Sunday, July 30, 2006

Superficial Intentions

What do you feel when you realise that your government opens up a music conservatoire, offers scholarships to overseas talents to come over and study for free with allowance, and it ends up that the conservatoire is made up of all overseas students and the government proclaiming to the whole world that the country has a most vibrant arts scene to nurture artistic talents?

Apparently, they just don't see how their citizens being involved in the arts can help contribute to the economy. So unbelievably practical and myopic.

Such revelations certainly never fail to spoil my day...

Nonetheless, thank God for letting me chance upon this young lady with the sweetest smile in the evening during dinner with my teacher and friends. Now, that certainly lifted my mood and cleared my mind.

Now I think about it, there's not much point fighting the flawed system, is there?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Check This Out

Chanced upon this simple and interesting site which gives a brief introduction about most of the instruments around.

Here're some statements about the guitar which caught my attention.

Teachers do like to teach the thing they do best themselves, so if you have a classically-trained guitar teacher, he or she might be reluctant to teach you in any other style.

Makes me recall the number of times I tried to find tactful ways of changing discussions with my students whenever they start talking about pop or folk music. (Don't you see the big grin on my face?)

In our view it is very difficult to learn, and your progress is likely to be slow.

You can trust the writer's judgement on that. Of course, I can't exactly compare it to other instruments for I haven't taken up a second instrument, yet.

The classical guitar is quiet, and therefore not well suited to playing with other instruments, so playing it could well be a solitary pursuit.

Not quite a true statement. I would rather indulge myself in some chamber music than solo music. Anyway, I've realised that classical guitarists who prefer solo playing are often lacking in ability to listen and co-ordinate with other musicians. Or maybe the other way around, they probably don't like playing with other musicians for they can't co-ordinate and listen well.

That's pretty much about it. Not much, but do take some effort to visit this pretty decent site.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Simple Comments

While I was deeply immersed in my practice a few days back, a friend J walked in and sat there quietly. I was going through Albeniz's Granada from his Suite Espanola. After listening to a full run of it, J, in a state of reverie, remarked simply "I love the middle section.". He didn't bother to go on justifying his comments by translating what he felt from the music into words, not because he wasn't musically trained, but simply because he knew he didn't have to.

No, I'm not a pianist, but since this score is originally written for the piano, I guess I'll use the original piano score. The guitar transcription is transcribed a semitone lower, from the key of F to the key of E. I still sincerely believe that this work is written with the sounds of the spanish guitar in mind, for it truly sounds better on the guitar compared to the original instrument for which it is written for.

This is the start of his "middle section", the modulation into the key of F min. This dreamy section of the work momentarily transports the listener to the most tranquil and serene streets of Granada in the evening. Maybe it wouldn't be right to classify bars 41 to 44 (the first 4 bars above) as the middle section, as they form the transition bars from the opening section in F maj to the middle section in F min. The first section describes of the hustle and bustle of the streets during the day (for once, crowds are actually so lovely with the hills and mountains of Sierra Nevadas as the background) and as the night falls (as shown the the first 4 bars above), the intrinsic charm of the province reveals itself...

The F min chord in the lower registers progressed in such a lovely, misty manner into the G dim chord in the higher registers of the instrument in the first 4 bars here shown here. Nope, the noise from the day hasn't completely disappeared, but the crowds are either starting to go back home for dinner or head to the nearest taverns for a drink. And then from bar 45 time stops. Alright, that's not much of a description, but I thought that pretty much sums it up. Doesn't that how one feel when one behold the most alluring sight like the Alhambra? The repetition of the motive from bars 48 to bars 50 in various forms throughout the middle section. Somehow the composer is trying to recapture the very honest emotions which struck him when he was walking along the streets of Granada, beholding the picturesque surroundings of this most simple province in Andalusia.

