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Preview: Medieval Marsupial Meanderings

Medieval Marsupial Meanderings

“My dear Watson, note that while the suspect resembles a potato, his ideas are only half-baked.” Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Scarlet Ferret.

Updated: 2018-03-02T10:49:37.701-05:00


Onwards to the International Viola Congress


Soon I'll be headed to the 41st International Viola Congress in Krakow, Poland. Here's a sample of the Comus edition I'll be launching there:

It employs a two-stave notational approach, with red demarcating the second and fourth strings. In case you've been curious about the key signatures, this has an extended scordatura, with not only the top string down a tone, but the second string as well.

The research includes analysing the 18th-century manuscripts, and looking at discrepancies, such as those in voicing highlighted below.

Rick Santorum's Deevolution of Education


The thing with Rick Santorum is that he's the man you hate to hate. Sure, he hasn't the kind of decorum you'd like for a presidential contender, but when placed next to Mitt Romney's plastic pandering and Newt Gingrich's calculated maneuvering, you get a feeling he says what he says because he's genuinely believes in those ideas.

The problem is that his ideas are pretty half-baked.

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The first problem with this is often accurately but perhaps less than advisably explained in Latin: Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, meaning "after this, therefore because of this". It is also known that co-relation does not denote causality - or basically, a certain pattern amongst students does not define colleges as the cause.

S. Morris Engel's facetious example seems to almost parallel Santorum's:
More and more young people are attending high schools and colleges today than ever before. Yet there is more juvenile delinquency and more alienation among the young. This makes it clear that these young people are being corrupted by their education.
And this isn't even taking into account that there are plenty of people who do not define themselves as "of faith" who are nonetheless - or in certain cases, thus - entirely ethical, responsible, members of society.

The second problem is that one of the roles of a good education is to challenge your opinion, not simply to reemphasize existing ones. Even if we discount Santorum's faulty logic - itself disappointing considering he's a fairly educated man - that there may be fewer people of faith, consider if there is a minority with a more established faith than ever before. Said another way: if college provides a test of faith, isn't this somehow preferable to faith because we simply don't know any different?

Santorum has clearly stated his opposition towards Iran simply because it is a theocracy; one can argue that if you went to an Iranian institution, you'd probably emerge one "of faith". And the ultimate short-sightedness of people like Santorum is to not see that the separation of church and state at the end of the day serves to protect the church from the state.

In not realizing  that those like the ACLU protect the private rather public nature of faith, and the true test of faith lies on Santorum himself: in having faith in young people. A faith in them to be exposed to the real world and a range of ideas, some of which match his own, and some which do not, and with discussion and debate they will each find their own path forward.



Imagine yourself living beneath the waves, and hence,
You might covertly cry but fear your flatulence.
But in the other plausibility, tell me, is it art
If your tears float as bubbles, and you make waves when you fart?

