Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Great job everyone!

Just wanted to shout out a quick congratulations to all of you who performed in the NJSYO winter concert last week!!
I had a blast listening to you all (even while I was conducting, or I should say, especially while I was conducting).

I usually have lots and lots of criticism after each concert, and I usually debate whether I should even mention them, but honestly for the first time, I really have zero criticism to make for CYO, at least none directed to you guys (I have lots reserved for myself.......). I thought CYO was magnificent.  I really do. You guys were awesome.
For chamber I don't have criticism per say, but I think that we are all aware of what went down, and it is important that we review those next time we get together. Still, the command you had on such complicated and challenging materials was quite awe inspiring.  And we all know that we can, and have played EVEN better than that is quite astonishing. We just have to learn how to make it happen at the right moment, and we will do exactly that next time. I'm already getting excited about our next concerts!!

Meanwhile, have an awesome break. Rest well, eat a lot, sleep a lot, have fun, enjoy your presents, and listen to good music!

I will see you all next year!

Oh, and thank you all so much for the loveliest gifts!!!! I REALLY appreciate them!

Friday, December 13, 2013

we are sooo ready

Date: 12/12/13
Orchestra CYO

So I love rehearsing. As a kid, I was one of those weird ones that actually enjoyed the actual rehearsal much more than the break time. And if I had one rehearsal a week, then whatever day that the rehearsal landed on, was always my favorite day of the week.

I like figuring out the little things we can do to change the effects, and tiny little things we can do to make us sound a tiny little bit better. In ensemble rehearsals, topics were almost always less technical, and almost always purely musical, and I love that. And when we do talk about technical things, it is ALWAYS in context with that specific music we are playing, unlike in private lessons, where some (not all) teachers often remove all technical exercises from any kind of context whatsoever, resulting in something like a race/competition of the physical aspect of the playing, not dissimilar to athletic competitions. While I adore watching Olympics and World Cups and such, in music performance, the physical aspect of it is less than a very small portion of the whole act, and to focus on something so small, without the discussion of "why", misses the entire point. Once we figure out the "why", that tend to also answer a lot of our questions as to "how", anyway.
In ensemble rehearsals, even people that tend to generally be much less artistically inclined, are forced to think of music more musically :)

But it looks like my obsession to rehearsing has not only run the rehearsal a lot longer than I originally intended to (it was gonna make this a short one...) but also cost you guys a break, and some time to hang out with your buddies on your last rehearsal before the winter break.... I apologize....

But on the bright side, the work that you unintentionally put in, is paying off. I think you guys sound REALLY REALLY good right now. I can't tell you how excited I am for this concert.

So I mentioned how I love the sound of the clarinets and the flutes playing in octaves. To my ear, that particular combination creates a lot of warmth, and drama, with hardly any intensity to the character. Rich. moving, but gentle.

Combining of different instruments in certain way to create an effect is called "orchestration". Other common orchestration techniques that I really love is:
 - flute and oboe in unison
 - french horn, viola, and cello in unison
 - cello and violin in octaves (very common, but definitely my favorite) also unison of the two instruments is very nice (quite intense)
 - harpsichord and strings
 - muted trumpet and english horn in octaves
 - staccato clarinet and pizzicato violin in unison

Do you have a favorite orchestration technique?

Looking forward to Sunday!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I have not forgotten!!!!

I'm usually not one to make excuses, but just so you know that I didn't stop caring about this blog or you, I wanted to let you know that I had been committed to doing things that took a lot of my mental energy elsewhere, and just wasn't feasible for me to do everything. This blog had always been on my mind though.

In fact, I was writing about what I had been doing, and how I was inspired by you guys to get through all that, when my phone rang to tell me that I had to be in a rehearsal VERY early the next day, when I just had a very exhausting and musically  unsatisfying loooong rehearsal just before coming to a CYO rehearsal...
I had to cease my blog writing immediately then, to switch my gear to make sure that the next rehearsal, which was the last rehearsal I had for this concert, was a successful one.

This was a full concert of cello and percussion duet. It was a part of Sounds Of Arts Festival, organized by a group called MuSE, run by friends of mine. There were seven pieces, all of which were brand new, including one of my own. I had to breathe life into 7 new born babies that no one had ever seen or heard of before. It is an enormous task. I mean writing a piece itself is generally enough work for any individual, I think...

The week before that, I had to write a jingle for Fuji film. And the day after the concert, I received an opportunity to have pianist, Blair McMillen read through a new piano piece, which took place on Monday. Then I am currently working on a violin solo piece that a friend of mine from Turkey asked me to write for her violin recital next week... I have to finish it by today or tomorrow...

So yes, you've been on my mind!
Looking forward to CYO rehearsal tonight!

Monday, November 18, 2013


I regret to say, I am unable to write entries for this past week's rehearsals, for I was a bit overwhelmed this weekend.
I also decided that if I wait a few days to write something, I find myself being way less sincere, so I won't.
I want to write because I have something to say, I don't want to make myself obligated to do it. That won't benefit anybody. So, so sorry for no entries this week.

It is too bad for me because I had lots and lots of good things to say for both groups this week...

Basically I am very happy and excited for both groups right now.
I was feeling very blissful on my way back home on both days!

Thanks for your work, but keep it up! Just a few more rehearsals left!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

a very special thing

Date: 11/09/13
Orchestra: chamber
Attendance: ok
Repertoire rehearsed: Ravel + Haydn
Little things I noticed: structure is a good thing
I'm actually not so convinced that you could tell the difference between you, a week ago, and you, this week. But to me, not even the same group at all. For once, you are now ABLE to listen to each other, whereas you were too busy "reading" your notes before. The practicing you did, not only made you more comfortable with playing your notes, but it opened up your ear. For the first time, you are reacting to what you hear, and making adjustments. Finally, we have some kind of "ensemble".

So, of course I am happy with how you sounded today. The only thing is.... I KNOW you could've sounded like that on our SECOND rehearsal. I can tell every single one of you practiced this week, but I am going to go ahead and also guess that it didn't take that much work to sound the way you do now. And that's the part that's eating me up from inside. If you had done the same amount of work only a few weeks earlier, and kept at it till now, imagine how you would've sounded by now.

I've known most of you for more than a couple of years now. I've seen your progress. I know what you are capable of. By now, when I decide on your repertoire, I imagine the quality of the final product that we'd be able to have by the concert for each piece. And to be honest, I was getting increasingly frustrated as the weeks went by, when you were moving (or sometimes not moving at all) at much much slower pace than you are capable of.

And as I said, you sounded great, but to be very honest, that was the quality I was looking for on our second rehearsal, which would've been possible if you had done then, what you did this past week.

Well, no one can change the past, so there really is no use talking about what we could've done. And I have no intension of dwelling on it at all. We can only move on forward from now. But please please keep your work up, especially now that you know how big of a difference it makes. I hope you realized how fun music is when it is played well, and we are still at the BEGINNING stage of learning the pieces. Imagine how fun this would be to play REALLY well as a group. And that's really all I wish from you - for you to experience this particular fun, that NO ONE ON EARTH can enjoy unless you practice your instrument. It is a unique experience, and a unique opportunity. let's make the best out of it. The best part about this fun is that it also teaches you things, which makes it even more fun.

And I have ZERO doubt in my mind that each of you are capable of achieving this and experience this very rare and valuable feeling.

I've gotten honor rolls, I've won athletic tournaments and awards, I've gotten into schools and festivals I wanted to attend to... but to me, no joy even came close to that of playing in an ensemble where a group of people, large or small, act as one. Using the same amounts of bow, breathing together, moving together, studying the music together, discussing what they might mean, agreeing on musical and poetic ideas and images, phrasing each and every phrase in unison, going up and down the dynamic range at the exact same pace, and painting ONE picture together with sounds at each moment of the music. Producing the same exact sounds, and being able to hear that from the inside. There really is nothing like it, and I really really want you to experience it.

Needless to say, to do this, each of us need to be quite comfortable with our instruments and the notes.

Keep up the work. We'll make it happen.

Friday, November 8, 2013

What if?

Date: 11/07/13
Orchestra: CYO
Repertoire rehearsed: Mozart and Faure
Little things I noticed:  Not many things make me happier than seeing people play their hearts out while practicing their parts. When I see that, I see promise. A promise that says, this kid will be just fine.

