Monday, December 22, 2014
Overall, I am extremely grateful for every single one of you who had anything to do with this concert at all, for supporting me, and above all, trusting me to let me do the things I wanted to, no matter how ambitious, unusual and experimental they might have seemed in the beginning.
I decided to give it a go for these ideas for I trusted in your openness and that students' capacity and talents to handle them. I trusted in the parents and the coaches that they would welcome my ideas. I trusted in the materials themselves, for them to possess educational values, while being entertaining at the same time. And you in turn, trusted me. And I am tremendously grateful for that.
And it starts from the smallest thing. Letting us have a run-through on our last scheduled rehearsal day was tremendously helpful. All small concerns I had such as chairs and music stands setup and striking before and between the groups, the microphone situation, knowing exactly how the concert will begin, etc. were all met with calmness and professionalism.
As one of the characters from a show I was binge watching on internet (an old show I'm too embarrassed to name...) defined, "trust" is "believing and following someone you do not know that you can trust anyway". It is a leap of faith. It always involves risks. But somehow, your faith in the positive outcome, your positive outlook, seems to scale the odds towards your favor.
To be honest, in previous years, many of these things did not happen, and I always felt rushed and slightly panicked during NJSYO concerts. I often felt that I couldn't do things at my own pace and was always adjusting to situations someone else had created, and felt that the performances suffered from all the "accommodations" I had to make. Running around tuning students' instruments, discussing concerns about their dresses, music stands and sheet music, setting up the chairs for both groups myself, rehearsing, deciding/practicing what to say on stage (as many of you know, public speaking is THE worst nightmare of mine), having concerns about my own instrument for when I perform with the chamber group, trying to give students pep talk while I myself was panicking and being rushed to be on stage, while not knowing exactly how and when things were to happen, just wasn't working.
But this year, none of that happened, or if they did, they happened in the most controlled manner. Partly because I was determined and vowed to myself that I'd do things at my own pace, but more importantly, it is because you let me. All of you. You trusted me. And each and every one of us communicated our concerns to each other, and each of those concerns were taken care of calmly by all of us .
This is a good team. And by team, I mean to include all of us, the students, board members, coaches, parents, the staff at MAC. This works, and I am very proud to be a member of this fine team.
Thank you all. And I wish you the happiest holidays and a happy new year!
See you all next year!
Monday, December 8, 2014
Friday, December 5, 2014
1) Just as a warning, from now on esp. starting January, I will have less tolerance to in-rehearsal ill behaviors. We meet less than two hours each week. Just to put in in prospective, ALL professional orchestras meet every single day for two and a half hours to four hours, and these are old geezers who have been playing their instruments for decades. It is inexcusable for us to have to waste the little time we have, on me yelling at you to stop talking, and stop playing while I'm talking. Just not acceptable.
2) That being said, otherwise, I'm so proud of you. I am. I did not write an "easy" arrangement for you for Viva La Vida. I gave you a challenge. You accepted it, and you are about to own it.
It is incredible how much progress we made since the end September, and that's just basically two months. You have potential, and you have proven yourselves that each and every single one of you do.
Now, imagine, if you could just focus during rehearsals...
Next week, we will have a run through of the whole program. That means we are just going to run through things including the two pieces we haven't done in a while. Please don't forget that they exist, and make sure you practice them extra hard this week, so you don't come back rusty. the best way to prepare yourself is to make time for listening to recordings, as well as for practicing.
We will have Rockit! kids come and join us next week. Let's try to impress them!
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Me, I had an awesome Thanksgiving at my own place. It was my very first time hosting a family get together. It was a great time, except, I was and still am pretty sick...
I really would've enjoyed the turkey I helped cooking, but I could only take a few bites of it for I just didn't have the appetite. And not having an appetite on a Thanksgiving day is a pretty sad affair. I didn't eat anything yesterday either so I still have lots of turkey meat left in the fridge ready to be eaten. At least there is food "if" I want it. I can only eat soup like stuff right now, so I will attempt to make some turkey soup today.
I got sick immediately after a fairly important concert I had to play in, which is actually a pattern that I see myself fall into every year. It was our debut concert for this new string orchestra that my friend founded - one I briefly mentioned I think in the last post.
I'm glad that I got sick when we are on break though. We didn't have to miss a rehearsal because of it, assuming I will be back in good health by Thursday, which I'm pretty sure I will.
It's kind of crazy to think that there is only two more rehearsals till the concert! I think that it will be a great concert, but just because I said that, it doesn't mean you can stop thinking about it. In a two hour long marathon, runners generally spend all their remaining strengths and energy in a burst at the very last moment. It is called the "final spurt". Like in anything, you always want to finish well (and this may very well be the reason why I get sick after concerts all the time...).
Most of you should be having a nice relaxing break right now which is great I think we all need it right about now. We've been working hard since September. So if you haven't already, take this long weekend to really relax your muscles, nerves, bones, minds, spirit etc, eat well, get your energy level back to 100 percent (and those of you who already started, keep doing so). But come this Monday, we are back in the race. And this time, it will be time to start your final spurt! Give it ALL you got. I mean no, I don't want you to get sick, so don't overdo it like I apparently do, but I want you to be satisfied with your own work. But that can only happen when you cross the finishing line at full speed, or as fast as you can possibly go at that moment.