Personality Tests and Musicology: the How, the Why, and Strange-Sized Boxes


Over a significant part of the past year, I've observed two interesting, and occasionally bemusing, currents in social dynamics which have come across my path. One is the interest of a surprisingly high percentage of the people I know in personality tests, of the species that Myers-Briggs would belong. And the second is of a more esoteric, and in some ways more personal, conflict of ideologies in musicology.Personality tests, say some, provide crucial clues to why people act the way they do. And the logic is fair enough; if you figured accurately - or as in this case, I simply told you - that I was an ENFJ (Extroversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judging) personality type, this may presumably lead you to predict the course of my actions. You may even read these very words and filter them accordingly; depending on your own personality type, you may decide whether any points I make make sense to you. My intuitive actions may reveal a decision-making process that either match or counter your own. In other words, and with the caveat of generalization, personality types reveal why we do the things we do.But in recent days, I've come to think that personality types only reveal the method of delivery - the how, and not the why, of our actions. To put this in another way, it is perhaps less inevitable that you're reading these particular opinions, as it is that I've decided to pen them in this way.Allow me to digress. I have a notebook named A Black Fat Cat, that like many meaningful things, has a unique and personal history. It's not a diary in any sense - because I'm philosophically but not particularly logically aligned against a dairy - but part of its content are thoughts in the middle of the night, the middle of the night being when I have most of my thoughts. (This being an early morning post should now give you pause.) And what I wrote recently was: "Is seriousness in content, or in delivery?"In a sense it deals with an issue that I've faced in my struggles in producing research content, and then dealing with the resistance it faces from the hardline, and in some cases dominant strain of musicologists. I am serious about research in music, but I've also had an unusual grounding in communications, the field in which I obtained my first tertiary qualification. Some approach presentations of research seemingly having ever-present in their mind how it would look should these very words commute themselves to the esteemed pages of published proceedings. Others - with whom I am aligned - prefer to consider the audience of the day, with the idea that content may provide stature, while delivery quite simply retains one's attention. Humour, in this case and perhaps counter-intuitively does not detract from the seriousness of the research output; it simply makes sure that attention is garnered to its delivery. It comes from an understanding that it is my job to make you or keep you interested in what I do. In this regard, I think that adapting to the situation at hand is the preferable skill, and while a script or cue cards may be useful to have as a backup in case your mind goes blank, let's hope that a blank mind is not the game plan.This of course extends beyond simple delivery. The choice of our content establishes the same approach: whether we choose to recognize research that directly relates to the performer, or whether we prefer - and some cases, for good or for ill, establish - research that exists on a more lofty and less applicable plane. For reasons that remain somewhat inexplicable to me, those in the latter category seem to be the most critical of others, in establishing a category of musicology that explains why people sometimes say, "That may be an interesting question, but really, it's just purely academic."At one point, I considered that the concepts towards personalities and the approaches towards musicology may be parallel. And perhaps they are indeed so. Perhaps it is a simply a clash of personalities in musicologists between those who [...]

Taking Debate


The appeal of American politics is something like eating a lot of American food: it's probably best you don't ask why you go back for seconds. It's about the particular use of rhetoric, to be sure, but in some ways it is about a very unique and often contradictory system of politics where Democrats have a liberal social agenda but within a large government framework, and Republicans aim for limited government but a Big Brother approach to social issues.

Here are a few interesting sections from the January 7 ABC Republican debate, with the transcript available at this link.

1. Mitt Romney
"I don’t believe they decided that correctly. In my view, Roe v. Wade was improperly decided. It was based upon that same principle. And in my view, if we had justices like Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, and more justices like that, they might well decide to return this issue to states as opposed to saying it’s in the federal Constitution. And by the way, if the people say it should be in the federal Constitution, then instead of having unelected judges stuff it in there when it’s not there, we should allow the people to express their own views through amendment and add it to the Constitution."
The idea of "unelected judges" puzzles me - the federal Constitution defines the selection process of judges. The only way it could be that you would have anything other than unelected judges would be ironically to change the federal Constitution.

The issue here is not whether you are for or against abortion rights - it's about the process of arguing a point and the larger implications towards the way the various branches of government function. It is by nature of a democracy that you don't have only judges you like; this seems like something you wouldn't have to explain to not only a potential presidential nominee but a current front-runner.

2. Rick Perry
"The idea that we allow the Iranians to come back into Iraq and take over that country, with all of the treasure, both in blood and money, that we have spent in Iraq, because this president wants to kowtow to his liberal, leftist base and move out those men and women. He could have renegotiated that time frame.

I think it is a huge error for us. We’re going to see Iran, in my opinion, move back in at literally the speed of light. They’re going to move back in, and all of the work that we’ve done, every young man that has lost his life in that country will have been for nothing because we’ve got a president that does not understand what’s going on in that region."
When you think that Iranians can move at the speed of light ("literally"!), you can guarantee I'll forget anything else you might have to say.

3. Ron Paul
"But I don’t know why a person can’t reserve a judgment and see how things turn out? You know, in many ways I see the other candidates as very honorable people, but I sometimes disagree with their approach to government."
Ron Paul's problem is not that he's not electable - it's that he doesn't look or sound electable. The actual content in the dispassionate black and white of print seems to hold more weight when the wrapping paper isn't the primary factor. And while he was talking about a specific approach to government, perhaps one of the best ways to approach government is to say that you're going to reserve judgement, and also to view your competitors as honourable people.

