Chen Ming-chang is a singer-songwriter and composer whose works are rooted in Taiwan's culture and traditions. Incorporating the essence of traditional Taiwanese music with a modern style, he has won four international composition awards for best original score for the guitar ballads he composed for films by auteurs Hou Hsiao-hsien, Hirokazu Kore-eda (是枝裕和), and Lin Cheng-sheng (林正盛).
Chen’s childhood was filled with traditional folk elements such as Beiguan and Nanguan music, glove puppet theater, and Taiwanese opera, which enriched his knowledge of local culture and become his source materials for music creation later on.
When he was a high school student, Chen spent all his school days playing Western music in the student guitar society. Following the emergence of campus folk songs in the 1970s, Chen formed a band called Wooden Guitar with musicians including Jonathan Lee (李宗盛) and started engaging in writing music after finishing high school.
In 1984, Chen's family gave him a piano and digital recorder to support his music career. Chen thus opened a music studio to teach guitar. It was around this time when Chen started exploring the definition of Taiwanese music and his own creative process.
Chen then abandoned his Western musical background and started learning Beiguan-style glove puppetry from legendary puppeteer Li Tian-lu (李天祿) as well as yueqin and Nanguan music. After exploring different traditional music, he wrote his first song with a pentatonic scale. Titled "Heroic Pioneers (唐山過臺灣)," the song portrays immigration journeys and ancestral hardship in the Taiwanese language.
In 1986, a friend introduced Chen's music to director Hou, who later invited Chen to compose the film score for his feature "Dust in the Wind (戀戀風塵)," which won the Best Original Score Award at the 1987 Three Continents Festival in Nantes for its vivid illustration of the film's theme and rural landscapes of Taiwan. In 1993, Chen composed the film score for Hou's "The Puppetmaster (戲夢人生)," which won the Best Original Score Award at the Flanders International Film Festival Ghent.
In 1995, Chen wrote another Taiwanese song titled "Odyssey (流浪到淡水)" to illustrate blind singer Lee Ping-huei's (李炳輝) life as a street singer. The song became one of the best-known Taiwanese songs and earned him the title of best composer from the 1998 Golden Melody Awards.
In addition to music creation, Chen is also devoted to promoting traditional Taiwanese music. He modified the yueqin, or moon zither, for playing indigenous Bunun and classical Nanguan music and established a yueqin music school in 2008 in the hopes of passing on this school of traditional music that touches his heart.