I'll see most of you on Thursday, and the rest of you on Saturday! Looking forward to seeing you all refreshed and ready for the final spurt!
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
A violinist friend (a very fine violinist too) of mine recently took up conducting. He has taken very serious seminars in conducting, and seems to be studying very hard every day. But a conductor needs an ensemble to conduct, so with a help from a mutual friend of ours, who organizes concerts, theater productions, competitions, and music festivals, which I have participated in myself numerous times, he has gathered up some of his fine musician friends (myself included), and started a string orchestra!
We just had our first rehearsal the other day. What is nice about this group is that many of us have known each other for years. We may not be the closest friends with each other, but most of us have met each other in numerous and various occasions through random and not so random gigs over the years, so the rehearsal just felt like friends hanging out and playing music together for fun. My favorite part is that I don't have to be so "proper" to speak with the conductor. And because he is still new to conducting, we get to help him improve by making suggestions, and listen to his concerns. All of us are serious musicians who play professionally so that the rehearsal is extremely productive, but also humorous and super fun at the same time. I've done many gigs like this in the past where friends come together and play at professional level, in fact I was one of the first to do so among my friends, but without financial help, things can turn really tricky really fast, and most of these "fun gigs" never last very long. But since this group will be presented by a larger organization, it has a potential to last long. And my friend has slightly more business oriented mind than I do (I have zero...), and is creative in that sense, which is another promising fact.
But like in anything the first time is exciting, but really tough. Musically too. The first rehearsal, to me was more about getting to know my fellow players than getting to know the pieces. We can play the notes, but the toughest part was playing those notes tightly together, as a unit. And also musicians need to get used to his conducting, which like in anything, when you are just starting out, you don't have a sense of style, and nobody, no matter how talented, can skip that phase. When you don't have your own style, it is very hard for the audience, or in this case, the ensemble members to get to "know" you.
When a person develops his/her "style", in whatever medium, we will see it, and then the question becomes the matter of getting to know and understand that individual's "style", and then everything becomes much easier. In essence I felt like I spent almost all my energy in learning everybody's (all thirteen of us, including the conductor) "style" in our first rehearsal. A daunting task, but I didn't feel overwhelmed. I was instead filled with joy and excitement and curiosity about how this group will come together in the end. And by "in the end" I mean it in many ways. I am excited to see how this group develops. I am curious about how we handle each step of the way. I am extremely curious about how we are going to sound in the next rehearsal, I am eager to find out how our first concert will go. And I look forward to our evolution in the long run.
And by the way, this is how I feel about both CYO and Chamber too. I'm always curious about the developments. I always look for improvements. Improvements are things that keep me going, in any aspects of life. Every time I am given a new role to play, or given new members for me to lead, I focus on improvements, developments, and evolution. I believe in challenge. I believe that successfully overcoming obstacles is what makes you a better person. I don't enjoy things that doesn't offer any challenges. Those easy things make me wonder why I am even alive.
So I am very happy for my violinist friend who is starting his new journey as a conductor. I admire, and fully respect him for that. One must reinvent himself/herself once in a while. The more often you do, the more difficult it gets. but the more often you do, the more you learn, and the stronger you get. I am still too young to put in words why exactly I think these things are important in one's life, but I feel and know that it is, and I for one, cannot live happily without having a goal.
So I guess my point I wanted to make in today's entry is, "embrace challenges and set backs". they are what make you stronger. Even enjoy them if you can. I usually do. Try to enjoy your workout exercises, or practicing, or studying (only what you are passionate about. If you start to enjoy things that are forced on you, you start loosing yourself, which I think is a dangerous way to live for many reasons). See the benefit in overcoming of obstacles, which should be rather easy to do if you can see or imagine what's on the other side. Dream, then walk, climb, swim or crawl, whatever you have to/choose to do to get there, and LOVE THE PROCESS!
Monday, November 10, 2014
Friday, November 7, 2014
Your forte sound is nice, fat, and rich. If you can take the edges off of the attacks, it would sound even better.
I do think your piano sounds can be much more dramatic at parts and much more gentile and delicate at other parts.
I think playing softly is a thousand times harder than playing loud. It tests your overall control of your instrument. If you can play a long sustained sound super softly while maintaining nice steady tone without any "flickerings", you know you have great control of your instrument.
And if it is harder, guess what, yes that means you have to practice it harder. I think it is funny that we don't normally associate quiet parts of the music as the "difficult" spots. When we think of "difficult" music, we tend to think "loud" and "fast" as a default, when soft and delicate parts are actually so much harder to play well.
Just remember that it always takes a lot more energy to play soft!
Friday, October 31, 2014
Anyway, I noticed today that some of you, esp. in the winds section, are tapping your foot. I do realize that many teachers and even some conductors encourage that, but I don't. To be clear, I'm not saying those people who do are wrong. In fact they are correct, to an extent.
