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.



15 07 2009

Sharp readers will have figured out by now that on most weekdays, my mornings and early afternoons are as vacant as space (it’s okay…you can’t all be sharp readers *snicker*), which I try to fill with a variety of activities, trying to stave-off couch-potato syndrome.

Poor potato. Wherever did that moniker come from? Is it because potatoes just sit there? Well so do tomatoes…and pineapples…and durian fruit. Hmm…couch durian…

Anyway, when I am unable to go swimming (like these past few days, due to heavy rain), I often find myself imbibing unhealthy amounts of coffee while trying to go through my Suzuki Violin Method books. They’re all I’ve got in the form of pieces, so they will have to do. I’ve worked through the first three books and I’m now 1/3 of the way through the fourth. Those irritating double-stopped triplets in the 3rd movement of the 5th Violin Concerto by Seitz are so demotivating, though – not because they’re particularly hard, but because they just sound so illogical – dissonance for no reason at all. I’ll have to play through it a few more times, I suppose.

When the internet is down (as is wont to happen at least once a day) and I’ve fulfilled my daily practice quota, I do try to read through the Korean language textbooks I’ve downloaded – I have the alphabet more or less down and can read Korean words with a modicum (a very small modicum, to be sure) of literacy, but there are two obstacles that currently impede my progression from reading to understanding, which is absolutely crucial if I want to get around to speaking:

  1. Korean grammar (from my perspective, as a native speaker of English – we can argue that point some other time) brings to mind very high-end programming languages, with impossibly powerful compilers that can make sense of very loose syntax. To illustrate, using an example in English:

    “Andrew home-at lunch eats.”
    “Andrew lunch home-at eats.”
    “Home-at Andrew lunch eats.”
    “Home-at lunch Andrew eats.”
    “Lunch Andrew home-at eats.”
    “Lunch home-at Andrew eats.”

    all mean the same thing (figure it out!). If I am ever going to learn Korean, I need a serious upgrade to the firmware in my head.

  2. Korean is a context-oriented language. This means that what we English speakers understand as a phrase (an incomplete sentence fragment, so to speak) can actually be a complete sentence, given a certain context. This isn’t completely unusual, since we have sentences like that (“Run!” for example, is considered complete, and the subject – you, us, etc. – depends on the context) – what is unusual is that most of us are not used to perceiving contexts on the same scope as Koreans are. This leads to some truly mind-boggling omissions that are a part of day-to-day speech in Korean. For example, the Korean equivalent for “How do you do?” or “How are you?” (Annyeong hashipnida?) is literally translated as “Are peaceful?”. Imagine somebody greeting you like that in English, and watch the eyebrows go through the roof.I’m considering ignoring the literal translation altogether and just concentrating on direct equivalencies.

So is this report on my mornings geeky enough for you? Hehe. I think I’ll go and look for whatever it is I need to download so that this computer can display (and allow me to type in) Korean.

Hwaiting! – Oh, figure it out yourself.

Thoughts Underwater

8 07 2009

I was going to write something about the current wave of fanboy-ism that has swept over me these past few weeks – to my great chagrin, of course – but it seems that every time I have the opportunity to write, I’m not in fanboy mode, and when I am, well…there’s no opportunity to write.

So I guess, for the time being, I shall write about…swimming.

Yes, I’ve recently taken up swimming as my exercise of choice; the public pools are only a short ride away and they give discounts to us “swimmers”, since we come early (before 7AM) and leave early (before 9AM).

No, I will not bore you with my best times, or a detailed analysis of my stroke, or how many laps I can do before calling it quits (500m). Instead, I wish to write of two things: one, the Deep Pool, and two, the High Platform.

The Deep Pool is the diving pool: 16ft deep and 10ft square. Very few people actually use it, and since I’m one of the earliest, I usually have it all to myself after my “demanding” regimen.

Diving into the Deep Pool is an almost spiritual experience: its quiet underwater – peaceful. I can’t say it’s quiet enough to hear oneself think – it’s so quiet, thinking itself seems like an intrusion on the peacefulness. I forget about the technicalities of my stroke and just enjoy the slow swim across. Some people find the depth unnerving – my nerves come when I imagine other things sharing the pool with me. No, the depth is fine – beautiful, even, like watching a thunderstorm. Welcome, the deep says, I have been waiting for you. Dive into me; swim across; take your time; forget oneself for awhile.

The High Platform is a diving platform over the Deep Pool – about 9 or 10ft high, built of solid concrete. Only the brave dare leap over its edge, for no matter how manageable it looks from pool level, the height is dizzying when you’re up on it.

Many times, the height has turned me back…with good reason: A drop from that height plunges you some eight feet down into the pool. Flawed technique (yes, there is a method to safely jumping off a platform into water) usually means a painful belly or back-flop (and public humiliation as your friends tell everyone how you flattened yourself like a pancake) or ruptured ear canals and/or sinuses. Get it right, however, and something inside of you wants to do it again.

Yesterday, I jumped off for the first time in oh, a decade. No crowds, no jeering friends – just me and what seemed like an eternal drop into the deep.

