E.Shuteen, who is studying jazz composition for a master’s degree at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich, successfully performed her graduation concert last week. She previously attained a master’s degree in jazz piano two years ago. We spoke virtually with E.Shuteen to explore her music journey.
I recently got to listen to a jazz orchestra play your music. Did you compose all for the scores?
Most of them were mine. There were several works by another young composer. I formed a small jazz orchestra with a total of 20 musicians and they performed my compositions.
Is it difficult to compose jazz music?
The way to write jazz music is different. We need to know the structure of this music genre and have to study the instruments that are a must in an orchestra. Depending on a composition, it is important to give a soloist musician the opportunity to improvise or compose spontaneously. It is also necessary to balance the distribution of play to musicians.
How did you choose your profession?
When I was a child, my parents decided to enroll me in the Music and Dance College of Mongolia. I took the entrance exam, passed it and then, joined the piano class. I did not think of anything at the time because I was young. Actually, I didn’t want to be a pianist. But it was clear that I loved music and art. Even when I was in middle school, I never imagined I would become a pianist. I was keen on many other fields, such as film, foreign languages, and painting. I was taught by Grigorieva, a gentle and calm Russian piano teacher. When I started my fourth year at the college, she passed away and G.Ganchimeg, who had just graduated from the college at the time, guided and taught us until we graduated. We were also taught by teachers S.Narantsetseg and D.Burmaa. I am thankful that I got to learn from so many different teachers.
You didn’t like it in the beginning, but now you are not only a pianist but also a jazz player and even compose your own music. When did you become deeply interested in your profession? Can you tell us about your career so far?
I think from the time I started composing music, I began to understand the intricacies and techniques of playing the piano and other musical instruments. In the past, I just played the notes and didn’t study the music in depth. Now, as a composer, I have to know some instruments other than the piano. It is crucial to write a piece of music that a musician can play. In addition, I must pay attention to other small things such as the unique sound of instruments, the background melody, the vowel movement, the appearance of notes, and the ease of reading for musicians.
In general, the life of a musician requires a lot of patience, mental strength, hard work, preparation and rehearsals. I don’t know what other composers are like. I spend most of the day alone behind the piano, so I have very few friends. Although I try to be social and balance my life and work, my profession requires many sacrifices and making choices.
After graduating from high school, I planned to enter the philosophy class at the National University of Mongolia. At the same time, the Goethe-Institut, Great Steppe Jazz NGO and the Music and Dance College of Mongolia launched the GMUB Jazz Project under a tripartite agreement. I knew that I would not study classical piano but I also realized that I would not give up my music, so I registered for this project and passed the entrance exam. Then, instead of studying in Mongolia, I decided to study for a bachelor’s degree as a composer abroad. This decision may have been the starting point of the life I have today. For two years, I learned from foreign teachers and from the second year, I worked as a teacher and translator of the project. I realized that music was the key to developing my own language.
What exactly attracted you to jazz music?
In addition to theory, composition, and rhythm, I was impressed by jazz music’s features. In particular, it allows me to think freely and experience unique feelings. In addition, jazz musicians interact with each other and are inspired by each other through music.
How do you feel when you play the piano or compose music?
I am usually calm when I’m playing the piano alone or composing music. When I play someone else’s work, I try to feel and understand the composer. But when I play music with other musicians, especially those who share the same views and language in music, I get different feelings that I cannot explain. Sometimes I can’t control my excitement and I feel like I’m flying. In some cases, I feel like I’m lost in the woods. It is hard to compose music. I work alone for many hours. I test out dozens of versions and ideas using a few bars, but I don’t use most of them. I keep to myself the feelings and thoughts I feel and have from simple things in life or from an event, and then I use them in my work. But when I’m writing music, I try to be as calm as possible. Composers do all kinds of technical work, from making creative ideas into songs and directing them. When I finish writing a piece of music and listen to it, I think of all the experiences and memories, such as the process of writing and the joys of my life at that time. It is like a journal or a diary.
What do you want to tell people with your music?
All of my compositions have different histories. I don’t try to explain everything to the audience. Just as I want to give musicians as much freedom and space as possible to express themselves, I also aim to leave space for my listeners. I want everyone to accept my work from their own perspective and create their own memories. To write a piece, I think about each note. There are almost no parts that are simply copied. Everything that comes to my mind is aimed at touching the hearts of others and it’s essential for me that people who come to see my concert don’t get disappointed.
How do you compose music? Do you think that a composer’s job is to make music that is pleasant to listen to?
I don’t like to stick to a particular style. For me, each musical instrument has its own unique sound and individuality. I don’t like to box them all together and classify them as jazz instruments, classical or folk. Since it is possible to play any genre of music on any instrument, when I write new music, I try to choose the most dissimilar instruments and harmonize them as much as possible, unless it is a commissioned work. After much thought and research, I compose my music. For instance, I recently formed my own small jazz orchestra. It includes a variety of musical instruments, including the wood-wind family of instruments, drums, pianos and electric guitars.
There are people who say they don’t understand music. What would you tell them?
I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t like music. I think everyone has their own musical interests. I don’t want to persuade someone who doesn’t enjoy a particular genre of music that I like. People have the right to choose what they want to hear. But some people don’t listen because they don’t know it, not because they don’t like it. If so, that is another matter.
Can you tell us about your parents and family?
My father is G.Erdenebaatar, a composer and general director of the Mongolian State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater. My mother is a teacher, TV director and journalist. Becoming a musician and going to the College of Music and Dance is inextricably linked to the fact that I grew up close to music from an early age. But my parents never forced me. I always did what I liked. But the main thing is that when I do something, I am sincere. People who have gone through the same path as me will understand.
There is a beautiful song called “Shuteen” (Idol) that my father composed when I was born. Looking back, it was a wonderful gift from my father.
What are you studying in Germany other than composing and conducting music?
I think that studying abroad is not just about going to university and getting a degree, it is about becoming an independent individual. Germany has a high culture of communication, respects human rights and privacy, and has honest citizens. The people here always keep their word. Therefore, I’m learning simple cultures of doing things on time, respecting other people’s time and work, and not bothering others. For me, the cultural shock was relatively small but now, I have a lot of advantages compared to myself three years ago. My professional and personal abilities have increased. It seems that this country appreciates the efforts and achievements of people. There are so many great scholarships here to support young people. Germany is open to everyone if they can at least write their official documents, essays and applications.
I am also studying culture and media arts management in Hamburg. I study in-depth human rights, civil, and copyright laws. It’s sometimes enviable to see what complex systems they have and how they handle so many different relationships so well. I also feel proud. In short, I’m still learning. I will go back to my homeland after fulfilling my dream.