The way I'd put it, it is an excellent place to start (to solidify your own rhythmic stability), but a terrible place to be. When you rely on your own foot, you are only trying to sync your notes with your toes, that may or may not have anything to do with what is actually going on in the ensemble. I want you to listen, and not just being able to do two different things at once.
Yes, foot tapping is easier, so why am I telling you to do things that are harder? The same reason why halloween candies seem much more appetizing than sticks of celery. But celeries are better for you.
In order to graduate from M&M's to celery, I would suggest moving your toe movements to where your ear is, namely your head. You don't need to head-bang like the punk rockers from the 90's - you can just very lightly bob your head up and down. That way you are ensuring that you are reacting to what you are hearing.
And I hate to tell you of this trick (because I really want you to not rely on your feet) but, if you find that you MUST use your feet in certain sections of the piece, then what you can do is, instead of raising your entire foot and slamming it back down on the floor, making loud tapping noises, you can just wiggle your toes up and down inside your shoe. Then no one will know :)
Have a happy halloween, everyone!
Monday, October 27, 2014
This is the only "sheet music" you are going to get for this song!
C major - C, E, G
F major - F, A, C
G major (7th) - G, B, D, (F)
Progression (two chords per measure)
C C G C
C C G C
F F C C
C C G C
F C G C
F C G C
4 measure bridge (first two lines of verse)
First Line of Verse
Friday, October 24, 2014
But by the end of the rehearsal, I thought both spots became comprehensible and manageable. I hope you guys keep working on those spots on your own though, because these are NOT something that will stick with you after just a couple of hours of work.
We still need to work on listening to each other. Certain things can become manageable just by listening to your fellow section-mates play, or listening to other parts of orchestra to see how your part fits in in relation to them. I did notice these things happening a little bit. But I want this kind of thing to be second nature for everyone in this orchestra. Continue your practice with a metronome.
My thoughts that were inspired by yesterday's rehearsal is this:
In an orchestra situation, often times, the easiest part that you have can easily become the hardest part for the whole orchestra. When you have a long held note, or a bunch of repeated notes in the same rhythm, or just quarter notes on every other beat, or even a rest(!), it is soooo easy for us to zone out. And when we zone out, we are not listening, and we are not concentrating, and not thinking about well, anything, and certainly not about playing together with the other players. We think it's easy, therefore we think we can afford to zone out. When we have rests and long notes, and we zone out, we are not able to come back in with accurate rhythm. When we have easy notes, and we zone out, we get off from one another, and you won't even notice because you are not listening.
I am saying this because we were getting off every time someone had an "easy" part!
Unfortunately, there is no "easy part" in orchestra. There is no such thing. It does NOT exist. I believe that in most educational environment today, and especially in this country, there is not a whole lot of emphasis on group effort, and how to work as a unit, a team, and it is so easy for us to look at our own part and say "my part is easy" and dismiss the whole effort. But the way it SHOULD work is that, if you have an easier part to play, then you should be more responsible for unifying the group. You should be the one leading the group in rhythm, balance, sonority, articulation, and intonation. You should be the one "listening" the MOST.
I've only encountered musicians who complain about how easy their parts are in educational environments, and never in a professional setting. I believe that is because those people who do so in professional environments do not last very long as a "pro".
When we make music, our intentions are to make "good" music. And that means always listening and thinking "what can I do better to make this orchestra I belong to, sound better". Repeated eighth notes can be played in one-hundred different ways, which one is best suited for this particular moment of this particular piece, am I providing a good rhythmic foundation, am I in tune with ____ (a section of orchestra), is my sound providing the right character for this piece, am I too loud/soft, etc etc etc.... These are questions you can always be asking yourself.
And I hate to say it, but it is quite obvious for a listener to know whether this person in the orchestra have practiced this "easy" spot or not. So you must practice everything, no matter how easy it may seem. And when you practice easier spots, you can practice them at a higher level!
Next week, we will have another sectionals! Again. come in with full of technical questions!
Friday, October 17, 2014
So we had some rhythmic issues yesterday. My father was a drummer, and I had been fascinated with rhythm and beats ever since I can remember, and I often think like a percussionist, and think of rhythm A LOT. And after years and years of contemplating on this subject, I've come to a conclusion that having a good rhythm is about, again, "listening". Surprise surprise. Now, that statement may not apply to every single musical situation there is on earth, and in some cases, it is more philosophical than practical, but for us, it is definitely true.
We play with each other, not with a metronome. Therefore time is relative. Relative to each other. We fix our paces referring to what others are doing, and we must constantly be referring to others because there is no such thing as an "absolute time" when we are the ones creating "the time" out of the blue.
The only thing that ever gets close to such a thing is what happens when every single person in the orchestra focuses on playing together with each other. The more we focus on each other, the more rhythm becomes stabilized. When everyone's will come together, everything seems to just fall right in their places. Rhythm will be the first thing that comes together for an ensemble that is making a progress. After that, things will seem to become easier, much easier. Things will feel lighter, you will notice needing less effort. And that's when the magic happens. Without rhythm, other things such as intonation, and sonority, and actually everything else will feel impossibly difficult.
