Searching for the American Music Culture

This summer I am getting ready for my doctorate studies. I have packed quite a lot of my stuff, I also got a silly summer job which an IMAX cinema is also located at, and we get to watch stuff here and there. I am also getting some videos recorded and put on Youtube. I still need to get more composing and writing done, but I feel good. I am feeling that I am being more optimistic about what is going to happen in Minneapolis.

In the last 24 hours I have quite an interesting journey on screen. My internet service provided me a free HBO trial for 3 days, and I noticed that it included Elvis Presley: The Searcher. Expecting it to be a 2-hour thing in total, instead, I had to stay up to watch the 4-hour thing.

I have never been an Elvis fan, nor did I feel affiliated to the Rock-n’-Roll tradition at all. However, the documentary made me think about how much heritage Elvis has reflected and developed on, and how crazy his time was. Think about that, in the mid-twentieth century, so many things have happened in the world. However, it might be the first time in America that we see people who are pursuing some ideals are being chased after and hate still exists in many places. Elvis, in the midst of everything, is mixed with his uniqueness, excitements, and sentiments. I am now really interested in visiting Graceland and learn more about this tragic figure. Also, it really inspires me to look at musical figures in that era much more carefully, and understand how they come to who there were.

Very surprisingly this morning at work I got to watch the American Musical Journey. I can’t say I like this film at all. The use of IMAX technology is basically pointless. The story of the musical heritage of jazz, blues, pop, and rock is almost like completely fragments that do not make much sense. It was not educational at all. However, as a travel movie, it worked. It definitely reminded me of how Chicago felt, and it successfully made me consider visiting some of the cities as I travel from Florida to Minnesota. It is, however, a pure coincident though. I was already planning the trip the night before.

In a month I will be doing a grand tour. It has been under revision forever and I am still working on it. It looks like that the 5-day trip will be Tallahassee->NOLA->Memphis->Little Rock->Lawrence and Kansas City->Des Moines->Minneapolis. I will be seeing a lot of the musical styles that I have not really exposed to much, as well as some part of the civil rights movements that I have always wanted to know more. I am very looking forward to seeing and hearing new sounds, and once again, be filled with wonder.

28th birthday

I have not spent my two birthdays at FSU in Tallahassee. Last year, I did my first presentation at a student symposium at the University of Florida, and since then I have kept thinking a lot about “what is music analysis.” I still don’t really have an idea of what it is technically, but I will keep searching for a satisfying answer.

This year, I spent my birthday waiting at the Wilkes-Barre Scranton airport, after a night of premiere+performance at Lycoming College. A lot of things could have been done better, but nonetheless I have another thing I can put in my resume. It is also very nice to be able to reach out to a broader audience and hopefully I will have a chance to visit Lyco again. It also surprised me that a public elementary school in the area actually talks about world music instrument, and there is an app for them! (That said, the researcher me wonder why pipa and erhu are the two instruments that are used to represent Chinese music, oh well.)

I definitely enjoy talking to a public audience, I believe that introducing music to them does not need gimmicks, nor lowering the standard of scholarship. It can be as concise as needed, but sometimes a piece of strange knowledge might change someone’s perception of music in a big way.

In my less-than-24-hours stay in Williamsport and surroundings, I do have some great discovery. I enjoy seeing mountains and rivers so much, and it reminds me so much of the European landscape. For sure the architecture somewhat reminds me of that as well. There is something about old American towns that is really charming and unique. I also went to see the World of Little League, and the Steamtown National Site. I think in some way I am really interested in the industrial history of different countries, and how the industries shape an area, with a specific vibe.

Finally, Wegman’s rocks. Who knows that they have the best mochi in the States.

2017 Review

2017 couldn’t have been longer. There are many great things happened but at the same time my stress level couldn’t be higher. I am also discovering myself at  a deeper level, partially because of something that is really awful.

My spring semester at FSU was solely stress if not anything else. The classes I was taking were wearing me down at a very deep level. I was exhausted by the busy work and I was not able to think about things that keep me in graduate school. I have had many moments asking myself if I was doing the right thing. My teaching was going quite well, considering my students realized how much I cared for them. I also start to realize that many students experience things that are out of our imagination, and I become more affirmative that schooling is not the only way that gets them to success. A Star Ferry Ride is performed at the FSU Festival of New Music in February by Dr. Michael Casey and Brett Chittenden, and their performance is absolutely out of the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better interpretation.