There’s something weird about stepping-off into thin air – the adrenalin rush of seeing the water rush closer and closer, the heart (and stomach)-in-your-throat sensation as you fall for what seems like forever…


…and then the roar of the bubbles created by your plunge into the cool, quiet water and you are borne slowly up, up, back to the surface. If you did everything right, that’s the moment you wish would last forever…

…nothing but the warm, inner glow of accomplishment…and the sound of your own beating heart.

I Remember

3 07 2009

The other week I asked one of my students (Kyu-Yeon, henceforth to be known as The Q – that’s awsomeness right there) to track down an old (5+ years) KPOP tune for me. The tune was Lee Soo Young’s LaLaLa.

Well, The Q and her sidekick Minji (or is it the other way around?) are quite efficient when it comes to anything Korean (duh!), and so she found me a link, I loaded it up into my mp3 player, and had a listen to a song I havn’t heard in a looong time – right in the college library (I’m a student again, remember?).

And I remembered Nari, singing it in her pale yellow top and white skirt. I also remember the time she came to my classroom fighting back tears: she had accidentaly (who would do such a thing on purpose?) bashed her head on a fire extinguisher outside and was rather stunned by the sudden rush of pain usually associated with bashing one’s head on blunt, immovable objects with great force (and vice versa).

It was only my second year of teaching, and well, since I don’t get high school students with blunt force trauma in my class everyday, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do. Rather innocently, I held-up two fingers and asked her to count them. She laughed (as best as one can when one’s head is ringing like a church bell).

As one memory leads to another, I then remembered Yoojin – one of the gentlest souls to ever grace my classroom. I think whoever composed her writeup in their batch yearbook was onto something when she called her a “Choi-doll” – she was always very soft-spoken and self-effacing, gently bopping her head when she found herself slow on the uptake. She helped me start The Orchestra, along with Abbie and Kristine and Yona and Yookyung – she was our first concertmaster.

She gave me kimchi – a whole bucketload of it (my attempts to store it on campus made me an instant celebrity). She called her violin kking-kkang because of the sound she made on it.

I remember Abbie, who is in Japan now. She had just about given-up on playing the violin, since she had been through a string of sub-par teachers (excellent players, but really bad teachers) before me. She was one of my tallest students, around 5’5″ or 5’6″, with nicely-tanned skin (a color we call moreno/morena) and wise-looking eyes.

During The Orchestra’s very first concert, she came onstage for her solo part in this gold and scarlet gown, all prettied-up (there goes good grammar) and beautiful, and I still remember the collective gasp from the audience.

I could actually go on and on with this, but I’m long on memories and short on time. All I want to say is that if your name is on this list, then know that today, I speak it in rememberance. If not, its probably because either you were never a student of mine to begin with, or you still are 😉

  • Nari Yim
  • Tanya Aritao
  • Kristine Borja
  • Seoyun Park
  • Taerang Park
  • Yookyung Lee
  • Yoojin Choi
  • Eric Wong
  • Benjamin Tolentino
  • Eunice Oquialda
  • Fahad Al-Khaldi
  • Kenzo Teves
  • She Ha Nul Hong
  • Monserrat Gonzales
  • Katrina Gonzales
  • Jonty Domingo
  • Katlyn de Mesa
  • Abiel Balon
  • Abigail Balon
  • Jen Miguel
  • Anna Calcetas
  • Charisse Cruz
  • Kathleen Hyun Kwak
  • James Oquialda
  • David Vidad
  • Juwon Park

I have this hankering feeling I’ve forgotten a few people, as is wont when it comes to this sort of thing. I apologize – frankly, I’m amazed I remember this many.

Wherever you are, whatever you might be doing, whatever you might have become, I remember, and thank God for you.

In recent events…

27 06 2009

Yesterday, our Educ110 class met for the first time. Entitled The Teaching Profession, the teacher had us watch a teacher movie – Freedom Writers featuring a shockingly-thin Hillary Swank and, if I’m not mistaken, a pre-Gray’s Anatomy Patrick Dempsey (who I better remember from the late-90’s film With Honors) – but not before making us give answers to a few questions:

  1. Why do you want to be a teacher?
  2. What do you think the average citizen thinks of our school today?
  3. How important do you believe teachers are to our society? Why?
  4. What are the characteristics of the best teachers you’ve ever had?
  5. How would you rate Filipino secondary teachers as a group?

The first question is asked endlessly in the College of Education, regardless of the subject. It’s cliché, I admit, and the answer is often cliché-er (“it’s a noble profession”, “to help the country”, blah-blah-blah”), unfortunately. Not wishing to become a statistical cliché myself, yet wanting to be honest, I opted for this answer: “I derive a great deal of personal pleasure and professional satisfaction from teaching – I cannot, for the life of me, imagine myself doing anything else.”

And I mean that, in case any of you are wondering.

After the movie, she gave us another set of questions to answer:

  1. Do you still want to be a teacher?
  2. Do you think you have the talent necessary to become a good teacher?
  3. Are you willing to learn the necessary skills required of a good teacher?

In a fit of what some people here might call “suffocating hubris”  (I prefer to call it “overwhelming passion”), I just wrote down “yes” to every question (my handwriting got bigger with every “yes”), turned in my paper, and went home.

