Monday, February 20, 2006

DMAT Concert 2006: "Crossroads"

At press time, I am unable to get the concert photos for display here. I will be displaying some of them on my main blog when I get them.

Our first-ever concert really ROCKED man! Combining different genres of music all in one concert was certainly the surest way to provide the audience a well-rounded opportunity to appreciate and experience the many facades of music. And to think that we only had a day of rehearsal on the day immediately before the concert!

I was involved in the performances of 2 original pieces and 2 arranged pieces. I did not use scores for all the pieces but took notes which I referred to so that I could be reminded of the performance points to take note while performing.

The 2 original pieces, Trash by Lydia Ang and Deng Dai by Ng Tian Hwee, were performed by the Fajar group. These pieces were a total contrast in nature; Trash being full of angst but Deng Dai being hopeful. As such, my playing style on the piano had to transit from one to the other quickly through these songs (there was no break in-between these two songs). I had to note the tempo of Trash by hard as I determined the tempo by starting the song. As for Deng Dai, my running ascending and descending D arpeggio had to be timed perfectly if I were to keep to the tempo of the song.

I was also in the only acoustic instrumental group, the Silver Chocobos. Boyuan arranged 3 movements from the animation "Inuyasha", out of which I performed in 2 (one on the piano, the other on the Alesis keyboard). The second movement where I was on piano challenged me to keep my playing style simple. I however spiced it up occasionally with glissandos. The third movement was a culmination of musical climax, where all ten members of the group performed in a piece we had only rehearsed together several times before! It was a shocking positive response from the audience with the enthusiastic applause that we received.

Overall, the concert was a great success! I would like to express my thanks to everyone in the course for their involvement in the concert as part of the planning committees, stage crew, light crew, sound crew, ushers, emcees and the rest as well! Thank you all!

1:50 pm *

Burt Bacharach CD review

Burt Bacharach is, quite simply, one of the most accomplished composers of the 20th Century. In the '60s and '70s, Bacharach was a dominant figure in popular music, writing a remarkable 52 Top 40 hits. In terms of musical sophistication, Bacharach's compositions differed from much of the pop music of the era. I got to know Bacharach and his music at a rather young age, when I was introduced to his songs like "Close To You" (The Carpenters) and "That's What Friends Are For" (Dionne Warwick and friends). I never failed to get amused at his unique and amazing ability to compose pieces and construct catchy musical hooks.

"Close To You" (The Carpenters) is one of my personal favourites. Starting out nicely with several piano chords, the love ballad develops and brings me into a world where love surrounds and dominates. The choir adds to this effect, giving a touch of magic to the piece.

"That's What Friends Are For" (Dionne Warwick and friends) is a piece that has what I think is just the perfect tune for a song with the theme of friendship. This song was originally written for the movie Night Shift and performed on the soundtrack by Rod Stewart. In 1986, a cover version by Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Elton John became an enormous hit, raising millions for AIDS charities. The song also won the Grammy for Song of the Year and was a Grammy nominee for Record of the Year. Every time I listen to this song, I feel thankful for all the friends I have known in my life and how they have helped me get through it.

Burt Bacharach's musically extraordinary pieces continues to intrigue listeners...

1:30 pm *

Concert: T'ang Quartet with The Conservatory Orchestra

Thursday, 16 Feb 2006, 7.30pm, Victoria Concert Hall

Yip Wing-sie, Music Director of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, makes her conducting debut in Singapore with the Conservatory Orchestra. A highly respected and influential figure in Asia’s orchestral music scene, Yip Wing-sie is the Ong Teng Cheong Distinguished Visiting Professor in Music for 2005/2006. The orchestra celebrates the anniversaries of Mozart (b. 1756) and Shostakovich (b. 1906) with works by the two great masters and performs with the T’ang Quartet, the Conservatory’s Quartet-in-residence, in Vaughan Williams' awe-inspiring masterpiece, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

This was my first concert I had attended that was conducted by a female conductor, Yip Wing-Sie. She was renowned worldwide and had conducted orchestras in Hong Kong and China before. The orchestra, as usual, came in full force for a brilliant night of musicality and performance.

I particularly liked the piece "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis" by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) because it is famed for intriguing people as to whether the music is of the new or old. Indeed, the sheer beauty and passion of the piece awed me and gave me a new insight as to how queer classical music can be. I definitely enjoyed this concert and look forward to the various concerts I will be attending during the upcoming vacation.

12:38 pm *

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Happy Rushy New Year

Last Wednesday, the different performance groups got videoed for critique. Evidently, there was much room for improvement. However, there's only about one month left till the concert, and with so many assignments due around the same period, I doubt we will pull it off well. Maybe that's why they pushed the Performance module to Year 2 for the second batch of students. Year 1 should be all basic foundational topics.

Due to the close proximity of the concert, I will be booking the studios in school for rehearsal more often. In addition, my groups will have external rehearsals at members' homes. A few days before the concert, we'll just get our minds off all this stress and relax for the big day.

1:52 pm *

Friday, December 30, 2005

Revision in progress...

It's nearing the end of 2005 and I've been revising my music performance skills and theory. I've also learnt the piano score of Only Hope from the movie A Walk To Remember. By the start of year 2006, I'll be working on Grade 5 theory and revision of Electone Grades 7-8.

Our concert's coming in one and a half months' time and everyone still seems to be relaxed. All except me, that is. I've been chasing my two performance groups, the Fajar group and the Silver Chocobos, but everyone doesn't sense the urgency in it. I've even gone to the extent of booking the studios for rehearsal during the one-week vacation, but how many people from the Silver Chocobos actually bothered to turn up for rehearsal? Only a few. I'm terribly disappointed. And the leader of the group Bo Yuan ran off to China. =_=

I'm not sure if I should continue to update this journal as almost no one in class, I believe, is doing it. I'm the only one who's doing it on a regular basis.