A World of Diversity Within a Slur


The upcoming presentation - replete, if I might add, with a performance - will be of articulation in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. This is an overview of the project, which was a component of producing the edition with Comus in the UK.Some of us just cherish the idea that people like Mozart had everything perfectly ready in their heads and it was just a matter of putting pen to paper. Movies like Amadeus tend to create this superhuman image of the great composer, challenged only by the frustrating human confines of time and space, as it were. I am not sure if it is just that we enjoy the idea of the musical superhero - the idea of talent and of genius, and the idea that we of course need not compare ourselves to the level of Mount Olympus: not all of us are born a Hercules.But at the end of the day, we're all on the same playing field. It's just that some run a whole lot further, and we have to think of this as inspiration rather than intimidation.Mozart liked to shop. So do I. The idea that Bach made mistakes? Say it ain't so.And mistakes in the 17th Century are far more interesting than those today, simply because Bach did not have the chance to just press the 'Print' button again. Even when they occurred at the start of a page, parchment was expensive, and in some cases it was necessary to just scratch out notes and write letter names for clarification:Excerpt from the Prelude to the lute suite, BWV995 The examination of facsimiles of the manuscripts provide a singular experience in the process of research. As Robert Oliver said in regards to keeping in mind what Bach had in mind, and in reference to the manuscript: "That's what is so wonderful to sit and just look at what he wrote. That's his message to posterity. Everything he can tell is there somewhere."The production of the Comus edition of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, while being primarily for the scordatura viola substitutions of the viole da gamba, provides an interesting look at the articulation markings. More specifically, it allows us a look into seeming discrepancies in the use of slurs - and how our attitudes towards these inconsistencies reflect our musical attitudes and presumptions.Take for example this section (click on any image for an enlarged view in a separate tab):Example 1  And the apparently "missing slurs" in this section:Example 2 The problem of course is that we have no clear indication whether something is 'intentionally absent'. While we may treasure Henle for having pages which state "This page intentionally left blank to facilitate page turns", Bach did not have quite the luxury of saying "Don't add slurs here - it's just cooler this way".And while I jest about Bach's coolness (though who would ever doubt Bach's coolness), it is indeed a remarkable compositional process called generic mixing. This is where a composer alludes to a different genre - or indeed, many different genres - within one work. Example 1 is within a minor modulation and it was basically a small interlude where a solo viola concerto was displayed ever so briefly. Sample 2 was within a quasi-fugal (some would prefer calling this 'imitative') section of some five instruments. Note that in this context, what some might consider to be 'missing' actually serves a purpose - in the parallel thirds that appear as part of that canonic process.Example 3 This goes far beyond a two-instrument conversation:Sample 4Understanding these connections is important in preserving the intent, in my opinion. Take for example, this, from the one-time authoritative Bach-Gessellshaft edition:Sample 5which adds a "correction" to what is considered a missing slur (Viola 1, second beat), when this intentionally absent slur has the purpose of emphasizing the two-part quasi-fugal section:Sample 6Ironically, though we like to have this idea of the superhuman composer, we sometimes jump to conclusions when it comes to 'mistakes'.The idea of internal var[...]

Angels, Devils, and the Mistuned Instrument


This is a collection of images I plan to use for my lecture on scordatura at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, titled "Angels, Devils, and the Mistuned Instrument: The Past, Present, and Future of Scordatura". I figured this may be a way around some connection issues in uploading directly to Prezi.1. "Tuning is too mainstream."  It was probably a joke, but it really does describe scordatura.  2. Cross TuningThe Biber sonatas are alternatively called the "Mystery" or "Rosary" sonatas - both are correct, being part of the longer title Sonatas on the Mysteries of the Rosary. Some say the resonances have some symbolic gesture - the Resurrection Sonata has additional, visual symbolism.  3. Diabolus in musicaSince the devil stopped playing the bagpipes around the end of the medieval period, the violin has been his preferred instrument of choice… The demonic tritone falls on the sixth semitone above (and below) the tonic as opposed to the perfect fifth. – Janet K. HalfyardSix being the Devil's number – with scordatura used by Mahler and Saint@font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; } { }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } -Saëns to depict the Devil as a fiddler, playing to a band of witches.4. Post-Tonal ScordaturaThe use of scordatura in a post-tonal context comes in various forms. Larry Polansky decided to utilize only natural harmonics, and tune instruments to produce them fitting just intonation, rather than even-tempered tuning. A guide was constructed for the player, to know how each harmonic would veer from what one would expect.The use of "dynamic scordatura" - the movement of a string in the middle of a performance, rather than preparing a tuning in advance, seen here in Suesse's Luft. 5. Resonant FrequenciesMy research extends the use of scordatura in calibrating tuning to resonant frequencies of instruments.Everyone has heard of a singer shattering a glass with a note to which the glass naturally resonated; the circumstances must be most unusual, or trumpet players would cause a lot of damage. – Sir James Beaument@font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } Basically one looks for the frequencies in which an object - in this case a musical instrument - vibrates best. From xkcd by Randall Munroe:@font-face { font-family: "Times New Roman"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }table.MsoNormalTable { font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } This has led to a model of scordatura, which will be published in String Praxis in the next week or so: I do believe that having a model is useful in itself, but I couldn't help but note what Dilbert would say:[...]

