Music and literature collide through the orchestra

Dr. Chaowen Ting conducts the Georgia Tech Symphony Orchestra as they perform their long-practiced arrangements. The symphony orchestra played a diverse selection chosen by Dr. Ting. // Photo by Ethen Chen Student Publications

The Georgia Tech Symphony Orchestra (GTSO) opened its season on Thursday, Sept. 21, with a performance celebrating music inspired by literature. The program included works from composers Antonín Dvořák, Anna Clyne, Chihchun Chi-sun Lee and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Under the stage lights at the Ferst Center for the Arts, orchestral students used the opportunity to show their dedication to music and their mastery of instruments. With the instruction of their conductor, orchestra members played in unison — with precision and detail.

Orchestra members had been preparing for this concert since the beginning of the semester. Working on their pieces nearly every day, they honed their skills and trained their muscle memory for this one special night.

This year’s orchestra was led by conductor, Chaowen Ting, the Director of Orchestral Studies, who introduced each piece and the orchestra. The first piece performed at the concert was Dvořák’s “Othello Overture,” inspired by the Shakespearian tragedy “Othello.” Shakespeare’s work inspired many of the pieces performed. 

Ting chose this theme for the program to demonstrate how music can be an outlet for the emotions that literature elicits.

Ting wanted to draw attention to the number of compositions rooted in the themes of literary texts. “Having inspiration from literature is very common in [the] arts. You see paintings, you see dramas and you see films adapted from novels,” said Ting.

In reference to the power that music has to express emotions, Ting said, “it’s very humanistic. It is what we encounter every single day in our lives. It’s love, it’s regret, it’s hate and a lot of other emotions. And I feel it is a great way to express not only storytelling but all those big emotions that we experience in life that sometimes we cannot express with words.”

The second piece, “Sound and Fury,” composed by Clyne, was inspired by Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, and includes a delivery of Macbeth’s final soliloquy. Clyne writes that including the final soliloquy seemed perfect as both the subject matter and the intended delivery utilize elements of timing, much like music, to deliver its message. The next composition, “Hok-Lo Balladry” by composer Lee, was inspired by a Taiwanese nursery rhyme that Lee converted into a piece for string orchestra. Ting said that she chose this piece in part to celebrate diversity in the field of orchestral composition. Lee has earned several honors for her compositions and was the first Taiwanese and fourth Asian composer to be commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The fourth and final piece was a selection from the original score in the 1964 film version of Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy, “Hamlet,” by Dmitri Shostakovich. The selection covered the emotional highlights of the play and included music from Hamlet’s final duel and ultimate death.

Many audience members were there to support a family member or friend who was an orchestra member. After the performance, orchestra members poured from backstage and were met with bouquets of flowers and warm greetings from their loved ones.

The Technique also spoke to Ting about her ability to bring each ensemble member together while performing.

Ting compared conducting to the role of a film director, saying, “Think about the famous film directors; they work with the most fabulous film stars. They know how to act, but why do they need a director to tell them how to do it? That’s the same thing.”

Ting does not necessarily see her job as teaching students how to play their instrument but as guiding and leading students as a group.  

“These players learn their instruments growing up, but the conductor’s job is to bring everybody together and find a common goal,” Ting said. 

As part of her job as a conductor for the orchestra, Ting said she tells students that, “it doesn’t really matter whether the concert went well or not. It’s part of the process. It’s a way to present [it] kind of like a checkpoint.”

Ting said that regardless of how the concert went on a particular night, “after a concert I can’t sleep at night. The music will play back in my mind the entire night. That happens every single time.”

When asked about the orchestra’s contribution to students, Ting said, “many students appreciate a place where it’s not science-oriented or engineering-related. It’s a place where you can explore experience and express your ideas, your feelings,” defining their role as a  structured, creative outlet.The Georgia Tech School of Music will be hosting several more concerts this semester. A complete list of ensemble concerts and events can be found on the Georgia Tech School of Music website or at