6:54 pm *

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Improvisation Assessment

We had improvisation assessment today, where either lecturers Michael or Jimmy accompanied us on the flute or keyboard while we improvised melody and chords over a 32-bar, A-B-A-B form of chords. I was with Michael and got him to play the melody for the 2 A parts, while I did the chords on the piano. It was vice-versa for the B parts. The whole improvisation went on smoothly, with I trying to "imitate" the pitch and rhythm contours of Michael's flute melody so the overall melody on the whole fitted.

6:43 pm *

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Improvisation on chord progressions

We have been improvising on simple chord progressions these few weeks, in preparation for Week 7's improvisation assessment. We have also taken a look at various components in improvisation, from pitch contours to timbre and patterns. During the review of our performances on video, we picked out certain components that were prominent in that certain piece.

In my theory revision, I am now at Chromatic Scales (Grade 4). I hope to complete my Grade 4 revision by the end of December so I can start on Grade 5 next year. In my Electone Organ technique revision, I am currently up to Grades 8-9 standard, just a grade or two apart from my achieved Grade 7. I hope to go on to Grade 5 (Teachers' Grade), probably after Polytechnic or National Service. As for scales, I've completed all the major, natural minor and harmonic minor scales. I'm left with the melodic minor scales. I am currently revising Hanon as well.

10:32 pm *

Monday, November 28, 2005

Concert: Edo De Waart with SSO

26 November (Saturday), 7.30pm, Esplanade Concert Hall

Mozart - Symphony No. 29 in A Major, K. 201 & Mahler - Symphony No. 1 in D major 'Titan'

I won a pair of tickets to this concert after joining an SSO E-mail Club contest and answering two questions. Obviously, the complimentary seats we got were those that no one wanted - three rows in front of the stage.

The concert featured the renowned Dutch conductor Edo De Waart with one of Asia's premier orchestras, the SSO. The jovial four-movement piece by Mozart showcased the string sections with their natural, warm atmospheric tones. Mahler's piece, a work that he claimed contained his whole life, lived up to its name 'Titan'. It was a stunning orchestral work, relying mainly on the brass and percussion section (especially the timpani) to bring out the awesome power of the piece. I found the third movement, a grotesque picture of Death, sarcastic - it being a twisted march version of the nursery song Frere Jacques (the tune of Are You Sleeping Brother John?). No encore was given but the conductor received bravos and a long applause from the audience. It was a night I thoroughly enjoyed, having experienced the full power of the orchestra once again.

9:31 am *

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Concert: Orchestral Greats

10 November 2005, Thursday, 7:30 PM
University Cultural Centre Hall

The Conservatory Orchestra celebrates the National University of Singapore’s centennial with great orchestral masterpieces including Sibelius’ best known overture, Finlandia, Prokofiev’s elegant and high-spirited Classical Symphony and Jupiter, the most famous movement of Holst’s spectacular work, The Planets. Zhou Yi, first prize winner of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concerto Competition 2005, takes centrestage with Gyula David’s passionate Viola Concerto.

It was a concert that was not to be missed. The Viola Concerto, as it promised, was a showcase of highly developed technicality and passion. The borrowed viola on which he performed, after all, was crafted in 1749! Zhou Yi received bouquets of flowers and reappeared on stage bowing round after round. Later, Holst's stirring "Venus" and ever-popular "Jupiter" gave me the chance to enjoy these pieces first-hand (in front of a real orchestra) for the first time in my life. It was such a contrast to the recordings I had heard on CD! The wonderful performance put up by the Orchestra received much applause. To end the night, Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie was dedicated to NUS's centennial celebrations.

1:35 pm *

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


We did Irish tunes for the second week today. The objective was to get everyone to play the tune on his or her major instrument together. This was rather hard especially for those on transposing instruments - they had to attempt to transpose real-time as they played. My major instrument is the electone organ, but I couldn't possibly lug the 79 kg instrument to school - so I made do with the keyboard.

The emphasis now for Performance is improvisation. We got into groups to improvise a melody above a 12-bar blues scale in G Major, which we have to perform the next lesson. Problem is, we were going to be randomly grouped so we just had to go along with the flow and improvise.

I went through Hanon exercises 1-10 and natural minor scales in all minor keys this week, though it was not fully effective as it was done on an electone organ instead. I have also covered the "Only Hope" piano score halfway through. What was more effective was my playing-through of easier grade electone organ scores in my bid to get accustomed back to the techniques of playing my major instrument, improving my sight-reading along the way as well. Regarding theory, I have been working on revision on ABRSM Grades 1 to 4 through the holidays and am currently nearing the end of Grade 4. I plan to move on to Grade 5 soon and hopefully take the Grade 5 theory exam next March, as well as resume my electone organ lessons once I feel I am "ready" for it.

7:01 am *

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A solo piano showcase

28 October 2005, Friday, 7:30PM
Victoria Concert Hall

The opening concert this season features sonatas by Schumann, Prokofiev and Dutilleux, brilliant showpieces by Chopin and Liszt, and piano duos performing works by Debussy, Ravel and Smetana.

