Friday, April 10, 2015

blog break

Hey guys,
I have to take a break from this blog for a reason. Too bad because I'm not far from reaching ten thousand views!

Thanks for reading so far. I love doing this, and am hoping to start up again soon.  I will let you know, when that happens.

Meanwhile, you can catch up with the ones you missed, or (re)read some of the old ones. There are some nice ones in there, if I can say so myself :)

Thanks again for all your support so far!


Saturday, March 21, 2015

See you at the concert!

You guys sound great!
Looking forward to the performance this weekend!

Friday, March 13, 2015

reading vs. playing

Date of Rehearsal: 03/12/15
Orchestra: CYO
Repertoire Rehearsed: Strauss Jr, and Anderson

Snow day is not an excuse to stop practicing, folks! If anything, it should make you think like the following: "if I don't practice this week extra hard, then I will forget some things by the next rehearsal, so I better practice extra, and listen to the recording more often".

It seems to me that many of you didn't think this way last week, and you saw the results. We were doing so well, and I am very upset at the weather (not at you). But please don't forget this in the future.

In the rehearsal, I briefly mentioned "reading" the notes as opposed to "playing" the notes, and I suppose this could use a bit of clarification.

When you "read" your notes. You are playing (producing the sounds of) the notes in the efforts to BECOME familiar with the music. At this point, you are not expressing anything yet, you are trying to figure out what the music is about, and what the notes, fingerings, phrasings, bowings, etc. are, so you know what and how to express the music in the future through practicing.

"Playing" the notes, in contrast, occurs AFTER you've read through, practiced and have figured things out. When you are "playing", you KNOW the music. You know what to do, how to do, and know what it is about, and you are expressing the music from your heart.

I know for a fact, that all of you have experienced "playing" music before (in a real way). And you can think back to yesterday and compare yourself from when you were really "playing".

In my experience, reading is not as fun as playing. I mean reading can be enjoyable when we first get the music. I get excited to find out how the music goes. I am excited to discover new things. But when you continue to "read" the same music week after week, I don't really need to tell you what happens, do I?

It's never fun to remain where you are, no matter what circumstances. That's why we play different music every concert. We enjoy evolving, and learning. I think it's safe to say that we all do. But to advance, it takes courage and work.

At the end of our previous rehearsal before the snow storm, I was feeling a sense of bliss, for I thought we were headed straight towards "playing" those notes, and was very excited about it.

But the weather set us back some. We were there once before, I am confident that we can get back on track.

Please work extra extra hard this week, and lets really "play" the music next time!

Monday, March 9, 2015

master the slowness, you must

Date of Rehearsal: 03/07/15
Orchestra: Chamber
Repertoire Rehearsed: Benny and Lenny

I am continuously impressed and amazed with how quickly you guys can adapt to new directions. I always make you guys do weird things like making you learn music without sheet music, having you make weird noises with your instruments, have you switch octaves at the last minute, making you play in odd meters, play really high up in finger board, and have you guys play in different meters simultaneously, and use weird harmonics, etc etc etc... But you guys handle them like they ain't no thang!

I think we got a lot done at the rehearsal. Went over the parts for Stand By Me, and went over the weird rhythmic overlays and tempo changes in my dubious arrangement of America.

For Stand By Me, I'd like us to copy the variations in the vocal melodies exactly as it is done in the Ben E King recording that we are following, so that we don't play each verse the same exact way every time.

For America, please go over it WITH A METRONOME under tempo. Set to all eighth notes. And by under tempo, I mean really under tempo where you can play them at your 120% accuracy and in control. And this is my advise not just for this piece but in any piece of any genre you will ever work on. The logic is simple, "you can't play fast what you can't play slow". Whether you are trying to get through ridiculous 16th note arpeggio passages, or just trying to produce a gorgeous tone in a slow passionate melody, or trying to navigate through complex syncopations and meter changes, or just simply trying to maintain a steady tempo or repetitive bowing patterns, or trying to play very high notes in tune, or anything at all. You can't do it faster if you can't do it slowly.

So, master the slowness.

(I sound like Yoda...)

We got a lot done, and still had time to enjoy the beautiful snow capped scene during our break. It was so beautiful, I thought it'd be nice to take a picture, BUT....

My stupid finger got in the way... I used to make fun of people who took pictures like this...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bobby's wisdom

Date of rehearsal: 02/21/15
Orchestra: chamber
Repertoire Rehearsed: America (or at least what we have of it so far...)

As I anticipated myself, I was not able to complete the arrangement, but I think I was able to come up with enough stuff to keep you a little busy for the week :)

I have a bit of experience with the music of West Side Story. I have performed the whole Symphonic Suite (which is rather similar in the epicness and complex rhythmic structures to, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and just as difficult) three times, and coached the World Peace Orchestra perform it in Avery Fischer hall two years ago. The first time i ever played it, our orchestra was being coached by Bobby McFerrin! One thing I will never forget that he told us was that, when you practice music like this one (Jazz influenced music, or music in Jazz style), you must practice putting the metronome beats on the back beats, instead of the down beats as we always do in classical music. When I tried it, it immediately put me in a different world. I felt the music differently. At the time, I had zero experience in non-classical music, but just by feeling the rhythm differently, I felt like the door to the non-classical world became unlocked, opened, and I took a step into this whole new world. to this day, I am convinced that you cannot play music correctly, if you don't understand the rhythmic treatment of that particular style.