I just think that if you are able to focus on one thing, and understand it well, and do it well, then you've already proven to yourself and to the world that yes, you are able to achieve something. You have that stamped in your book. You are wearing that badge now. Which I think makes you feel more entitled to, and encourages you to try new things, or go even further in that field. The most beautiful part of this all, is that nobody can ever take that away from you. Once you have it, you have it for life!

If you are a hard worker, you are most likely seeing any difficulties and obstacles as "challenges" that test your wits, skills, and mental strength. You are seeing difficulties as motivations, not discouragements.

And sometimes, that's all it takes. Just shifting the way you look at things. Work becomes a game. Failure becomes a motivation to do better. The better you become, the better you become. The more you fail, the bigger you smile, and the harder you work.

As a kid, I used to hate beating a video game, because that meant there is nothing more to play afterward (actually I never did beat one anyway...  I was terrible at them...). Nevertheless, I still would wish that there were games that lasted forever.

As an adult, I now know that I actually live in one. And it's free :)

If "failure" is actually a "challenge", then would it be possible that the ONLY thing dark about this world is actually your own weakness? What if "anger" was just you being impatient? What if "hatred" was just you being scared and uncomfortable? What if you being "weak", is just that you haven't learned to shift the way you think?.....  Let's say that was the case, then, wouldn't that mean you or I CAN get rid of ALL of those dark feelings? And if each of us can, then everyone on earth can. Does that mean a perfect world is possible? Just by doing something very small inside our brains? Maybe.

Food for thought.

I just want to say, I'm very pleased with the direction, and the pace, and the quality in which we are progressing toward our goal.

Honestly, with a week off in between, I was a bit worried walking into the building. But when I heard you from the hall way, all my fear vanished. I knew it was going to be a good rehearsal.

I would still like you to practice exaggerating the differences in the characters between each section of the pieces. Take sad or happy notes and really think about what you can do with sound alone (don't change the rhythm or the tempo or the actual notes or the volume) to make them sound really sad/happy. And see if you can do all that from one character to another without speeding up or slowing down.

To change sounds without altering what is printed in the music, for strings for example, you can use different bow speeds, different bow pressures, change vertical and horizontal locations of your bow, change articulations of the bow, use different vibratos, and ways to shift positions, and you can even use different fingerings and decide which string to be on for different notes.... There are many many many many ways to produce sounds and each one different from the other, and different combinations of each aspect gives you limitless choice. You can spend your life time on studying sound production on your instrument, and never get bored with it.

For winds, I can't really help you with this, but I hope that inspires you to try different things on your instruments!

Let's at least start trying a few different things just to see what works and what doesn't. Most things won't (that's why teachers tell you to play in a very particular way, as if it is the only way) but don't get discouraged! There is NEVER just one way to play things. Discover new sounds and make them your own.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Date: 11/02/13
Orchestra: chamber
Attendance: ok, but LATE
Repertoire rehearsed: we did all three pieces today
Little things I noticed: I had THE worst commuting experience today, which made me a bit sensitive to lateness. Speaking of which, I will send out an email about a slight modification in the rehearsal starting time. I just want to ask MAC first, just to make sure.
If there were no more music in the world, and all I had was myself and my cello to experience it, then I think I'd want to be really really really really good at it.
When spectating, we live vicariously, and satisfies a bit of that craving for whatever that is you are experiencing, whether listening to music, or watching a sport or a movie. Sometimes, I think that having things already created and readily available makes me lazy. What if you only had but yourself....

So I enjoy watching post apocalyptic movies quite a bit. Not because I enjoy watching people suffer, but it's kind of fun to think about how our values might change, and what would people do when suddenly you are given no social structures to rely on. Ultimately I don't think anything will change - after all, we would still be humans, and by simply being human is how we'd get to that mess in the first place...
However, I think it's safe to say that there will definitely be, at least in the beginning, a certain degree of chaos. Some people just aren't equipped to deal with changes.

But in the midst of chaos, we would also find ourselves with a new complete sense of, pure freedom....

The freedom will come with a slightly bitter and pungent side dish though - the knowledge that everyone else is also blessed with the same freedom.

No more walls left in the world, just one big open space
What would YOU do?

I have never thought an act of teaching as a cookie mold where I squeeze and expand my students into a certain shape. But rather, an open field, or a sail boat in a wide open sea, and you are to be taken where the wind takes you, and I am to help you equip yourselves with seemingly specific, but actually universal beneficial skills that would be useful to you, WHEREVER you end up. That's why I believe in chamber music. I believe in it very strongly. It's all about how you cope with your surroundings for the benefit of all.

Does it take work? Absolutely. I mean it takes work just to stay afloat! And remember, I'm not the wind. I won't tell you where to go. And the wind might blow in the opposite direction to where you want to go.

If you find yourself in an open sea with a group of strangers in a boat with a hole at the bottom, what would you do? Each of you must take turns either covering the hole, or scooping out the water it lets in.
What if somebody wants to go North when you want to go East? What if there is a person who does not want to put in the work you need to keep you afloat?

If you want to end up in a tropical island, it's a long and hard journey, but I will be more than happy to show you the way, so long as I see that sparkle in your eyes. If you want to stay exactly where you are, I'll be happy to help you with that too, but you don't really need me, because all you must remember is that it takes work just to stay afloat. And if you don't work, well....

I see my job NOT as "you pay, I teach" kind of situation, but as "you have a goal, I help" kind, and then and only then, your goal becomes my goal.  Not because I'm lazy, but because I'm not powerful enough to move something that's not already moving.  I mean if I had that power, then the whole world would be filled with Billie Holiday's and Rostropovich's.

If I were given a permission from a parent to chain a student up until he/she will practice for eight hours, and even if that were socially acceptable, I wouldn't do it, for all work must come from you, and you sincerely. Otherwise you will be very lost at your own destination when you get there, because my work would be taken out of context. And the context is you.

We have six more rehearsals left at most. Can we get ourselves into a bit of SURVIVAL MODE from now on???

P.S. I also said to you today, "playing is 90% listening and 10% moving your fingers". I want you to remember that I said that because I mean it 100%

Sunday, October 27, 2013

halloween cheers...

Date: 10/24/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: good
Repertoire Rehearsed: Faure and Brahms
Little things I noticed: so quiet without SYO...
Wow, it seems like the sectionals last week went really well! You guys sound like a different orchestra now. And thanks to Mr. Lin and Mr. Luckenbil, who led the sectionals!

The Faure sounds much smoother, as if it's starting to get easier now. I bet you it is for most of you. You all seem to understand the music well now too, which is excellent. I'm starting to get some really nice textures.

There may have been a few note issues with the score and some of the parts, but I'll have everything sorted out by next week.

Please remember that slow 4/4 doesn't mean you don't need to think about rhythm. Rhythm must be accurate slow OR fast, which makes slow music much more rhythmically difficult (because of larger margin of error), which means that you actually must concentrate EXTRA HARD in slow music. :)

I was quite impressed with how well you stayed together through all the different tempi (plural of "tempo", I think. Am I right?) of the different sections of the Brahms! And those little crescendos were great! I think this one will be quite good. I'm excited.

To first violins - look at those 16th notes again. Those need to sound happy, but if you are struggling with them, they will not come out happy. They might come out like something fitting for the holiday...

Have a wonderful Halloween everyone! Go easy on the candies.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

into the realm of what's not written

Date: 10/12/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: good
Repertoire Rehearsed: same ol' two pieces
Little things I noticed: I guess from now on, walking into a room where a dance class was held a moment ago, means walk into a ac blasting frozen death trap. I hope this trend doesn't keep up during winter...
I think we had a pretty productive rehearsal today. It felt pretty focused to me. In terms of rehearsal technique, I used the same method I used for CYO a couple days before, which was to pick a small section and to concentrate on it. It is what I call a "quality over quantity" method :)

Once you learn how to work a small section in great details, you can, and (sometimes even subconsciously) will, apply the same method for all of the other sections, and even to the whole of the piece.

What's important for me is that I don't talk about how to enable you to play the notes, but that I talk about in what way, should the notes be played, how to play the notes in those specific ways. I want you  to think bigger. I want you to think of the world beyond notes. The world of music. Notes, intonation, basic rhythm and fundamental ensemble skills are definitely among things that we should talk about, but I want these topics to be talked about as review basis. Let's check each other out to see if we are all there at those basic level. But let's try not to dwell on it. I'm not saying we should ignore, but I'm saying let's practice well enough to graduate from those trivial problems as quickly as possible, so we can do things that are much more interesting, more meaningful, and a thousand times more fun. Let's think of your act as an effect. Every little thing you do on stage will change the effect you have on your audience. In rehearsals, we need to be talking about what exactly we are going to show the people and the world. We need to be discussing what kind of musical effect we want to have on the audience, and how to go about doing that.