An Unvarnished Look at the MPO, the MPYO and Music-Making in Malaysia


Malaysia has a rather odd way of celebrating excellence. In sports, where representing your country is a given part of the game (well, unless you’re from China), the government provides incentives in the shape of financial rewards, your occasional car or even a house, and eventually a Datukship. In some cases – most notably Datuk Nicol David and Datuk Lee Chong Wei – this is certainly well-earned.However, in other fields where representing your country is distinctly not part of the game the governmental policy seems to be to wait till Malaysians have left for greener pastures and prospered, then to give them a Datukship in hopes of laying claim to a part of the fame they have achieved. Worse yet, using the term “Malaysian-born” for the ones who not only don’t live in the country, but who have opted for citizenship of another country. (And ironically, who would probably still be Malaysian citizens if the government allowed dual citizenship.) We see this in academics and scientific discoveries, and we see this in the celebration in the press of an exemplary Malaysian student in a Singaporean school, somehow without the obvious discussion of why a bright Malaysian mind would prefer to go across the Causeway. We see this more than ever in film – when’s the last time you saw Datuk Michelle Yeoh in a Malaysian production? – and with Shahrukh Khan, it seems we also want a taste of the fame of those who don’t even have a clue they’ve been given a Datukship.And yes, this happens in the field of music as well. Don’t believe me? Just Google “Malaysian born” and see what you get.To put it starkly: we haven’t built a proper arts academy, conservatory or school of the arts in the same way as one builds facilities for the development of sports. Instead, we wait till some other country has obtained our talent, very likely by way of having offered them scholarships, and then we ‘claim’ them with a Datukship. Something tells me that you don’t have to get a Ph.D. in order to call out this strategy for its dumbship.I hear a voice at the back of my own head saying, “Whoa, hold on a sec, surely that’s going a bit far. After all, Petronas built this amazing hall, established the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, and in more recent years put together a pretty decent national youth orchestra.” And there’s some truth in that.But here’s the catch: when you define Petronas on par with the government, it opens up that policy to the same scrutiny you would give a country’s ministry of education. Which is quite different from whether YTL would prefer to fund the Kuala Lumpur Symphony Orchestra or the KL Performing Arts Centre; quite frankly, as a private entity and patron, YTL can do whatever it wants with its money.If we choose to be ungracious about it, the whole MPO effort is short-sighted and non-sustainable, opting to rent an entity and label it as an achievement. Once the MPO toyed with the idea of an apprenticeship, but it seems even a rent-to-own system is asking too much.If we choose to be gracious about it, the whole MPO effort has been akin to trickle-down economics. This all comes with the faith that when you put something there for the best, it will have a multiplier effect of sorts – one could say, a reverse approach of micro-financing. The idea is that when you inspire people by showing them the MPO’s international level, or bring together the best of Malaysian youth, somehow this will have a transformative effect on the nation as a whole.One could say that as a concept it has some history of success elsewhere, with Dr Marc Rochester’s blog recently dealing with this to some extent. For whatever reason, however, it just has not worked in Malaysia. While we have gems of teachers like Miranda Playfair, who was known to have lessons with hours of bonus time, and Orsolya Korcsolan and Gergely Sugar,[...]

On Developing the Arts in Malaysia... and Singapore


I've often come across times when it seemed appropriate to compare and contrast the decisions of supporting the arts in Malaysia and in Singapore. Reading Dr Marc Rochester's recent blog post touching on that area, I couldn't help but submitting my two cents in the comments, duplicated below. For the record, it's fine if Malaysia prefers to show that Petronas can buy a great orchestra rather than that Petronas can make Malaysians as good as the ones they can rent. I don't believe in anyone owing anyone opportunities - for each and every one of us, it's about making things happen for ourselves. But if the ones who do find their own way don't find their own way back, well, look in the mirror when looking for a culprit rather than saying that the brain drain is because they somehow lack patriotism.

