A Day in the Life of a Composer

Wednesday, Jun 14, 2017
Juilliard Journal
Composer Matthew Liu
Matthew Liu

Third-year composer and big-time musical theater fan Matthew Liu (Pre-College '14) was a violinist and pianist before taking up composition in high school. He recounts a busy spring day.

7:30am Today is going to be a full day for me, so I wake up earlier than usual to get myself in the right mindset to attack all that I've got today. This involves washing up, reading some inspiring Bible verses, and putting on workout clothes for…

8am …Darryl's workout. I've been coming consistently since the beginning of last school year and it's become a staple. Nothing like being active and good cardio to start a day. Darryl [drama faculty member Darryl Quinton] greets me with his typical “Mornin'!” and I know it's going to be a good workout. Well, tough—but good.

9:20am With the workout over, I walk over to the cafeteria where I grab a bottle of whole milk. After this is a shower to freshen up, a quick power nap for that extra push of energy I'll need, and a change of clothes for my job.

10:30am I'm a teaching fellow, and on Thursdays, I teach Ear Training I to a lovely class of eight first-year music students. Today's nemesis: Starer [rhythm training] and preparing for a one-voice melodic dictation in the recently introduced alto clef. The students all pass with flying colors.

11:30am Ever wonder how your grades end up on the online portal Canvas? Thursday's class is the last class of the week that I teach, so I go to the media library, grab a computer, and input grades. Sometimes I put on headphones and sneak a little listening too. Today's: “Only Us” from the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack.

1pm Lunchtime—for me and everyone else! I head to the cafeteria where I grab some lunch, waving and shouting a hello to my friends who work there: Martina, Jenny, Evelyn, Angie, and more. Billy yells at me for drinking so much milk as I grab my second bottle of the day. Once I've finally got my lunch, there's no time to sit and eat, so I take my food and run to a rehearsal. C'est la vie!

1:30pm I meet with my friend Philip Sheegog to rehearse a piece of mine for his senior recital, which he's calling Here, Now, Always. His brainchild was to have a concert featuring seven original pieces by seven composers outlining a cosmic narrative of redeeming love. I'm honored he asked me to be a part of it, and the rehearsal sounds awesome. I wrote Banquet for cello, piano, and cello choir, and I can't wait to hear it.

2pm Time for my weekly meeting with Juilliard Christian Fellowship staff worker Calvin Chan. I find it really important to remain grounded in my beliefs, and Calvin's a good friend of mine who gives lots of great advice. We talk about highs and lows in my week and Calvin prays for encouragement for the trials ahead. With that I'm feeling refreshed and proceed with the rest of my day.

3pm Advanced Counterpoint with Philip Lasser (DMA '10, composition). This is a really interesting class that delves into the craft of writing good counterpoint in all different species and voices and finding these in the fabric of the classical repertoire. We're now on canons and fugues—did you know that there is such a thing as a crab canon? It's a canon that also works backward, sort of like a palindrome.

5:30pm Typically on Thursday nights I go to the weekly Juilliard Christian Fellowship large group, but today is a special day: I'm the music director for a new rock musical called Bastard Jones and tonight is our fund-raiser concert. I head over to our venue, a beautiful apartment on Central Park West, ready to entertain and socialize with potential benefactors.

7pm The fund-raiser is underway! Everyone is having a good time and it's time to perform. Our leading man, Evan Ruggiero, sings two songs from the new musical and I accompany him on the piano. He's not only a great singer, he also has the incredible story of having survived a leg amputation due to cancer. But that didn't stop his passion—he now tap dances with one leg and stars in shows such as this one. Hope that the audience is inspired and likes it!

9pm The fund-raiser was a success and I'm headed back, but as I played cocktail piano when I wasn't accompanying, I haven't had much to eat besides small bites of fancy cheese, so I grab some good ol' beef and broccoli at Wok City.

10pm After dinner and chilling with my roommate, I head to a practice room because it's time to write some music! One thing I've learned as a composer at Juilliard is to give myself and my craft time and space to breathe creatively and create organically. It's been a long day so I'm not pushing myself too hard, but it's always good to give my writing the space and see if something comes of it.

Midnight I'm actually thankful that the dorm practice rooms close at midnight, otherwise I'd never sleep for I'd be too busy writing. It turned out to be a good writing day so I'm glad I had a bit of time left to write. More time planned for writing tomorrow, definitely. Until then, it's time to wash up, shower, and head to bed. A whole new exciting day awaits!