We are way too intelligent, creative, bold, talented, and imaginative to be stuck on the superficialities of what's "written" on the pages. We need to think what is "implied".

Let's talk more about this next time.

bits and pieces

Date: 10/10/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: good
Repertoire Rehearsed: the sad piece and the schizo one
Little things I noticed: the longer I wait to write an entry since the event, the harder it is to write in this section. I will try to post earlier from now on...
So in this rehearsal, we took very small sections of the pieces and concentrated on clarifying confusing passages, and worked on small details that make a big difference in the end.

We started with the end of Faure. This piece is interesting in a sense that it stays quite simple for pretty much the whole duration of the piece, but only at the very end, we see modifications, and some developments to the theme, and this can be a bit shocking and weird for performers that are not yet familiar with the piece.

But there is nothing too complicated here. I think it's just a matter of being familiar with it.

In complete contrast to the Faure, the Brahms is quite a bit schizophrenic. It changes it's character 180 degrees in a matter of a few measures. From serious to comical, from happy to sad. And we have to act all of them up. The notes are easy, but there definitely is a LOT of difficulty in this music, especially because we have to make each section of the music different, but complimentary to each other, and each of them need to come alive, and be clear, and do all that with the 30 of us as a single unit.

But I have a good feeling that we will be successful :)

Reminder: This week (10/17) is a sectional rehearsal. You will be slightly more exposed so you might want to look over your parts extra hard this week. If there is any technical confusions, difficulty, awkwardness, questions, etc., THIS is the time to ask your coaches, so be sure to ask them lots of questions.

I'll see you next week!

Monday, October 7, 2013

CYO rehearsal schedule for October

Please ignore what I said about the next rehearsal in my last entry.

Here's the correct schedule for this month

Oct. 10th - full orch. rehearsal (regular rehearsal)
Oct. 17th - sectionals (I will not be there)
Oct. 24th - regular rehearsal
Oct. 31st - regular rehearsal (for now)

I will let you know if there will be further changes


swing, miss and think

Date: 10/05/13
Orchestra: chamber
Attendance: very good
Repertoire rehearsed: same two piecesno new piece yet, but perhaps next week!
Little things I noticed: So on the weekend, I guess we have a different custodian/engineer/stage hand (not sure what his title is....) at the MAC. I already forgot his name (I'll ask him again next time), but I LOVE how he remembers howI set up the chairs, and that formation is waiting for me when I get there! Thank you, Mr. Custodian/engineer/stage hand!

Although it's getting closer, we are still not very comfortable with the Bulgarian piece, yet. I'm sure we will get there soon, but it seems to me that we are way too afraid of making mistakes. I dare say this, but I think the way most adults teach kids about how bad making mistakes is, is wrong. Mistakes are exactly what teaches you NOT to do. So long as you know that they are mistakes, you will try to avoid them next time. A teacher is there to point out those mistakes in case you don't notice. But if you hide by playing quietly, or not playing, then you've just shut your own door to the future. There is nothing either one (teacher or student) can do to improve, if you won't let yourself be heard, by yourself, or by anyone else. By playing, you are constantly experimenting. Even if you play well, by playing, you are asking yourself, "can I do this even better?". So you make yourself try things in different ways, and approaches, and methods. Many of the things you try may not work, but you will learn that sound, and how to produce them, so maybe you can use that sound for something else in the future. That's how you learn things and cultivate YOUR OWN sounds and "voice". And that's what all great artists have - their own "voice" - their own unique way of looking at the world, and not being ashamed of sharing it with the rest of the world - being confident that what you've cultivated over the years brings some kind of benefit (whether it is inspiration for your fellow artists and your students, or simple joy for the audience).

Even if you are still at the point where you are struggling with the notes and rhythm. The more you try, the quicker you'll get it. That's simple enough, right? Isn't that why we are supposed to practice? Practicing is simply, doing, or try doing. It's all the same. Rehearsals are also practices. If there is ever a place to make mistakes, it is during those practices. That is what they are there for.

At the same time, what you need to consider is that, a rehearsal is where you try things out as a group, NOT individually. Meaning if you are hiding, then you are not participating, and the whole practice is wasted, because we won't have all the sounds we need. So it is essential, that you have your notes down somewhat comfortably so people in the group can hear how the piece goes and where you are as a group, so you can figure out how much work you have to do, as a group AND individually. But if there are a few of you too scared to play, we can't even make the first step towards any direction. But even if you make lots of mistakes during rehearsals, it is better to make them LOUD than soft. If there is a loud mistake, everyone will know, and then we can stop and fix it, which is a good thing. If we can't hear the mistakes, we may not notice, and those mistakes will go unfixed, and we cease to improve. THE BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU CAN MAKE IS TO HIDE BY NOT PLAYING OUT!

Please understand that, when you sign yourselves up to join a group, you have given yourself a rather big responsibility. The more often you swing your bat, the more you will miss, yes. But the more you miss, the more and harder you think about what you can do to change so you can hit the ball next time. The more audible you are the quicker we (or yourself) can fix things, and obviously, the quicker we improve, the further we can go, and that's always a good thing. So swing your bat often and hard, at home AND during rehearsals.

everyone looked lovely on this picture day

Date: 10/03/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: very good
Repertoire rehearsed: New piece and a bit of Mozart
Little things I noticed: You all looked great today. There is something about dressing up from time to time. I think it helps sharpen your minds sometimes too. Speaking of dressing up, I'm looking forward to our holloween day rehearsal :)

So the new piece by Dvorak has a lot of tempo changes as you all noticed. But other than that, the piece is pretty straight forward. The notes are easy, the rhythm is easy, and it is in an easy key for everyone (for once). So with this piece, I am aiming to hone our ensemble skills - being aware of, and paying attention to what's going on in the music and your surroundings, paying attention to me (the conductor), being flexible with time, and listening carefully to your colleagues, so that your sounds are united, not only in a rhythmical sense, but also in terms of timber, character, and quality.
The easier the piece gets, the more I am going to demand from you, so brace yourselves :)

I thought though, in this rehearsal, you guys sounded so much more mature and even confident, than you did in the last two rehearsals, which is great! There were a lot more noticeable differences in dynamics, and characters, and I definitely heard some changes in character of the sounds you are making, which is wonderful. Keep that up! Once everyone in the orchestra is able to control their sounds at will, we will sound AMAZING.

Just remember, playing the correct notes is not your goal here. Music making is much more than that. All of your notes are representations of an image or an idea, or a part of an image or an idea. To make music as an ensemble, we need to collectively agree on the image that we will "paint", and then agree on HOW we will "paint" those ideas and images. A musician is a painter, a poet, a dancer, sculptor and an actor. Our job is to tell stories just like all other artists, but our tool of choice is SOUND - one of the least developed of all five senses that humans have. That's why music is difficult. We need to be EXTRA sensitive to be able to hear such subtle differences and understand them, and then reproduce them in exactly the way we want to, so that we can hope that the audience hears our little stories that we are making.

NEXT REHEARSAL is a sectional rehearsal. Mr. Lin will coach the strings and Mr. Luckinbil will take the winds/brass downstairs (but please meet at the gallery first!). I will miss you guys, but I will be looking forward to hearing your vastly improved sounds in the following rehearsal. See you then!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

beautiful day took the flats away

(sorry, I had an unexpected last-minute birthday party I had to attend to... can't seem to keep my words...)

Date: 09/28/13
Orchestra: chamber
Attendance: very good
Repertoire rehearsed: same two pieces
Little things I noticed: It was so gorgeous out today, so I took my cello out to a photo shoot before the rehearsal :)
Ok, so I really want you to blossom with your FULL potential. And I feel like those stupid flats are getting in the way. So I decided to change the key of the Bulgarian piece by lowering it by one half step. Now you have ONE sharp to deal with instead of four flats. This should make your lives a bit easier. Although now the clarinet part has three sharps, as opposed to two flats it had before (not sure which is better or worse...). But now that your lives are easier (at least for the most of you), you know what that means, right? NO MORE EXCUSES! :)

The music is easy, really... I expect you to be fairly proficient with this by the next rehearsal.

