By Isabella Cook
Academy of Art University has seen its fair share of successful students graduate and go on to become astoundingly accomplished, critically acclaimed artists. One such student recently won first place in the Vivaldi International Music Competition.
Indeed, for Hannah Hsieh and her musical composition, “The Impression of Eagle’s Sound,” first place is second nature—and, in last year’s categories of National Music and Original Composition, Hsieh brought home the gold.
Hsieh is a Taiwanese composer who graduated from the Academy in 2018, having earned her M.A. in music production. This degree, alongside her B.A. from the Chinese Culture University, set her on the path to becoming a celebrated composer. But Hsieh’s love of music began long before her pursuit of higher education.
At the age of five, Hsieh began playing the piano because she wished to emulate her older brother, who was learning to play at the time. The piano lessons eventually gave way to other instruments, the most significant being the dulcimer, which Hsieh began playing at the age of 10 and continues to play as her preferred instrument today.
“With the dulcimer, I think I liked it because it’s my passion,” said Hsieh. “I like the tempo.”
The Chinese hammered dulcimer, also known as the trapezoidal yangqin, is a classical Chinese instrument. By hitting and plucking at strings adorned with small hammers, the dulcimer emits unique melodic sounds. Hsieh enjoys utilizing the traditionalism of the dulcimer to augment the effect of her more modern compositions.
Hsieh’s desire to pursue a career in music production came from listening to the musical scores from the movie “The Legend of 1900.” Ennio Morricone, the Italian composer behind the production, inspired Hsieh to take her passion and skill set to the professional realm.
“That’s why I came to the Academy of Art,” explained Hsieh. “I wanted to go to [the Academy] because the music school there taught classes in orchestration and harmonization, and they taught me how to use Logic [Pro] to compose the music along with media and computer tools…all the important things that I wanted to learn.”
“I had hoped I could combine traditional music and electronic music together with the dulcimer,” continued Hsieh. “And the Academy helped me take what I had learned before to do that.”
“[Hsieh] made an impression on all of us immediately with her passion for music, strong academic skills, and her unique approach to music composition and sound design,” said School of Music Production and Sound Design for Visual Media Director Brad Hughes. “Hannah embraced the unique demands of media scoring quickly, and she brought a studied knowledge of music composition to the world of visual storytelling. It’s somewhat intuitive, and she grasped it right away. She is a very flexible composer, which is an important skill in media scoring.”
Despite living halfway across the world, Hsieh chose to attend the Academy in person rather than remotely, a decision she regards as having a positive influence on her life and career. During her time in San Francisco, Hsieh drew inspiration from the environment as well as from the diversity of the city and the people around her.
“I talked to many people, and I learned from them, their culture, their story, and this really inspired my music a lot,” said Hsieh.
Hsieh noted Academy instructors Gunnard Doboze and Jason Martineau had a positive influence on her musical education. Her participation in the School of Communications & Media Technologies reality competition, “Academy’s Got Talent,” in 2017, where she won an opportunity to audition for “America’s Got Talent,” was a highlight of her time in San Francisco.
After graduating from the Academy, Hsieh took advantage of the year remaining on her visa and performed her dulcimer in various parts of the city, including Chinatown. At the end of the year, she returned to Taiwan, where she currently works as an adjunct lecturer at Nanhua University and is a freelance music composer for several Chinese orchestras in Taiwan, including Taipei, Hsinchu, Chiayi, Tainan, and Kaohsiung Traditional Orchestra.
Last year, Hsieh was commissioned by the Chiayi Traditional Orchestra to compose a piece of music for a festival in Dapu Township in Chiayi County. This township, located near the Zengwen Dam (a large reservoir with the largest water storage capacity in Taiwan), became the inspiration for her award-winning composition.
“There are lots of eagles in the sky [in Dapu],” explained Hsieh. “We took the boat to there, and when I saw the views, I was really shocked because it was so amazing, and I wanted to create music for them—that’s why the composition’s name is ‘The Impression of Eagle’s Sound.’”
“The environment and the view really inspired me a lot, and the music just came to my head,” she added.
After visiting Dapu, Hsieh spent a month composing what became “The Impression of Eagle’s Sound.” The end result was a future award-winning composition, just over six minutes long.
“After I finished, I thought it was a strong piece. When I composed this music, I was really excited about the melody,” said Hsieh. “I got much feedback telling me [the composition] sounded really good, and I was really happy because I think I made it good enough for motion pictures. My hope is that the composition can bring a picture to someone’s head, just from listening to my music.”
“Her composition was wonderful, and I enjoyed hearing its performance in a live recording of an orchestra with Chinese instruments,” said Hughes. “This was a large-scale composition, very expansive in scope, which demonstrated her growth as a composer since graduation.”
Hsieh’s ultimate goal and her plan for the future is to return to the U.S.—Los Angeles, specifically—to pursue her goal of composing music for films. Just as Morricone produced inspiring compositions for “The Legend of 1900,” Hsieh hopes to compose for film, though her interest lies more in composing music for animated films.
“I think [Los Angeles] is where I would have the best chance,” said Hsieh. “In Taiwan right now, I compose music for the Chinese Orchestra—but my passion is music production for film. So that’s why I want to try my best to go back to America.”