It was a dazzling showcase of technique and virtuosity which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite the audience of most notably, children, disrupting my concentration at certain points. An eye-opener for me during this concert was the use of different piano stools for different pieces. Some stools were cushioned, comfy ones while others were more sturdy, firm ones. I somehow came to a conclusion that the comfy chairs were for longer, more relaxed pieces while the firm ones were for fast pieces with a high level of technical difficulty. However, this might have been personal preference by the pianists after all. Another eye-opener was that of the pianists taking their time to prepare themselves before starting to play. This was both done mentally (I could see them relaxing themselves and practising several parts "in the air") and physically (each of them critically adjusted their seating position and the height of the piano stool beforehand). The night was a memorable one that the rest of the course missed (I was the only one interested to go) - which starts me thinking whether some people attend concerts only because their friends go as well, and not for the musical exposure.

7:17 am *

Friday, October 28, 2005

Beyond the Drum Solo

26 October 2005, Wednesday, 7:30 PM
Victoria Concert Hall

The Conservatory percussionists go solo in this concert! The fascinating variety of repertoire using a battery of drums, keyboards, gongs, and more, interpreted by six different personalities will make for a captivating and dramatic performance. Jonathan Fox, artist faculty of the Conservatory and Principal Timpanist & Percussionist of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, directs.

It was a night that turned the tables on classical performers by featuring contemporary percussion pieces instead. The large audience, most of whom came early, left my classmates and I contending with the row of seats near the back of the hall. The six performance pieces involved a variety of percussion instruments, ranging from the pitched keyboards (marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, vibraphone) to non-pitched drums (timpani, snare drum, etc.) and gadgets of all sorts (cabasa, guiro, vibraslap, gongs, "thunder sheets", etc.). Inevitably, the shifting of all these in between pieces took some time. This, however, was calmed by the antics and light-hearted words of the emcee Jonathan Fox. Throughout the night, much stamina was shown by the performers who had to mentally concentrate as well as cope with the physical demands of the pieces (especially so for those involving the marimba and timpani). It was not before rousing continual applause and three stage calls (but sadly, no encore) that the audience finally left, rhythmic tunes having been drummed into their hearts.

11:07 am *

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ta'ng Quartet Masterclass

21 October 2005, Friday, 2:00 PM
Esplanade Recital Studio

The Yong Siew Toh Conservatory presents a masterclass by the T'ang Quartet, the Conservatory's Quartet-in-Residence. The Conservatory's piano and string quartets will perform an exciting selection of chamber works by Haydn, Mozart, Dvorak and more.

"Ans-wer the telephone!" The audience laughed at the T'ang Quartet's lyrical interpretation of a section of music. As the mood of that particular section was supposed to be "angry" and "urgent", the Quartet urged the student performers to inject more urgency, likening it to rushing to answer the telephone.

The Recital Studio was only half-filled, and my classmates who had joined me were a bit more than half-satisfied. We had undermined the fact that this was a masterclass, so it was the students, not the T'ang Quartet, who were the performers. Nevertheless, as the Quartet put forth right before the masterclass began, the Conservatory students had grown to be of a much higher musical performance standard, despite being only first-year (three months in fact!) students.

Professionalism was apparent in the way the students carried themselves all through the performance and in their musical techniques. Still, the event being a masterclass, even the best performers were critiqued by the T'ang Quartet, in areas ranging from dynamics, articulation, balance and even seating. The Quartet's criticism was harsh but necessary in order to raise the potential of the students even higher. One of the points that was constantly reiterated through the whole masterclass was that the performers had to connect and keep in touch with the piece they were playing, in order to convey the moods/emotions of the piece to the audience through their understanding of it. Personally, I felt this was applicable to me - that especially in classical pieces, I should not get too caught up with the notes but also take some time to ponder over what the music is trying to imply or describe.

The masterclass overshot its estimated duration to at least two hours, but the time spent there was certainly a worthwhile experience in music appreciation for me.

1:47 pm *

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Gordon Stout Marimba Recital

11 October 2005, Tuesday, 7:30 PM
Esplanade Recital Studio

Gordon Stout is currently Professor of Percussion at the School of Music, Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York, USA. A composer as well as percussionist who specializes in the marimba, he has studied composition with Joseph Schwantner, Samuel Adler and Warren Benson, and percussion with James Salmon and John Beck. As a composer-recitalist, he has premiered a number of his original compositions and works by other contemporary composers. Many of his compositions for marimba are published, and have already become standard repertoire for marimbists world-wide. A frequent lecture-recitalist for the Percussive Arts Society (PAS), he has appeared at twelve International PAS Conventions to date, as featured marimbist, as well as throughout the United States and Canada, Europe, Japan, Taiwan and Mexico. In May 1983, he performed clinics and recitals in France, Germany, Holland and Belgium with transcendental virtuosity, being described as the Rubinstein of all aspects of the marimba. Gordon Stout was on the Jury of the 1st and 2nd Leigh Howard Stevens International Marimba Competitions during the summers of 1995 and 1998. In the summer of 1998, he was a featured marimbist at the World Marimba Festival in Osaka, Japan and he was a member of the jury for the 2nd and 3rd World Marimba Competitions in Okaya, Japan and Stuttgart, Germany respectively. Gordon is a clinician/recitalist for Kp3 (formerly Malletech), and performs exclusively on their M5.0 Imperial Grand five-octave marimba.

In the small but cosy acoustical space of the Esplanade Recital Studio, I experienced the marimba as never before in its timbral fullness. The marimba, known in Mexico as the "wood that sings", had itself a five-octave span, allowing the player to produce a large range of pitches.

One aspect of the marimba I appreciated was its ability to blend tremoloes that were struck smoothly. This, coupled with dynamics ranging from near-silence to full-forced attack, brought out the emotions of songs like Eric Ewazen's Northern Lights.

The final piece, Three Choros (No. 1, 3 and 9) by Augusto Marcellino, proved to be the favourite among the audience with its chirpy Mexican feel.