And a note on metronomes:
So I told everyone to practice with a metronome. But I said so so you can practice playing while listening to "something" and so you can try to play along with "something". You can play with a recording or a metronome all day long, but if you are not listening to it, it won't help you one bit. A metronome does not teach you to have good rhythm simply by turning it on. A metronome is there for you to listen to while you play, and so your beats have something to line up with. Therefore rhythm is about listening, and that is what it teaches you.
So even though we don't perform with a metronome, and neither should we, nor should we EVER perform "like" one, we must use it everyday to train your EAR. So when you play with real people, you can listen and adjust to them with ease. And of course, because metronomes are mechanical products, they can only produce beats that are mathematically even, they CAN help you with having very steady internal rhythm. Having a good internal rhythm is of course a good thing, but for now, treat it as something you get as a by-product of doing something else (listening). So listen to what it has to say, and try to agree with him/her, and be friends with your metronome!
And in an orchestra situation, I am your general guide that you must follow as a default, but the fine tuning must be done WITHIN you guys. If you don't listen to each other, no conductor can help you. And the only thing I CAN do to help you, is to tell you to "listen". And so here we are...
How to become a good orchestral player: Step #2 - again, Listen (this time for rhythm and ensemble)
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Friday, October 10, 2014
I enjoy this (sectionals) over discussing techniques in private lessons. In private lessons, the technical aspect of the playing can get taken out of the context a lot. We shift positions here because that's what this etude fingering says. I need to practice this rhythm with this articulation because that's what my teacher says, and there is no other reason. Depending on the teacher, these things can happen sometimes, or all the time. And when the technique is taken out of context, it ceases to make sense.
In sectionals, technical discussions arise from the needs, and therefore we cannot avoid mentioning the context. At any rate, there is always a good reason to be technically proficient in orchestra, and that is, so you can play perfectly well together with your colleagues. You don't want to be the only person in your section who is not able to play a certain passage in a certain way, and kind of sticking out from the crowd in a negative way, right? Which alone, I think should be a good enough incentive to make one practices their technique. You also want to contribute by mastering the techniques, and lead your section by inspiring them and showing them that it can be done better. So the leaders push their sections limit, while everyone tries to catch up to the speed as best as they can. And sectional is a great way to find out and clarify what your individual roles are at each given moment. You can be a leader in some sections, you might have to be the one running after everyone else in others, and playing both roles are expected from everyone.
And the greatest thing about sectionals is that, when we discuss technique, we almost never discuss it for the sake of technique, but we discuss it with clear musical, artistic, creative, poetic, and aesthetic reasons and intents. And even if it is a small thing that does not seem like a big deal, like playing at the tip of the bow, when it is done together with a group of people, the effect is magnified exponentially, and makes a huge difference in overall sound. In fact that already did happen once yesterday. I'm not sure any of you string players caught it, but in Spanish Dance, when we started playing from mm. 52 with very little bow at the tip and gradually increased the amount of bow as we went on, we were able to create a very controlled, and extremely long crescendo (32 measures of crescendo!!), perfectly paced, perfectly coordinated, and perfectly effective. I wish I had recorded that. But there are hundreds of more chances for me to do that I guess, and each one will be even better than the previous ones!
So for the most part, any technical discussion should occur after a musical, poetic, philosophical one. Thereby being able to choose appropriate technique for each given sections. However, I do love talking about techniques, even out of context, because I think it opens the doors to so many different possibilities - if I can make this sound doing this way, what happens if I do it this way? Once you discover new sound, you can practice it and master it, and now you have that sound as a part of your vocabulary, a part of your palette, a part of your own expressive voice. And where you use such sound becomes your art, at an individual level. And if we can do that as a group, well, then we would have a pretty amazing orchestra!
I tried to go over everything in both pieces for the strings yesterday, so I didn't get to hear the winds, but I trust you guys had an awesome sectional with Mr Luckenbil, and I look forward to hearing your newly improved sound next week!
Continue to be curious. Continue to explore!
Monday, October 6, 2014
This is performed by Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. It is a Baroque orchestra, meaning they use period instruments and period performance practices, all of which are quite different from today's, even down to tuning! (you might notice that they sound about a half step lower than our modern "D major" and sounding instead more like "C# or D-flat major")
You will notice their complete lack of the use of vibrato (many believe vibratos did not exist until much later, some say until late 19th century, some say not until 20th century...). The resulting sound is that of pure unadulterated, sine wave like sound. Yet there is so much expression and variety in their sound, executed only by their right hand techniques - control of bow pressure and speed. I think this is one of the best examples in both interpretation, and the execution of the piece. I hope you enjoy and learn a lot from this.
Listen to the most minute details: the swellings and the decays of their sounds, their attackes, how each sound develops before moving to the next note, sound between each notes, their capturing of the different moods, etc etc etc. Maybe think of some adjectives that fit their "sound" to help keep focus on your "listening".