I have enough jazz musician friends to know that they really really hate it when the audience claps along with their playing on the "on" beats. It ruins their vibe, groove and style. To them, it must feel like playing a waltz while the bass plays only on the second or the third beats of the measures.

Now unfortunately, we cannot apply this method (metronome on the backbeats) in our particular scenario, for this particular number we are working on is in a meter that alternates 6/8 and 3/4. Neither meter has what we call the "back beats". And back beats emphasis obviously is not the "style" of this particular number anyway. But I am mentioning this, because practicing the method (not who taught me about it, but that didn't hurt) gave me one of the greatest impact I ever had on my musical life. And I think that it is applicable in the sense that one must understand and feel the groove and style to play correctly.

This piece may not have back beats but is nevertheless rhythmic in nature. It is it's main feature. So pay attention to this rhythm. I'd like to invite you to be fascinated by it. Tap it with your hands and feet. Feel all the eight notes, and feel the alternating accents. There is both lightness and heaviness to this rhythm. See if you can feel both at the same time.

This is a dance. Dances are generally fun and graceful and this is not an exception. Yet there is an element of conflict (poetic) to this song.

The grace notes in this piece are really something that emphasizes the rhythm, not the melody, and also add lightness to it. So play the grace notes gracefully, while keeping your internal clock of eighth notes unwavering, and solid as rock.

So my suggestion for practicing the piece would be to set your metronome to the eighth note beats and accenting the appropriate beats with a sense of lightness. Do not pound the accents for that is not the style. Just remember to dance. Always sing and dance.

push and pull

Date of Rehearsal: 02/19/15
Orchestra: CYO
Repertoire rehearsed: Waltz no. 4 & 5

We had a sectional rehearsal during the first half, where we separated winds/brass and strings so each group can work on our own unique issues and are able to address more technical issues in more depths.

In both sectional and tutti rehearsals, all of us concentrated on just two of the waltzes (actually, strings didn't get to the 5th waltz in our sectional, but we intended to anyway). I think concentrating on a small section is very helpful. We can really solve (or at least begin to) many of the issues within the section, and by learning how to tackle a specific issue, gives you a tool to tackle another issue, and every challenge we will face from then on should feel a little bit easier each time.

And I started from the most difficult of the waltzes. No. 4 has the biggest contrast both in tempi and characters, and the first half (the slower section) also requires us to be flexible with timing, which is very difficult to coordinate between the 35 of us. No. 5 includes an intro (Eingang) that is a bit schizophrenic in character, alternating between piano and forte every two measures, and the second half of the waltz is the loudest of all, and requires us to be dramatic and exciting, while still remaining graceful at the same time.

We also listened to a recording of it together, and discussed different things that we discovered just by listening to it. we also talked about push and pull of the tempo that is prevalent throughout this piece, and briefly discussed "why", which I think is a very important question to ask. I think you all know the general idea why such things need to happen in music, but I would like each of you to think about "why" in each specific places where we take certain liberties with the tempo. Why there at that particular spot? Why do we do what we do at that spot? What would that do to the music? What is the effect? What is the image?

Strings, please practice your bowings. It is so important that we get our bowings down for two big reasons: 1) a sense of unity. When everybody does the same choreographed movements, we are tighter together, and each of you should find a stronger sense of duty and pride for your own section, when you are so together, down to your physical movements and eventually breath.
2) the correct articulation and sound. I design the bowings, not based on looks, but so that you are more likely to use the right amount of bow, and play at the right part of the bow, to get the maximum effect for each passages. Oftentimes, changing the bowings can make ALL the difference: from impossible to play to "Oh, this is easy", and vise versa, if you have the "wrong" bowings.

Next week, we will work on the intro and the outro (Coda II)!! Please be ready to play those sections for this coming rehearsal!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

world of uncle Leos

Rehearsal Date: 02/14/15
Orchestra: Chamber
Repertoire rehearsed: Stand By Me and a little bit of Nirvana

I'm an uncle now!
My sister was in labour as we were rehearsing on Saturday, and the baby girl was born right around the time we stopped rehearsing! I still haven't been able to meet my baby niece yet, but I plan on seeing her today! So exciting!

I always knew I'd be an uncle one day, because it seems to me, all uncles are named Leo... I can think of two different uncle Leo characters from two different sitcoms, and even the person I am named after was my father's uncle Leo...

Anyway, we went over the chord progression of Stand By Me again, this time with more complicated patterns. Faster arpeggios in different order of notes, adding non-chordal tones, double stops, etc. I am convinced that you really get to know your instrument better in a more complete way when you learn a song this way. We learn not only how the progression goes, but how to play them while understanding exactly what you are doing harmonically, and what that means to your fingering patterns. Also working on the progression with arpeggios, scales, and double stops also act as technical exercises. At faster tempo and adding more notes, you can really get a nice workout for both your left and right hand, especially when the notes within the arpeggios are randomized and non-chordal tones are added. So please keep working on it. I really believe in this.

Next week, I promise we will have some version of Leonard Bernstein's (possibly another uncle Leo??? I know he had two daughters himself, but I don't even know if he had any siblings...) "America", from the West Side Story. I intend on doing the arrangement myself, so I will bring in something to get us started on the piece, even if I don't finish it completely.

As a bit of an excuse, I am playing in an opera right now, and it's taking up a lot of my time with so many rehearsals...

In the meanwhile, please familiarize yourself with the song esp. if you don't know it at all/well.
Here's the clip from the film. Music starts around a little after the 2 minute mark, if you want to skip the dialogues that lead to the song.

Amazing music, and great lyrics.