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15 September 2020



Shih-Shih Chen is the new Director of Music at Wellington College Tianjin. Prior to joining the Wellington family, Shih-Shih taught music at other international schools, including the Taipei Europe School and HD Ningbo School in China. In the U.K., Shih-Shih studied at the Purcell School for Young Musicians. She went on to study for her B.A. in Music Performance at the University of Bristol, where she also pursued a master's degree in Composition of Music for Film and Television.




Please would you share your educational and professional background with us?

Shih-Shih: My parents have always loved music, so I was brought up in a musical environment in which they would play music in different genres to me on a cassette player. My pitch awareness developed rapidly in this environment, and I would always quickly pick up songs that were played to me. My parents saw this talent in me, so they encouraged me to take up the piano at the age of 4. Prior to going to primary school, I auditioned for a place at a school that had one music specialist class in each grade. Luckily, I got in, and took up my second instrument, the cello, at the age of 6. In primary school, I joined the school choir and orchestra, and performed lead roles in the school musical and ballet productions. After graduating from primary school, I was sent to the Purcell School for Young Musicians in the U.K., which is a prestigious specialist music school aimed at training young musicians. I went on to study for a B.A. in Music Performance at the University of Bristol, where I also pursued a master's degree in Composition of Music for Film and Television.



What made you interested in pursuing teaching as your career?

Shih-Shih: I did not go into teaching immediately after getting my degrees. I took a detour, as I wanted more experience in other aspects of life. Also, having focused on music all my life, I wondered whether this was the only path I could take. At that time, my interest in public affairs was growing, and I felt a strong calling to become a legislative and arts reporter for an English language newspaper in China Taiwan. However, my passion for music did not decrease; the frequent coverage of performing arts events sparked my desire to work as a music teacher and concert musician specialising in chamber music. I was also able to diversify my musical experience by working as a session player in the pop music industry and musical productions.



What are your biggest achievements and music profession so far?

Shih-Shih: I have first-hand experience of being a musician in different genres, and this has enabled me to establish and lead many high-quality professional and student music ensembles in my teaching career.



Why did you decide that joining Wellington College Tianjin should be the next step in your career path?

Shih-Shih: Prior to joining Wellington College Tianjin, after two years of teaching at an international school in Ningbo, I had decided to go back to China Taiwan to focus on chamber music so I could be close to my family. However, a close colleague learned that Wellington College Tianjin had an opening position and thought it would be a shame to let this opportunity slip, as Wellington is one of the leading international schools in China. I had an interview with the former Director of Music, Faye Gossedge, and the current master, Julian Jeffrey, and discovered that our vision of music education coincidentally matched. I was offered the job, and here I am!



What strengths of yours would highlight your ability to be Director of Music at Wellington College?

Shih-Shih: My flexibility in different music genres and my experience in music ensembles.



What is the most important message/advice that you, as the Director of Music, can give to your students?

Shih-Shih: The school has provided a stage for you, so make use of it to fulfil your student life. After all, what is the point of playing an instrument without sharing? You may not go on to pursue a career in music, but having experience in making music, especially with fellow student musicians, will, for sure, enrich your life and create memorable moments for the future.



What goals would you like to achieve in your current position at the college?

Shih-Shih: The school is already known for its commitment in promoting classical music and musical production. Carrying on from the achievements of my predecessor, I would like to broaden students’ horizons by incorporating more diverse musical genres in the school, branching out to jazz and rock. However, it takes time to promote the playing of brass instruments, and it is usually the case that brass musicians are rare in schools in Asia. I would also like to focus on student composers. I have only been teaching for just over a week, but I have spotted a few promising student composers. I don’t want their works to only be a means to get a good grade in the external international examinations. I would like their works to go beyond the classroom to be performed and recognised, starting from the school. I am also quite keen to develop student music leaders so they can take up leadership roles in organising concerts and promoting music.



What does music mean to you, and why is the discipline so important in Wellington College?

Shih-Shih: Music, to me, should be made accessible to everyone, starting from the music classroom. Not all students have an aspiration to become professional musicians, but they should be given the chance to appreciate music and find a spot in the music classroom. Music has been an integral part of Wellington College since long before I joined the Wellington family, in the sense that it has provided many opportunities to shine for students who excel. However, it is just as important that those who are less confident about music should be encouraged to find a role, if not on stage, then in the music classroom. 



What are your plans for the school orchestra and this year's musical productions?

Shih-Shih: My plans are to work on ensemble skills and the sense of belonging in music ensembles. The experience of being forced to play in an ensemble is never a pleasant one for students. I would like to create an environment for music-making in which the students truly enjoy it. As for musical productions, I’m trying to work out a balance for the students by choosing musicals of appropriate length and themes. I'm also looking into the possibility of doing casting earlier in the year so students in the lead roles can start to practise earlier. This would give them less pressure and an easier time in the second term, as many senior students will be focusing on their mock exams.



What composer and what type of music is your favourite?

Shih-Shih: I embrace diverse genres and find myself changing frequently, and I see this as an advantage, as it broadens my experience and, in turn, benefits my students. At the moment, I am fascinated by the string quartet works of nationalist composers of the 19th century.



What are your other interest, apart from teaching and music?

Shih-Shih: I enjoy cooking a lot in my spare time, although it is not always possible on a daily basis. However, I've worked hard on preserving my family recipes from my mum, and seeing my family enjoying my signature dishes is always a joy.