Mozart - Divertimento No. 1 in D major (Ton Koopman)
And here is the video for Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Down on the Corner"
In our last rehearsal, we talked about the structure of the song. Those of you who were not there, listen to this, and write down on a piece of paper the order of each sections like Intro - verse - chorus etc etc etc.
also enjoy the lyrics :)
Creedence Clearwater Rivival - Down on the Corner
Please practice your parts especially hard this week, and come to this week's rehearsal with lots and lots of technical questions you will most likely have accumulated by then. This will be a chance to get more personal attention to your personal problems which are hard to be addressed during "tutti" (everyone) rehearsals. Don't miss this chance!
Also, it was pointed out to me that the uploaded videos weren't viewable by some, so i posted the url's here so you can either click on them, or copy and paste them to your browser. Again, studying these videos are important. I expect you to have viewed these by this coming rehearsal!
Tchaikovsky - Spanish Dance
Bizet - Les Toreador
Friday, October 3, 2014
The difficulties we face when playing in an orchestra is quite different from those of when playing solo. In fact, it is much more difficult. Not only do you have your notes to worry about, but also you have so many other things you have to be concerned with. Not only do you have to know your notes perfectly, but you have to be able to play them perfectly together with your section and the rest of the orchestra like a huge synchronized swimming team. Not only that, but be able to play your notes in a very particular way so every stroke, every breath, every attack, every release, every tone color, and every pitches sound as one. That is our goal anyway.
How can we manage all this? The very first step is to listen. People who have studied with me in the past might be sick of me saying this again, but I cannot stress this enough, you must listen. You must listen to your colleagues, so you can match each other's sound and timing - you must listen to professionals play as often as possible so you have those great sounds pounded in your head, so you always have a goal within your sight - and lastly, listen to yourself very carefully to see if your sound matches to those of your colleagues in orchestra, or those of your favorite performer(s). Music is something one listens to, therefore it is only logical to start there.
You cannot even begin to pronounce a word in a foreign language if you've never "heard it" before. So if you start visually, how do you know if your notes "sound" right? Music is one of those arts where reference must be at your core. Without references, you will be lost like a tiny boat drifting in the middle of the Pacific ocean. And the references come from listening.
Music is an art of sound, as you know. We must shift our focus on to our ears. Not our fingers, not our brains, and definitely not our eyes. Listen carefully to the smallest details. That is how to become an excellent ensemble player, and and a superb musician.
Practice your listening skills by watching the video I posted of the Spanish Dance in the previous entry, and this:
Monday, September 29, 2014
The three and a half years I belonged there, I was not sent home once, and was always given the principal position, a leader. Even though I was one of the youngest and had no social skills what so ever. But I belonged there. It made me feel that way anyway. I was not ignored.
We would get good enough to perform in front of Mr. Shinichi Suzuki himself (the creator of the now internationally acknowledged pedagogue system in music education, "Suzuki Method") at his hometown of Matsumoto, Japan. And we would perform difficult pieces such as Resphigi's "Ancient Airs and Dances", a rarely performed gem of a piece called "Idyll" by a Czech composer Janacek, the entire Four Seasons by Vivaldi with our own kids performing the solo parts, and others.
It was one of those days while we were getting pretty comfortable performing those pieces, a new piece was handed to us, and Mr. Yamazaki made an announcement at the beginning of a rehearsal. I looked at his face, and I was shocked. He actually seemed content! He says to us, "you are finally ready. I had been saving this piece until you were ready, and now you are". I looked at the part that was handed to me. All I saw at first was just a bunch of repeated eighth notes, and I remember thinking, I could have played this when I was three years old, in my sleep... It was Mozart Divertimento no. 1 in D major, the same piece we are working on in chamber. At the time, I didn't quite understand the depth of the music, and how deeply profound it is underneath the seemingly simple and casual melody, standard form, and semi-predictable progression. I thought he was joking.
But as soon as we started rehearsing it, I quickly realized how difficult it was to sound remotely close to "good" in this piece, and I could not figure out why.
It was too pure. Too innocent, too happy. It was divine. Could a work of genius be performed by a bunch of ordinary school kids? Suddenly those repeated eighth notes seemed unplayable. I think most of us simply took it as just another piece to learn, and to me that was exactly why it was so difficult. It couldn't be played like the other pieces. Maybe in reality, it was not a better piece or anything, but it sure was "different". The other pieces were slightly more "tainted" (in my own way to describe them) and were closer to home. This piece was less humane, less natural, more divine, more super-natural.
To be honest, at the time, Mozart was not one of my favorite composers at all. His music seemed too happy, and was so far from the reality I lived in, and was hard for me to relate to. It was only later when I was already close to an adult that I started to think, well, music is sometimes NOT about the reality but more about the ideal, or just about being in the moment. While this music is going on, nothing else matters. It is there for us to enjoy what is not, and to experience what we cannot otherwise. It is there for us to enjoy actual perfection, which is not accessible anywhere else. It is only possible in Mozart's music, and nowhere else on earth. Music often times is used as an "escape". It was often so among some of the greatest composers throughout history, and for some of the greatest performers as well, and perhaps it is true for many of the listeners too, if not most.
