Hsu’s “Rhapsody Toccata” wins international composition competition

A blend of two contrasting styles make for an award-winning composition piece

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Photo by Macey VanDenMeerendonk

Chai-Yu Hsu won a prestigious composition award for her piece “Rhapsody Toccata.”

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When you walk through Haas Fine Arts Center at UW-Eau Claire, you will hear instruments played by band students, lines being recited by theatre students, singing by the university’s choir singers and the instruction and guidance from the faculty.

Eau Claire’s music program boasts award-winning faculty, according to the department’s website.

Chia-Yu Hsu, assistant professor of music, recently won the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble; an international composition competition that had 125 entries from composers in 13 countries.

‘Rhapsody Toccata’ is the name of her piece, which she described as, “a blend of two contrasting styles.”

Hsu wanted to show off the faculty’s piano skills. In doing so, the toccata came first and follows with jazz. Before writing this composition, and said she did not write any pieces with jazz, and she said she thought it would be different from other composers.

“I thought, ‘why not do something with jazz, but not entirely jazz?’” Hsu said. “Just a hint of jazz.”

Hsu said she didn’t know the selection process at the time of competition but when contacted by the executive director of the competition, they said a panel of judges voted after hearing every piece. The panel told Hsu her piece was the only entry who received a yes from every judge, hence declaring her piece to be the winner.

Her background

Hsu said she wanted to pursue music from a young age. She started with private lessons and when she turned 15 she attended a music school.

“I decided music is going to be my thing, I really want to devote (my time) to it,” Hsu said.

She then started music theory and composition with different courses to further her education.

“Her class was learning different styles of music and trying to be inspired to make a piece …” senior clarinet performance student Hunter Nicholson said.  

Hsu said it is important to go after opportunities and to go out and listen to music.

“We are very lucky to have her on our faculty at the music building and with all the other faculty,” Nicholson said, after having Hsu for a composition class.  “Sometimes I feel like our faculty is very over-qualified, and that’s what makes this school so good for music,”  Nicholson said.

Hsu said she encourages her students to follow their passions in music and to learn about it through networking, music festivals, competitions or writing their own pieces.

“Composition is a really cool career that allows you to have your music played around the world and meet people from different parts of the world,” Hsu said.