Convocation ‘20: Meijun Chen

Inspiring the next generation of musicians

Erik Einsiedel - 09 June 2020

Music graduate student Meijun Chen did not slow down at all during her final year of her Masters of Music degree, where she double majored in Wind Band Conducting and Clarinet Performance. She was a soloist performer at the Winspear Centre after winning the 2020 U of A concerto competition, co-founded and conducted the U of A Brass Choir, was a Conducting Intern with the Edmonton Youth Orchestra, and performed as Section Leader of the U of A Symphonic Wind Ensemble and as Principal Clarinet with the University Symphony Orchestra, all while maintaining her 4.0 GPA.

An international student from China, Chen has been playing music since she was only four years old, and has performed and competed in over 13 countries across Europe, Asia and North America. Her lifelong passion for music has driven her to continually seek out new opportunities to develop herself as a musician, conductor and educator, striving to connect people through all forms of music.

She credits the U of A for having broadened her horizons as both a music student and musician. The future looks bright for this rising artist, as Chen prepares to continue her music education with the U of A as a doctoral student. In the meantime, she continues to create new opportunities to inspire younger generations through the uplifting power of music.

What drew you to the area of your study? 

Music has been a big part of my life since when I was very young, and it brought me to a variety of amazing places. I started to learn the piano when I was 4 years old, and the clarinet when I was in elementary school. I have spent over 15 years in performance and competition with international wind ensembles and orchestras all over the world. Every time I go to a new place to perform, I am amazed by the power that music has to connect people from different cultural backgrounds.

I received my Bachelor of Arts degree from the U of A in 2018 with a major in Music and a minor in Economics with Distinction, and I will receive my Master of Music degree with double majors in Wind Band Conducting and Clarinet Performance in June, 2020.

During my past six years here at the U of A as an international student from China, my development as a music student and musician has continually expanded. I actively seek opportunities to learn more about conducting techniques and music pedagogy in the band and orchestra environment, and set myself a goal to become the best music educator, music director and music scholar I can be. This is one of the reasons I decided to do my Master’s degree not only in clarinet performance but also conducting in the Department of Music, so that I could understand the band and orchestra world in a larger context. I want to share the joy of music by connecting more people from all ages through a variety forms of music making.

I would not be where I am now without the musical experiences I gained domestically and internationally as a music student myself. Music should not just be a nice add-on to a youth’s education. Instead, it should be an indispensable part of the students’ growth, because the uplifting power of music brings people and society together.

What is the most remarkable thing you learned while you were a student?

I finished my Master of Music degree with a double major in two years, while maintaining the balance of my academic works, my musical works, my student staff and volunteer works and got 4.0 GPA in Fall 2019. I am proud to call the U of A home and have been actively involved with various organizations on campus to contribute back to the communities.

All the scholarships and awards I received during my time here at the U of A motivated me to keep pushing my self-development even further to make bigger contributions to the community. I always seek opportunities to spread the joy of music to students at different ages and engage the Edmonton community and anyone who is interested in music. This is why I co-founded the U of A Brass Choir last year, so that more students who are interested in brass music can make music together.

The knowledge and training I gained at the U of A will equip me to become a better musician and music scholar. I will keep utilizing what I learned during my time here to give back to society, and use music to increase community engagement and connect more people from all ages and different cultural backgrounds.

Did you face any significant challenges, and if so, how did you deal with it? 

Doing a double major in grad school as a Masters student in two years is not easy. Especially in the last year of my MMus degree, I needed to make sure I kept doing well in both of my majors, while still preparing for different recitals, concerts, auditions and academic papers at the same time, and continuing my student staff and volunteer work.

As a clarinet soloist, I had my Master of Music clarinet graduation recital in the historic Convocation Hall, and my solo performance as the 2019-2020 Concerto Competition Winner was featured at the Winspear Centre with the University Symphonic Wind Ensemble. I am also the Principal Clarinet and Orchestra Librarian with the University Symphony Orchestra, and Clarinet Section Leader of the University of Alberta Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

As the co-founder and Chief Conductor of the U of A Brass Choir, Guest Conductor for University of Alberta Symphonic Wind Ensemble and UofA Concert Band, community orchestra, and Conducting Intern of Edmonton Youth Orchestra, I always sought opportunities to spread the joy of music to students at different ages and the audience in greater Edmonton community, as I am passionate about creating opportunities for more students who are interested in music to be involved.

Except for all the time I need to spend in the practice room, rehearsal rooms and concert hall stages, I also need to spend enough time in the library and in front of my laptop to do research and write papers for my academic courses.

The balance among my academic works, my musical works and my student staff and volunteer works, is a strong test of my time management skill as well as my physical and mental health.

Even though it sounds like a lot of workload (and indeed it is), I still enjoy doing all of it and with no regrets and no hesitation. I made myself a very strict and precise schedule to ensure I can finish all the tasks on time and to a high standard, and I am determined to work hard and reach my goals.

The passion and love I have in both school and work helps me get through this very intense academic year, I am also very grateful to my supervisors, my instructors and professors, my colleagues and friends, the support staff from the Department of Music and other parts of the campus, and my family for being so supportive to me throughout my journey here at the University of Alberta. I would not have come this far without all the love and support I received from all these super awesome support systems!

How did you manage the challenges of navigating student life under COVID-19 restrictions and remote learning?

It’s not easy at first to see all the events and concerts that we’ve been working hard and prepared for the entire semester or even the entire academic year, got cancelled right before the academic year ends. As life still needs to go on, I utilize the time that is supposed to be the ensemble rehearsals or concerts, to do more remote learning, and keep myself productive. I actively participate in online workshops, masterclasses and webinars organized by professors, scholars and top musicians all over the world. I am happy that I got the valuable opportunities to talk to so many top musicians and scholars from different parts of the world ‘face to face’ these days through the online discussion and masterclasses, and be able to learn and exchange ideas from different perspectives.

Moving to remote learning gave me more chances to learn about different kinds of online tools as well, it gave me more time to rethink and reevaluate how technology can help us to make music, share music and engage with more audience and colleagues in the world.

What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you when you started?

I am happy that I achieved the goals I set when I started my Masters degree, and I am determined enough to work hard on achieving them throughout my degrees. I feel very lucky that I am able to turn the things I love and enjoy doing into my lifelong career and academic goal.

What is next for you?

I look forward to starting my Doctor of Music degree in Fall 2020 here at the U of A, and to continue working as the Conducting Intern with the Edmonton Youth Orchestra. I will keep striving for my academic goal in music, especially in conducting. Being a musician and music educator, I enjoy seeing the students’ faces when they ‘get it!’, and I enjoyed the rewarding moments when audiences come up to me and tell me that my conducting and performance inspired them and the students. I am passionate to study more in this field and not only to inspire younger generations who are interested in music or arouse their interest in music, but also bring the joy of music to connect more people at all ages in the society and encourage more community engagement. I will try my best to do great things in all aspects as a proud UofA student, and keep contributing to the University of Alberta, Department of Music and the communities on and off campus. 

The Future is Arts! This story is part of a series celebrating our graduates. Please join us for a virtual convocation, Friday, June 12, at 10 a.m. MST. at Registration is not required.