Meet UCF Composer Who Keeps Reinventing Herself
Musician Stella Sung is director of UCF’s Center for Research and Education in Arts, Technology and Entertainment (CREATE). She joined the university in 1987 as a visiting instructor in the music department, and soon became a full-time professor teaching music theory, composition, piano, singing and other courses. In 2006, she became professor of digital media in the School of Visual Arts and Design, and in 2007 was named to the CREATE post, where she develops multidisciplinary research-driven initiatives. She has received awards from the National Endowment of the Arts, the State of Florida, Phi Kappa Phi and other organizations. Just last month she partnered with the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance in Ohio on a residency program to feature educational projects, concert productions and other creative activities. The year-old Dayton organization is a national model of arts integration, the first in the nation to merge ballet, opera and symphony orchestra.
When did you realize that you wanted music to be your career?
I started formal musical training as a pianist when I was 8 years old. By the time I was 12, I realized that music was what I wanted to do and I started working towards the goal of being a concert pianist.
What do you like about being at UCF?
As I approach my 27th year at UCF, I am so proud to call UCF my academic home. UCF has always offered me the opportunity to grow, explore, change, and move forward in my teaching and creative activities. When I first started at UCF, there were about 18,000 students, and I loved the university’s motto of “Reach for the Stars,” as it truly felt like that was what UCF was all about—people reaching their potential, people believing in their dreams and knowing that there was a wonderful university to support them. Happily, it is still true today as it was then, and as UCF celebrates its 50th year, I can only imagine what the next 50 years will be like.
Being at UCF has allowed me to “reinvent” myself in many ways, and I have been so fortunate to have had the support of my deans and upper administrators.
What accomplishment have you been most proud of at UCF?
I am most proud of the students I have served and mentored, many of whom now have wonderful careers in music and the arts. Several former students have gone on to graduate music programs, and some are even back at UCF in faculty positions. I am also very honored to have been selected as a Pegasus Professor, and am actually the first Pegasus Professor in the College of Arts and Humanities. (Dean Jose Fernandez of the College of Arts and Humanities was named a Pegasus Professor when the college was the College of Arts & Sciences.)
What projects are you working on now?
I usually have several projects on the burner, but the most prominent one at the moment is my full-length opera, The Red Silk Thread. I had two public workshop performances at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor this April, and I am now preparing for the world premiere next April at the University of Florida. The opera is based on stories of Italian explorer Marco Polo and the court of Mongol leader Kublai Khan.
How do you involve digital and multi-media applications into your compositions?
Since the 1980s, I have used digital technology in my compositions. One of my former students was highly interested in composing music for film – he is now actively working in Los Angeles as a composer for television and films – and so I then built a digital audio workstation in my home as I realized that I needed to keep up with the latest applications of computer technology in music, much of which was being used by film composers. I also have two music studios at the UCF Center for Emerging Media. I now use computers extensively in my composition work, and the technology continues to improve.
What are a few of the memorable performances you have attended?
As an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, I had the opportunity to hear many of the world’s greatest classical music artists. I remember attending three concerts by the Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz, and those were stunning recitals. I also heard the great Leontyne Price, who had a wonderful voice and the most incredible stage presence. I also remember some of the concerts that I attended while a “camper” at the Interlochen Arts Camp (then known as the National Music Camp) when I was a child of 12 and 13. I heard my first Mahler symphony (Symphony No. 5) when I was 13, played by the World Youth Symphony Orchestra, and I remember being completely and emotionally moved by the music.
Then of course are the performances of my own music. I have had many fine performances by wonderful artists and ensembles. As I was the composer-in-residence for the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra (2007-11), I was extremely blessed to have had my orchestral works performed by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and its fine musicians and music directors. It is a real thrill to hear one’s work come to life and being played by 80+ musicians!
What music do you listen to?
Over the years, my musical listening tastes have really expanded to include all genres of music. It is difficult now for me to say what I listen to the most, as it often depends upon what I myself might be working on. For example, since I have been writing an opera, I am listening to opera most of the time. But I juxtapose that with some of my favorite songs from Chicago or other groups.
Tell us a little about your family.
My parents are from China (Beijing and Chung-king) but they met at the University of Florida. My mother is a professional painter and was at one time chief artist at the Florida State Museum, now the Natural History Museum at the University of Florida. My father had a dental laboratory for many years, but is also a general businessman and entrepreneur. They still live in Gainesville. My brother is a lawyer and lives in Orlando.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
I really don’t do much except work! But that’s a good thing because I really love writing music, and I really love working for UCF. But in the leisure times, I do enjoy gardening, watching DVDs of old TV shows, swimming, yoga, and going to movies.