I went home in May to take a much-needed break. I feel less and less connected to the city I grew up in, and the atmosphere in the city has changed so much. At the end of the year, when I heard more about the news from the town, and I look at the posts that most of my friends share, I wonder what else we can keep for our culture and city. I also question, why Chinese power like destruction of its own heritage so much? I also spent some time collecting old music scores and recordings of Cantonese music, hopefully some time in the future I can make use of them for some studies.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression during summer, after many sad events. I am not sure if I truly have overcome what happened, but I am feeling stronger in terms of my ability to tackle problems in life.

The fall semester is strange. I decided not to take any theory classes but a private study, and I took up DSP again. I couldn’t have been happier as I do my individual studies, I have a lot of questions to offer, next year I am going to try to make peace with myself. I am once again reminded that DSP is a weird subject. For some unknown reason I can do the math, but I can never truly understand what is going on. I also took a class on medieval notation. It is a rough class, and i kept on asking why people back in those days don’t line up notes. But the last lecture my professor “preached” about how much they have influenced us, and how many questions they were asking are yet re-questioned by us these days. It make me tear up.

My car got towed once and my bike is now gone. Also, while my car did behave well for the whole year, right now its ignition is not working.

I also started the doctoral application process. Heard back from one school, noticed that I completely messed up the formatting of one of the writing samples as I edited (and am still editing), hoping more news would come soon.

2018 would be yet another year of change, but it will be much more exciting.

Wintergreen Summer Music Academy 2016

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It has been a little while since the festival, since right before the festival I was in the process of moving out, and right after I went back to Lawrence and loaded all my belongings in a car that had wiring problems, and drove two days to Tallahassee, FL. Now I have settled in Tally for a week and I can finally typed something here about the festival.IMG_2528

I think it is my first participation in a festival. Last year I was at the Global Musician Workshop, but that’s really more like a one-week intensive of world music tIMG_2417hat does not involve many guests artists or is loaded with tonnes of performances. Wintergreen is located in the mountains with some really interesting history, in many ways it surprised me, by the scale as well as the organization, but more inspiring than the concerts were the people I met here and the scenery.

 

In terms of composition, I must say it was more because of me being lazy, as well as not willing tIMG_2402o start a big project in this transition process, that I didn’t do too much in these two weeks. (and we weren’t assigned anything during the festival) But I spend so much time talking with fellow composers, about life, really intimate parts of life, as well as our views on music. It really made me think how introspective I am as a person, I listen to others a lot, I hear a lot of stories, I ask myself why they matter, I ask how I could do something, either through music or my own actions. At the same time, I really need to listen to a lot more music.

I was assigned to work with the Trillium quartet, 3 of theIMG_2544 members were still in high school and one is a freshman to-be. I knew I wrote a simple piece. However, it turned out that for the kids, they didn’t found it that simple (while they worked on Beach’s string quartet in one movement which is, to be honest, a million times harder), and they progressed fast. In the unexpected dress rehearsal, things went really well, but in the real performance, they probably suffered from both anxiety and fatigues, that the performance/recording was not as satisfactory. Nonetheless,  I had a great time seeing the kids working hard and asked intelligent questions, and really tried to make things sound good. They are all so gifted and I hope to see them shine on big stages soon.

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The composers also had a chance to write a movie score collaboratively. The more-than-a-thousand-measure monster of music was executed in a very nice manner. I heard some words about the project, but it was a great experience for u s. There are a lot of funny moments in the movie that was illustrated through the score effectively.

I also volunteered to help the chef Giustino in preparing dinner once, and I think I learned how to use the deep fryer perfectly after frying two big boxes of tofu and 3 packs of dumplings. It is veryinteresting to hear his perspective as a chef and an observer of the festival, and his participating in a salsa band.

The most impressive and inspiring thing during my stay is definitely everything about Joseph Conyers. Not just because he presented a ridiculously wonderful bass concert, but his absolutely passionate and useful masterclass that addresses so much performance issues, his absolutely selfless sharing on his musical journey and his project 440. I really would ask, how can one has such a big heart, such musicality, and such entrepreneurship? Maybe having a big heart itself is the answer.

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I really miss the nights when my housemates and a friend hanged out in a 70s-styled house in the woods, but in many ways, I am glad that I am back to the modern world and I am using a modern stove.

Story behind Lalita

I first reIMG_2242ad about the AGO Student Commissioning Project in August last year when the TAO magazine arrived. I thought to myself, how boring it was not to allow a composer/organist to do it on her own. What I didn’t notice was that the winner in the previous year was actually someone that I know fairly well, Mr. Alex Meszler. At the beginning-of-school year organ studio party, he approached me and encouraged me to find someone to enter it, and I suggested in return that he should try it two years in a row, if he had a greater plan in mind. So that led to the piece, and the first organ composition I started (but not the first one that was completed, that went to a little chorale prelude).