Although this recital was FREE, only 1 person in class accompanied me for the event. This was even though I had e-mailed an announcement of the event to the whole class. I guess very few people check their e-mails regularly (if at all) or are simply not interested in this solo recital. However, I must say I have not regretted being present at this opportunity to broaden my musical exposure.

10:17 am *

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Thomas Hecht Piano Recital

29 September 2005, Thursday, 7.30pm

Victoria Concert Hall

Renowned American pianist Thomas Hecht gives his recital debut here in Singapore! Winner of the 1992 Munich Competition, the Conservatory's Head of Piano Studies will engage piano lovers with Copland's spacious Piano Sonata, the dreamy and festive landscapes of Albeniz's Iberia, Mussorgsky's towering Pictures at an Exhibition, and a dazzling showpiece he wrote in his youth entitled Toccata giocosa.

"Thomas Hecht revealed a rich artistic spirit and highly developed technique, a velvety way with sonorities, seamless phrasing and expert pianistic skill." - Washington Post

Two Thursdays later from the last concert I attended (Enigma Variations), I was back at Victoria Concert Hall - the concert venue I'll be visiting at least FIVE times during this vacation. We seated ourselves early, feeling fortunate to be able to get hold of good seats in the front rows for only $10.

It was not soon after the programme began that we found out that the night was totally devoted to abstract 20th Century pieces. Pieces from the composers Copland, Albeniz, Scriabin, Mussorgsky plunged us into an abyss of dissonant tones.

6:32 am *

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Formal rehearsals begin for next year's concert...

The current 6-week vacation is precious - at least for the few who treasure time. Instead of spending time slacking at home or aimlessly sitting at the computer/TV screen, I have embarked on scheduling rehearsals for the 3 groups (at least) that I am involved in for next year's concert (tentative March 2006). Unlike other groups which have yet to start, I strongly want my groups to start early, especially if there's arrangements of songs (we're doing originals & covers) to be done. It would do well to include a short write-up here on my groups' progress so far.

My main group, the Fajar group (aptly named after our first rehearsal venue at Lydia's place), will be doing three pieces - "Ru Guo De Shi" (cover) and two originals (titles yet to be confirmed). Our first vacation rehearsal was a successful start, with the vocals complementing the piano, guitar and drums in the song "Ru Guo De Shi". We still have the bass guitar and dizi parts to fit in to the song. Meanwhile, we'll be arranging and "chording" the two originals.

I'm proud to be part of the Silver Chocobos - the ONLY group in class that consists almost totally of acoustic instruments (except the keyboards). The upcoming piece we're performing is the Inuyasha Medley, an original arrangement of 7 pieces from the Inuyasha OST (Original Soundtrack) 2. The arrangement for the 1st piece is not quite done yet (percussion, piano and keyboard(s) parts yet to be completed). I hope that by the end of this vacation, at least 2 pieces can be arranged and rehearsed.

My smallest group is performing "Uranus", from Gustav Holst's "The Planets". Actually - there's only two of us performing this piano duo - Wei Jie and me. We are beginning formal rehearsals this coming October. Unfortunately, we have to make do with practising on a piano and a keyboard - whose house has two pianos (well not at least those in my class)! That makes things a tad more complicated; I have yet to get used to the hard touch of the piano.

Meanwhile, I have finished revising my theory until Grade 3 and have started reviewing Grade 4. When I'm done with that, Grade 5 awaits. A few of us in class are planning to take the ABRSM Grade 5 theory exam in March 2006 - well, we have to work hard towards it, alongside schoolwork!

10:29 am *

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Concert: Enigma Variations

15 September 2005, Thursday, 7:30 PM

Victoria Concert Hall

Led by Music Director Chan Tze Law, the Conservatory Orchestra opens its third concert season with Elgar’s masterpiece, the Enigma Variations. Laurence Gargan, Principal Trumpet of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and artist faculty member at the Conservatory, is the soloist in Oskar Bohme’s rarely performed and unashamedly romantic Trumpet Concerto.

Firstly, many thanks to Tin Hee for helping Candice, Chrislyn, Boyuan, and me get FREE tickets (we saved $8) for this concert. I realised that this was the first time in many years for me in experiencing an orchestra 'live'.

The opening piece, Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky brimmed full of mystery, leaving the audience unbeknownst as to what might happen next. I particularly liked the dynamics of this piece and was astounded at the large dynamic range it featured. Laurence Gargan's solo, Trumpet Concerto in E minor, Op. 18 (Oscar Bohme) was full of affection. I noted that it was a tiring piece... Laurence drank water after every short movement. I could also see his face redden in exhaustion.

After the intermission, the highlight of the concert was Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op. 36 (Edward Elgar). Having 15 variations, I saw how creative Elgar was as he wrote each variation on one of the favourite people in his life, describing each person intimately. I enjoyed this last piece the most and I'm certainly looking forward to the various concerts/masterclasses I'll be attending during the vacation.

6:52 am *

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Four-part Bach Chorale (Matthaus Passion)

This 4-part, 4-player graded exercise demanded group coordination and precision. My group did - as Michael would put it - TERRIBLE. We don't even know how to pronounce the piece we played - Ich will hier bei dir stehen. That aside, we did much better during our rehearsals than the actual performance. We have so much we need to learn - which is probably why the scheduled year-end concert was pushed back to end of Semester Two. Not that I blame my group - two of us were on keyboards (and had just started learning it a few months ago). Timothy told us to rest assured that everyone passed - I just hope we don't get too bad a grade for performance.