At any case, I was more than happy and proud to be working on that piece, even though the cello part wasn't as difficult, exciting, or even noticeable for that matter. But it was definitely a challenge, in the highest form. An honor, to even have a relationship with perfection.
Friday, September 26, 2014
In CYO concerts, I try to always have some kind of theme going on. Can anyone guess what the theme for the concert may be? Perhaps it is too early. We haven't even started working on or even talked bout the other piece we have, and I am planning on adding one more piece to this program with total of four pieces.
I believe having a theme is beneficial for it forces us to think and talk about the background of each piece, which gives us an extra layer of information and knowledge. It allows us to step back to look at a piece from distance, enabling us to see the context of the music, the world surrounding the composition, and not just the composition itself. And at the same time, gives us a more powerful magnifying glass to look deeper into the meaning of the notes that we are playing.
We must remember that notes are never about the notes. Every note that we play represents something in our, or the composers' lives. To play music well, we must understand them first.
The bowing technique required in the Tchaikovsky piece is called "ricochet", a french word that means "bounce" or "skip off the surface". And we use it in literal sense. In this case we must bounce the bow three times, while going in one direction (down bow in this case). this means that you must LET IT (your bow) bounce. Yes, you control it but only eventually. If you have never tried this technique, it is essential to first learn how your bow bounces off the string. Let the bow drop on to the string and just observe, see what happens. And then see if you can apply changes to it's behavior by doing certain small things manually like tightening up the grip and not letting it bounce too high off the string. Once you start to see how the bow behaves and how it reacts to what you do, then the rest is practicing it so that you get three even beats in the speed you desire. We will go over this in details when we do our sectional rehearsals.
By the way, I made a rather embarrassing mistake... I wrote on your music of Spanish Dance, that it i from the Nutcracker Suite, but it is NOT! It is from another ballet, Swan Lake. I knew it, but somehow I typed in the wrong ballet... When you get a chance please cross out my mistake and write in the correct ballet please.
In the meanwhile, here's a video of the Spanish Dance performed live. Not sure who these people are but this is a very good performance. I hope this video excites you.
(In rehearsal I said to be on the upper half of the bow for the ricochet, but in this video, I noticed that the lower string play the ricochet on the upper half like I suggested, but the violins are using the lower half of the bow. Maybe that is better for the violins. I will ask my violinist friends and let you know in the next rehearsal)
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Friday, September 19, 2014
It was really nice to have met all the new students and some of their parents, and of course, to see all the familiar faces again.
In a way, I like being away for the summer vacation (besides the obvious reason) and returning back from it, because it really teaches you how much you appreciate what you have during most of the year. I mean I think we all appreciate it, but I don't think we think about it (the appreciation) that much when we are in the midst of it.
Anyway, for those of you that are new this year, the primary objective of this blog is to act as an intermediary between me, students, and most importantly, the parents. And to strengthen this community through conversation. By reading the blog, I am hoping that it instigates some conversations about the orchestra between parents and the students "outside" of the rehearsals, which help to strengthen the level of commitment. Because most parents do not get to see the rehearsal process, I think it is nice for you (parents) to know what goes on in that gallery for those one hour and forty-five minutes, and maybe talk about it with the kids. Comments directly on this blog would also be much appreciated, that way, I can also be involved in this conversation.
I usually treat my very first rehearsal as just an intro for the kids, and an opportunity for me to gauge and assess how much can be done this year. And my verdict for this year is.... A LOT! And I'm quite excited about it.
Before we delved into the music, we spent some time talking about certain expectations, both what I expect from you, and what the students should expect from me, the orchestra and NJSYO.
Writing everything down here will make this entry a bit too long, so I will start a new entry for what I call "The CYO Guide", which will talk about rules, what to expect, what I expect, what to bring, what to and what not to do, how certain things work, etc, etc, etc....
Once that is up, please go over it carefully. If that is not up by today, it should be up within the next couple of days.
This blog will mostly be for CYO rehearsals, but since I am in charge of chamber as well, I might be writing entries for that group just as often. You can tell which group I am writing about by the tag(s) I put on each entry (but of course, you are more than welcome to read and comment in any entry, whether it is for your group or not).
In this entry, I just wanted to say welcome (back), hello, and that I think, from what I saw yesterday, this will be an excellent year!
Monday, June 2, 2014
Saturday, May 31, 2014
So as promised, I wanted to post the poem that was the inspiration for Satie to write the Gymnopedies.
But before that, I guess I never mentioned to you that these pieces (there are three of them, and we are only doing the "first" one. Actually the order of these three pieces are not exactly standardized but we will call it the first one because that's what it says in our printed version...) are originally written for piano solo, and as far as Satie was concerned, he would've been happy with just the piano version.
