This feature is part of an on-going series of interviews by Yinsey Wang with East Asian voices around the globe.
The series aims to introduce perspectives from different walks of life.
Sam Yung is a London-based composer and musician. With an enormous passion for beautiful melodies and invoking the emotions of his audiences, he has attracted a significant following on YouTube. His arrangement and rendition of Disney classics has surpassed one million views and has touched listeners around the globe. As a child, he taught himself the drums and piano and has been developing and perfecting his craft as a composer ever since – his recent album Sentire debuted and is available to listen.
It is an impressive feat that you taught yourself the drums and piano. How did that come about and why do you think you were so attracted to music at such a young age?
Thank you! I guess that I was always fascinated with music as a kid. The main thing I remember taking away from music from a young age was the melody. It was always the one aspect of music that used to constantly run through my mind. I was obsessed with the Titanic soundtrack when I was young, That was the first film soundtrack that I really appreciated when I was a kid. James Horner was a brilliant talent. I remember being fascinated by the sinking scene, but more for the dramatic soundtrack… rather than the actual sinking of the ship!
I started playing the piano when I was about 7 years old, but not seriously till about 12 years old. I prefer to learn aurally, and I have done so ever since I was a kid. I know it sounds cliché, but there’s something about learning by ear that just clicks with how I work creatively. I understand the importance of music theory, but I’ve never been one to go by the ‘rule book’. This is because I think that can hinder creativity. I just tend to go with what feels ‘right’.
Drums came a bit later (at 13 years old), and it was something I just had a huge passion for and enjoyed playing. Right now, I wouldn’t consider myself much of a drummer, as I haven’t played for a good while because I’m focusing on composition and arrangement, but drumming is something that I have fond memories of.
Your Disney YouTube video has received an outpouring of praise and has been viewed over a million times. Tell us how that has made you feel and why you think it has touched so many listeners.
To be honest, I was a little overwhelmed by all the positive feedback! The music from Disney is so classic and timeless, I was a little nervous about putting the collection out, as I wasn’t sure if people would take to ‘my spin’ on such classic tracks. The fact that people seem to really enjoy it, and embrace it, makes me feel really humbled and grateful. Again, my main focus with arrangements is the melody, so I think that resonated with people. I was really happy that it reached 1,000,000 views. A big achievement for me!
Your sister helped you make the Disney video. Does she often assist with your projects? Is she also quite musical?
My sister is so awesome at editing, it’s kind of her ’thing’, so I was pleased that she wanted to help out with the visuals for my Disney collection. I always tend to go to her for any visual or editing things, because I know she’ll do an amazing job. She plays a bit of piano too, and is pretty good! But not as quite as good as me… Haha!
What is your favourite Disney song? What is your favourite Disney movie? Why?
That is literally the hardest question in the world, there are so many amazing tracks! I think anything Alan Menken touches is gold; he is such an iconic composer and songwriter. I’m not sure that I can single out my favourite song, but my favourite soundtrack from a Disney film is that of Pocohontas. The score from that film is so inspiring, and the sense of melody is almost overwhelming in the best way. If I had to pick my favourite Disney film, it would probably be the same.
You recently had a trip to Florida Disneyland and recorded a series of video logs. What has been the highlight of the trip?
Every second was a highlight! I’d probably have to say watching ‘Wishes’ in front of the Cinderella’s Castle is pretty hard to beat. It’s a must, if you go to the Magic Kingdom. Top tip: Get there early for a good spot!
Who is your favourite composer? Why?
So tough to pick one single composer, but it would definitely be a tie between Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) and Joe Hisaishi (Studio Ghibli). They have probably been the biggest influences on my own music. I just love how they’re able to evoke such emotion, but in such a simple and profound way. Their use of strings is also something I particularly love. I know I have mentioned melody a lot, but they have mastered the art of using it effectively. Honourable mentions go to Dustin O’halloran, Michael Giacchino and Alan Menken of course too.
What piece of music has had the biggest impact on your development? Why?
I’d have to say To Zanarkand by Nobuo Uematsu. It’s a simple piano piece, but the range of feelings it stirs is astounding. It highlights the versatility of piano as an instrument and the importance of melody; so much can be achieved by a single instrument, which makes it sound easy! However, getting it right is the hardest part. It’s something I continue to strive towards.
You say your biggest goal is to compose music that has an impact on people’s emotions. What piece have you heard that has had the biggest impact on your emotions?
It’s hard to pin-point one particular piece, but right now I’d have to say it’s Flight of The Birds by The Cinematic Orchestra. It’s just such a sweeping and emotive piece. I tend to listen to it a lot on the commute to work; it just makes everything feel irrelevant in a weird way (just for the 8 or so minutes whilst you’re listening!). I highly recommend it.
Tell us about your most recent album. What is the inspiration behind it and your favourite piece?
My most recent album Sentire is a bit of a strange one. It is an album that I am proud of, and it was my first, so it will always be special to me. It features some older compositions that I updated and tweaked, so it felt a little bit like a mix tape of my compositions over the years. The inspiration behind many of the compositions was the transient nature of life. I know it sounds a bit morose and depressing, but we are only here for a limited time. We should make the most out of life.
I am currently working on a second album that draws much from the heart, and is being created through a more natural process than that for Sentire. My first album was also a result of my own pressures to put an original album out. For the second one, the feeling is that it is more so under my terms and there is no pressure or rush to put anything out.
How would you like to be remembered as an artist?
I just want to be remembered as someone who created music that made people ‘feel’ something. It can be anger, sadness, hope, happiness or whatever. As long as I can make that happen, I’ll carry on composing.