With the Haydn, please continue imitating the recording I sent you. REALLY listen carefully to their sounds. What kind of sounds are they producing?  Soft, loud, articulated smooth, thick, thin, heavy, light, serious, comical, sad, happy??? Try to do the same.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Assignment! (or I call it, "the preferred way to practice and prepare for the next rehearsal")

Date: 09/26/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: very good
Repertoire rehearsed: the same two pieces as last week
Little things I noticed: I'm NOT in love with the current seating situation of the wind section. They seem too far and less connected to me and to the strings. I hope to have a solution by next week.

First of all, thank you Mehr, Sydney, Grace, and Sana (ex CYO'ers) for joining us for the Mozart. It was fun. Hope we can do this from time to time.

Ok, so both pieces are sounding better very quickly. I think we can make these pieces sound pretty good by the time of the concert.
For this week, I just have an assignment for you. I hope you can find the time to do this!

: I want you guys to watch the video below and do the following:
1. Pay attention to how they are using their bows - how much of the bow are they using, where on the bow, how fast? how much pressure onto the bow do you think they are applying? Where on the string are they playing - is it closer to the bridge, closer to the finger board,  or exactly in the middle?

2. Imitate them EXACTLY

Winds : Watch the same video. Do the following:
1. Pay attention to the "kind of" sounds they are producing. And by "kind of" sounds, I mean is it a warm and juicy kind? Is it thick and heavy? Sad and weepy? Thin and fluffy, wet and sticky, light and bouncy, rough and angry, bright and shiny, kind and gentle? How often do they change their sounds, and when?
2. Imitate them for all the different kinds of sound that they make. If you like, you may also try doing something completely different to see if any other way can work or not.

Happy practicing!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Found it on YouTube! (Bulgarian song- the original)

Here's the original of the Bulgarian song.
It's the very same version I transcribed for us!
Gotta love YouTube...

strange beauty

Date: 09/21/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: good!
Repertoire rehearsed: One weird song, and one not so weird.
Little things I noticed: I'm usually not the one who complains about things a lot, but honestly, I've never ever been satisfied with the lighting situation at the MAC. And the last two weeks in chamber rehearsals particularly bothered me. Hope we can fix this issue rather soon...

I may be the only one (I'm hoping that you will all join me later), but I'm really really excited about what we are doing with the Bulgarian Folk Song, for many reasons.
First of all, this is how we will sit for this piece.
      Vc   Vc
    Vla      Vla
  Vln2        Vln2
Vln1            Vln1

(with a clarinet between 2nds and 1sts, and in a more "V" like shape than a traditional semi-circle)

With this setup, I mean to provide not only music, but also a sonic experience to the audience. I would like to utilize the depth, and the locations of the instrument, to play with not only with the sound itself, but also with "where" the sound is coming from. I mean to play with the depth and the sides (right or left of the bass) of sounds' origin, and also visual effects (with bowings etc...), with this setup!

It's gonna be so much fun!

So this Bulgarian song is one of the songs I really like from the two Cd's I have of Bulgarian folk songs. You might ask "why Bulgarian folk songs???". The answer is simple. It is unique, and beautiful.

Bulgarian folk music is usually based on compound meter rhythm - a combination of 2's and 3's of rhythmic pattern - for example, the one we are doing is in 7/8, meaning each measure (in this case) is divided into two groups of two eighth notes (two quarter notes), and a group of three eighth notes (a dotted quarter note). So you'd count the 7 eighth notes of the measure with accents on the first, third, and fifth eighth notes. Like this, "ONE-two-ONE-two-ONE-two-three". It kind of sounds like a lopsided and awkward 3/4 (with an extra eighth note on the third beat). I think of a three-legged animal with the last leg longer than the other two, sometimes... Imagine it's walk.

Bulgarian folk music is often modal too (however, not in this particular piece, which is in F minor), and like in many modal pieces, the harmony is based on the interval of fourths rather than harmony based on the intervals of thirds, which is the kind of harmony we hear in most any kind of music most people listen to. This gives it a definitely more foreign and ethereal, and more dissonant, but yet somehow more open quality to the overall sound. And speaking of dissonances, they never seem to shy away from dissonances - in fact they seem to rather enjoy them. You can hear prolonged passages of parallel seconds (one of the most "dissonant" of the intervals) in many of it's music, which maybe it's primary characteristic sound of the Bulgarian music.

The music is often playful, so it is a perfect platform for us to really "play" with the sounds that we make!

Because it is unlike most music we ever heard or played before, it might take a bit of time getting used to, but once we have it in our ears, it should be quite manageable, and even easy.

I hope you all get excited about it as much as I am :)

Best assignment you can ever have (Faure's Pavane video)

Here's the video of the piece we are working on (for CYO).
Listen to it many many times (between now and the concert), and get really familiar with how the music sounds as a whole. That way you know what you are shooting for.

It's a beautiful piece. Enjoy!!

Slow pieces are sometimes more difficult to play

Date: 09/19/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: very good
Repertoire Rehearsed: Faure and Mozart
Little things I noticed: That painting (photo?) of a girl in a blue costume kept creeping me out...
Ahhhh, it is sooo nice to have a full section of woodwinds. I was dreaming of this last year. I mean we still don't have bassoons, but what middle school orchestra does?
Now we just need more BRASS!

But since we don't have a full brass section right now, we do get to play lighter and more intimate sounding repertoire, like Mozart and Faure, which I think is a great opportunity for us. We should be able to hear the more delicate and intricate parts of the orchestra, and really refine our ensemble skills.

Speaking of which, we just had our first "real" rehearsal so this is only to be expected (but neverthless never too early for me to mention), we will need to focus on "listening" a lot more. An ensemble will cease to be,  and would be meaningless, if we don't pay any heed to what your fellow ensemble mates are playing, and see how your part fit in with everybody else's. It would be pointless to play in an orchestra, if it is just to stare only at your music and close your ears. You can do that in your own practice room any day. Let's all make a point of having everyone gather together in one room to create one piece of music! Look around, open your ears.

Faure may be a slow piece, but delicate, fragile, and introverted. Which translate to DIFFICULT (especially for those who are playing in such difficult keys as G# and D# minor... sorry clarinets and saxophones....).

This piece requires tender sounds, which in itself is difficult to produce. Think of warmth, and fluffyness. Think of cotton, and feathers. Never a harshness, or coarseness. Listen to your own sound "very carefully" while practicing by yourself. Also look up what "pavane" means.

Technically, practice your minor scales! Minor scales are too often neglected. Make sure you can "sing" minor scales with your voice with accurate pitches. If you can't do that, then you can't play it. More on that on another entry :)

All and all, really great first reading of the piece! 

P.S. Everybody should bring your stands and pencils to every rehearsal!!! Please don't forget! :)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Back from Summer and Back to Blogging!!!

So I couldn't keep up with the blogging during the summer as I hoped, but I am definitely back now.

This summer, I was fortunate enough to teach at two fabulous music festivals. The first one was called the 4Strings Music Festival, and there I got to give daily lectures on various topics on music, coach chamber music groups, perform some chamber music with other faculties members, and also conduct the large ensemble for two full weeks. It took place in this beautiful resort up in a beautiful mountain in Catskills, so on my spare time, I would wonder off into the woods to reconnect and breathe, which was very needed for I had quite a busy schedule there. Students' age ranged from 10 to 16, a lot of which were very serious musicians (some of them will be very very successful in the future, no doubt).  I couldn't be happier to coach and teach such serious and talented musicians and have them tell me how inspired they were from my teachings. In a way, I was inspired by them too.

The day after I got back from 4Strings, I started coaching at World Peace Orchestra - an international youth orchestra with symphonic and ethnic instruments, with students from over 50 different countries. My duty there was quite undefined... In the planning stage (before the summer) I acted as their musical counsellor - helping them decide on the classical portion of the program, getting additional coaches, and players, etc. Once the rehearsals began, I conducted string sectionals, and coached the lower strings. I also assisted the main conductor in his rehearsals. They also made me do a few different things that i wasn't aware that I had to.... The age range for the WPO participants was 15 to 23, so naturally, we had diversity not only in the cultures, but also in their experience levels. We had performers that were somewhat new to their instruments to people who already play in reputable orchestras professionally. If you've ever taught before, you know that coaching a group of people with wide range of experience level is the hardest to do, and this group had a range as wide as the music world allows.  On top of which, the organization itself proved to be a bit dubious, so certain things became a lot more difficult than they needed to be. Although the organization have many many many points that needed improvements, for the whole month I was with them, I kept being jealous of the participants. I mean, how often do you get to meet, live with and perform with such diverse group of people (in one of the most important venues in the whole world too)? And all while you are still soooo young!! I believe this opened up a lot of doors for many of the participants, and I would say, to a certain degree, mine as well.

