Test of War

Shana Tiang is Young Composers' national competition winner
 Shana Tiang

Shana Tiang, winner of the Test of War Young Composers’ national competition, shares her love of music with the NFSA.
Test of War competition winner Shana Tiang (centre) with NFSA Acting General Manager Jane Cruickshank, and ANMM Curator Stephen Gapps.


Music has always been a huge passion in my life. I’ve been playing the piano ever since I can remember and was self taught until I bugged my parents to get me to lessons. Until a few years ago, it was never that serious for me; I actually planned on studying engineering after high school, and enrolled in a civil engineering degree. This was a great decision — I absolutely hated every second of it! It made me realise that I needed to do what I really loved, so one semester later I quit my degree and enrolled in JMC Academy in Sydney, majoring in piano performance.

Ever since then a career in music has been my lifelong goal. At JMC I developed my composition skills and discovered a passion for scoring for the screen. I surrounded myself with a great network of other musicians and mentors who encouraged me to take my passions further.


Since graduating, I’ve been establishing myself as a freelance composer. Anyone in my shoes knows how difficult it is to break into the industry! I’ve worked on various projects since then and have been trying to learn and gain as much experience as possible.

I jump at every opportunity to compose, so when I heard about the Test of War competition, it was a no-brainer. I found it quite difficult at first. When faced with a challenge, I spend a lot of time procrastinating; with Test of War, I probably spent 90% of the time avoiding it! But in the days and weeks leading up to the deadline, I knew that I was running out of excuses, and that I would be kicking myself if I let it pass me by. So I sat down, forced myself to concentrate and churned out the score. Pressure can be a great motivator for me, which is lucky.

My inspiration for the score came from a few different places. I love orchestral music and knew that my score would need to feature sections of the orchestra, especially big booming brass lines and hits. To me the film conveyed strong themes of comradery and patriotism, which I tried to interpret and translate into the music. I wanted to highlight the admirable victory of this moment of the First World War without glorifying war itself, hit the correct points and follow the rises and falls of the film. It definitely wasn’t an easy task, but by the end I was happy with what I had managed to do.

It still feels so surreal that my entry was picked as the winner. I’m so excited that my music will be a part of this amazing exhibition, and it’s incredible that it will be travelling all over the country. It’s also a bit daunting, knowing that so many people will be listening to my work, but the win has definitely given me a lot of confidence as a composer. I’m really looking forward to seeing the exhibition premiere at the Maritime Museum and I know my parents are excited to see it too. This whole thing has really fuelled my passion for composing even more and I really can’t wait to see where music will hopefully continue to take me.

Shana Tiang’s winning entry – excerpt

Shana’s soundtrack, together with the clip, will feature in the Australian National Maritime Museum’s exhibition War at Sea – The Navy in WWI when it opens at the museum in September 2014. The exhibition will tour nationally until 2018.