11:54 am *

Sunday, September 04, 2005

SP's 50th Anniversary Closing Ceremony (31 August) Performance

It was a nostalgic way to end Singapore Polytechnic's 50th anniversary celebrations. That evening gave us yet another chance to showcase our musical talents in a live performance situation to the school. It was, as usual, graded - which was rather an unfortunate circumstance, considering that everyone agreed that the PA crew that day sucked. As Timothy R put it, "everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong" and that "it was the worst PA crew he had ever seen in his entire life." Hmm. This is not the first time - the Graduation 2005 Performance PA crew were almost as bad.

My group went first - the guinea pigs that first tested the water. It was the dinner reception; so "Waltz for the Moon" probably seemed appropriate (which was probably why we went first). I was on the keyboard using the "pizzicato strings" sound and provided the bass for the team. Well, a minute before we were up, I was testing the sound of the keyboard - seemed OK; no noise/distortion whatsoever. And just through the beginning of the piece - who would have expected it but my amplifier was crackling. I tried to solve the problem with my right hand by decreasing the volume and master gain (while frantically trying to keep pace with my left hand doing the bass). But to no avail - I had to make do with the "pizzicato strings" that seemed to snap after each time I "plucked" it. In the course of all this adjustment, I missed out on several notes and almost even played a few wrong notes.

During our critique session on Friday, Michael pointed out that he had expected me to use the Yamaha portable keyboard instead of the Alesis one - because the Yamaha had the rhythm feature (WALTZ!), which I could have used! I did use it - actually - but only during the rehearsal. Gosh - I had clean forgotten that I could have used the Yamaha one instead. I was too caught up instead on whether the keyboard that I used would sound OK (no feedback, etc). My forgetfulness this time cost my group our timing - which was (quite) all over the place (but which I thought was still acceptable).

Oh well - it's over already - our next performances would be the 4-part renditions of the Bach Matthaus Chorales and the evening "classical-crossover" performance at the Vanda Room (well at least it's indoor). More others will be coming - later.

I've been practising my solo performance piece (Debussy's Reverie) and my scales (Major: C, G, D, A, E, F, Bb, Eb, Ab; Harmonic Minor: a, b, c, d, e, g) this week. I've also tried a few melodic and natural minor scales to accompany my development of the harmonic minor scales.

We also have word that (from Michael's suggestion) that the scheduled end-year DMAT concert might probably be pushed back to end of the second semester next year (somewhere around March). The reason being that most of us are not ready to perform on such a scale. Well - I agree with him - even I need more exposure to the performance setting. It's also beneficial for my Concert Publicity Committee because it means that we have slightly more time for the necessary arrangements (ticket/poster/flyer design, etc.) - but it doesn't mean I'm gonna let my committee slack through the coming October holidays.

12:23 pm *

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Practice for PERFECTION (at least near-perfection)

We had practice for the 31 August performance as usual in the Visual Effects Studio today. Man, the place still stinks. Timing was our main problem. The new stint lecturer Jimmy had advised us to listen more intently to each other's playing so we could get into the 'feel' of the music. He also recommended the process of isolation, which was to select a few players to play at one time while the rest listened to see how the instrumental parts of those who were playing 'fitted' with each other. We did try it out - but I guess we did not really get the gist of it - we needed more practice in playing our parts with precision.

Hence, we're aiming to focus on TIMING and PRECISION during one of our last rehearsals this Sunday. One thing I'm quite worried about now is whether we're going to have a rehearsal at the actual venue at all - we need to know and adjust (if needed) our positions on the stage(s). Already we learnt from the previous experience of the Graduation 2005 Performance that rehearsal times were not to be trusted.

I've finished running through my performance piece - Debussy's Reverie, but I still need to brush up on the transition between certain phrases. Uranus (by Gustav Holst), which Wei Jie and I are performing for the DMAT concert, has been put on hold for quite some time because the assignments/tests/deadlines are taking their toll these 3 weeks or so. And there's still my scales which I need to practise for Week 15's Scales Test.

12:42 pm *

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Rehearsals once again.

It's only been less than 1 month since our last performance for Graduation 2005 on 27 July. And we're already headed for our next performance for SP's 50th Anniversary Closure. We're left with less than 2 weeks to it - fortunately we're doing only ONE 2-minute song (I feel it's not long enough for us to be graded, but oh well).

We're gonna' be having rehearsals every Monday and Friday in school and during the 2 coming Sunday afternoons. I don't think there's enough time for us to really do a very nice piece - so I guess we'll just make do with the standard we're at.

Our piece is "Waltz For The Moon" from Final Fantasy. 3/4 syncopated timing adds to the "cartoony" feeling the piece gives its listeners. We stuck to the original team - Jwee Keat and I on keyboard, Candice on viola, Chrislyn on trumpet, Bo Yuan on French horn, Wee Siong on dizi and Louis on flute. For once, we're doing a fast-paced piece, compared to the slow ones we've been doing in the past. This kinda' brings up the challenge for us to co-ordinate.

I've finished covering the correct fingerings for all 12 major scales - next I'm going for the a, b, c, d, e and g minor harmonic scales that we'll be tested on soon. I've selected Debussy's Reverie (A Dream) as my solo performance piece. I'd rather play an electone organ piece but I have had to bend towards the classical side to fit the requirements on the module syllabus. I'm still brushing up Uranus and getting started on the front part of Jupiter (both pieces to be played at the DMAT Concert). At the same time, I'm up to No. 5 of the Hanon exercises (just started them recently - and there's SIXTY altogether! *freaks out*).

Til' next week...

8:48 am *

Monday, August 15, 2005

Impromptu Improvisation

Wei Jie on flute, Ryu on guitar and me on keyboard. We had to improvise over one of our strong chord progression backing tracks. It turned out - honestly - rather horribly though, with a guitar that was not tuned. I did not perform my improvisation part well - I guess I was dead-beat since it was nearing the end of the day. But since it was an impromptu on-the-spot affair, it wasn't so bad that we did at least play some notes coherently.