Somehow, J captured the entire mood of this middle section upon the first listening when he opened himself up to the music. That remark was made with such honesty. Somehow, as a performer, it's truly satisfying to be able to touch the hearts of people and move them with my music.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Interpretation of Baroque Music

Despite being in an era which the classical music community shifts their focus to the historically informed performances, it isn't very rare for one to come across a recording or performance which romanticises Bach. Recall about the number of times when you hear a traditionalist, probably yourself, remark in disgust that the performance is overly romanticised. Common, aren't they? Recently, I've been thinking if such remarks and criticisms are justified. Of course, I do admit that I'm a traditionalist and the period and style which I have the most number of interpretation books on is the baroque era. And with the information I have received from these books alone, it wouldn't be too difficult to assess if a performance or recording is within those traditional baroque performance guidelines. But from a perspective of a performer, are things really that simple?

In my discussions with several friends who are musicians involving performances of baroque pieces which we have gone to, I would often approach their criciticisms of romanticism of the music with caution. I have experienced that some of these comments are uttered whenever the performer had expressed or rather, intensified, a certain emotion in the passage through the use of more modern devices such as excessive ritardando or accelerando, or wide dynamic contrasts which are often associated with romantic works etc. Somehow, such reasons doesn't quite register as a convincing argument to dismiss certain performance.

The more legitimate approach, it seems, would be to assess the intention of the performer when he used that expressive device. If those devices are simply used without much consideration to entire texture of the work and doesn't blend into the whole picture, the insincerity of the performance can be easily felt and that is definitely unacceptable. Of course, on the other hand, despite me being a traditionalist, there're romanticised performances of baroque pieces which I'm totally agreeable with. The non-conventional expressive devices used are just what the music can tolerate with, or even require. The performance, despite a non-conventional one, is widely accepted, even by traditionalists as listeners can connect with the artiste because of his/her sincerity and sensitivity to the music.

Basically, I just think that music listeners ought to approach this age old issue with more sensitivity and depth for most of the performers out there have put in so much effort to interpret a piece of music they respect and shouldn't be criticised simply because of the usage of non-conventional expressive devices which intensifies the emotions which the composer had intended centuries ago.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Woke up to the most beautiful of mornings despite my late night yesterday and attended church in the morning. Today's sermon was different from before in a special way. It felt more intense and the focus of the message, Romans 6, was brought alive in an extraordinary way. Our pastor, too, was thrown into an agitated state much earlier into the sermon than normal. While processing the contents of the sermon in my head, these observations entered my mind, just like a second melody line in counterpoint.

Why did our pastor comment that today's sermon wasn't easily digestible and yet his descriptions were so much more vivid and spontaneous, just the opposite of what one would expect when the message is supposed to be harder to expound and require more preparations? No, it certainly wasn't the sudden surge of divine inspiration regarding the passage, for he had understood the message thoroughly long before today, nor was it because of the passage containing the most special biblical truth. Then it struck me. Our pastor had empathised with Paul's most sincere need to address that biblical issue in light of the circumstances surrounding it during his day. Out of respect of Paul's intention while penning that passage, he was infected with the similar state of being. As a pastor, he had found out the way the passage demanded to be taught, resulting in such an honest delivery of today's message.

And then the sermon was taken over by the most perfect Teacher - Jesus Christ. Don't you see a connection to your music? How often have you encountered a pathetically empty rendition of a masterpiece? What exactly are those performers lacking? Why do you play that flattened 6th chord like it's the most common chord around? Have you been desensitised by those popular songs which uses that chord until it's becomes so cliche? Where did the colours of the flattened 6th chord which the composer had intended go to?

Have you truly appreciated and respected what the composer had written and where is your sincere need to recreate the emotions which gave birth to those masterpieces?

These questions just invaded my head. Teacher Jesus seems to be assessing my absorption abilities this morning and decided to bombard my puny mind with excessive information. He sure gave my sufficient information to keep my mind working for the rest of the day, both on biblical and musical issues.

I love my contrapuntal mind, though it gets a little overwhelming at times...