It is thanks to his friend, Claude Debussy, who took it upon himself to orchestrate these pieces, that us orchestra musicians can enjoy them. And we should be especially thankful for Debussy was of course, one of the best orchestrators (and a composer), to ever walk the face of this Earth. Of course for our purpose, I had to fiddle around a bit with the orchestration, so our version is slightly "tainted" by me...
Anyway, here's the poem:
Pretty image, right?
Was this close to what you had in mind?
It is interesting because the music, to me, reminded me of snow falling, rather than fire flickering...
But the slow dance ("sarabande") part is the same. In my imagination, those snow flakes would twirl around in a happy slow dance before it hits the ground and melt away.
So the poem compares the flickering of the light to that dubious word "Gymnopedie". I guess, in a way, that is another reason why they are beautiful (both the music and the poem),Becuase we don't know what the word means, everything is entirely up to our imagination.
Now do this. Read the poem and listen to the piece at the same time.
See if it changes things. See if it (either the music or the poem, or even both) has a clearer image.
One more rehearsal to go! Let's do this!
Thursday, May 8, 2014
Monday, May 5, 2014
I am so glad that you guys find reading through a brand new piece for the first time with your friends in orchestra, "fun"!
Does that mean that you can now include "sight reading music" in the list of "fun activities to do with friends? I think you should! Next time your friends come over, put your video game controllers down, set your computer to sleep, put your cell phones away, and pick up your instruments!
Finding the music for The Sound of Music downstairs in the storage room among tons of filing cabinets, felt a bit more than a sheer chance to me. At first I wasn't sure, but when we started to read through it, I realized that this indeed was the exact same version I had played when I was nine years old as one of the first pieces I have ever played in an orchestra, along with the Beethoven Egmont overture, the L'Arsienne Suites (Bizet), and Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (which we did last year). These are the pieces that gave me the biggest impact on me, and I remember the whole experience to this day.
I had not seen the sheet music for The Sound of Music since that time, but something led me to find it that week. For me to revisit it, and share it with people again. After contemplating on the whole event for a week, I decided that it was meant to be, and so I decided to put it in our program for this year's last concert.
I hope that this magic catches many of you. Let it affect you. Let it transform you. The magic of sound, music, and joy.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
CYO members are a dedicated bunch. We rehearse during spring break, while others are napping :)
I like the mid-break rehearsals. The number of people are few, but I feel like I get to be a bit more personal with each of them.
Since the big orchestra wasn't there to occupy the theater, we took the opportunity to take an advantage of the situation in moved in there. I love using that room, because of the projector and the sound system.
I arrived an hour early to give myself time to remind myself how the system worked (I used it last year too, but wasn't sure if I remembered how to operate all those machineries), but when I got there, Maggie and her assistant were moving the curtain forward. I asked them if they had some big event going on, but to my surprise, they were moving it so they can get better lighting, just for us (the lighting situation in the theater had always been less than ideal, and I guess they had been trying to figure out what they can do to help us). Of course upon hearing that they were in this theater one hour before our rehearsal, moving big things, climbing up on the ladder, testing each lights, I had to drop my bag and help them. They are such wonderful people.
During the rehearsal, we basically just ran through the Bizet and Beethoven for the first half, and then all went outside by the pond during the break (it was a tiny bit chilly, but nevertheless a gorgeous day), and came back and watched a portion of the original Fantasia (1940). Of course we watched the Beethoven (6th Symphony) portion of it.
I was really impressed with your observations, comparing Beethoven's 6th symphony to the Egmont overture that we are working on. Even pointing out certain pitches and melodic phrases that appear in both pieces. Really great observations!
We also briefly talked about Beethoven's 3rd Symphony and how the disappointment he experienced through it sparked the birth of the Egmont overture.
Beethoven had been so impressed with Napoleon for leading his fellow country men against oppression, during the French Revolution, that he had composed a super massive (larger than any piece that had ever been written) and heroic masterpiece and dedicated it to Napoleon. On the title page of the third symphony, he inscribed Napoleon's name on it, giving the symphony a subtitle, "Bonaparte" (Napoleon's sir name).
But when Napoleon crowned himself as an emperor, Beethoven was so infuriated that he took a pen and scratched over Napoleon's name so vigorously that he tore a large hole in the title page. By the time of it's premier, he had named the symphony "Eroica" (Hero), instead of the original "Bonaparte". Beethoven must have been such a hot headed man. I love it!
But he needed a real hero. And so he found count Egmont, a Dutch nobleman who died while taking a stand against oppression. Beethoven was a true advocate of freedom.
Now that we know the story, I hope the drama within the overture start to make clearer sense. The unpredictable nature of the battle, the worry, the suspense, then the battle itself, the pain, the anger, the sacrifice, but then the victory, the joy, and the FREEDOM. You can almost hear the music, just by talking about it.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
So, As I wrote last week, I was going to give you a little homework on Beethoven, by just listing up some questions that you would answer, but I decided that that would be boring, so instead, I decided to ask you to watch a couple of videos. I decided that nothing is more educational than actually doing whatever it is that you are trying to get better at, and the next best thing is to observe some of the best ways in which it is done, and always remembering those great performances. Live is of course better, but the great thing about Youtube is that, you can do it at your own time, and can also watch it as many times as your heart contends. So Youtube it is.
