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Highlighting Asian Composers And Their Voices

Our Mission

We aim to commission an Asian composer annually corresponding to each of the Chinese Zodiac signs. We hope you can join us on our journey to the East and help support the project! These pieces will include clarinet along with other instrumentation and will be inspired by each zodiac sign. Our goal is to add more music from underrepresented Asian cultures and composers to the repertoire.


East Zodiac came about as clarinetist Samuel Hsieh was searching for a graduate audition piece for clarinet which had Asian influence. After realizing how little music there was, he had the idea of commissioning several pieces by Asian composers. Seeking to bring his idea to life, he reached out to musicians Sean Penzo, Vanna Tsiknias, and Chris Nguyen to create East Zodiac. The project will reflect the chinese zodiac, premiering a new piece at the beginning of the Chinese calendar year and will feature a new asian composer, highlighting their culture and voice.

current zodiac

Samuel Hsieh

Born in New York, Samuel Hsieh spent his childhood in Taiwan but did the majority of his education in Texas. In 2018, he was a finalist in the Furman University Concerto Competition performing Crusell's Clarinet Concerto No. 2. In the spring of 2020, Samuel was also the recipient of the Presser Scholar Award, the highest achievement given to an undergraduate student in music and the Lily Smith Blakely woodwind scholarship in 2018. Samuel has performed all across North America, Asia, and Europe and spent his junior year during his undergrad studying abroad in Arezzo, Italy. He has been invited to play at the International Clarinet Association's Clarinetfest in Knoxville, TN, Louisiana Music Educators Association, South Carolina Music Educators Association Intercollegiate Band where he was principal clarinetist and Carnegie Hall. Samuel is a frequent substitute clarinetist for the Baton Rouge Symphony and attended festivals such as the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in 2019, 2020, and 2022 where he studied with Chad Burrow. In 2020, Samuel attended the Eastman Clarinet Workshop where he had the opportunity to work with Prof. Michael Wayne. In addition to the B-flat clarinet, he often plays the E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet. Samuel earned his bachelor's in Clarinet performance from Furman University and a Master's in Clarinet performance from Louisiana State University. He now resides in Ann Arbor, MI where he is pursuing a Specialist degree in clarinet at the University of Michigan. His primary teachers include Cecilia Kang, Stacy Christofakis, Dan Gilbert, and Chad Burrow. In his free time, Samuel loves to cook, travel, and play tennis with friends. He is also passionate about being a part of the church community where he enjoys singing in the choir or playing in services.

current zodiac

Vanna Tsiknias

Born and raised in South Carolina, Vanna Tsiknias is a clarinetist and educator. She received her Master of Music from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Spring of 2023 where she studied with Dr. Janice Minor. She previously completed her undergraduate degree in music education at Furman University in Greenville, SC under Dr. Cecilia Kang and Dr. Anastasia Christofakis. Having spent her junior year in Arezzo, Italy she also studied with Gianluca Piomboni as well as attended master classes taught by Markus Stockhausen and Sergio Bossi at the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro, Italy.

Vanna currently teaches 4th and 5th grade band at two elementary schools in the Northern Virginia area. She enjoys teaching young musicians, introducing them to the joys of music making with others while also helping them to find their own place in the music world. She is inspired everyday by their excitement and curiosity to learn which carries over to her own performing and teaching. Vanna has also taught private clarinet lessons for 5 years throughout Greenville, SC and Urbana- Champaign, IL and now in the Northern Virginia area. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, playing tennis and pickleball, and spending time with her cat, Oreo.

current zodiac

Sean Penzo

Born in Genova, Italy, and raised outside of Syracuse, NY, Sean Penzo is a composer and cellist known for a wide range of collaborations and compositions. He has held board positions in Ethos New Music Society and The Improv. Collective, among others. Penzo has attended several music festivals, including Sewanee Summer Music Festival in Sewanee, Tennessee, Alba New Music Festival in Alba, Italy, and highSCORE New Music Festival. He has composed for ensembles which have performed his music internationally including Sonic Apricity, Akropolis Reed Quintet, and Quartetto Zuena. During his undergrad at SUNY Fredonia, Penzo studied composition with Paul Coleman, Andrew Martin Smith, Rob Deemer, and Jamie Leigh Sampson, and cello with Natasha Farny. After Fredonia, he studied with Keith Fitch and Bryan Dumm in Cleveland, and graduated with a master's in music composition.

Penzo values performance just as much as composition. He enjoys working with live bands and playing the role of a studio musician--often recording remotely for clients of all genres. His recent endeavors have involved working with Shane Patterson, Todd Hobin, Isa Bruder, and Julia Goodwin.

current zodiac

Christopher Nguyen

Christopher Nguyen (b. 2001) is a Vietnamese-American music composer based in Atlanta, Georgia.

His music catalog includes works written for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, large instrumental ensembles, and vocalists/choirs. He believes that his music is wide in its expressionistic range with every piece having a marked identity of their own. Every piece of his has a soundscape or a concept/”thought bubble”, and he enjoys exploring and tapping into these different soundscapes that come from inspirations of the twisted realities around him.

He has held and enjoyed several premieres of his works at Kennesaw State University and the Sewanee Summer Music Festival. His piece “Adrenalize” for wind ensemble was selected as the winning composition for the KSU composition competition in 2023 and was premiered under the baton of Dr. David Kehler. It subsequently was awarded an honorable mention in the 2023 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Competition.

Christopher is also a founding member of East Zodiac, a group that commissions Asian composers to write new works for every cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. Christopher has had the pleasure of being the first Asian composer selected and commissioned to write for the zodiac cycle in 2023 with his piece for Eb clarinet and piano, “Year of the Rabbit”. Chris continues to collaborate with his fellow co-founders Sam Hsieh, Sean Penzo, and Vanna Tsiknias to further advance the creation of Asian-inspired concert repertoire.

Christopher is an active performer and private music teacher in the Atlanta metropolitan area for hire. He has enjoyed playing for gigs and events including weddings, musicals, studio sessions, and high school choir concerts. He believes performing is integral to staying in touch with his compositional ability as he constantly explores and integrates new ideas from playing into his music.

He is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition at Kennesaw State University under the tutelage of Dr. Laurence Sherr.

He resides in Woodstock, Georgia with his fiancée, Dana Weiss, and their cat, Luna.

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Current Project

Born in Hunan, China, Daixuan Ai (岱萱 艾)’s music combines tradition with modernism and connects Eastern and Western cultures. She is dedicated to learning and understanding the musical legacy from the past and opening her ears and heart to absorbing and creating music of today’s world. She also seeks ways to honor her cultural heritage by writing music that’s well-crafted, formally precise, and deeply thoughtful. Daixuan is currently pursuing a DM degree in Composition at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, while serving as theory instructor for undergraduate students and faculty for the Jacobs Composition Academy.




East Zodiac