Composing Through the Pain

Aiden Chan Joins OBP Composition Team

The path of life has many branches. There are some we can see and make our way towards, working diligently to clear the way, only to find that part of the path abruptly cut off. But if we keep searching, we find ourselves right where we’re supposed to be.

For Aiden Chan, what started out as a promising path toward a career in orchestral performance ended prematurely due to an injury suffered during a rigorous rehearsal schedule. Several branching paths and one old-timey inn later, and with some very impressive musical composition credits to his name, Aiden has now found his place as OBP Musical Commissions’ newest composer.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Aiden to talk about his new role. During that time, he shared his background and accomplishments as well as some of his adventures in fantasy gaming and his time living as a real-life NPC.

Aiden holds musical degrees from the Associated Royal Board of the Schools of Music, Trinity College London and the University of North Texas, but his love for a particular instrument started at a very young age.

“I was gifted a violin when I was 3 years old because I was a hyper child,” he recalls. 

Initially, Aiden’s goal as a young boy in Hong Kong was to become a concert violinist. In 2014, while still an undergraduate, he was selected to play with graduate students in the orchestra pit for a Giacomo Puccini opera. The school’s music department was trying to secure more funding, he explains, and so, “They put way too many of us in the pit just to prove a point.”

While the opera was planned for just a 12-performance run, the rehearsal schedule leading up to it was grueling, with every weekday including rehearsals lasting “six hours a day with a measly 15-minute break in the middle,” and four-hour rehearsals every day on weekends. For Aiden, the end result of this physically demanding schedule was permanent nerve damage to his c3 vertebra, which sits slightly below the base of the skull, and a lifetime of pain.

“Almost 10 years of constant pain – I’m in pain right now – but I just deal with it,” he tells me. “Luckily, CBD is legal in this country.”

It was after suffering his injury that Aiden decided to start over as a composition major, a turning point that has led him to some interesting friends and acquaintances. Those friends include Colm McGuinness, the Ireland-based composer responsible for some of the most popular music associated with the Dungeons & Dragons web series Critical Role. Aiden, too, has secured a place in Critical Role history, having composed one of the first pieces of fan music associated with the series.

In January of this year, Aiden befriended fantasy author Piper CJ, whose works have reached the Barnes & Noble bestseller list, and he has composed music specifically for her. Aiden has also worked on music for the Cyberpunk 2077 brand. Some other notable clients of Aiden’s are Gays of the Round and Realm Narrative Gaming, two podcasts for which he has composed theme songs.

Aiden took his first step Off the Beaten Path about a month ago, meeting founder Tory Doctor through their mutual use of TikTok.

“He had me at ‘Do you like auditory herpes?’ ” Aiden remarks with a chuckle. After his first contact with Tory, Aiden had a meeting that night with Tory and Head of North American Operations Melody McClellan, both of whom he refers to as heroes, and joined the musical commissions team.

As for his experience with Dungeons & Dragons, Aiden was first invited to join a family game by his then girlfriend, now wife. Her father was planning to serve as dungeon master, but the hustle and bustle of life got in the way. Not wanting to cancel the game, he asked Aiden to take his place. As Dungeon Master. In his first-ever session.

“I’m a forever DM,” Aiden quips with laughter. “I’ve been cursed as a DM and I’ve been a DM ever since.”

But Aiden has taken to the role well, adding his own personal touch to the table. All his campaigns take place in the same omniverse, and he quickly discovered he enjoys eschewing the typical eurocentric setting for something with a different cultural flair, like a humid Asian rice paddy, or a fusion of east and west, such as a civilization built upon a foundation of Mongol and Viking cultures.

“I realized there’s stories I want to tell that I just don’t get to tell in other mediums,” he describes his love of worldcrafting.

Aiden confesses he does occasionally get to take control of a player character, and not surprisingly, “I’ve always mained bards.” Those already familiar with Aiden through his social media presence as The Dungeon Maestro are no doubt familiar with his unique bardic spellcasting methods.

“Playing as a bard, it’s so comedy-or-singing-centric … The flavor is not geared toward instrumental music,” he explains. For that reason, he has released several dozen videos on how a violin bard would provide bardic inspiration to different party members, as well as what songs work best for certain spells. (Spoiler alert: vicious mockery is Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”)

Bringing a musical instrument to a dice fight is tricky business, but Aiden has managed to pull it off, noting, “There’s always going to be a bard NPC at some point.” Highlighting one brilliantly hilarious turn as a DM, Aiden said he introduced a tiefling character with “classic devil imagery,” and while interacting with the players, he slipped out his instrument and treated them to a rendition of The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

“I am whole now,” Aiden rasps in a low, rumbling growl, reliving his moment of gaming glory. “Are you happy, my audience? No longer will I only play classical; I will play country. Yee-haw.”

Until recently, Aiden’s day job, or “muggle job,” as he likes to call it, has been in marketing. But there was a time prior to the emergence of the Covid-19 virus when he and his wife ran an inn deep in the American wilderness. How far out in the wilderness? Well, he describes his old morning routine as, “Wake up at 5 in the morning, make breakfast, chase off the moose, chase off the bears,” adding that the inn lay directly in the middle of an elk migration path.

Though music is his medium of choice, Aiden is particularly proud of an impromptu photo shoot in which he spent two hours of an autumn day with his camera, inching closer and closer to an elk just to get the perfect shot. While he may have a tender spot for bards, he admits, “I’m a bit of a ranger/druid on the inside.”

With a vast number of accomplishments already credited to his name, Aiden is humbled to be joining OBP Musical Commissions and grateful to have this unique platform to share the gift of music. He expresses a heartfelt thank-you to OBP Musical Commissions, saying, “Finding the jobs for us, that’s the worst part. That’s the most time-consuming part.  They’re taking all that away… I want to see everyone not have to do a muggle gig if they don’t want to; to talk to people; to make music.”

And for the violin bard, making music is the perfect path.

By Matthew Schomer

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