In both festivals, I had the chance to meet so many wonderful people (students young and closer to my age, and staff and faculty members), some of them will no doubt be life long relationships.

The day after I saw some people off at the airport was the first day of NJSYO!!  I felt like I came back home. I was very excited to see old faces and to meet new people that are starting this year.
Many of the CYO kids from last year moved up to SYO (congrats!), but it seems like we've gained as many new students as I lost them to SYO. And this year, we have WOODWINDS!!!! I am so going to take an advantage of it! I also like how I still get to see the ex-CYO'ers every week, because we rehearse right next to each other. I feel like I keep gaining students, and never lose them :) Come say hi during the breaks, ok?

We also had our first chamber rehearsal on Saturday. This is where I truly feel at home. It was so good to see all the familiar faces in chamber, and so excited to have another year of fun with you guys.  I'm also very happy to have a couple of new members! 

For both groups, I used the first rehearsal to gage where we are so I can plan for the rest of the year. I think I now have a pretty good idea as to which direction we can head towards for both groups.

I feel very fortunate to get to spend another year with you guys. Let's make this another great year!!

Sunday, May 19, 2013


What an year! 
I just wanted to congratulate every single one of you (both in CYO and Chamber) for such an amazing performance last week, and also for being such great musicians/students throughout this year! 
I'd like to thank the parents for supporting me in so many ways as well!

Thank you so much for such a wonderful year. 

I hope you all will have a creative, inspiring, and most importantly, FUN summer!
(If I don't see you before), I'll see you in September!

P.S. I plan on keeping this blog up during the summer, so please keep checking! Thanks again!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

summer music opportunities

I'm sure you all received the email about this, but just to reiterate, I wanted post the information here on this blog too.

4strings Music Festival (for strings and piano students)
from Aug. 3rd thru Aug. 17th, 2013

The faculty includes professors of the Juilliard School and the like! I personally know some of them. They are EXCELLENT musicians (some of the best that I know) and really wonderful people. And I MAY be teaching there too!

It is open to piano and string students from age 9 - college. They are especially looking for cello and viola students. 

You'll get to work closely with excellent musicians and teachers in a beautiful location. I think this will be a wonderful opportunity for many of you!

4strings Music Festival

Audition deadline is May 18th, so apply soon!

Please include my name under "your teachers" in your application, so they can keep track of who they were referred by. Thanks!

for winds and brass and percussionists (as well as strings), there is going to be a wonderful international summer orchestra opportunity with a performance at Avery Fisher Hall coming up in the end of August. Once I get more information, I will send you an email and also post it here. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

everyone is on the same boat

Date: 04/27/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: good
Repertoire rehearsed: everything!
Little things I noticed: what I beautiful day it was. If only our instruments weren't so sensitive to sunlight, I would've loved to rehearsed outside. Maybe next time we can find a shade to rehearse under...

Coming along, coming along. But I would like to see more communication among yourselves while playing. Obviously not verbal communication, but non-verbal communications - through your sounds, moving of your instruments and bow, eye contacts, bobbing of heads, and even a simple smile. Try not to rely on me but yourselves. Remember, I won't be there (on stage) to scream at you during the concert :)

Please know the music enough to know if you've fallen off from the horse. It pains me to see you go on while some of you are one or two measures off. And even if you were playing right, I would've appreciated if someone helped them get back on, or stop yourselves to address the issue. I need more incentives from all of you. I need YOU to want to have a tighter group. YOU are the conductors in this particular group. I'm sure you are aware of that much, but it also means that you must have the knowledge of a conductor.

But honestly, it's not that difficult. You just have to know what the piece is supposed to sound like, and the rest is comparing yourselves to what you know, and think about how you can make yourselves sound like what you have in mind. Simple as that :)

The greatest part is, every single one of you have the same exact mission, so the more you help each other, the easier it gets!

And I know that all of you know the music well. So just don't be shy about being a good musician!

two more left!

Argh! I fell behind again..

Date: 04/25/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: good
Coaches Present: Mr. Lin
Repertoire Rehearsed: Swan Lake
Little things I noticed:

I took these pictures 10 minutes before the rehearsal, just outside the building.
They are neither swans, nor is it a lake, but close enough...

While the pictures I took maybe of "Geese Pond", you are truly playing the "Swan Lake"! I'm very happy with how much we got done in the Tchaikovsky in just two rehearsals! Of course there are things we can improve still, but I have to say, sounding the way we do with just four hours of rehearsal is quite impressive. Good job, guys!

Next rehearsal (tomorrow...), we will go through all the pieces. So bring your music for Mozart, J. Williams, and Sibelius, in addition to the Tchaikovsky!
By the way, bringing Sibelius back up is a great idea. Thanks Anna for your suggestion!

As I said in this rehearsal, tomorrow's rehearsal be our VERY last FULL rehearsal of the year (for the one after that will be a half rehearsal, and half party)! So lets keep our minds sharp, and really concentrate. I'll see you guys tomorrow.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

why we sing at all

Date: 04/20/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: good
Repertoire rehearsed: the two new pieces
Little things I noticed: I didn't know you could cleverly turn a hand print into a fish, or was it a bird?

I guess the theme for today's rehearsal was, you must FEEL it! And by "feel" I mean it in the most simplistic way. If you actually do what you are supposed to do with your body, your body WILL feel it, and only then, you'd understand what it is like to do it right. I'd even say, if you've never felt it, you've never done it right, and once you've felt it, you will never do it wrong again.

I often tell you to play random notes if you have to, because I want you to first feel the rhythm of it, and let you find out what it PHYSICALLY feels like to play the correct rhythm. Once that is understood, all you do is apply the right notes in that rhythm, which is the easiest part of it all. And you should always start with rhythm, because it is fondamental - to playing a musical instrument, to having a tight ensemble, to the progression of harmony, to the character of the music, to the composition of the music, and therefore, to the understanding of the music.

So if you are unable to play, then SING! and sing LOUD (unless of course it is marked p or pp...)! Feel it with your whole body. Teach your body how it feels to EXPRESS using those notes and rhythm. Once you feel it, you probably won't ever forget it!

Again, think of language. Once you've learned how to pronounce a word correctly, you will NEVER forget it, do you? And it only takes just one time of actually doing it right.

Feel the beat, and when you can, really feel the harmony. That's why we all get together in one room to practice. If feeling the harmony wasn't necessary, we can all just practice our parts at home and just get together only when we perform. But it isn't just necessary, it is essential and fondamental.

Again, music works in very different ways than the rest of your academic subjects in school. So do treat it differently.

The swan business

Date: 04/18/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: good, but LATE!
Coaches present: Jennifer and Mr. Lin (thanks!)
Repertoire rehearsed: SWAN LAKE
Little things I noticed:
A very eventful rehearsal today, from a couple of people dropping their instruments (or a part of one) on to the floor, me knocking over my music stand while conducting (this was the ONLY time I've ever appreciated that we had an empty chair...), to paintings mysteriously falling off the wall throughout the rehearsal... I guess the gravity was extra strong today, somehow....

Romantic music! Yay! And by "Romantic", I mean the style of the music that was written in late 19th century. Although my taste and appreciation for music has expanded and broadened significantly since then, THIS is exactly the kind of music that got me into music in the first place, when I was only four years old (my parents used to put on classical music at home all the time). It might even have been this very piece! It feels home to me. I'm listening to another Tchaikovsky piece as I write this blog :)

Congratulations on a very good reading of this piece! Especially for you winds and brass players who are in a very nasty key (due to your transpositions)! I think one of you is even in G# minor... That is as nasty as it can get! But you guys sounded like none of that bothered you! Good for you!

We started off this rehearsal with sectionals. Jennifer took the winds/brass downstairs, and the strings remained in the gallery.

I'll just make a couple of notes here.

So the reason for the bowing from mm. 27 is that, when you have an even number of beats in each bow, you get to maintain a single bow speed. This minimizes unnecessary bumps caused by the changes in bow speeds that would be necessary if you were to simply follow the phrase marks. Without unnecessary  bumps and steady bow speed, it is easier to create a very steady crescendo as you climb up the scale. But make sure you do the phrasing, otherwise I'll hear too much of your bow changes.

