Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Home Studio

It's been almost a century since I last scribbled on this blog. Earlier, I had converted my bedroom into a studio by throwing the bed down the window and getting new furnitures, which include a white shelf, table and a few comfortable chairs suitable for playing the guitar in the classical position, for the studio.

Currently in the midst of clearing the cobwebs off my relatively new shelf and table of books, scores and other miscellaneous materials, and re-classifying them for the new year. Back when the shelf newly arrived, I had classified all my books and sheet music by just having a section each for classical sheet music (sub-classified into the various periods etc), ethnomusic books and sheet music, religious, philosophy and literature books and so forth. A pretty simple, systematic and organised categorisation, but it didn't strike me as being right, or meaningful.

Might as well, since it's the new year, that gave me some reason to re-organise the entire mountain of materials. I cleared the entire shelf and table of their contents and basically sat on the floor for the next few hours to re-organise all those materials once again. This time, I did it differently. Since the bulk of my books were basically classical music books, sheet music, method books, I decided that the music with their distinctive styles and temperaments were placed next to materials which have relations to the music. For Bach's music, due to their inherent spiritual value (present even in those works which were conceived as secular works), they were placed together with my religious materials and books, essays and treatises on baroque performance directions. As a matter-of-fact, these materials were placed within an arm's length from where I'll be sitting when I'm practising. I really can't do without them and not to mention that the music scene wouldn't be the same without our beloved Bach. Next to them, a little further but still within reach is a section exclusively for charming Schubert. I do realise that I have amassed quite a collection of his works (pretty surprising since he wasn't a guitar composer), especially his lieders, both with the accompaniment transcribed to the guitar and the urtext version. Right next to them, are of course, books and essays on Schubert himself, essays on aesthetic beauty and poetry. And not the mention the huge collection of Spanish music which are placed on a level further, right next to books and sheet music on flamenco culture, Spain and anything Spanish, including a language book on mastering the language. Modern music which I've yet managed to come to terms with were allocated a meaningful place too as they were next to the philosophy books with certain theories and parts which I have yet the maturity to comprehend.

It's a truly nostalgic experience re-arranging the shelves. So many a times have I felt tempted to stop what I was doing and put a particular piece of music on the stand and play it on my guitar. While I was browsing through the pieces of music, thoughts and reflections of the qualities of the music which first lured me to acquire them went through my mind. A truly spiritual experience. While I was holding the two versions of Bach's Goldberg Variations (Urtext and an authentic transcription for the guitar by József Eötvös) in my collection, Glenn Gould's most spiritually weighty 1981 recording just before his death started playing in my mind. Flipping through the pages of the sheet music, I was once again so thankful that Hungarian guitarist József Eötvös had done a masterful job of transcribing the entire work onto solo guitar. And for the mighty Chaconne of Bach as well, I could go on and on about the magnificent beauty of its structure and spiritual value. Currently, right on my music stand is actually the sheet music for Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata for guitar and piano. The other two versions which I've often compared it with were on the shelf. I was holding all the three different transcriptions of it (cello and piano, viola and piano besides my version on the stand) earlier and spending such a marvellous time flipping through them and playing such poetically intense music mentally. There were those times too, when I found sheet music which I never thought I had. It's a certainly wonderful experience re-classifying those materials which have affected my life, whether musically or not, at some point or another.

And I sincerely thought that the huge shelf I got from the furniture store was sufficient probably for the next year, but I'm now desperately running out of space soon, given the huge pile of materials left on the table which have yet to be packed. And right in the dark corner of the picture lies a humongous pile of CDs and DVDs which are still waiting for the arrival of rack.

In the midst of browsing through the books, I chanced upon a quote by T.S. Eliot, aptly stating that

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not
the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course,
only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to
escape from these things."

I certainly do find his argument coherent, even when such a statement is used for music in my case. Certainly, the emotions one, or rather, I, would like to express in a piece of music, would have to be firstly felt, pondered upon on the best way the music can evoke it before such an emotion would be able to be presented in a palatable, acceptable and stylistic manner to the audience. Somehow along the way, I had learnt to control and shape those most powerful emotions in a musical way, taking into consideration that I wouldn't lose that spontaneity along the way.

Somehow, looking back at all things artistic in the past year, I am glad to be a musician - another most blessed species of animals that God has created...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Day Before Competition

There were approximately twenty over people (apparently, the rest couldn't make it in time due to their flight delays, but out of kind understanding, the organisers shifted them to the 2nd day) in the briefing room at the hotel. I observed the overseas competitors in the room and realised most were seasoned competitors and despite being from diverse regions in the world, most could strike up a sincere conversation with their fellow competitors. I guess that's due to the fact that most of them, if not all, are feeling the same way (excitement and anxiety?).

I got to know quite a few of them from the previous international competitions and was pleasantly surprised that they were there as well. (No, I didn't join any of them, was at the previous competitions only as the audience) Somehow, in those talks with these musicians, I do realise that they were really sincere in their conversations. I guess that's the special thing about art competitions. We weren't intimidated by one another probably due to the fact that each of us possesses an individual style which we call our own. There was tension, not out of competitiveness between us, but due to the uncertainty of how our performance on the competition hall that day will turn out. "Competition are for horses, not for artists," said Béla Bartók. I certainly agree, but apparently, the people I had met this evening certainly weren't anywhere near horses. Well, I wouldn't be surprised to meet those nasty, nauseating and neurotic people like what we see so often on reality TV, but that actually wasn't the case. Thank God...

I struck up conversations with a few of them and they talked of the competitions which they've joined. Somehow, I felt that part of me that really wants to join the ranks of these seasoned competitors. Rushing to reach the venue in time, catching last minute flights, meeting friends and fellow competitors from all over the world, staying in different hotel rooms every other week, lugging the luggage and guitar all over the place and of course the preparations for the performing repertoire. Certainly isn't an easy life, I would say, but terribly tempting....

What would I do on the evening of a competition overseas? I would probably take a short walk in the surrounding area of the hotel after dinner, admiring the evening scene of the country. After which, I will go back to my hotel room, read a few chapters from a book from my luggage, run through my competition pieces at least three times. Lastly, I will jump and scream a few times on the hotel bed, maybe that's what all the competitors are doing this evening in their hotel room...