Hello Dr Marc,

As a newcomer to your blog, I must say that your writing comes across as being not only knowledgeable and well organized, but from someone who cares about the development of the arts - and thus, best wishes to you.

I have a somewhat differing opinion about the best strategy towards artistic progress, in that I feel that it is not always a choice between a 'domination of foreign talent' and encouraging local ones. Rather, I believe the solution is somewhere in between. As you have already noted, the MPO, despite its presence in the country for over a decade, has not radically upgraded the standard of music here - a sign that the 'domination' model is at the very least, not working in this setting. Whatever might be lacking in the consistency of the SSO on the other hand, due to locally provided scholarships to the orchestra more Singaporeans have received international level training, and due to the bonds attached to those scholarships, have returned to Singapore.

Put another way, if some catastrophic event resulted in both the MPO and the SSO meeting an untimely demise tomorrow, there would be a far higher tally of Singaporean professionals than Malaysian ones who remain as a lasting product of expenditure towards national artistic development.

Don't get me wrong: much like the sport of pole vaulting, setting the bar high is a great idea. It's just that after you set the bar high, you have to make sure that the locals have a pole with which to jump.

Best wishes,

Andrew Filmer

Zoom Out, Bro


I've been back in Malaysia about two weeks, and I'm getting the feeling that my trips back - two years when I lived in Thailand, two years when I lived in the States, and now when I'm living in New Zealand - are all about reminding myself of the big picture. Not the least in that I've made some really close friends in New Zealand in a rather short amount of time - still, with friends and family here in Malaysia. Sweet as.I remember back in Indiana when a new acquaintance showed me the local mall, as if this poor thing from the Third World country had never seen one in his life, and in that spirit asked me what I thought (read: how impressed you must be!). I recall saying something along the lines of, "Well, I guess if you take this mall, double its width and add three floors, you'd get one wing of one of the malls back in Malaysia where I used to shop until it became yesterday's news when something bigger came along."Thankfully no one in Wellington shows off Lambton Quay like it's heaven sent, which makes me appreciate its rather quaint setting. And yet Malaysia never ceases to surprise me, most recently with Straits Quay - not really for its size (when you have a mall in KL which houses within it a theme park including a seven-storey high roller coaster, it gets hard to beat), but rather that when it advertises a picture of yachts with the words "fun by the sea", it doesn't tell you that the last time you were in this area, it was the sea. Yup, we reclaim land so quickly that as my sister pointed out, at this rate, the second link from the island to the mainland will be made redundant when we run out of ocean.On one hand, we now have a "Penang Philharmonic", which is basically the Penang Symphony Orchestra for whatever reason not being able to hold on to the name of the orchestra it sought - and was successful at - overrunning through the less-than-subtle wheeling and dealings of state politics. And you have the Chairman's message shooting itself in the foot in the first paragraph, and then acting like Barney the purple dinosaur in the last. It's almost like having Dakota Fanning in a M. Night Shyamalan movie. That is, the screaming Dakota Fanning of War of the Worlds rather than that of Charlotte's Web, and the Shyamalan of The Village rather than The Sixth Sense, if you get what I mean. On the other hand, it reminds you that music is it's own judge in the end, no matter what name you'd like to call yourself. I get reminded that in preparation for seminars here to really keep things basic - the problem with doctoral research is that you spend that much time with a magnifying glass that you sort of lose the bigger picture. In a sense it's an unusual place that there are particularly talented music students who can't recall who wrote the Eine Kleine, and yet you can get a random gigs paying you 200 bucks for half-an-hour's worth of music. I'm not sure what it means for long-term prospects - how long I'd like to keep painting in broad-strokes in sessions on music history and music appreciation. On one hand it's fun, and it's more affective and effective (not to mention potentially lucrative) for the gigantic pool of music students who have this as a significant missing link in their education, and on the other it would take away somewhat from producing niche research which would contribute to the field, but a field that's fields away from here. Who knows, I may be able to find an interesting balance in the end, and for now, it's just nice to zoom out, bro, and have a look at the gift of possibilities.[...]

Lecture-Recital Preview: Instrumentation in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6


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Alright, the embedding isn't the best, and if you want to look up close, the link would probably do better. That being said, this isn't like a YouTube video - you can actually interact within the box, by zooming in, zooming out, or selecting different sections.