Got up to page 10-11 (thereabouts) of Uranus... about 5 more to go! The reason why I'm going much slower than expected is because I don't have the time to focus only on Uranus - I still have another piece (Jupiter) and also my scales to practise... amidst assignments and studying for the technological part of music (REMT).

12:48 pm *

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Review - Graduation Performance 2005

(My 10th post in this Performance Journal)

We did get to see the whole performance on video after all. However, we did not sound as good as we did when we were performing "live" due to the limitations of the built-in camera microphone. We had peer-to-peer grading as well where we rated each other performance(s) on a scale of 1 to 15. We all already had 5 points for being present on the day itself. I wonder how I far...

Cos' I realised that some mistakes I made during my groups' performance were quite obvious. Luckily though, my morning performance (Final Fantasy group), where I used the wrong instrumental sound (harp instead of piano), did not turn out so bad because it fitted the mood of the pieces.

Moving on to another topic, I am going on to page 5 (our of 16) for the piano duo piece Uranus - The Planets (Gustav Holst). Four of us (Jasmine, Tian Hwee, Wei Jie & me) are starting soon on another piece, Jupiter - The Planets (Gustav Holst). The piece was supposed to be a piano duo (two pianos, one person/two hands on each piano), but we're turning it into a piano "quadro" (two pianos, two people/four hands on each piano). I don't know whether it's possible... I know the coordination's gonna be difficult because there are FOUR people playing at once. But we have to try.

Personally, I am also practising my major scales (with proper fingerings) for the upcoming keyboard skills assessment (will move on to natural/harmonic/melodic minor scales soon - I hope). Also in line are Hanon exercises - stuff which I never grew up with because I did not take the traditional classical piano route but the contemporary electone organ path.

9:00 am *

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Graduation 2005 Performance

The day we had all been practising so much for finally came on 27 July 2005. We generally thought we did horribly or satisfactorily - although we won't know how we actually sound until we see the video footage of our performances.

Recalling my first performance that morning on stage... my Final Fantasy group was performing the pieces "Bittersweet Romance" and "Theme of Love". I got shocked (but luckily not mind-crippled) when I realised shortly after starting to play the keyboard that its voice was set to "harp"... when I needed "piano"! And I didn't know how to operate Clef's Yamaha Motif that I was using. However, further feedback from my friends told me that it was quite nice as the "harp" was a softer, better timbre for the pieces.

I learnt my lesson - and learnt from Clef on how to operate his keyboard. My second performance in the afternoon with my main group featured the songs "At The Beginning" and "Xi Shui Chang Liu" ("Still Water Runs Deep"). It was here that I played a few wrong, though insignificant, notes. Whoops. Guess I was a bit tired or wasn't concentrating hard enough.

My final piece that evening was "Get Around" by the Beach Boys in my a capella group. Well - frankly and honestly - we rushed throughout the piece. And even went out of pitch - very obviously. Oh no. I wonder what the audience might have thought.

Whatever the case, it's all over now. And, though we made mistakes, they were mistakes worth making, because we will gain knowledge and experience through reviewing the mistakes we made when we go through the video footage. And through it we will improve - so obviously our future performances will be better.

5:58 am *

Friday, July 22, 2005

I get around.

Round, round, get around, I get around...

We had a capella training by our recently-discovered brilliant singer Mr Eric Wei. The basses and tenors, especially, underwent training for certain parts of the song "Get Around" that we were performing for Graduation 2005. We improved pretty much in our pitching and I would say that we sang much more confidently and were of a higher than satisfactory standard now. We can do better - but then again, there's the problem of time constraint/management and the undeniable fact that we are not a capella professionals. And we had only 1 month to practise... with multiple groups for most of us.

Over this final weekend before the Performance, I'll be having rehearsals throughout Saturday and Sunday. Then I have my CCA Camp on Monday and Tuesday - but the rehearsal's probably gonna be on Monday. Ack - clashing schedules are so common for me. I am still learning to be willing to sacrifice my time. Then Wednesday's the performance - for me I'll be involved the whole day. The class chalet (finally - some relaxation) is on from Wednesday to Friday - a temporary hiatus from the hustle and bustle of polytechnic life!

Being forward-looking is a good thing. Wei Jie and I have decided to embark on a piano duo for the end-year Concert - Gustav Holst's The Planets - Uranus. 16 pages long. 1 page of hard practice every week. It's a rather difficult song. Shucks. Oh well - gotta devote more time to practising for this piece.

1:19 pm *

Sunday, July 17, 2005

1 more week to Graduation performances.

The pressure is mounting up even higher as only ONE week remains till the graduation performances. The various groups have been filmed and their performances reviewed as "terrible" even if they were good - to heighten the standard.

I've come to realise that some people in DMAT are not taking time to rehearse seriously and me and some of my team have gotten real fed-up over this. There's a time to be serious and a time to have fun - and now that the time to be serious demands more than the time to have fun - I feel that we should be willing to sacrifice our time (shopping, playing pool, etc). Slacking in polytechnic (even if it is the 1st year) is not my cup of tea. I've learnt enough from my 'O' Level results - even though they were quite good... I could've did better.

Mr Eric Wei has been training with my main group (performing "At The Beginning" and "Xi Shui Chang Liu") over our vocals. For the next final week, I will focus on training my team in dynamics and pitching. Hopefully, we can bring our performance up to an adequate standard.

As for my a capella group, the last week is crucial. We need to brush up in our timing and pitching - it's not currently presentable. Our dynamics and articulation also have to be more pronounced.

