the best orchestral works by composers such as Mahler, Stravinsky and some contemporary works. 

ACO: What do you hope to work on during JCOI? 
AC: To work with music director Steven Schick, as well as members of La Jolla Symphony to explore possibilities of the score that I composed. 

ACO: Do you foresee any challenges during the workshopping and reading of your piece? 
AC: So much notes and information has already put on the score, the ultimate goal is to hear the music. Since it is a brand new piece, I imagine there will be a lot of brainwork for all musicians, to bring the work alive. To me, it would be a great challenge to communicate well with the orchestral members to see if they could be bring the music close to my imagination. 
ACO: What do you hope to get out of this experience at JCOI and working with the La Jolla Symphony? Have you worked with a symphony orchestra before? If not, how do you feel about having this opportunity to work with a symphony orchestra through JCOI? 
AC: This is my first time writing a piece for a professional orchestra, so this is a wonderful opportunity. This is after all a great exchange between jazz composers and classical musicians, often a rare opportunity. I believe there will be a lot of fun to get to know each other and share our love of music. 
ACO: What does this experience mean to you as a jazz composer? What would you like to say to other jazz composers who may be interested in applying to JCOI? 
AC: JCOI is a great platform for collaboration between classical musicians and jazz composers. 
ACO: What do you hope the audience attending the new music readings will get out of hearing your piece? 
AC: Some fun moments, unexpected sounds and Brazilian Samba!

1 comment

  1. Alan Chan
    March 7, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Reading of "Etaoin Shrdlu" went very well! It is thrill to listen to all the pieces read during JCOI and thanks to Steven Schick, La Jolla Symphony, composers mentors and ACO for offering this great opportunity to us!

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