University Life, and the Life of the University


Sometimes I think I've been entirely developed in a university Petri dish. Or rather, not one in a university, but one of universities. From growing up on the campus of Michigan State to studying in a school here in New Zealand owned and placed on two different universities, it's been an interesting time.I seem to have this ideal of what a campus is, as a place where all ideas are welcome and the life of a university thrives around social meeting places where all great thoughts converge, then float back to lecture halls. Which happens at times, but the ideal seems to break when you get young aspiring academics defending positions not because the position is stronger but because they've spent time preparing that position. When you have students with potential and intelligence - but are just to lazy to apply it. And when you have a bunch of graduate students who are bury themselves in offices, and after a period of enculturation they're convinced that while knowledge may be infinite, the universe extends but to the four walls which surround them. And if I'm totally honest, after living, working, and studying on half a dozen campuses, I suppose I've been guilty of all three charges at some point in my life. And I'm fairly sure I have a tendency to slip into one or more of them on occasion. It's probably a good thing that it happens too, so that when you have right sense to get back on track you're reminded that you're human, and in doing so you better appreciate the humanness in others. Maybe. Speaking of humanness, gosh man, it's been one of those times when you just wish you knew what people were saying beyond what they actually say, ya know? Or if there really is anything between the lines. I should see if there's any definitive research on mixed messages. Ironic it would be, if there were.I spent the first semester of this year getting all these crazy, wonderful ideas. Some of them worked, some of them didn't - the ones that did are pretty cool. Topping the list is finding a way to recreate the sound of a viola da gamba with basically what violists already have in their hands. And in doing so, also finding a way of making cheap instruments sound twice as good as they usually do, if only you could teach people to read music in more than one way. Then I've spent this semester doing all the other things that doctoral students do - preparing papers that fit the requirements of a successful conference paper submission (but don't really fit your own research), preparing a piece for its technical components rather than its musical ones (which makes me feel more like a trained monkey than a musician or a researcher). I have a neat folder of related literature for an article on Bach that actually does fit in with my overall research - a crystallization of all the important bits from dozens of sources, notes from personal acoustical experiments and after devouring a whole pile of books. With all the other things ongoing, its been on the backburner so long that it looks like I have to go back and read it again for the third time. And I swear every day it looks at me as if saying in Gollum's voice, "Master is tricksy, Master is false, Master has neglected... his... PRECIOUS!" University mascot? Who would have guessed, eh.Source: www.luisprada.comToday I ended up late because I checked the bus schedule and thought it was a Sunday. Welcome to your Ph.D. work, where you may have cool ideas but you don't know what day of the week it is, and where your research slowly calls you back to Bach, the one and only Lord of the Strings.[...]

Eulogy: May you rest in peace, as your lives resound in ours


Early one morning, I walked up the Penang Free School steps to perform the hardest duty of my time in the institution that I've always cherished: I had to write a obituary for a friend who had died of cancer. More than a decade later, I feel a sense of duty once again to write a eulogy to two others who have just fallen to this terrible disease: Mrs S. Amrik, and Leng Kavern. Both who lived up to that solemn motto of our alma mater, Fortis Atque Fidelis: Strong And Faithful. The only reason I had the great privilege of knowing Mrs Amrik was because she got tired of gardening. She had completed a distinguished career culminating in being Principal of one of the convent high schools in Penang. And after a few months of pottering around in retirement, she decided that gardening wasn’t the thing for her and she applied to go back not into the realm of administration, but into the classroom to continue to shape minds – and lives – of yet another generation. She was nothing short of a force of nature, not only in the sense of her impact but in the humble way in which she accomplished the great. Some of the most challenging students in the school, who routinely had issues with just about every disciplinary teacher, would sit quietly and attentively to this charming lady. She wielded no loud voice or menacing cane to achieve this – just the oft-forgotten skill of actually being interested in listening to what students had to say. Plus she picked Macbeth, and wasn’t shy in talking about its rather sordid themes of murder, incest and parricide. She realized, and made us realize, that Shakespeare had written it as a tragedy, and not as Little Bo Beep. Seeing the limitations of the classroom, she brought students to her house over the weekend to show us the video of a performance of Macbeth, and ended up talking to us about menopause and how best to empathize with people going through it. I was the star pupil of English Literature, and perhaps she realized then that this kid “writes novels” in exams, but lacked a certain art within the spectator sport of quoting from just about any part of the play you’d like. She made it a point to have me meet someone else from my class who didn’t quite bother to quote as much as to compare Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to Bonnie and Clyde. In doing so, she started a friendship that lasts today – not long ago I played the violin at his wedding. And she also made me realize the value of relating things to images we can grasp. Looking back at my admissions and scholarship application, I now hear her voice echoing through my choice of mentioning the perception of the viola as the Cinderella of instruments. On Teachers’ Day, you could count on there being no clear space on her table, with cards adorning every corner. When invited to give the Principal’s speech one day, instead of the usual hum-drum of work hard and succeed, she decided to tell us that life doesn’t have to be like football games where someone needs to lose in order for you to win – that the real victories are the ones we all share. A few of us teachers and students continued to be close long after both she and I left school. We had the occasional lunch or dinner, sharing stories and discussing how our lives have continued on very different paths – from careers to weddings, politics, and memories of times shared in the hallowed halls of Penang Free School. What a thing we were granted that the last time we met, it was the largest gathering of her old students, now doctors, engineers, academics – and mothers and fathers too. We will never have another one of these again, but her voice, that charm and twinkle in her eye, will continue to live on. Honestly, mayb[...]

