When your childhood idol plays your tune

Lee Jinjun

NUS Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music

It is not every day that a music composer gets his work performed by his childhood idol, but that is exactly what happened to Lee Jinjun.

Back in 2014, renowned trumpeter Joe Burgstaller premiered the young Singaporean’s trumpet solo composition, ‘Variations on Chan Mali Chan’, in a special concert with the Singapore Wind Symphony (SWS). English euphonium virtuoso Steven Mead was so captivated upon hearing it that he asked to perform the piece himself. It just so happens that Mead is the young composer’s childhood idol, which made that request a dream come true.

“My jaw hit the floor when that request came in,” enthused Jinjun of his proudest moment. “And it did not end there. He has performed it across three continents!”

At just 26, the alumnus from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has been composing and performing for 10 years. Jinjun’s works have been conducted by the likes of internationally-acclaimed Dutch composer Johan de Meij and established local music directors Alvin Arumugam and Adrian Tan.

With his piece, ‘What Does the Future Hold?’, he caught the world’s attention by winning first prize at the World Projects Composition Contest 2014. It was also premiered by the Riverside City College Wind Ensemble in the Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the 2015 Los Angeles International Music Festival.

Jinjun playing the trumpet in a chamber concert.

Inspired by the works of 19th and 20th Century composers, Jinjun started writing music during his junior college days. Indeed, his inaugural world premiere took place right after his A-level examinations in 2008, with the piece ‘Decade’ performed by Raffles Winds, the alumni band of the local Raffles schools.

Also a trumpeter for groups such as the Orchestra of the Music Makers, Windstars Ensemble, Philharmonic Winds and B5 Brass Quintet as well as having previously taken part in the prestigious Cheltenham Festival of Music, Jinjun studied the trumpet under a scholarship at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) in NUS.

Under the tutelage of Jon Paul Dante, a highly sought-after Principal Trumpet for the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, Jinjun spent four years establishing his foothold in the local music scene, crediting the school for providing him plenty of opportunities to work with brilliant musicians, developing a network of regional contacts, as well as simulating conditions that have made professional gigs much easier.

Jinjun facilitating the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music Creative Workshop.

Thinking back to his days at NUS, Jinjun recalled how some of his fondest memories included running a YSTCM creative workshop where he had the chance to lead young students from the Singapore National Youth Sinfonia as well as various secondary schools in creating abstract pieces of music based on science and emotions. Brimming with exciting ideas, the students’ enthusiasm culminated in a performance at the Singapore Science Centre Annex Hall.

Since then, Jinjun’s collaboration with youths has continued. He is currently guiding the Naval Base Secondary School Symphonic Band in composing a music piece for their performance at the 2017 Singapore Youth Festival through the Composers Lab workshop. He is also a motivated mentor for the Young Composers Challenge organised by the SWS.

Jinjun conducting the Boston Brass and YSTCM Brass Department.

With a dream to keep on reaching out to the masses, Jinjun hopes to share more about the makings of music composition, and allow the average person to better understand music as an art form.

He proclaimed: “As musicians, it is our duty to reach out and give back to the community, and possibly the best way of doing this is through education. It closes the gap between professional musicians and the rest of society, by teaching them what goes on behind the scenes of music making, allowing them to appreciate the process from composition to performance, so that when they watch a concert, they are not just watching a group of people perform, but rather watching a group of people who have come together, worked together to play something that someone (or a group of people) created from scratch.”

Despite hailing from a musically-inclined family – Jinjun’s parents play traditional Chinese instruments while his sister, the piano and the flute – the award-winning composer revealed that his first encounter with music education was not the most pleasant. At the age of four, his parents sent him for piano lessons, but he did not enjoy them and quit just after a couple of weeks.

And while his passion for music only truly set in when he joined his primary school band, even then, the trumpet was not his first choice of instrument: “I initially wanted to play the trombone, but my conductor decided I might be better suited for the trumpet. Till this day, I am eternally grateful for that assignment, for my love for music and playing the trumpet grew immensely.”

Currently enrolled in a Master of Music in Composition programme at the Royal Northern College of Music in the United Kingdom, Jinjun devotes his time towards playing in the community brass band, the Eccles Borough Band, which gives free performances in the Greater Manchester Area.

Looking to improve Singapore's music education scene in the CCA department by teaching students how to appreciate music beyond the scores that sit on their music stands, Jinjun aims to return to his home country and eventually take up a teaching position as a music educator.

All this, while putting Singapore-made music on the world map.