Wednesday, January 28, 2015

the waltz

Rehearsal date: 01/22/15
Orchestra: CYO
Repertoire rehearsed: Blue Danube

Sorry for the late post. I had a performance on Saturday and an opera rehearsal on Sunday so my weekend didn't happen.]

Anyway, this new piece is one of the classics of the Classical music. And rightfully so, with it's super memorable, and delightful melodies. All of those waltzes have just the right amount of charm, and the perfect amount of drama. It is not all about blank smiles, but with just enough amount of realism and passion, those light, and pleasant melodies become so much more sincere. And the more sincere they are, the more beautiful to our ears.

I always feel that Johann Strauss Jr. is such an underrated composer. Yes, his music is not "serious" like Brahms or Tchaikovsky or others during the same time period, but he was decidedly a composer of waltz, which was a dance music for the rich people (how serious can dance music be before our feet stops stepping and our brains start turning?). And he was AMAZING, and ground breaking with what he did in that genre. He gave waltz as mush care and polish, and possessed just as much craftsmanship as any of the other "serious" composers brought to their symphonies and chamber music, and overtures. It is just so unfortunate that just because of the genre he has chosen to write in, he and his compositional skill is also taken lightly. In my book, he is just as creative and skilled as any of the legendary figures of the time, and that was the Golden Age of classical music in my opinion (19th century).

By the way, just so there is no confusion, Johann Strauss Jr. was NOT the son of Richard Strauss. I hear people being confused with them all the time. Richard Strauss was a composer of early to mid 20th century, and Johann Strauss Jr. was from mid to late 19th century. So there's about a hundred years in between them, and the Jr. is the more senior :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Stand By Me

Rehearsal Date: 01/17/15
Orchestra: chamber
Repertoire Rehearsed: well...

So here's what happened.

I like to give myself plenty of time to get to Penn Station to take the train to get to Middletown. For the 12 o'clock train that I have to take, I leave at 10:30am, so I can have a nice relaxed breakfast. I need this because Penn Station is a mess. a chaos, a commuting nightmare, and every second I am there, I get progressively irritated. So I need a nice moment before I plunge into that madness.

I get to Penn Station and got on the train as usual. I scored a good seat and was happy with it. Sfetr Newark Airport, the train stops and the announcement says that there is an Amtrak train that broke down in front of us and that we cannot pass it. So we were stuck there for a while. maybe fifteen, twenty minutes? And because I was on the NJ Transit line, the train crew seemed to be proud that it wasn't one of their trains that got broken down, and there was a bit of arrogance in the air, which I was kind of amused by.

But I definitely was not amused when the train I was on also broke down. That happened just as we got to Aberdeen Matawan. We ended up having have to wait for the next train right there in the cold.

I was wishing I had spent half an hour more in my cozy breakfast place instead of out there in the cold if I was going to be late anyway...

So that's why I was late that day.

Thank you Matt, for instructing them the chord progression. Stand by Me is a great song, and one of the best films ever. You all must watch it!

here's the trailer for the film:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gope8wlp2bQ
Maybe we can watch it together one day?

And thank all so much for listening to me playing my new piece. I really needed to do that, and thanks to you, I now know exactly where and what I need to work on both in my composition and in my playing. It is very clear to me now thanks to you!

Again, no rehearsal next week, so I will see you all on the 31st!

back to basics

Rehearsal Date: 01/15/15
Orchestra: CYO
Repertoire Rehearsed: Blue Tango

It's really nice to see that our little family is growing and growing! We had two new students last week, and four more this week, and I think there will be at least two more new people coming next week!

When the orchestra grows bigger in size, somehow, it is encouraging. More people interesting in joining what we are doing can only mean one thing: we are doing something right! Not sure what it is, but whatever it is, let's just keep doing it :)

As we get new players, however, we have to constantly remind ourselves of where each of started from. No one knew each other, and we weren't used to playing together, and maybe also because we have come off of a pretty nice and long break,  I feel that we've forgotten what it was like.

I feel as though we have forgotten the kind of attitude, and rehearsal ethics that were needed to have a good ensemble.

Here are some reminders:
Number 1: BRING YOUR MUSIC STANDS
     We should start with the basics. No stands, no music. Simple as that. We often forget how we as          musicians are so extremely reliant on music stands. To note, I bring the rack of MAC's stands in          the room IN CASE someone forgets it. These days it seems everyone is "forgetting" it. Forgetting      on purpose does not constitute as forgetting, so I will stop allowing you from taking the MAC            stands if you just didn't bring yours because you didn't feel like it.

Number 2: Stop chatting during rehearsal
     Need I explain?

Number 3: No playing while I'm talking.
     This is perhaps ten times more distracting than chatting. What's worse is that, those who are                guilty of this, are usually the same people that are guilty for not playing when they are supposed to      play!

Number 4: My hands down, your instruments down. My hands up, your instruments up.
     When I'm ready, you should be as well. If you can't do this, that means you are not focused and          are zoning out during rehearsal. If you are zoning out, you are not participating, which means              you are not helping anybody, nor your group, or yourself for that matter. And if you continue not        being ready, it continues to frustrate approximately one member in that room pretty badly. This is      also to prevent Number 3 from happening.

