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%