The opening theme was written before it was decided to be an organ piece. I began the piece with another instrumentation in mind (percussion and flute, for another pair of my good friends), which allows me to explore dryness and silence better than the organ. Yet, I was determined that if I were writing something for organ, I would write something atypical to the organ repertoire and creating unusual sounds, so I did not even change a single note from my first draft. As I continued writing, the whole piece just laid in front of my eyes, which was a very interesting feeling. I never wrote anything as smooth as this piece, and it felt wonderful to just pour out notes after notes.

After completing the piece and look back, I could still recall the feeling of writing music effortlessly. However, writing for organ is simply a nightmare. I am writing something with organ in it, but not a solo piece. Just like writing for orchestra, I would think a thousand times before I decide on writing another solo organ piece.

That said, my first attempt of writing for orchestra is actually rearranging and orchestrating THIS EXACT PIECE. It is definitely too difficult for a large orchestra though.

As all the project requirements were completed, now Alex and I can head to our next destination in peace. Good luck at ASU Alex.

Lalita (2015)

Lalita is the name of one of the eight principal gopis in Gaudiya Vaishnavism. She is known as Krishna’s loving consort, with a fierce and loving personality. She is beautiful, smart, and spontaneous. Like other female deities in Hinduism, she possesses the feminine energy that is charming and enigmatic.

I started writing the piece with a very simple melody with a dance-like accompaniment, yet it is soon fused with much complexity in harmony and rhythm in a way I did not foresee. The crafting process was almost effortless, and I barely spent any time on designing the tonal language and formal structure. The name Lalita came to me by accident after I completed the piece. Though the work does not have any religious references, and I consider it as a piece of absolute music, Lalita’s mysterious beauty captures the spirit of the piece perfectly.

The piece was commissioned by the American Guild of Organists Student Commissioning Project 2016. Premiered by Alex Meszler at Bales Recital Hall, the University of Kansas on April 26, 2016. 

See more details from the AGO website.

Sioux Falls and Omaha

既然有了自己的網站…那麼就把以前的遊記轉載過來,但圖就懶得處理了。

住在Sioux Falls, SD的友人早前說要是要探望他就要在六月頭前找他,看看月曆,大約是五月尾最合適了吧。於是定了日子,順道看看Omaha, NE,找找風琴教授。這也是到Florida之前在Midwest的最後一次旅行。

只是…旅程剛開始就出了小意外。小車的Cruise Control失靈了。在高速公路駛了三個小時,在休憩站停泊時發現車有點難剎掣…park了以後引擎竟然開始以極速加速…嚇了一跳之後立刻關掉引擎,幸而車子沒大礙。平伏心情以後通了幾道電話,縮短了旅程(但其實…也許沒關係),再駛到Sioux Falls。IMG_1589

IMG_1585Sioux Falls據說是South Dakota的最大城鎮,但也許那兒比Overland Park更小。大部份主要地方距離Downtown都是在半小時步程之內。Downtown 有很多有特色的小店,但隔兩個街口就已經是金融區。說不上有甚麼特色。但為了見老朋友,足矣。這兒最大的景點大約是Falls Park吧。很明顯地,政府用了很多資源美化這公園,而這兒又真的很美麗。但是水是臭的,走近一點的話衣服就遭殃。IMG_1769

但探他的主要原因是看看Vermillion的National Music Museum。這小小的博物館在音樂圈子裡真的是有名。當中的展品有很多都是很罕見的樂器。有些很古怪,也有些很精緻。然而在這兒看到了一個未被平均律污染的琵琶和「代表香港」的古琴(…),真的是有點意外。但我和朋友最大的問號是:這些樂器很多都沒有機會弄出聲音來了,那不是很可惜麼?然而,一個「音樂博物館」,只有一部Portable Media Player在門口的gift shop播著用上其中一部fortepiano來錄製的CD,音樂的原素在哪?