Teaching: it’s what I do.


I auditioned for the university band this morning – the bulk of their ranks were graduating, so they needed “fresh meat”. I was probably past my expiration date, since I was the only fellow who showed up who was…well…old (I graduated from college five years ago. All the other auditionees were still within their first three years of college.)

I’ve done quite a bit of reading about auditions, since the orchestral life (in the States, at least) is rife with them, and they are taken very, very seriously (if you fail to win one, at some point, you will likely have to trade in your instrument – which you’ve been studying for more than a decade – for something else…like an office cubicle).

Well, there I was, surrounded by (for lack of a better term) kids who, if they were not showing-off to one another how well they could cop the latest tune from Paramore (AAUUGGHHH! EMO!!! RUN!!!), were busy worrying about how the next arrival would ruin their chances of winning a slot. Funny – I was in the exact same position some six years ago when I auditioned for conservatory.

The outgoing members of the band lined the well-equipped room and watched as their “leader” made me play the violin, then the bongos and the congas, then the bass guitar.

At this point, kindly postpone judgement and just let me be honest instead of PC: while the guy plays a mean guitar, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was a college washout. I can’t explain it, but it was just there. Like ROTC officer-alumni who show-up on training days because that’s the only place where they could get a modicum of respect, this guy seemed to be there because…well…it was the only place where he could get a modicum of respect.

I could be wrong about the fellow, but that’s how it felt at the time. If I’m wrong, I would like to apologize in advance. If I’m right, well…it doesn’t matter anyway.

I bring this up because (and my students can attest to this) while I love music, and making music, and teaching music, I can’t see sacrificing one’s future for the apparent glamor of the stage (which is never as glamorous as MTV would like you to believe) as a profitable exchange. Get that college degree, make sure you’re qualified to take on a job that provides a steady, albeit modest, income, and then go, be a rockstar…if you can. Beware: few people make it…and most of them fizzle out after their first album.

I say this having witnessed numerous examples of skilled musicians who have grown old in “the business”, yet lead lives that border on pathetic. I just don’t believe music was meant for that.

But anyway. That’s my rant. Before I find myself eating my own words, I shall find something more productive to do.

Day 3

24 06 2009

I am now into my third day of classes. For those of you who don’t know yet, I’ve decided to take-up the 34 units of Education classes required by the government before I can take the Licensure Exam for Teachers (henceforth to be known as the LET).

Having already graduated college, I am now classified as an SS (Special Student – which brings all sorts of weirdness to mind), and have been herded into a class where we are all a bunch of SS’s (that’s weirdness right there for you). As such, we have classes from Monday to Friday, but always from 4:30PM until 7:30PM. It makes for some very strange sleeping habits on my part.

So far, I’ve had, ahem: Guidance and Counseling, Growth and Develepment of the Individual (the context, of course, being education), and The Sociological Foundations of Education. Today, I will be attending Student Assessment and The Teaching Profession.

The teachers are okay, although one or two stand out from among the rest (I have four, so that might not really be saying anything significant). My classmates, being older, will talk…but I must confess that few really seem to want to be in school.

Fortunately, I’ve been reunited with my old friend Jerms from high school, and he’s one of the sharp ones, so we keep each other sane when classmates don’t seem to get what we’re saying (For example: the teacher asked, “Can anyone give an example of a Static Force in Society?”. I answered, “Laws.” and a classmate of mine disagreed, saying that laws change from place to place, society to society. I countered by saying that while the content of the law changes, the fact remains that any functional society must have laws. She didn’t get it, and so the exchange started to become heated until I realized I probably should just shut up.)

Impressions? Well, despite the late hours, I find I like going to class. The concepts (so far) are easy enough to understand. I don’t find them terribly interesting at the moment, but its still too-early to tell for certain. We shall see.

I’m aiming for 1.0’s, which is the highest grade a student can get. I’ve never aimed so high before. I wonder what happens when I do…

Version 2.0

21 06 2009

*Looks around* I wonder if I have any readers left…

Well, regardless…

I have just (not even an hour has passed) uploaded the totally redesigned website of The Orchestra. Yes, after almost a month of neurotic pixel-pushing and by-the-hour redesigns, I’ve decided I need to get a life outside of code crunching.

That said, don’t think I am not proud of it – despite its imperfections, I am. Built from the ground up – no templates, no cheating, 100% hard-coded (none of that WYSIWYG-editor nonsense). I possess intimate knowledge regarding how the whole thing is put together: bone-structure, musculature, skin, clothes and all.

…and still I notice there’s something wrong. Oh well. Tomorrow, tomorrow.

Actually, that pretty much sums up my stay so far here in Iligan City. If I’m not infront of a computer cranking-out standards-compliant code or attending to my steadily-growing number of violin students (only on Saturdays) or attending class (Monday to Friday, 430PM – 730PM), you can find me perusing the little coffee shops that have proliferated here in the past year or so (Aruma’s Bannoffee Pie is mind-shattering…and so is the price), or at home, annoying the family cat.

Hmm…I suppose now would be a good time to work on that driver’s license.