Number 5: Listen to other parts while playing.
     Finally something musical. You are playing in the orchestra, not practicing solo by yourself in a          lonely room. The beauty of orchestra is the coming together of all these different sounds. Take            advantage of the fact that you get to experience this unique and magical moments every week.            Listen, appreciate, enjoy, and maybe learn something from them. And don't forget that you are            also contributing to these magical moments. Really listen, really appreciate.

Number 6: Take care of the place in which you practice.
     Last week, I was embarrassed to see four chairs still standing where the cellos sat after you guys          had left. Now cellists, you need the chair more than anybody in the orchestra does. I would think        that you out of everyone would be the first to take care of your chairs!

     Many serious stuff, like in religion and in martial arts (where you train your mind and body for            betterment at the expense of your and others' tremendous physical pain), you take care of the              room, the building, the environment in which whatever activity takes place before and after the            activities. This means, readying the room beforehand in such a way that you can really concentrate      on the work without being distracted, and cleaning up afterwards, to show respect - first to                  yourself by acknowledging what is become of the environment while you worked so hard, and to        turn it back to the state it was in before you arrived, to show your respect and appreciation to the        people around you, people that let you use the facility, and to yourself. By cleaning up your own        mess, it says that you respect yourself. You don't let your own environment deteriorate. You clean      up your own mess, so you can be a better person. So FOLD YOUR CHAIRS UP and PLACE             THEM ON THE RACK before you leave, after each rehearsal.

Thank you

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

list of songs

As I was going through songs that I like, I decided that there were endless possibilities that it was impossible...  but I had to chose some I guess. So I reluctantly made up this list. Reluctantly, because I had to leave out so many others that I like. And me liking a song and choosing what is good for the students is a whole 'nother thing...

to be honest, while a part of me doesn't want to repeat the same kind of stuff we did as the last concert, part of me still wants to do songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival, or something similar to them, since they have simple chord progressions and simple chordal structures that are so basic that learning them can really teach you a lot about playing non classical music that are applicable to all sorts of music, including classical. Sort of like learning early Mozart before you move onto heavy stuff like Brahms, and Shostakovich.

but I made up this tentative list partially to give you more ideas. I will try to make a decision this week as to continue with songs like creedence clearwater revival's or something else.

but here's the list. this will at the very least introduce you to some decent songs if you never heard them, or get your imagination going as to what could you do with your instrument in playing these songs. also, watching Michael Jackson videos is ALWAYS educational!


In this list, I tried to draw from as many time periods and genres as I could come up with in a short amount of time. i'm sure I'm missing a whole lots of categories... but here they go for now.

waiting - oi va voi
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67hpqmB6Kjs

lonely boy - the black keys
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_426RiwST8

dream on - aerosmith
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyfNHlqymP8

dull life - yeah yeah yeahs (I played in this album. Not this track though)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGKefxnyT6E

when i come around - green day
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8dh9gDzmz8

top of the world - carpenters
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDPMmaHWj1I

paradise city - guns n roses
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rbm6GXllBiw

toxic - britney spears
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOZuxwVk7TU
(had to throw this in there)

bad - michael jackson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsUXAEzaC3Q

rolling in the deep - adele
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYEDA3JcQqw

help - the beatles
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWP6Qki8mWc

come together - the beatles
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEo9Bh679wM

jolene - dolly parton
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGEubdH8m0s

billie jean - michael jackson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi_XLOBDo_Y

and anything by nirvana
like this gem, come as you are - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vabnZ9-ex7o

and here are some suggestions sent to me by Iris. Thanks Iris! But I will link the "original" videos here instead of the covers, so we don't end up covering a cover...

mission impossible theme
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QlplayAjM4

smooth criminal - michael jackson
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_D3VFfhvs4 (such a good video!)

and as an extra,
that's me on the cello on this yeah yeah yeahs track
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUpNcDocqjo


Let me know if you like any of these songs!!!

Friday, January 9, 2015

A new year's blue(s)?

It was so good to see you guys again! I'm also happy to have two new members in our group. I hope you all had a relaxing/exciting break (whichever suites you). I had a couple of concerts to play in, and a reading session of a Mozart symphony with some of the musicians from the Metropolitan Opera orchestra, which I consider to be one of the two best orchestras in the whole world, so that was fun ( I played cello with them. No I did not, or would dare not conduct them...). 

As I kind of mentioned to you in the beginning of the rehearsal, I have played the Blue Tango piece when I was about your age. I don't remember liking the song particularly to be honest, but somehow I have one of the strongest musical memories of that piece that I have ever had. I never had a chance to play that piece ever again after that, but to this day, I would once in a great while hear it in my head, and recognize the title of the piece, which is rare. I also remembered almost every line of music in the piece. From the bass/snare drum rhythmic pattern to the woodwinds' staccato chirps, to inner voice's chromatic ascend, to the melody harmonized in thirds. I guess I did really like it and didn't know that I did? Is that possible? 

