Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Road Trip

Date: 2/21/13
Orchestra: CYO
Attendance: good :)
Coaches present: Mr. Luckenbil and Mr. Lin (thanks!)
Repertoire rehearsed: Mostly Mozart
Little things I noticed: ZERO paintings on the wall... and no, there was no centipede on it either. Also, if you eat a fortune cookie that is not yours, an angry janitor might come chasing after you :)

This is how we sat for this rehearsal.

My aim was 1) for me to have a fresh ear for the wind and brass section, who usually sit so far away from me 2) to not let them take an advantage of the fact that they sit so far away from me :) 3) to keep people on their toes by doing things differently, and 4) most importantly, have people experience hearing and seeing different parts of the orchestra and hopefully have them notice things that they would otherwise not, and thereby learning the very first lesson on ensemble playing - simply noticing things inside your own ensemble.

We all know (intellectually understand) that different instruments play different parts in an orchestra. We also know that sometimes we play different parts even within an instrument section of an orchestra by dividing that group further. But knowledge has nothing on experience. When we actually pay attention and listen for how those different parts, or even just sounds that are so different from instrument to instrument, interact and come together and make ONE piece of music, it is fascinating. And what's more, the fact that you are not just a witness, but a participant, that you are one of the creators, that you and your friends are making this magic happen, I think is absolutely exciting.

Which brings me to a question that I was going to ask you during the rehearsal, which I couldn't get to, because every time I try to talk, well, you know what happens...

Anyway, I was going to ask you about the rolls that we play in the orchestra, and I was going to start off this week, by asking what the roll of my position, the conductor, was. Of course, it is a bit of a loaded question, and it depends largely on who the orchestra members are (and also on who you ask...). But if you were to ask me, I think the truth is, conductors don't "conduct" anything. Because in reality, you guys (the instrumentalists) are the drivers, and the engines, and we (the conductors) are just a guide. Many think that conductors "drive" the orchestra. No. He is (I am) but a road which you drive on, so you don't drive yourselves into a ditch. I am a sign post that tells you how fast you should go, or notify you what's ahead. You decide how far you want to go, and I can show you the way, hopefully a quick way, but sometimes I purposefully take you on a scenic route, so you see and discover things along the way. But you have to get your friends together to plan and organize the trip. You have to listen to your friends' opinions and make decisions. you have to pull people who are dragging behind, or slow down those who are going too far ahead. You cannot depend on the road to move you to your destination. You have to turn your car on and step on the gas pedal yourselves. Because this is your trip.

So now that we have most of our own personal items, such as notes and rhythms, packed and ready, now is the time to start communicating with your fellow travelers, and try to make each trip the best one yet. Of course, I'll make sure that the roads are nice and paved :)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

My Lazy Day

Date: 2/16/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: good!
Repertoire Rehearsed: BACH!!!   we also did Matt's "favorite" part of Kiki. You are welcome :)
Little things I noticed: We kept the unplugged space heater in the middle throughout the entire rehearsal...

Today, I decidedly did, absolutely nothing. I would just sit back and watch them teach themselves. Well, I think you guys just gave yourselves the best coaching we've ever had yet :) I was amazed not only in the content and topics of the session, but how you all stayed focused, and didn't waste a second of the rehearsal time.

Well, I'm humbled now :)

I got to witness some great collaborative skills and problem solving skills! Really good stuff, guys!

I think music becomes, much harder, but ten thousand times more fun when you REALLY listen to what you are doing. It teaches you, and entertains you at the same time. Listen and ask yourselves, am I (are we) doing this right? What can I/we do to be better? And when you do see things improve, it just gets so much more fun. And if it's fun, who cares if it's difficult, right?

I really enjoyed the powwow circle thing at the end. I wouldn't mind rehearsing like that every time from now on. I felt that it was much easier to play together because you could sense each other better. Did you all feel that way?

So, here's a picture of the dog that is portrayed in the Kiki piece. His name is Jeff (short of Jeffrey).

