Cake before the Icing

16 07 2009

I was still wide-awake at 2:30 this morning, hunched-up in bed with the laptop, marvelling at how clear my latest arrangement sounded in my head as I tried to get it down into Sibelius (which I shall shamelessly plug as the music transcription software to own) – I ended-up sleeping at 4AM, and no, its not done yet.

Of course you’re wondering what am I working on (and if you’re not, why are you reading this?).

Well, you’ve probably read about my current wave of fanboy-ism, and so it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m working on a song called 다시 만난 세계.


Yeah. This PC can now handle Korean characters…and you need to learn to read Korean 😉

So anyway, there I was last night, listening back and forth across my reference recordings when I stumbled upon a classic case “Icing before the Cake” – technique or virtuosity for the sake of…well…technique or virtuosity.

I found two fanmade piano renditions of 다시 만난 세계 – one was by a dude (I think), the other by a girl (judging from the nail polish). The dude was clearly the superior pianist, technique-wise, at least – he skittered up and down the keyboard, added some really funky inflections and reharmonizations here and there – while the girl pianist basically stuck to the “melody supported by chords and arpeggios” formula. They also differed in terms of tempo, with the dude taking a fast, closer-to-the-original tempo, while the girl laid it back by a significant amount.

I remember telling my students some time ago that audience applause is a poor standard by which to gauge one’s success as a musician – most audiences (most, not all) will applaud anything, especially if its something novel or something they cannot do themselves. Nevermind excellence – most applause is a way of saying “I was entertained, regardless of whether or not you were actually worth watching.”

Now please, before you react, I am not saying we should therefore treat the audience with contempt – I am simply saying not to trust in the applause. Be thankful for it, be a gracious, humble recepient of it, but don’t attach significance to it.

Anyway, I really felt this was the case of the dude’s rendition – it was novel, it was impressive, technique-wise, it was testament to his skill and undoubtedly awesome talent – but it didn’t mean anything. It felt like, as far as he was concerned, just another song to play around with.

The girls rendition, however, was something else – technically simple and straightforward, but it made things move inside me. Her approach opened up the melody and song structure for scrutiny, allowing the listeners to judge the music first and foremost (and despite my biased position, I would like to say that the melody is excellent – it would not sound out of place on an anime or videogame soundtrack), and then her approach. Her piano was slightly out of tune, but even that lent her rendition charactert – one viewer commented that her sound “…seemed to be coming down from the sky.”

You know, after awhile you get used to the applause, to the people who slink-up to you and say nice things about your abilities and your talent – and when that happens, you start looking for something beyond all those things, something more transcendent, something meaningful. You start wanting your music to mean something, to change something.

More often than not, the best cake needs no icing – and the best music needs no virtuosity.




2 responses

31 07 2009

i like! ^_^

28 03 2010

Hi, you have interesting post! I’m definitely going to bookmark you! Thank you for your info.And this is wedding cakes site/blog. It pretty much covers “cakes” related stuff.

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