Shirley Ly is an upcoming contemporary classical music composer from London, UK with Chinese and Vietnamese heritage. She has produced three albums inspired by nature, relationships, travel and dreams, which feature 30+ pieces composed for solo piano / violin / cello, duets, trios, and quartets: Paradise (2023), Blossom (2021), and Impetus (2018). Pieces in those albums have been streamed more than a million times across more than 100 countries around the world, and she has been praised for her ability to mesmerise her listeners with her superb talent and moving performances.
We are particularly surprised to learn that Shirley is not a full-time composer in her day-to-day; she works in financial services. So, we thought it would be interesting to find out more about her motivations for composing music and the importance of creativity. Check out her interview below for some inspiration!
- What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity to me means being able to gain inspiration, and channel that inspiration into producing something tangible i.e., a piece of music, food, work of art, story, design. When creating, our minds are free to wonder and explore not only real-life scenarios, but also abstract ideas. As part of the creative process, we think back to our memories, dream, imagine, and fantasise. Creativity means the world to me, and I feel lost if I am not able to be creative. I am very glad to have found out that music is what I love to create, but I also love cooking too (my parents work in the food industry, and I am inspired by them).
- It is obvious that composing music is a creative activity. How about in your day-to-day role?
I think the creativity required in financial services is much less artistic and different. There is less room for imagination, and more emphasis on problem-solving within the limits of rules and regulations, commercial factors, and market practice. I do believe in general, my creativity in music has helped with work situations, where I try to think outside the box.
- It is clear then why you feel the urge to be more creative outside of work. Why do you think that it is important to create?
There are so many reasons why I believe it is important to create.
By creating music, I can express my ideas, emotions, and feelings authentically. Authentic self-expression is so important, and we just cannot get this usually in a normal day-to-day role. I also often find that I sometimes struggle communicating with words – particularly, in respect of events like heartbreak, and being surrounded by astounding natural beauty. I find that melodies and harmonies capture those memories better. I’ve said to many people that for me, composing is like journalling – I’m simply writing down my reflections of what I’ve experienced.
Creating music enables me to connect with others and allows me to share perceptions related to my identity, culture, and environment to the world. People can share feedback on my music and react to my performances – this brings me a lot of joy and satisfaction.
Creating music helps me escape reality. There are days when I just don’t feel well, more so on a mental level, even though, on paper, everything looks fine. When creating music, I imagine and fantasise, i.e., about being in the crystal blue waters of Barbados again or seeing a curious octopus swimming in the ocean. The activity improves my mental health, where which helps me feel happy and relaxed. Note that it’s not the only other activity that improves my mental health – I find that sitting and doing nothing helps, too.
- How did you start creating in music?
I became very interested in creating music when I was a teenager, because it was at that point when I fell in love with classical music. I became immersed when I watched films i.e., Amélie, the Pianist, Cinema Paradiso and more, so I began just doodling at the piano and coming up with my own melodies and harmonies based on how I was feeling at that time. Note that I am a classically trained pianist, so I was familiar with how to play the piano and some theory. I took lessons to learn violin and cello at school as I wanted to boost my understanding of how to compose for these instruments.
I also started learning the basics of a digital workstation where I was able to use MIDI in compositions, however, I preferred writing for instruments as I felt that I was able to communicate emotions more effectively.
- How do you find the time outside of work to create?
I primarily compose on evenings and weekends. Of course, I can’t do this every day but some days where I am able to, I do stay up late to finish / practise a piece of music. I set myself deadlines i.e., to produce my album about cats by the end of 2023, to make sure I find the time to create music, as aside from work life, I also have a very active social life.
- Aside from time, you would also need resources to create music. Can you share your experience on how you fund your creations?
I am very fortunate to be able to fund my creations using my salary (or sometimes, personal savings). The funding required depends on the size of the project. Next year, I will be working on orchestra pieces, so my budget will be stretched! I have been quoted a couple of thousands to hire a small orchestra, which I will need to save up for! I will look into applying for professional composers’ programmes.
- What are some tips for people who are looking to start a creative project?
I think it’s important to have that alone time to be able to start a creative project. Set aside some time each week, and experiment with ideas and methods!
Just be yourself! Don’t care too much about what the outside world will think about your work. Just create whatever you want!
- What are your next creative projects?
My new album, Paradise, inspired by the ocean, marine ecosystems and marine species has just been released. I hope that you enjoy it! I will also shortly be releasing an album featuring 9 pieces inspired by my playful and mischievous cats. I also plan to compose orchestral as well as electronic works inspired by my travels in Southeast Asia. Throughout, I will be performing at several concerts. Please feel free to visit my website at www.shirleylymusic.com for all updates! Thank you for having me.