“Due to the ongoing persecution, my mother and I can no longer go back to China, our home country, so scoring for this documentary means a lot to me and I hope that this documentary serves to raise more awareness of this human rights violation and help in continuing to save innocent lives in China.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Chen an award winning music composer and also a Mandarin Voice Over artist. He is an active Grammy voting member, was an official contender for best original score and best original song at the 86th Oscars, and has won numerous awards for his music compositions and movie scores, including winning the 2013 & 2014 Hollywood Music In Media Awards, and the 11th Independent Music Awards.
Yitzi: What is your “backstory”?
I am currently an active Grammy voting member, and was an official contender for best original score and best original song at the 86th Oscars. I’m a multi-international award winner for my music compositions and TV/documentary scores, including Hollywood Music in Media Awards, Independent Music Awards, and Bangalore Shorts Film Festival. I am also an artist judge for the Independent Music Awards and Great American Song Contest.
I was raised in Beijing, China, and did my university study in the UK. I, then, pursued my career in media, music, and voice over in the US. This East-West background allows me to compose music that transcends cultures and genres to bring my listeners unique experiences through music. Through my music styles of Contemporary Instrumental, New Age, Piano Solo, Chinese music and scoring for media, you will often hear the touching melodic ideas from the East together with the magnificent western orchestration.
My music is inspired by “Truthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance”, the principle of a Chinese meditation exercise called Falun Gong or Falun Dafa. I’m not one to follow the commercial trends of the industry when composing music, instead my mission is to create music that is beneficial to people’s well-being, and bringing positive energy, hope, peace, and making the world a better place by maintaining moral standards for all.
Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
One interesting story that’s happened to me was upon me discovering my own music inspiration driven patterns through my understanding of the Chinese culture of balance; Yin & Yang. There was a time where I found it extremely difficult to continuously come up with good melodies. As a composer, it’s not hard to come up with 3 to 4 great melodies, but what’s very challenging, is to keep coming up with good melodies and maintain the quality of your melody writing at all times. After listening to different music pieces with great melodies, and combining that with my Chinese cultural background, I had uncovered my own way of writing melodies based on the balance of Yin & Yang — a pattern of melodic lines going up and down, almost like a sine wave. To my surprise, as long as I followed this pattern, and by adding my own flavor, it became easier for me to come up with beautiful, unique, signature melodies in a short span of time.
I also realized, writing music helps one to improve leadership skills. The whole process of writing music and doing orchestration or arrangement is like that of a project coordinator; harmoniously and skillfully combining every element…creating a masterpiece.
As far as funny moments…it would have to be when I play the different Disney characters for my voiceover work when doing covers in Mandarin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hcT6ndn6KX8&feature=youtu.be). You can check out some more videos on my YouTube Channel- http://tonychenmusic.com/tonys-disney-channel/
Yitzi: How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Are you working on any meaningful nonprofit projects?
I have been practicing a Chinese meditation exercise called Falun Gong for many years. At my current level of understanding, the exercise focuses on 3 main tenets: “Truthfulness, Compassion, and Tolerance”. Through the exercise, I feel a sense of calmness, peace, rejuvenation and an overall feeling of positivity. And, that reflects in my writing, composition, and music. So, it has become my mission in sharing peace and positive energy with my audience through my music. I’ve created 3 music Youtube compilation videos. They vary from a relaxing piano solo, an inspiring instrumental (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrcD_Gj1DXE&feature=youtu.be) and inspiring Chinese music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeNE353ZIKM&feature=youtu.be). This enables people to easily have access to it and use it as background music at work, at home or anywhere they feel that they are in need of a bit of relaxation. https://www.youtube.com/user/tonymusic2002
I did participate in a very important and meaningful project, which is scoring for a documentary called “Free China — The Courage To Believe” produced by NTDTV and World2Be Productions. The documentary is about human rights in China. It is a telling story of the persecution of the Chinese spiritual practice of Falun Gong, starring Jennifer Zeng and Dr. Charles Lee (2 survivors who escaped from China’s prison and shared their personal testimony). Falun Gong was practiced by so many people in China by the year 1999 and its practitioners far outnumbered the Chinese Communist Party members. Fearing its popularity, the Chinese government banned the exercise in 1999 and then started a brutal persecution. Individuals who practiced Falun Gong in China, to this very day, are subject to torture, death, and even organ harvesting.