I would like you to watch and observe two different performances of the same piece. One footage from a long time ago, possibly before even I was born, but still think is one of the best, and one of the more recent performances. I can't tell when this was recorded but looks like it could be from within the last few years.
You know, one thing I can't stand about modern music listening experience is that it has become nearly impossible to know when the performance was recorded. Without the knowledge, it is very difficult to understand the historical context of the performances, and in my opinion, takes a lot away from the listening experience.
Anyway, without further whining...
The first one I want you to watch is the performance by Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. Despite his inability to accept and appreciate cultures and peoples that are different from his own, when it comes to the interpretation of German music, especially those of Beethoven, I can't think of anyone else that is as special as him, from the past or today.
Now, as you will see, Karajan has a unique conducting style, especially when he is conducting the Berlin Phil, which was practically "his" orchestra at the time. He will not cue. He heavily relies on the ensemble skill of the orchestra members, which he can do because this orchestra at the time was consisted of some of the best of the best performers from all over Europe, if not the whole world. He is only concerned with the musical intent, and will conduct WAY ahead, to make musical gestures which the orchestra will follow while letting the orchestra stay together all on their own. It is a wonderful approach for it gives the performers a bit of freedom (but a LOT of work for the concertmaster, and other section leaders, but I think it makes it a lot more fun to play, hence you always see the musicians of this orchestra really getting into the music!) Talk about conducting ahead of the orchestra, though...
I remember hearing an interview from an orchestra member of this particular orchestra from relatively the same time (It was the principal bassist, but I don't think it was the same guy from this video), in which he said that every single member of the orchestra is subdividing the beats in their heads (meaning they are consistently aware of the smallest rhythmic values. In this case, the eighth notes and the 16th notes.) He said that it would be absolutely IMPOSSIBLE, if even ONE of the orchestra members did not subdivide his/her beats, to stay together.
Now watch this, and please note:
Their sound (aggressive, or delicate? impassioned, or casual?)
Their body movements
What they are looking at
Their bows (esp. if you are a string player)
and lastly, their BREATHS
Karajan with Berlin Phil
The other video is a performance of Dudamel conducting the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela, which is a YOUTH orchestra, just like us :)
In contrast to the Karajan clip, this is a performance of one of the greatest young talent of our time, conducting a group of young and talented, but not necessarily the best musicians (especially compared to the first video).
I would like for you to note the differences and similarities between the two performances.
How's the tempo?
What about the sounds?
Their body movements?
Dudamel's style vs. Karajan's
Dudamel with Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela
http://vimeo.com/54139266 (sorry with this one, you'd have to copy and paste the url...)
Also while watching these videos, please pay attention to some of the instruments you never paid attention to before, and learn something from them!
Thursday, April 3, 2014
So I was finally able to get my hand looked at by a doctor yesterday. It was great that I found a clinic a block away from where I live. I showed up at 10:30 for a 10:45 appointment, but of course, I don't get the honor of seeing the doctor until after noon. It is as if I was waiting for the audience of a great king. I kept wondering why it had to be a 10:45 appointment, but I could not find the answer, other than letting the patients be "patient" and make it seem that they are busier (hence more important? ) than us.
My great nobel king looked at my hand and my body carefully enough, but then turned around and went on google... Of course, he had much more expertised knowledge than I had on that matter, so he was looking something specific up, and was very good at finding what it was that we needed to know than I had been in the past three weeks or so... but still..., I couldn't help but to be slightly disappointed...
I was hoping my mighty king would have asked me questions until I had no ear, and utter some strange words of knowledge to answer my answers I provided and give me some magical potions... I mean I felt like I waited enough to be treated that way...
I mean he wasn't mean or anything, and was very helpful, and gave me something useful. Just a bit plastic. And of course I was once again treated like the 156th peasant that came asking for a piece of bread at the pharmacy. And they would tell you anything, a complete lie and utter random nonsenses just to get rid of you if you dare ask them a question.
Anyway, in the end I got what I wanted, and I think it is already working quite well. But their attitude is making me hard to appreciate them from the bottom of my heart.
I guess I learned that, a human being is appreciated by not what they provide, but by how.
Anyway, I kept thinking back at our chamber rehearsal when we started it off with a conversation about WebMD, and war (at least my mighty king did not go onto webmd and diagnose it as cancer...)
And war of course can only happen when there is a complete lack of respect and appreciation. Hard to be sincere when you are so busy, but one must always try his/her best, because hate can spread rather quickly.
A rehearsal that starts off with random conversation topics are my favorite kind :)
So the Bach is already coming along, but obviously we just started it, so we have much much more work to do, namely crafting it for dynamic effects, chiseling out technical imperfections, and shaping it like a sculpture. And once we have the shape down, we can express it, SINCERELY, because it will be OUR product, and no one elses.