Friday, February 28, 2014

our next steps


wonderful first reading of a piece guys!

so as we were rehearsing, I kept thinking about how all the pieces I pick, have certain things in common: for example, I always find myself conducting contrasts between heavy strings and light winds (in terms of sound quality, not mass), I guess except for the Satie piece we are working on right now. I wonder if it says anything about me... or maybe it's just one of those very common things that I had been taking for granted... gotta always appreciate the details.

So my big apology to the flute section. What I should have done is to prepare the parts with added notes for you before even the first rehearsal of the piece. I will get them to you ASAP!

Because the notes themselves don't seem to be an issue for anybody, and we are getting much better at ensemble playing, I feel that we are ready to move on to the next steps.

Here are a couple of things I want you guys to start thinking about:

one is the quality of sound itself as an expressive tool. On one single note, can you make a happy sound? and a sad sound on the same exact note?

second is being aware of tensions and releases in the music. for this, you must pay attention to the harmonies. some harmonies sound restless, while others feel stable. in most cases, the restless sound can build up, or be instantanious, but is almost always followed by a stable sound. look for these instances in music. It's everywhere, but really start paying attention to them.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


hey CYO,
no time for me to blog this week, but do let me know if you never got the music for our third piece "intermezzo", or any other music.

but check your junk mail first

have a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

about "STYLE"

Date: 0215/14
Orchestra: Chamber
Attendance: perfect (well, when there is such a strict attendance policy... maybe I should just keep this policy :) )
Repertoire Rehearsed: the rock stuff
Little things I noticed: Most people may be complaining about the snow, but for a guy that doesn't drive, it is PERFECT. I'm really enjoying this winter! The snow capped scenery from the train window has been just breath taking!

Since we are working on songs from a different genre right now, I want to talk a little bit about "style".
What is style? If music is a language, then styles are dialects. All music deal with harmony, rhythm, melody, scales, and timbre. But these elements are treated with different approaches and attitudes depending on the styles, and in some cases, the perspective can be so drastically different that one of those elements might have an entirely different definition all together from the next style.

Classical vs rock is such a pair. In fact they could be considered as polar opposites. Two opposing ends of the spectrum (but in my opinion, this is true if you are ONLY looking at commercial rock n roll like some of those lesser heavy metal bands in the early 80's, whose members only cared for materialistic gains, and none about music itself. And this can be said about most modern pop and hip-hop music too. If you look at intelligent rock music, there are many many similarities between them and classical!).

Can you imagine an opera singer singing a Guns n Roses song? Or can you imagine Aretha Franklin singing Verdi? As great of a singer she may be, I would pay NOT to hear her butcher Verdi.

A style is a culture, a point of view. You either get it or you don't. Classical music has it's own unique approaches and ideals in regards to sound, and so do others. And these approaches are very very specific. Changing styles is not just difficult, for any given musical style is extremely closely related to life style, and philosophy of the culture. In each culture, music is used for different purposes. For example, in some culture, music is used ONLY in religious context, and religious purposes. Any other use of music, and any music used for any other purposes, are considered less good, or much less important, or even evil.

Even within classical music, there are different cultures, and us performers are required to posses knowledge of each, and also should be able to understand and sympathize with each of them. When we perform, we are to perform as a spokes person from that particular culture.

We may not play Bach's music like we play Wagner's, even if both of those composers are from the same country (but 150 years apart, hence different culture, hence different style). Similarly, we may not perform Debussy's music like we would Stravinsky's (same time period, different regions, hence different style).

So what is the "classical style"? What is the "rock style"?

Here's my own idea about them in a very short style answer. Classical music is a music of elevation. It is designed to lift your soul and intellect to a "higher" place. Now if you ask me what this "higher place" is, I might be in trouble. but basically the music is designed to transport you (your soul, your intellect, your spirit, your consciousness, everything) to places you don't usually dwell in. We call it a higher place, because it requires more work, but the reward is greater. It is almost never about the ordinary world, but that of fantasy, or a world of ideals - a non-existing world of perfection - even if the subject is dark. Or if the subject itself is about the contemporary real world, the message seems to always take place elsewhere. And you can see that in our approaches to sound. Each sound must be out-of-the-world gorgeous, and perfectly in tune. Such perfect sound we strive for, is not a kind of sound we hear in everyday lives. Classical music is therefore very difficult in a sense that the elements we deal with do not posses immediate familiarity, but at the same time, can be very very specific. Not only do we have to play the correct notes, but in the "right" way, to make this illusive poetry hidden inside the notes to come out. But when you do, it really does transport your soul to a higher dimension, and from a higher place, the view of the ordinary world (from outside, looking in) is pretty fantastic.

On the contrary, rock n roll is about our everyday. The language is our everyday language. The sound we use is our everyday sound. The subject can be anything at all - from what's really real, to a complete fantasy, but the stages always always always take place on earth. In many cases, it is a music of rebellion - a cry for freedom. And the word "freedom", comes into play in so many levels with this particular style. Nothing is written down, and most anything is entirely up to the individual performer. In fact, nobody teaches rock n roll. You are to learn it yourself. That is (a big) part of the culture. The only rule is, whatever it is, "it has to sound good".

The reason, why we are able to speak our particular language(s) is because we grew up listening to it. It's really the only reason. We understand the most subtle of the nuances and yet no one really taught us any of that. And when we try use any other languages that we are not familiar with, we simply fail. Forget about their subtle nuances. We can't even begin to express ourselves, nor can we begin to understand others who are using them.

And so it goes back to what I basically have been saying for the last four years. One must LISTEN.
If music is something we listen to, then really, listening is the ONLY way to understand it. But perhaps listening alone may not be enough. One must also try to understand the "cultures" of these music. Because when we listen to a person speak, we try to understand what this person is saying. Try to understand what the purpose behind each piece of music is. What is it trying to say to us? After all, music is a language, and what would be the point, if we don't try to "understand" it?

Thursday, February 6, 2014


date: 02/06/14
orchestra: cyo
attendance: good!
repertoire rehearsed: beethoven again :)
little things i noticed: sorry for the lower caps. i'm typing on my phone, and i have this keyboard that can also type japanese, but it doesn't seem to be bothered about the small “details“ of the english language....

yeah, i think i want to concentrate on breathing. i think it's too important not to.
when we speak, we almost always inhale immidiately before we say anything. for the most part, because we simply need to because we need air to speak.

and if anything we say is almost always preceded by a breath, then the breath is really a part of the speach. and almost always, we find that the breath we take before, shares the same characteristics as the nature of the topic. it forshadows the mood of the conversation, and in some cases, it is even the bigger part of the expression.

i bet you you've never thought about that before! :) but pay attention next time you are speaking with someone - you should almost be able to guess what the person is about to say, a split second before he/she actually says it. maybe not always, but for the most part.
when we play music, we make statements. usually, expressive statements... if breathing is such a big part of human expression, then it must be so when we play music as well. breathe before you play, every time - in time, and in character. this will change everything about how you play. you will also play much better together in an ensemble because we will hear each others' breaths. and i DO think that the audience SHOULD hear your breaths. after all, music is an expression. but of course, the breathing has to be sincere!

fake breathing (trying to compensate for the lack of expression in the sound by over breathing) can be quite ugly and annoying! i see it all the time among some professionals! i hate that!! keep em real. keep em real.

next time when you watch great players perform, really pay attention to their breathing - that's where a lot of things are!