回程是短暫留在Omaha,本來這應該是要多留一點時間的一站,但IMG_1997不同原因之下我只是留了幾個小時。教授載我四處走,才知道Warren Buffett就是在Omaha,而且他和太太和Buffett有過一面之緣。Omaha和Lincoln也給我很相似的印象-舊區很有工業的餘韻,而藝術在這兒很蓬勃。而Omaha也開始起飛了吧。對比起Kansas City,60-70年代的建築在這兒還是主數,但新式建築也在慢慢增加。

IMG_1884教授太太在St. Cecilia Cathedral工作,然而在這音樂主保的主教座堂,又怎會沒有音樂學校。那規模有點誇張。座堂裡的風琴也是很特別的一部琴。IMG_1888Pasi在設計時,把Well-tempered stops和mean tone stops設計在一起,所以風琴師可以按喜好用不同的調律演奏。一直覺得音律這回事很複雜,而它真的是很複雜,但聽起來,well-tempered和mean tone的確是兩回事,pure thirds聽起來真的很舒服。但限制也太多了。它…就留在復古的東西吧。

我在Omaha Zoo逗留了一會。魚還是我最愛的動物。其他展館真的不俗,但我真的沒太大興趣。這些日子很多友人貼了不少反對開設動物園的東西。我明白。看著動物們在有限、虛擬的空間生活實在令人不忍。但是,城市的小孩,沒有了動物園,畏首畏尾的家長們會讓孩子接近大自然麼?孩子們不看見這Biodiversity,會相信牠們處於危機麼?

寫在六月三日,世界很亂,問題很多。一切也沒有令人折服的解釋。

 

Hon Ki, BMus in Composition, Organ and Theory

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I really wasn’t planning on attending any of the commencement festivities, but Dr. Pierce said he needed to take a photo with me at the convocation, that’s why I have to be there. Receiving the notice of me graduating with distinction also surprised me a little. I thought about buying all those fancy ribbon and cords from Phi Kappa Phi, but eventually I forgot about it, but I still have a little something to decorate my black gown.

Anyways, I can say I am done with undergrad finally, (almost) officially. When Dr. Bergee said, “Your life will no longer be the same,” as I walked through the stage, it warmed my heart. Leaving KU is just the beginning a very long journey. I look forward to write a lot more music.

I don’t know how many times I thought about giving up and return to engineering in the last 4 years. How drastic my mind had changed every semester, this ride was really, really bumpy. At the same time, I totally felt that my physical energy is not as strong as I was when I was an engineer. I grew old, a little. I also realised that there are many facets of life, my world shouldn’t only be about work. I have to take care of myself, my family, my interests, and people I care.

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And as always, Eurovision is such an important end-of-semester show for me. I like how the show is organized, and seeing Globen and the sights of Stockholm reminded me of the wonderful place and all the amazing experiences, as it opened once again my door to music and ignited my desire for explorations. How much I wish I could be there once again. While Ukraine got its crown in a rather drastic way (well, I really thought the EBU was trying to avoid the ESC going to Australia, after all), I am glad that they provided the world such a profound sound. Ukraine is the other place that had a profound impact on me, thanks to my church choir in Sweden which organized its annual trip to the painful country.

So much places for me to see and experience, too many things to write about and reflect on.

Year-end reflection

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Essentially my degree isn’t finished yet, I still have a presentation for my Schenkerian class to be done on Thursday, yet I’m done with the writing, the class is really not part of the requirement, and I consider myself as done with everything. I am finally done with all the undergraduate work, in 7 years, and I earned some kind of good academic standing in both of my engineering and music degrees,  I couldn’t be more grateful for all the recognition my teachers have granted me and how much they nurtured me.

Looking at what I have done in the past year, it is kind of scary to look at it. I have done my theory thesis, poured out 6 compositions (which one is doubled by an orchestra version), and some tiny works on the organ. This semester I also had to write two 4000+-word paper in 2-week notice. Could I be more hardworking than that? Maybe. Every semester I feel it was the hardest semester ever, but the following semester became worse. Maybe that’s life.

In terms of my future, I am still 100% certain that I want to have a teaching career, but I am also becoming more certain that I want to compose. I want my voice to be heard. Yet I also feel really sad when I was done with my physics tutoring – I am not ready to give up my little bit of participation in science.

I was at the non-major organ recital last night briefly, just to support a friend who eventually improvised the Bach chorale in Orgelbuchlein. I was very touched by a beginner’s playing of the hymn adapted from Holst’s The Planets. It was by no means technically perfect, but the organ sound touched me, for the very first time for quite a long time. (two years maybe?) I wasn’t sure whether it was the organ sound or The Planets the touched me. At the end, what makes music moving? It seems like nothing could explain it.

 

Trio for Clarinet, Bassoon and Piano (2015)

The piece is based on a Cantonese Melody, which is a lullaby sung by a mother to her son. It also contains hope for the son to grow up well and be a good member of the family. I imagine that the young son was trying to act naughty as he listened to the song, but he could not resist the kind voice of and gradually fell asleep.

Premiered by Shirin Abvabi (clarinet), Miriam Brack Webber (bassoon) and Teng Fu (piano) on October 20, 2015 at Swarthout Recital Hall, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS.