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):

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.