I think the music is perfect. Don't you?

mid-winter madness

Date: 2/14/13
Orchestra: CYO
Repertoire Rehearsed: all, but poor Mozart
Attendance: good
Coaches present: Mr. Lin and Jennifer (it was very nice to finally meet her)
Little things I noticed:
  So it seems that at the same time illness and injuries seem to have all of a sudden decided to attack our little group of people, malfunctioning of the instruments are also spreading. That meteor that fell feels especially eerie now...  Joking aside, this season is not an instrument-friendly season. Please take good care of them. Do not leave them in a non-heated room, or inside the car, or by the windows or the door, the radiator, space heater, stove, sink, fireplace, kitchen, bathroom, shower, or inside that dark, damp or dry and dusty closet, where the creepy crawly creatures live.... Using the humidifier helps too!
And more importantly, please take a good care of yourself! So many of you are treating/experiencing either an injury or an illness, or even both (!). To those of you, I wish you a very speedy recovery. And those of us who are currently healthy, lets do our best to try to keep it that way :)

We started with sectionals again. I had noted specific spots from the last rehearsal and wanted to work on those.
During this rehearsal, I kept telling myself that I REALLY want to work on the ensemble of this group, but the little things like issues in dynamics, notes, and entrances were getting in the way. Next week, I think I'm going to really shuffle the seats around, so people can hear and see their own orchestra from different perspectives, rather than being comfortable in our own designated seats. I might even talk about some of the roles each seat have in the orchestra.

So, if you are still a bit uncomfortable with your notes (and dynamics and entrances) - you know who you are - please make sure that you have a better grip on them by next week, because it's about to get REAL here! :)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Only connect"

In preparation for the upcoming Valentines Day, I would like to share my thoughts on a relating topic, hoping maybe this will help us be in the right mood for it :)

On stage, we musicians are exposed. Whether you are performing or having your piece performed. On stage, we are naked.
So in music, we make ourselves vulnerable. We take our chances and take risks, just so we can share - our knowledge, passion, dedication, and emotion.

A lot of times we put everything we've got on the line, physically and mentally. We risk the chance of losing them all - everything that we have accumulated until that point. The result is always unpredictable. We never know, and we are never in control.

Like telling someone how you really feel.

But no matter what the result is - whether we achieve a completely unexpected victory, or we fall flat on our faces and go back to square one, having lost them all - we always come out at the other end, stronger. Through those shared experiences, we can only gain.

To share is to connect. To share is to be honest. And to take chances.
And so to speak the truth, to sing, and to dance, we are vulnerable. And that's why it's always tender and beautiful.

"Only connect" is a phrase that constantly reappears in my favorite book (E.M. Forster's "A Passage to India"). It talks about who we really are, regardless of the differences between classes, races, cultures, and religion.

I think in a way, we humans are always looking for a way to connect. And artists devote their lives to it.

So it's important to remember that when one is trying to communicate or express the truest self, he/she is making himself/herself vulnerable, and taking great risks. And so there is beauty everywhere. And knowing that, I think, makes us kinder and stronger.

I wish you all a happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Embrace the opposites

Date: 2/7/13
Orchestra: CYO
Repertoire Rehearsed: one march for wooden toys, and one for a dead one.
Coaches present: Mr. Luckenbil and Mr. Lin (Thanks!)
Attendance: good!
Little things I noticed: one less painting... only one left in the whole room...

We will potentially have a new tenor sax player, yay! He'll be able to cover some of the much needed lower "woodwind" lines, which would be great! Thanks for bringing him in Mr. Luckenbil! Back to writing more parts for me :)

The attendance was good but I thought the chattering was more disruptive than usual today. Keep them down kids. In fact, can we work on paying at least just enough attention so you know when I'm yelling out who is playing and where? I would prefer not having to repeat that like 600 times after each time we stop, if we can help it.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with how the Gounod is coming. We just need to be tighter. This piece has much more exposed wind parts. For the most part, the "woodwind" section has one person per part, so you are almost always alone. You guys are doing just fine, so when you come in, come in with confidence and that should help the ensemble get tighter somewhat.

I really like having 9 after rehearsal D in forte (in Gounod). It makes much better sense. So let's do it that way. Start crescendoing from 4 before (when the first violins and oboe(flute) enter, and reach forte by the 9th of D.

In general, I need the brass to watch me better esp. for the Jessel piece. Right now the tempo and the dynamics are lacking in discipline. I think an orchestra, that has louder instruments who try to follow the softer instruments, always has a tighter ensemble.

Really watch out for 4 after G onwards in Jessel. I'll try to be as clear as possible.

I need to add something at rehearsal F in Jessel. It lacks dimension. Saxophones, I hope you don't mind me giving you a little more notes/work, because I'm thinking of giving you guys a little counter melody to play there :)

So I super briefly mentioned something about contrasts. Between loud and soft, fast and slow, aggressive and gentle. Contrasts are beautiful things. Lets embrace them and enjoy them. That should give us more richness and variety in our overall sound. That alone can make us sound 3,000 times better (I'm exaggerating, only a little bit).

Thanks for bringing the bass in Mr. Lin! Sounds sooo much better with the bass!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A little "note" on dynamics

Today, I encountered again what I encounter a little too often in teaching. And it has always puzzled me.

I've been asked to coach a cello section of the orchestra of this certain performing arts high school (I will not mention the name, since they don't know about this blog :) ), and have been going there for a month now. They are currently working on one of the Tchaikovsky symphonies. A VERY dramatic work. Among the spots we covered today was one of the most dramatic sections of the piece in the last movement, and the cellos have a melody, marked fff.  And it doesn't seem to matter how loud I yell out "fortississimo!!" (the entire floor of the building probably heard me, and it is kind of hard to say it too...), all I get is a sound of mosquito's wing flaps, that are only audible when you are trying to get some sleep (and it's very annoying then).

This is a sort of thing that to me, it actually seems impossible. Yes, IMPOSSIBLE. Do you get less loud, when you get excited? Do you scream when you are trying to be kind?
Yet it's everywhere... It's an epidemic.

(the reason behind this, I will mention perhaps in another entry)

We see the notes, along with many things that are written on the sheet music. Besides the notes, we usually notice key signatures, time signatures, accidentals, and technical directions such as pizz, arco, con sordino, ritardando, etc etc etc, but hardly ever dynamic markings... Who said they weren't important? Who said they were optional? And if you knew the music, what reason can you possibly have to make you think that you can omit them?

Imagine going to see a Star Wars movie, and you are expecting that magnificent opening fanfare as the title rolls up. But the theater somehow plays the audio so low that you'd have to be very quiet to hear it. How disappointing would that be?

Imagine Ravel's Bolero, or Barber's Adagio with zero dynamics, staying somewhere between mp and mf from the beginning till the end...
Or the flute melody at the opening of Grieg's "Morning Mood" is performed by the brass section in ff.

(Ravel's Bolero:

Barber's Adagio:
This is a video of an orchestra that I founded. And that's me in the cello section :)


They will cease to be music. Just notes that mean nothing and move no one.
And perhaps in the case of Grieg, it will be a completely different kind of "awakening"...  changing the meaning 180 degrees, which maybe worse.

When we listen to music, we are listening to these things: the melody(notes in horizontal lines), the harmony (notes in vertical lines), texture of the piece (simple or complex, how many things are happening at once), the height of the pitches, the quality of the sounds (warm or harsh, articulations, vibrato, sounds of particular instruments, etc), rhythm, duration and pace, structure and composition, performers' performance level, AND dynamics (how loud, how soft). All of these things get combined and then finally makes sense to us as "music". Each of these components are just as important as the others.

Imagine a piece that has all of these things, except it only has one note. Or imagine going to a Puccini opera but the lead soprano is ill and staying at home, and the notes of the soprano are performed on an electric guitar in stead. Music will ceae to make any sense.

The same composers that wrote those notes also wrote those dynamic markings. They are just as important, and if you ask me, they are MORE important than the notes.

Those mf's and pp's, and fff's, are there not just for the looks. They are meant to be followed like the notes and the rhythms are.

ALWAYS do the dynamics folks! We are a music making group, and not members of a "Let's try to put the fingers on the right spots of the fingerboard" club. I will not teach that class.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sometimes we call them left or right brains

Date: 2/2/13
Orchestra: Chamber
Repertoire rehearsed: mainly Kiki. We touched upon a few other things too.
Attendance: great!
Little things I noticed: 
   That giant tree of white tape is still on the floor. Whatever is/was that for anyway? 
   The record player was back! I tried to hide it from the kids, but to no avail...