Just make sure your breathing doesn't get in the way of the music. Please do not sacrifice any notes or phrases for the sake of breathing. There's always a way around it  (i.e very quick breath at the end of a phrase etc. etc.) I think winds/brass players playing music is THE ONLY time you can say breathing is of secondary importance. Think of that! I can't think of any other activities that makes you say "this (whatever it is you are doing) is more important than you breathing air!"

In general:
Romantic music, by it's characteristics, tend to have really long phrases, that just doesn't let you go. So looking at a bigger picture of things while playing, becomes more important. Try to think of the whole phrase when playing, not just the few notes in the measure.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

in case you were wondering

In case you were wondering where the title of my last entry came from...


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Even Einstein couldn't "count"... but you can!

Date: 04/13/13
Orchestra: Chamber

A real quick rehearsal note

We sight read the last movement of Holst's St. Paul Suite today.

The ONLY thing difficult about this piece is the juxtaposition of 6/8 meter going directly into 3/4 and getting back to 6/8.

Just as a reminder as to how this works (I'm sure you all understand it, but just in case)

The only thing we need to know is that there are six eighth notes in one 6/8 measure (obviously). But that means it can be divided into either two groups of three eighth notes (2/4 feel with triplet eighth notes), which is usually how it is felt, or three groups of two eighth notes, which is the same thing as a 3/4 measure!!!

So, in counting,
6/8 in two: ONE-two-three, TWO-two-three
6/8 in three: ONE-two, TWO-two, THREE-two

In visualization:
I i i I i i
I i I i I i

That's it!

Simple idea, but does require some practice to get used to, so please practice this. You can just count them out loud with accents, or tap the rhythm (all eighth notes with appropriate accents).


I expect all of you to be masters of metric transposition by next week! :)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"a song my mother taught me" - how we learn music

Date: 03/30/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: Again, spring break...

We played through The Last Spring by Grieg - it is a piece we have worked on in the past, and is one of the pieces that is on the CD I handed out to the kids before last summer (in other words, it should be quite familiar to them by now). But I didn't get any music out of them.

I suspect that many kids these days (and I dare say this), are not getting music lessons when they go into their private lessons. They maybe taught how to produce sounds out of their instruments, but not music.

So naturally, I ended up yapping about how music should be taught (sorry guys). I said something along the line of following:
If music is an aural experience, (which it is) and if classical music is an art that tries to convey certain ideas, imagery, emotion, and stories (which it is), then music is no different from a spoken language. When we speak, or listen to someone speak, we are doing exactly what we try to do in classical music, only in music, the words are replaced by notes, sentences by phrases, a chapter or a part of story by a movement within a piece, and the entire story by the entire piece.

But when we are taught how to speak, our mothers never taught us where exactly our tongues should go at which angle, or how narrow or wide you open your mouth, or how much air is needed for each word. No. All we did was LISTEN. Our mothers would repeat and repeat the word, and we simply try and try until we nail the pronunciation. And it takes over a year for us to learn one word. But when we nail that one word, we don't just understand how to say that one word, but we also nail the process of how to learn things by ear. So it becomes easier and easier to learn more and more words, until we can start speaking in full sentences by the age of four. Let me reiterate, speaking in full sentences BY THE AGE OF FOUR. Human beings may not be the smartest animals on earth, but we are quick at adapting. Very quick.

Over years of practicing, reading notes, learning, studying, performing, and most importantly, listening, professional musicians are expected to have acquired the skill of not just playing the right notes at the right time, but actually making music when sight reading a piece of music we've never heard or seen before (we start recognizing patterns that are common). But until one actually gains such skill, it is nearly impossible to be musical, if one doesn't know how the piece goes! And by that, I mean NOT just how the notes sound like, but what the notes MEAN. And you learn that by listening to professionals, or great players.

When learning a language, your mother is the professional. And guess what, you get to "jam" with a professional from DAY ONE, and the learning continues every single day until the day you die (we continue to learn, if we are willing). And these lessons are not only one-on-one lessons. Sometimes an individual is taught by multiple professionals! And if music is like a language at all (which it is), then I believe that it should be taught the same way. In fact, most music that never became a part of academia (tribal music, rock, etc.) is still taught that way, and it is no surprise that in those genres, many are accomplished performers by a very young age. I think sometimes we classical musicians are too much of elitists, too proud, and too uptight.

I have some jazz musician friends. Some of them are pretty well-known, even famous. Sometimes they let me play with them at their gigs, and I know nothing about jazz. An amateur (in jazz anyway) performing with pros. A thought completely unthinkable from a classical mentality. But according to them, if I don't play with them, where else am I gonna learn??? A good friend of mine (a fairly well-known trumpeter in his field) told me that, this (his gig) IS where you learn how to play. So he started letting me play a song every week with him. No rehearsals, no planning. I just show up and play a tune (any tune of my choice) with them. I'm glad I already have experience in performing in other genres, because my classical self would've told myself "I should not get up on stage, especially with them at their gig. I'm not good enough!" and would have robbed myself of the best learning opportunities I could possibly get.

You can't learn music the way you learn history and math. It is not a skill or knowledge. It is a language.

P.S. "A Song My Mother Taught Me" is an actual title of a piece by Antonin Dvorak. I thought I'd borrow it because it was a fitting title for this entry :)

cycle of inspiration

Date: 3/28
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: Let's just say, it was during the middle of spring break...

notes: I just wanted to quickly jot down what we did during our mid-break rehearsals first CYO and (on another entry) Chamber, for the sake of record keeping and also so that everyone will be on the same page when we get back from the break.

In rehearsal, we ran through every piece, and Mr. Roy Gussman joined us on the Clarinet! It was so nice of him to play with us! Then we watched some videos together. We started with watching the Stravinsky's "Firebird" clip from Disney's Fantasia 2000. I thought of the piece because Stravinsky was one of the guys that influenced John Williams's music the most.
(here's the clip if you want to see it (again):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU06m802pDc)

Then I started thinking about how Stravinsky's music also inspired the animator to create this work. Then I started thinking how it was the opposite procedure of what film composers do, which John Williams is... (in film music, music is inspired by the image). What a wonderful creative circle! One good piece of art can birth many many more! What an inspiring, and reaffirming thought!

Also, it's interesting to think about what people are inspired by. A piece of painting can be inspired by music. A symphony by a poem. A writing about a smell. What does a flower sound like? How would you paint an empty space?

Then we watched this talk by Benjamin Zander at the end. This is a talk about how classical music can have such transformational power. It's an excellent talk by an excellent musician, with a beautiful soul.

Friday, March 29, 2013

On "performance"

Wow, I really fell behind on this. Blog keeping is tougher than it seems...

I just want to say a few words about performance - what kind of thoughts would make you nervous, and what it really is that we do when we perform - in reflection of chamber's last performance, and in preparation for CYO's upcoming performance.

Let me start off with quickly saying that I thought the chamber performance went very well (!) considering we had to make some last minute adjustments due to our certain circumstances. And I'm very happy with it! Great job, everyone! Let's talk in details about it tomorrow.

In general, as a teacher/coach, I still struggle to make students feel relaxed on stage... I still have much to learn... One thing I'd like to say is that, it is hard to enjoy anything when you are nervous. But the thing is, the audience will have a great time, if YOU are having a great time on stage. The irony is, if you are only thinking about how "you" want to sound good, and/or worry about how/what the audience might think of you, you WILL get nervous. And by that logic, the audience might appreciate how cute you look, being nervous on stage, but we may come out a bit short in making them "truly" impressed.

When you are thinking of how others might feel about you, you are being passive. When you are passive, you are being the recipient of whatever feelings and thoughts your audience may have of you, and you are in mercy of your audience members, no matter how hard you try.

As a performer, you cannot ever forget that people are letting us play, and they are willing to listen to us. So we must always be thankful to the people behind the event and every member of the audience. BUT at the same time, you are also "providing" them a service, an entertainment, maybe even an enlightenment. You are not the receiver, but the provider. They should be the ones receiving whatever it is you are expressing VIA your music.  I started to think that it's slightly selfish to only think of how "I sound" on stage. So I shifted my thoughts, first towards "what can I do for them", then eventually to "let's just enjoy this moment together". But it did take me about 30 years to get here, so I do understand your struggles, believe me...  but it didn't really come with time. It came with shifting of thoughts. My focus is now on "how can I make my students feel that way about their performances" :)

Together, let's try to break down this wall and make a transition from being passive performers to those of good service providers. And that is NOT done by just playing the notes well, but by acting the notes out. Don't only play those notes that have the meanings, but act those notes, characters, and meanings out with sounds and gestures!