From my perspective, it is nice to face this music again as an adult. Kind of like seeing an old friend you haven't seen in many many many years, since childhood.
And it is doubly interesting because for many of you, this must be totally brand new and unfamiliar.

We had a good first reading of it though. This piece is pretty simple, so I don't expect that it would take us too much time to learn the notes. However, it will probably take us much more time to be as elegant, joyful, light, graceful, happy, and casual as we need to be while playing this piece.

We will work on that aspect intently.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Trust and Gratefulness

"Grateful" - is the first word that comes to my mind when reflecting upon last week's concert. I am grateful for the students who worked hard and did their best on stage, grateful for the Rockit kids and staff to come join us for this concert in the midst of their busy schedule, grateful for the audience members who showed appreciation and support, grateful for the board members and the MAC staff who did everything they can to help the event go as smoothly as possible.
Overall, I am extremely grateful for every single one of you who had anything to do with this concert at all, for supporting me, and above all, trusting me to let me do the things I wanted to, no matter how ambitious, unusual and experimental they might have seemed in the beginning.

I decided to give it a go for these ideas for I trusted in your openness and that students' capacity and talents to handle them. I trusted in the parents and the coaches that they would welcome my ideas. I trusted in the materials themselves, for them to possess educational values, while being entertaining at the same time. And you in turn, trusted me. And I am tremendously grateful for that.

And it starts from the smallest thing. Letting us have a run-through on our last scheduled rehearsal day was tremendously helpful. All small concerns I had such as chairs and music stands setup and striking before and between the groups, the microphone situation, knowing exactly how the concert will begin, etc. were all met with calmness and professionalism.

As one of the characters from a show I was binge watching on internet (an old show I'm too embarrassed to name...) defined, "trust" is "believing and following someone you do not know that you can trust anyway". It is a leap of faith. It always involves risks. But somehow, your faith in the positive outcome, your positive outlook, seems to scale the odds towards your favor.

To be honest, in previous years, many of these things did not happen, and I always felt rushed and slightly panicked during NJSYO concerts. I often felt that I couldn't do things at my own pace and was always adjusting to situations someone else had created, and felt that the performances suffered from all the "accommodations" I had to make. Running around tuning students' instruments, discussing concerns about their dresses, music stands and sheet music, setting up the chairs for both groups myself, rehearsing, deciding/practicing what to say on stage (as many of you know, public speaking is THE worst nightmare of mine), having concerns about my own instrument for when I perform with the chamber group, trying to give students pep talk while I myself was panicking and being rushed to be on stage, while not knowing exactly how and when things were to happen, just wasn't working.

But this year, none of that happened, or if they did, they happened in the most controlled manner. Partly because I was determined and vowed to myself that I'd do things at my own pace, but more importantly, it is because you let me. All of you. You trusted me. And each and every one of us communicated our concerns to each other, and each of those concerns were taken care of calmly by all of us .

This is a good team. And by team, I mean to include all of us, the students, board members, coaches, parents, the staff at MAC. This works, and I am very proud to be a member of this fine team.

Thank you all. And I wish you the happiest holidays and a happy new year!

See you all next year!

Monday, December 8, 2014

even the greatest genius needs our help - the proper tone

Now that we added some dimensions in Mozart, I think it sounds 100 times better. Playing a music is much like sculpting. Not that I know anything about sculpting, but I'd imagine chiseling away at a rock until it becomes something recognizable and further until it becomes a work of art that would be admired for centuries, is similar to the process of plainly playing the notes on page, to creating grooves, shadows, peaks, angles, breaths, plateaus, valleys, rifts and lifts to make shapes and stories out of those notes.

But they must be done. Just because the piece is written by one of the most brilliant geniuses ever stepped foot on Earth, it doesn't mean that we can simply play the notes and expect magic to happen. 

Mozart was a composer. Composers write ideas. But ideas require voices so they can be uttered and heard. So long as there are musicians, Mozart will always have voices. Right now, we are one of his voices. And the voice will have a better effect on the audience, if the tone of the voice properly reflected the tone of the idea. Therefore, the voice always needs a brain. Obviously we have one in each of our heads. But we have to use them to understand the music. Who was Mozart? What was his ideal? What were his values? What was his philosophy? What was the world around him like? What was he influenced/inspired/fueled by? Who did he want to be? Who was his audience? What/How did he want us to think?

These are the things we need to know, and mix it in with our own imagination inspired by his notes on page, and only then, we can have the "proper tone".

Obviously, this goes with any piece of music you will ever play. So no, Mozart does not get a special treatment, ever. Every music has characters and ideas. Some deeper than others, but nevertheless they all require some degrees of understanding and imagination. From J.S. Bach to Busta Rhymes, from Ravi Shanker to Dean Martin.

For Down on the Corner, I'm glad many of you found the recording I made helpful. Decide on EXACTLY what you will play for each section, then all you do is practice going through different sections (take a couple at a time, then eventually the whole song). I'm so glad it's coming along!