Since this is the first entry for Chamber, I will start with the most basic, and THE MOST IMPORTANT thing for me to tell you (but don't take it personally).

I still hear a bunch of notes.
Notes are not the same thing as music.

Listening to notes is like trying to live in a blueprint of a house. You can’t live in a blueprint of a house. It’s impossible. The house has to be built, or realized first. And that’s why we are here. We, as performers are the construction workers of the music. We see ideas represented on pieces of paper, and then we realize it. We build each piece for the audience so they can have access to them and enjoy the realizations of these ideas. Sheet music (and the notes written on them) are ideas, nothing more. The sheet music itself is not music. The rest of the job is up to us, the performers. It’s a big job, really. Music is as vague as anything in this universe can get. But we have to make sense out of them - to make a story out of a bunch of awkward tadpoles swimming around in what seems like a complete random order and form at first. But when it’s done well, it’s possibly THE most effective communication devise, the most direct language, and the most effective form of expression there is in existence.

(not doing any of this, is just like re-drawing the blueprint, it still is just an idea. Or perhaps more dangerously, like building a faulty house...)

Please listen to more music. And when you do, don’t try to think about it or control how you feel. Just get lost in it. Let the music take you to places. Let the music haunt you, terrify you, make you laugh, cry, dance, cheer, scream, whatever. You will not understand music so long as you don’t stop everything you were doing and thinking whatever it was that was occupying your brains. Let go. Listen. Float. Then comes imagination. The sound will become visible, or start to form shapes, or color. Then they move, and change, and transform into something else. Through these movements and transformations, comes a story. A vague one, but a story nevertheless. And it's these stories that make music do what it does. No, you don’t come up with them, they will come to you. Trust me.

Do I sound like one of those new age hippies? Does this seem like nonsensical mumbo-jumbo? Maybe I do, and maybe it does. But I speak from a very conscious mind. Conscious minds are great for doing busy works (like writing this blog, and organizing concerts), but less so for creativity, unfortunately. And sometimes the conscious minds cannot clearly express or understand what the unconscious minds experience. But we ALL have both sides. We just forget to use the power of the other a little too often.

Friday, February 1, 2013

First Entry!

Date: 01/31/13
Orchestra: CYO
Coaches present: Mr. Lin, Mr. Luckenbil (thank you!)
Attendance: good :)
Repertoire Rehearsed: the scary one
Little things I noticed: There were only two tiny little paintings on the walls today. Felt lonely.

  So I decided that I'd like to keep records of the rehearsals because my lite version brain apparently ran out of space, and I can no longer seem to remember anything anymore. And then I thought I'd even do it publicly. So in case you were ever wondering what is it like to be on the other side of this mysterious organization called NJSYO, and wanting to peak into some of our darkest secrets, you may just find some here :)

  Anyway, today I moved the flutes and saxes slightly forward, closer to me. I really like it this way. They become a separate and independent wind section, and become a great connector between the strings and the brass, and that seems to hold the group better, especially now that the brass are in the center of the orchestra. I get a nice full blend of sound this way.

  First half was sectionals. I tried to get the strings to accent the fourth beats, but was not very successful at first. A little while later, I noticed that a lot of people's bows were stuck on the upper half of it. Yes, some people were taking the two down bows without the "retake". That explained the less than explosive sound, and the measly accents. Back to the frog folks, back to the frog.

  The wind/brass/percussion came back up sounding strong! Thank you Mr. Luckenbil!
The second half of that main melody is tough to keep it up, and maintaining the sound without sounding like all your dark forces have shriveled away. A descending scale is a natural decrescendo and a potential car parachute. Sometimes a mental crescendo is needed to maintain the sound.

 I also talked a little about the meaning behind the notes/harmony and the importance of the fourth beat, which I was very excited when I found it! Ambiguous first three beats, then -  melody notes forming a major key at the same time also forming a minor harmony underneath (light and dark), which establishes the overall minor key (dark force), and by notes that are actually from another distant key (galaxy???) - all on the fourth beat. It's super cool, I think.

I can be a total geek...

Mr. Lin will bring the bass next week.

P.s. Let's see how long this blog keeping will last...