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Meet Saunder Choi

Today we’d like to introduce you to Saunder Choi.

Saunder, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I am a Los Angeles-based Filipino composer of choral, orchestral, chamber music as well as a music director and arranger. My works have also been performed by the USC Thornton Symphony, Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, Philippine Madrigal Singers, the Crossing Choir, the Los Angeles Master Chorale Chamber Singers, Sacra/Profana, Tonality, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir, and the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium Chorus.

In the past, I’ve been commissioned by the L.A. Choral Lab, Andrea Veneracion International Choral Festival, Salt Lake Choral Artists, SYC Ensemble Singers (Singapore), Choral Arts Initiative, the Earth Choir (Taiwan), Taipei Philharmonic Choir and Women’s Choir, Archipelago Singers (Indonesia), and many others. As an arranger and orchestrator, I have written for Tony-Award winner Lea Salonga, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, the Tim Janis Carnegie Hall Christmas Shows at, Ballet Philippines, and the Hong Kong production of Pippin.

I started singing in choirs at a very young age- as a boy soprano, in fact. By the time I’m in high school, I was assistant conductor of our high school glee club, and a section leader in my grandfather’s alumni community chorus. During college, I sang with the Philippine Madrigal Singers and joined them for several international tours and competitions. This was an invaluable musical experience for me and allowed me to truly witness the importance of music as a tool for community building. Singing together not only brings people together, it creates a sense of community that brings people together.

I moved to Boston in 2012 to study at Berklee College of Music. During this time, I continued composing, directed my own choir, music directed several musical theater shows, and continued my love for music. After Berklee, I moved to LA to pursue my Master’s degree at the University of Southern California Thornton School.

Apart from my compositional activities, I am also a teaching artist for Pacific Chorale and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, as well as the Director of Music at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Santa Monica.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Like any success story, there has been plenty of ups and downs with mine. For one, my parents didn’t want me to pursue a career in the arts. My parents are you classic well-meaning Asian parents that only want the best for their kids. For them, this means grooming me to take over the family business in food importation and distribution.

I remember them telling me to “get a real degree first” when I first expressed the idea of pursuing one in music out of high school. They eventually came around when I won my first composition competition when I was 18, and when I got a scholarship from Berklee to attend the school. They have worked their best to support my endeavors ever since, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.

An on-going struggle that I face (that isn’t a unique situation) is the fact that I am an immigrant from the Philippines. I am currently in the US on one of the most difficult work visas to obtain (O-1 visa)– something that we have to renew once every three years.

This visa application requires us to compile a portfolio proving that we excel in our field and are needed by our industry in this country. This might mean recommendation letters from Grammy winners, Tony winners, various awards and achievements, news articles and published work written about you as an artist, etc. It’s a very arduous and expensive process!

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I don’t run a company per se. I am a composer and music director who does a lot of freelance work.

As a composer, I specialize in writing for the voice, specifically for choruses. I would say 80% of my output are works written for choirs. I love working with choirs and the sense of community that it brings. However, I have also worked as an arranger, orchestrator, and producer, writing for groups like the Mid-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and more recently, orchestrating a chart for the Hong Kong Philharmonic!

What sets me apart is the unique musical voice that I bring to the table, fusing together my training in Western classical music, as well as more popular idioms like jazz and musical theater, even incorporated some of my own heritage by the way of world/folk music of the Philippines and China.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
My parents put me through music lessons when I was a kid. They saw my potential and supported me against all odds.

All my teachers deserve credit, from the ones at Berklee to my composition teachers at USC, to my childhood music teacher (whom I studied with from second grade to high school).

All the conductors I’ve ever sung for (USC Chamber Singers, LA Choral Lab, Pacific Chorale, Tonality, various church gigs and singing gigs here and there), most especially Mark Anthony Carpio of the Philippine Madrigal Singers, who really provided a foundational experience for me of how it is to do music professionally. He was also the first to champion my music when I was still starting as a composer.

All my colleagues, composer, singer, conductor, instrumentalists. We all share notes in this field, and your thoughts on life and music making have always been valuable to me.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jett Galindo

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