My Final Fantasy group's main problems are dynamics and timing. I hope our rehearsal tomorrow will clear out a bit of these problems. You would have noticed by now that many groups have problems with keeping to a constant rhythm - it's something that even professional performers struggle with. Few people can perform in perfect time.

Pieces I'm practising now are Theme of Love and Bittersweet Romance (both from Final Fantasy). Both are relatively simple - I just need to work on memorising them.

7:09 am *

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Chord Progressions

Today my group, "What Michael Spicer said", performed "We're Not Following" - an 8-bar strong chord progression piece. The unique thing about it was that it featured both major and minor keys. There was Wei Jie on the keyboard as arpeggio, Bo Yuan on the French Horn as bass, Wee Siong and me on the Di Zi and the harmonica respectively as pads, and Ryu and Royston's vocals as the melody. It turned out pretty bad, like the other groups, during the critique session. Though our timing was alright, it was the blending of the texture that was our major problem.

Pieces I have learnt (and are learning this week) are the Final Fantasy songs Theme of Love and Bittersweet Romance; At The Beginning & Xi Shui Chang Liu (Still Water Runs Deep); and the a capella version of Get Around by the Beach Boys. Obviously, all these songs are to be performed for Graduation on 27 July. This provides me with opportunities to showcase my accompaniment and arpeggio skills, and also my vocal abilities (I will be performing for all 3 shifts for Graduation). We've been running into difficulties booking the studios for rehearsals, so we've been going to one another's homes to practise. But even this proves a challenge because our schedules ALWAYS clash. It's impossible to get a time when everyone's free due to our different committments. Well, next Monday's our rehearsal showcase. I don't know how many groups are already prepared. But as for my group(s), I'll push them to at least a satisfactory performance-presentation level.

2:36 pm *

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Pitch/Melody & Graduation Performance Rehearsals

First things first. Here's the part about the timbre/texture/rhythm/pitch of my favourite song - well actually I don't have a favourite song (listen to many genres) - so I'll just pick Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" (which was my party piece too). 1. Timbre - this song is mainly vocal and piano (accompanied by drums); and the tone is bright and optimistic. 2. Texture - the piece is homophonic (like many other pieces), consisting of a vocal melody and a piano accompaniment. 3. Rhythm - the song is upbeat and determined in feeling, largely due to its interesting "broken-up" rhythm. 4. Pitch - the vocal range of this song is medium. Considering it to be sung by a female, it is of relatively low pitch (for a female).

OK, it's Week 6 now - we've effectively got THREE weeks to brush up our performance pieces for the graduating students' big Graduation Day. And it's gonna be graded. The pressure is ON...

Just a bit about last week's pitch/melody group improvisation exercises - I guess the standard went down quite a bit compared to the previous weeks' performances - everyone was lethargic at the thought of performing unconventional music and also because we found it rather monotonous to isolate each single element of music. As for my choice of performance grouping, I've been trying to work with different groups for each exercise to better facilitate bonding and understanding of my DMAT coursemates.

I've involved in 4 groups for graduation performance - out of which only 1 group (the a capella one) has not had rehearsals planned so far. I don't even know whether they're going ahead with "it". Last Saturday I had rehearsals for the songs At The Beginning and Xi Shui Chang Liu (Still Water Runs Deep) from morning to late afternoon. On Sunday it was the Final Fantasy song "Theme of Love" (from afternoon to late evening). This coming Wednesday afternoon I'm doing the same pieces mentioned for Saturday. And for Friday morning I've to begin with a third group (If We Hold On Together). Well, I hope we really do HOLD ON TOGETHER throughout these tiring, trying times. I know I'm throwing myself into a pot of hot soup by joining four groups, but I want to score well for Performance, so - there you go.

Will be blogging more about rehearsals in my future posts. About my own personal practice, I have been trying to fit in time to practise several piano pieces and of course, my scales. But do already take note that I spend THREE hours everyday travelling to and from school - not to mention the endless rehearsals, the trivial but compulsory events like the AIDS Talk, CIP of 7 hours to be completed, and my CCA to cope with. The class is draining out of energy. PLEASE - we need adequate rest. People are falling sick and the enthusiasm's almost gone in everyone. We can see it every day in people's faces. WE NEED A TIME-OUT.

10:08 am *

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Party Piece

We performed a solo "Party Piece" today, which we were supposed to be able to play while "dead-drunk", according to Michael at least. It had to be 3-5 minutes long. Mine was like - 1 minute? I was endlessly debating in my mind over what piece I should perform for today. Since my major instrument was the electone organ - and the facilities in school didn't provide for it - I was in a dilemma over whether to improvise the chords of a moderately-difficult piece or stick with a simple piece. I eventually decided to keep things simple and did a medley of Vanessa Carlton's A Thousand Miles and the Super Mario Theme on the keyboard. Nice, short simple tunes. Fortunately for us today we were not being graded. My medley, however, was spoilt by the rhythm when I went too fast, resulting in several bars of notes not being played. And of course the whole medley was an improvisation - meaning that you'll not hear the same exact notes again when I play it another time.

Another major thing happening this week was the opening of ICT Recording Studios B and C - the ones we had been waiting for - for like, 1 month at least! Complete with a baby GRAND piano, sound-proof rooms, drum sets, ProTools with mixer/configuration (with 2 VERY LARGE LCD monitor screens), the whole multi-million dollar project cost like - ya, a bomb! Even before the piano was tuned, it was already being played by several of us.

I managed to get more piano scores from various sources, but I realised that it was not much of a point because firstly, I don't have a piano to practise on - and secondly, I put my assignments before my keyboard practices in priority.