Due to the ongoing persecution, my mother and I can no longer go back to China, our home country, so scoring for this documentary means a lot to me and I hope that this documentary serves to raise more awareness of this human rights violation and help in continuing to save innocent lives in China.
It’s been a great honor, since I have received praise for my scoring the theme song for the documentary; the score was nominated for Best Soundtrack Album at the 2012 Hollywood Music in Media Awards, while the theme song was awarded the Best Theme Song Award for the Indie/Documentary/Short category at the 2013 Hollywood Music in Media Awards. The score also won the Best Music Award at the 3rd Bangalore Shorts Film Festival in 2014.
Feel free to check out the documentary at freechinamovie.com.
But, what’s even more meaningful to me, is how my music has served not only it’s entertainment purpose, but has brought awareness and inspiration in saving innocent lives.
Yitzi: Wow! Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?
I would have to say that the Free China documentary and its theme song that I composed raised a lot of awareness of the human right persecution in China towards Falun Gong practitioners. The documentary received over 10 International film awards and it was screened at over 1,500 venues, 41 countries and in over 27 languages including UK Parliament, European Parliament, US Congress, and Google Headquarters, etc… I truly believe it can have an even greater positive effect in saving innocent lives in China, and spreading hope for a free China in the future. Not to mention, in also serving in uniting people together to stand for truth and justice.
In addition, I am moved by the comments I get from people from all over the world when they say things like, “Listening to your music inspires me to do better in everything I do! “, “Your music brought me to tears”, “Your music has brought me a sense of peace”, “Your music is so pure”, “Your music has been accompanying my mother who is struggling with cancer”, “Your music is comforting me amidst my failing relationship”.
I am humbled to know that my music is impacting people on a very personal level.
Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Don’t waste opportunities
I wish I could have listened to more music during my time at the university, as this is the opportune time where students have great access to university libraries and have so many resources to gain knowledge, experiences for optimum learning. I should have been as active then, as I am today, being open to listening and learning of great work.
Put others first
In my practice of Falun Gong, it is through selfless acts, “Truthfulness, Compassion, Tolerance”, that make the world a better place. It’s my willingness to put others first when composing my music that has helped in creating a ripple effect of good. And, if it touches, at least, one person…it would have served its purpose. To restore, heal, and give life.
Music is a rational process
Many people think music is purely about emotions, but my experience proves otherwise. Music is a rational process. With everything that is going on in the world, we can get engrossed in reacting, as opposed to letting kindness be our guide. Rather than indulging ourselves with negative or irrational thoughts, we can make music or listen to music that promotes positivity, unity and peace.
Music can both heal or poison
I believe music can affect people’s physical health. We’ve heard that if you use medicine right, it heals, but if you abuse it, medicine could become poison. I strongly believe that music has the same effect. Positive music has a favorable effect in people’s health, and, creating music that heals rather than destroy (through the promotion of violence, drugs, sex, alcohol, and other illicit behaviors) should be our utmost responsibility as artists.
Seek making a difference, and impacting the world for good
I feel that as musicians, artists, influencers — we have a responsibility to uphold core moral values, and in promoting a positive message that move the world forward; that we not sacrifice what’s right for mere monetary gain, but in building and enhancing our society.
Yitzi: Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.
Actually, I have not just 1 but 2 people that I would love to sit down with.
The first person would have to be Yanni. Yanni is a composer that has influenced me tremendously when as a teenager. I wasn’t really interested in music when I first started learning to play the piano. A classmate showed me how to play music by ear. And, the music we played together was Yanni’s music. Yanni’s orchestration incited lots of interest in me in exploring electronic keyboards and computer composition. He was the one person that inspired me to pursue music as a career.
The second person is Hans Zimmer. He is a great film music master, and I believe the first film scoring. I fell in love with “The Lion King”. That was also the time when I first started to get interested in film soundtracks, and singing Disney songs in Mandarin and English. I had seen a video of Hans saying that the film’s soundtrack is all about telling stories. That truly resonated with me! Indeed, music tells stories of happiness, anger, sadness, kindness, etc… almost every human emotion, or spiritual elements can be depicted by music. I, personally, use music to tell stories too, so it would be a dream come true to be able to meet him someday and share our ideas with one another.