Here's a good example:

For all we know, some of them can be having the crappiest day of their lives when this performance took place. But they know their places and their roles, and they are quite serious about it. Be governed by the notes and the harmony, and DON'T be governed by the audience!

Friday, March 22, 2013

major, minor, diminished, augmented... they are all beautiful

Date: 03/21/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: very good :)
Coaches present: Mr. Lin and Jennifer (thank you!)
Repertoire rehearsed: all but Gounod
Little things I noticed: or rather  there is something that I hadn't noticed before, and that is, there is this little bosai tree on the platform of the Middletown station, where I take the train from every week. I'm slightly ashamed that I didn't notice it until today...

Another thing (and it is not a good thing). Some people are leaving without helping putting the chairs away after the rehearsal! If each of us all put away the one chair we sat on, then each of us would only have to put one chair away and the room will be clean in matter of seconds (maybe a minute)! A lot of times I see a handful of nice people putting everything away, while many leave without doing anything. Please don't think cleaning up is not your responsibility. If you use something, then it IS your responsibility to put whatever that is back where it was, whether you are at home or in a public place (actually especially in a public place).

Once again, congratulations to Olivia for making it into the All-State Orchestra! That's a big deal! Proud of you!

With Mozart, we worked on making differences between major key sections and minor key sections. The first step is recognize them (by LISTENING). At this point, I believe every single one of you is comfortable enough with your own parts to listen and pay attention to what is going on outside of your own parts. Listen to the music, that we are making together, and see what kind of character it is. With Mozart, and especially in this particular piece, he just doesn't give us a break. He constantly goes back and forth between major and minor. So be on your toes!

I'm happy now, because this orchestra has finally (or I should say, "already"!) evolved into a group of "musicians"! We are no longer a bunch pitch producing machines! I'm extremely excited about it, so keep listening and keep singing (with your instruments)!

It made me really really happy when a bunch of you started dancing around while playing Jessel. I loved it, and you guys sounded great too!
Music is most beautiful when the performers themselves are "feeling" the music. Thank you guys!

So what I was trying to say (when my little comment kept getting side tracked, and I had to abandon the thought in the end) is that like in many other cultures that embrace duality of things, where two opposing aspects and characters are viewed as equal (America NOT being one of them), in music, major and minor are opposite forces that compliment each other (you've all heard of "yin and yang", right?).  And no, they do not compete. In fact they rely on each other. Without the dark, you wouldn't recognize the light. Without the light, there'd be no shades. Opposites are necessities. These opposing forces give shapes to music, and these shapes create stories. And as musicians, we are story tellers (very vague stories, but stories nevertheless).

Next week, we WILL have a rehearsal, and I was speaking with our favorite janitor, and he said we are welcome to use the theater! I'm thinking of (once again) trying to utilize the projector for our purpose, which didn't go so well in our December concert... But I think I know how to use it better this time, and hopefully they will let us use it, so we can do something fun with it :)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

beats of the world - really it's just one

So most of you know that I am a classical music fanatic (obviously), and also a rock n roll nut. But you may or may not know that I am also a HUGE sucker for world music.

And I wanted to share with you an experience that I had earlier this week, that had a profound effect on me.

On Monday night, I had one of the most exciting, and EXTREMELY rare opportunity to hear and see two completely unrelated music and dance of two cultures from two completely different parts of the world in one evening! One the Breton, a Celtic culture from a small region of Northwestern France, and the other was Garifuna, a Carribbean culture originally from St. Lucia, but was chased away by the British, and eventually took refuge to countries such as Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras etc, etc, etc.

I said these two cultures have almost nothing in common with each other, but there is one thing they absolutely share. That is, they are both "endangered" cultures, and are at the blink of extinction. Their languages are forgotten and only a handful of people speak them. And with their languages, their music and dance will probably disappear, if we don't do anything about them (which is another reason why I went, so I can contribute in some way - even if it's the smallest donation).

I was gonna go with a friend of mine, but she couldn't make it, so I went all by myself. I didn't care. I wouldn't miss this no matter what.

They started the evening off with poetry written by people from those cultures. These beautiful poems were not only recited in their original languages, but they also made translations of each others poems and recited in their languages. It was symbolic and touching.

Then they started the music and dance! the Bretons went first.

In this particular clip, the music is performed on modern instruments, so you may not get a flavor of the real deal, but at some points during the night they brought out their own bag pipes (that are slightly different from the Scottish version), and some other reed instruments I have no idea what they are called. Most of them had a nasal quality to them. I can talk about why they were nasal (both acoustically and aesthetically), but that's not important enough for me to mention here :) The dance is always a round dance, just like in other Celtic cultures. And by the way, in cultural events like this, no audience member is a spectator. There is no such thing. EVERYONE joins in (whether you know the steps or not)! I shot this clip at the beginning of the night when a few New Yorkers (including myself) were still way too intimidated to join the circle. Don't worry, I joined them later.

Then the Garifuna guys!
Sorry for the shaky video. You know what I was doing...
I'd say, it was fairly typical of the Carribbean beats and sounds. But I just can't get enough of this stuff!!
After these guys started, things just got super wild. There were no more inhibition, no more cultural differences. We became just one group of beings that were simply enjoying ourselves. We no longer knew where we were, or who we were, and those things just didn't even matter. You can see here that even the New Yorkers, and the Bretons were singing along to this song we've never even heard before. We didn't know what we were saying, we didn't even know if we were saying it right. But who cares?

And in the end, you guessed it, the two cultures jammed!

Two groups of people from different parts of the world, who met for the very first time that night, playing and dancing together. It was so heart warming

Throughout the course of the night, I made a couple of friends, who were also there by themselves. One a journalist, the other, an elderly folk dance instructor. Once again, I felt the immense power of music and dance. How they can bring people together - people, whose paths would never have crossed otherwise.

At one point, I felt that if I didn't leave then, I never would. So I suddenly grabbed my jacket and stormed out. It was midnight, and Monday night was turning into Tuesday morning. But I have a feeling that the party went on all night. When I stepped outside, I almost immediately started talking to a passerby, a complete stranger. Then I felt the quietude (compared to what was going on inside), and the cold. I was reminded that I live in a city where boundaries were definite, and most people are strangers, who for the most part, do not recognize your existence. Is this what it means to be civilized? I am not sure.

I thank my parents for letting me do what I love the most. In arts, I don't just appreciate arts. I appreciate life, and people. Even people I have never met, or will never meet. At every event like this, my heart is touched, and every time, I feel that I grow smarter, more mature, and kinder.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bang on a can (like a hamster)

Date: 03/16/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: good
Repertoire rehearsed: everything!
Little things I noticed: well, because students arrived shortly after I did (yay!), I didn't get to explore much today. It's a good thing :)

It's my favorite kind of day, when I get to bang on a trash can.
I also appreciate goofy rehearsals like this one we had, so long as we get things done, and I we did! Remember, we "play" music (that is, we play "with" it). We don't "scrutinize" it (not on stage, anyway).

So we basically ran through all of the pieces in preparation for next week's concert, which we decided that I'll join in with my djembe. This is going to be fun. But we also fixed a couple of things, and improved great many things!

I feel sorry that some have to miss this concert. Everyone worked very hard for this, and to have to miss the chance to present what you've been working on so hard for the last three months is unfortunate. I'm really sorry.

Those of you who will be there, I want you to know that just because some of your colleagues will not be there, that doesn't all of a sudden make you "unprepared". Each and every single one of you is ready for this. I know. You don't have to do anything differently. Just get up there, smile, and "play"!

Those of you, who were there at our very first concert (since I started, that is) three years ago, or those of you who've seen us then, know that there were only six of us at the time. But we still rocked. We will have nine people for this concert. That is 50% MORE than what we used to have. It's gonna be just fine.