A notable song that I have heard in this week is Jacques Offenbach's Can-Can, which I admired for its dexterity and eccentricity.

Straying slightly off topic, we're halfway into Term 1 already and the pressure of our assignments (including THIS performance journal) is already building up, with projects and due dates every week. The workload never ceases! I feel I'm getting rather overworked by the assignments... it's like from morning to night I only have less than 1 hour's rest - so much time spent on ASSIGNMENTS! From doing the Musicianship Textbook every morning in the long 50-minute MRT train ride, to only 1 hour of lunch break most days in school, to CCA activities in the afternoon, and coming home late in the evening/night - only to rush and finish MORE assignments and squeezing in practice time for my keyboard skills - AND finally sleeping past midnight most of the time - THERE IS HARDLY ENOUGH TIME! Hopefully I can adapt quickly to the hectic schedules of polytechnic life. I once thought that only in JCs was there such an amount of stress - polytechnic life has shown itself to be otherwise (after all, it's a tertiary institution). Oh well. Trying not to stress myself out too much!

1:25 pm *

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Notable songs I have listened to during Week 3: F.I.R.'s "Lydia" and Ronan Keating's "When You Say Nothing At All". The tunes of these two songs stuck in my head. They had simple tunes - which probably proved that sometimes the simplest tunes are the ones that making the longest-lasting impression. I liked the clash of Eastern and Western instruments in "When You Say Nothing At All" and the free improvisation part in "Lydia".

For this week, we focused on Rhythm, which was something that was essential for all good performers, an ability that many have yet to perfect. My performance group (with me on the harmonica) did not make much progress in the first rehearsal (because of disorganisation and time constraints). We did not have a wide range of instruments as well - four recorders, two harmonicas, a pianica, a small Chinese drum and some jingly bells made up the ensemble.

The lecturer from the room directly below us complained about the noise we made during our performances (e.g. banging of metal pipes on the ground), so we had to put Plan B into action. Thus, we ended up in the pungent-smelling Visual Effects Room where my group went first. The rhythmic pattern of our piece was quite monotonous as we realised later - but I felt that this was not because we had not improvised enough, but because of the clash of the timbres which the instruments made. For example, the recorders, no many how complex the improvisation, all produced roughly the same sound (though they were on different pitches) - resulting in a garble of tones. Later the class (or rather the whole course - there's only 43 of us) was astounded by Puay Chin's rendition of "The Flight of the Bumble Bee" on the chinese Zhong Ruan.

As for the piano piece I'm currently practising - it's Chopin's Fantaisie Impromptu. Have to get used to my strained left hand because it was formerly not used to so much turns and movements (I learned music the organ way - left hand played triads/chords). I've only gone as far as half of the first page. Another thing that's troubling is that I've no piano to practice it on - only my electone organ - so I've to make do with two layers of keyboards for each hand (very uncomfortable considering that it's a piano piece with a wide range of notes that I'm playing).

12:33 pm *

Saturday, June 11, 2005


The music dimension of Week Two is Texture - basically the number of musical lines and how they interact with each other. As usual, we were split into 5 random groups and asked to rehearse a fragment which showcased qualities of various stages of complexity of sounds such as monophonic, duophonic, polyphonic and unison (rhythmic).

10.06.05 - the actual performance. My group, Jamming Production Studios, aptly performed an improvised piece, "Texture with a Jazzy Twist". It started with a solo monophonic texture of the bass guitar, built up duophonically with the keyboard, resulting in a homophonic mix of the sounds of bass guitar, keyboard, Chinese flute, acoustic guitar, snare drums and clapping. Present in the piece was also the textural quality of octave unison and rhythmic unison. Overall, none of the groups prominently featured the polyphonic texture in their pieces. Then again, our lecturer Michael reminded us that most pop songs (around 90%) featured homophonic textures. The only downfall of my group's piece, besides the lack of polyphonic textures, was the low volume of the keyboard I was playing (with Yan Xi). I initially thought that the high volume of the keyboard would overpower the rest of the instruments (especially the guitar) - so I lowered the volume intentionally. Once the piece started, I realised my mistake - but it was too late to turn up the volume - well actually I could if I stopped playing for a while and adjusted it higher, but that would be awkward because we were being filmed on camera.

11:46 am *

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Timbre performance

Today I started this blog as part of the individual assignment of the DMAT Performance module. Well, it was also Friday - which was the last day of the first official week I had in polytechnic. Yippee... polytechnic life rocks! However, life's not all-perfect. It's the hectic timetable, which ranges anytime from 9am to 5pm that bores/tires me out.

This week's performance "theme" (music dimension) was "Timbre". It's basically tone colour - the different qualities of sound that different instruments make, although a single instrument itself may have various timbres according to whether we hit it, stroke it, blow it or use it in a different way.

My performance group, "Climax", had only TWO real rehearsals prior to the actual performance - one the day before and the other minutes before the actual show. We had an array of pipes, kitchen utensils, pianica boxes (strangely!) and a few other percussion instruments.

1st try. Overall, we kept to a constant rhythm strictly, but we found out that we were supposed to focus on "timbre" instead - as it was the theme. Our piece was too monotonous - not enough variations. One good part we got right though was the climax - the finale of our piece.

2nd try. This time around, everyone's performances were better after we were given some time to brush up on our pieces. The significant change for my group's piece was, of course, in the timbre. We started with vocal timbres of a major scale. Thereafter, we experimented with more ways of using our instruments and split ourselves up into parts (with different parts playing at one time) so that the piece would not sound so "draggy". I felt that my group bonded together well during the rehearsals and actual performance, proving that we had TEAMWORK, one crucial and essential aspect of any group performance if it were to be successful.

12:04 pm *

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