The subject of "hamster" came up as we were packing up at the end of the rehearsal. So I want to end this entry with this metaphor (which reveals my teaching philosophy) - Students are like hamsters. They are curious beings, and sometimes they need a hand. But if the hand comes from above them, they will be frightened by it. They will feel oppressed and inhibited, and will most likely end up hiding somewhere underneath a darker, and a smaller place. But if you were to lay your hand out softly, underneath their feet, only slightly higher than where their feet currently stand on, they will gladly, at their own initiative, climb up onto the hand. And so if the teacher's hand always lay beneath the students feet, they will continue to be curious of what is sill above them. Without a hand casting shadow over them, they can see the boundless sky and they will know that there is nothing blocking them to get up there. They just have to find the right hands that they can use as stepping stones, and hands that will not all of a sudden flip over. So they will continue to get out there and explore.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Say it with those notes!

Date: 03/14/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: good!
Coaches present: Mr. Luckenbil and Mr. Lin
Repertoire rehearsed: the two "dark" ones
Little things I noticed: my blog app on my cell phone is not that great... Besides, typing with the phone is not fun. I'll just write my blogs on my computer at home...
Today's Seating:

Band Style!!!

Things are starting to come along!
Gounod is a funny piece. It's a comical piece that is in a "sad", or "scary" key. Kind of like one of those "horror comedy" shows like the Adams Family, but I guess you are WAY too young to know what that is...
Anyway, let's keep that piece nice and bouncy.

In Star Wars, even within the loud sections, there are different characters. The subtle differences can make a huge difference, but we must MAKE those differences by playing differently.

I'm starting to hear a glimmer of "expression" in your playing, which is great!!
But remember, music IS expression! So always try to think about what it is that your music may be trying to express. You may never know the "right" answer - actually to be more precise, there may not be an answer at all sometimes - but having an image, inspired by the music, and trying to express that with those notes, will help you transform your notes into something magical.

Also remember, "it takes more energy to play pp than ff"!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jimi for fun!

So I had a little bit of spare time today, and I wanted to do something fun (for me), so I decided to record myself playing some rock n roll. And I thought, I might as well do something that will potentially benefit other people. So I recorded myself playing "Purple Haze" in the same manner I arranged it for the chamber group.

Now, I did record this without ever practicing, so please excuse some of the roughness :) (This was primarily for my own entertainment!) By posting this however, I'm hoping to show an example of what we CAN do with our instruments, and that we CAN rock out even on our multi-century old instruments that were invented to entertain stuck-up aristocrats :)

I'm also playing the djembe (an African drum) in this for an added effect.

Also, if this is the first time you are hearing me play the cello, I wanted to tell you that no, I don't usually produce sounds like this when I play classical music :) In this recording, I'm trying to imitate the sound of the distortion of the electric guitar by combining some tricks NOT used in classical music, and some things you are "not supposed to" do in classical music :)

I'm hoping that this helps somewhat (for you kids in chamber)!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

time, time, time, and space, space, space - create your own

Date: 03/09/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: less than spectacular
Repertoire rehearsed: Bach and the Lion piece
Little things I noticed: there were two "bowling balls" made out of styrofoam in the kitchen, that looked very real, but I didn't mention it to anyone so you don't get distracted by them. I thought of throwing one of them at one of the students to surprise him/her, but I decided not to... I didn't want any harm done to the balls...
One concern: So I'm thinking of moving the rehearsal time fifteen minutes earlier (ending fifteen min earlier too of course). Everyone is arriving later and later to the rehearsals. Normally I wouldn't mind. I'd just extend the rehearsal for however much we lost due to kids' late arrival. But I can't do that on Saturdays, because I don't want to miss my train, which I often do anyway. And when I do miss a train, I stand outside for another hour, and it's really inconvenient for me. I mean I don't usually book things on early Saturday evenings, but sometimes I have to. Also, please keep in mind that it takes two hours for me to get there, and two hours to get back home. That plus another unproductive hour is just sheer annoyance. I'm hoping fifteen minutes change won't make a huge difference to most of you, but it would sure make a huge difference to me. But even if we decide to move 15 minutes earlier, please try to come BEFORE the rehearsal time. "Rehearsal time" indicates the time when the the rehearsal starts, NOT when you are supposed to arrive.
I took these pictures on the train back home (which had really dirty windows)

And of course, me being me, I start thinking about how universal this beauty is. Everyone on earth understands this beauty, and for the most part (I would think) they would agree that these images are "pretty". (Of course, it looks much much better if you were actually there, rather than looking at these terrible photos from my three year old cell phone...)

I don't think anyone understands "why" humans think sunsets are pretty. There doesn't seem to be any logic behind it. And universal beauty is not limited to sunsets, but also lakes, mountains, or smell of the rain, woods and flowers, sounds of the river, birds, and waves, and even thunder (if they are far enough). We understand that everything in nature is beautiful (as well as sometimes dangerous). It also occurred to me that there has never been a competition among these. There are no sunset competitions, or thunderstorm competitions. We don't look up at a night sky just to determine which star is the prettiest. We look up to enjoy the sky as a whole. Competitions simply don't apply because that very concept is worthless when talking about beauty.

Art in a way, (or the way I see it) is humans' way of trying to connect to these things. These things that are universally and eternally beautiful. Trying desperately to be a part of that beauty.

Now, I consider myself as an artist. That is to say, I'm an artist by choice, not chance. I'm a self-declared artist, and didn't happen to become one by other people's decree. And that simply means that: I choose not to pay attention to commercial things, I choose not to label things black or white. I choose to believe that nothing is ever certain and everything is replaceable. I choose to stare out the windows and ponder these things, rather than playing with my cell phone, or booking my next gig. These are choices that I make. And artists are simply those who make similar choices. And by the way, I despise the term "artist". It sounds fake to me. I use it here simply for the reason of convenience. Really, I'm just a dude, who makes these choices.

That being said, when the students don't play music musically, I just think of it as a matter of choices that they are making. Sometimes, they don't care enough to allow themselves to make different choices, or they are too scared to. But for the most part, the cause is that they don't give themselves enough time and space of their own.

By the nature of the choices, an artist needs his/her own time and space. LOTS of them. He/she needs time to meditate/reflect, to get lost in the wonders around them. To be creative is to be free. Free from conventions, and expectations. And to be free, he/she needs to get away, not necessary physically, but definitely needs a space and time for him/herself, even if the space is a "mental" one. To understand art, one must enter the realm of artists. And you do that by choice. Everyone is born to become whatever they want to be. No one on earth is unable to become anything. He/she just simply must be willing to make certain choices. Sometimes it's just about courage, sometimes it's the environment that you are putting yourself in. If anyone says "No" to you, you must know that that is NEVER true. i just worry a little because so many schools, teachers and parents just simply don't let the kids have any time!

So many adults say "no" to kids these days. Most likely, (and I dare to say this) these adults are driven by convention, and have no imagination of their own.

I was allowed to play with knives and fireworks since I was about four years old. I have never hurt myself, nor have I ever hurt anyone else, accidentally, or on purpose. The experience did give me the knowledge and skill of hurting others if I ever wanted to, but I have a gentle soul, the thought would never occur to me :) Besides, because I was allowed to play with them, I knew of their destructive powers and knew that no one deserves to be hurt by such force.
A different kid was allowed to play with chemicals since he was a toddler. By age 14, he built a nuclear fusion reactor in his own garage. By 17, he travels around the world giving talks to groups of college professors, and government officials, including the president of the US. His name is Taylor Wilson (no, I do not know him personally, but you should look him up if you doubt me). And no, he did not build a single bomb. If he wants to, he can potentially destroy a whole nation!
And who knows what Gillian Lynne would have become if the local child psychiatrist did not tell her teacher and her parents, who thought she had a learning disorder because she couldn't stay still during her classes, "She does not have a learning disorder. She is a dancer!". For those of you who don't know who Gillian Lynne is, she has one of the most successful career in the history of musical theater production. With Andrew Lloyd Weber, she created Cats, and The Phantom of the Opera, and many others. And she is also a multi-millionaire (in case you happen to measure success and human achievements by the money that they make).

I believe that saying "no" only limits the potential. It teaches them that they "can't" do things, even if they wanted to, and makes them think that they "cannot" make certain choices. Of course there are bad choices, but unless you think your kids are intellectually challenged, you don't need to teach them that. They will figure that out themselves.

So if you are ever taught or ever made to think that somehow, you cannot be imaginative or creative, then I am here to tell you that that is not true. You do not have to worry about which Suzuki book piece your stand partner is working on, or what concertos can your friends play. In the realm of beauty and joy, those things mean absolutely nothing. So be free!