In the Company of Music


When I first started in a small Suzuki-like violin programme, I remember someone telling my mother that it was a good move as kids who stick in the programme don't end up in bad company later on. I think the actual words were along the lines of "how many violent kids do you know who play the violin?" (Ironically, I ended up playing the viola. But that's another story.) There's an interesting perspective to that though. That there are people who get their kids enrolled in music programmes not just for the intellectual development or just the enjoyment of sound - but because of a kind of culture that it promotes. That music kids are good kids.The societal dynamics of how that goes on beyond childhood is entirely a new matter, of course. In the States you have high school students who proudly wear jerseys with orchestra badges, to in a way match the young American football stars with jerseys of their own. In Penang about eight years ago, there was a whole debate as to whether playing in an orchestra should be counted alongside the Scouts, karate teams, and most interestingly school bands - in the end, is the definition of a "uniformed body" simply being part of a something that promotes teamwork and hard work.In the end, there is a kind of exclusion - being a "cool" scout patrol leader commanding his group of 15 devout followers - that somehow didn't quite apply to someone being able to play Bach from memory. I think sometimes the backlash is a created sense of elitism. That a young student grasps and displays musical initials like "ATCL" up in order to match someone else's "ATL". And in the end we lose sight of the larger picture that it matters less if you are indeed an Associate of the Trinity College of Music or an Assistant Troop Leader than what you do with the skills you possess. When I took Penang Free School's 1st Georgetown South Troop up on a camping trip, I decided to perch myself on a tree and observe, and noted a scout leader go round trying to help the loners get better integrated to the rest of the team. And at that point it didn't matter to me what initials he had before or after his name - or in a different perspective, I'm glad he soon gained the letters ATL which I think he certainly lived up to.We in music are challenged every day to live up to these ideals of a team that is a right place for good kids that grow up to be good adults. We are challenged by those among us who actively work to break up that idea and that ideal, like those who created this blog with what seems to the the sole intent of ignorantly insulting others in the comments section. And to add cowardice to maliciousness, to do so anonymously, not taking responsibility for one's words.At times like these I am reminded to value the times when musicians do act in ways which help their fellow man, even if it's just what to do in the break time of a long and tiring orchestra rehearsal:It reminds me that we always have choices, small ones and big ones, and those choices make up for one's true value - one's true measure.[...]

The Adventure Begins


It all comes down to time. The accident and injury, the delay between Indiana and applying for the next step, the decision to postpone things so I could get here at the start of the Southern Hemisphere's first semester - it all has its place in some way, at the end of the day. There was enough time for me to pick up badminton from my mom, learn my dad's recipe for mashed potatoes, which has earned the approval of my flatmates, and mahjong sessions with my sister and I competing with which stuffed animal provides a better aura over our chips. There was enough time to get a real feel for where the Penang music scene is and is going, and coincidentally, enough time to read a book whose title starts with the words "Time Enough".And it's at the right time of my life, I realized after a week here in New Zealand. As accessible the city is (I can find anything from groceries to mahjong sets within a walking distance, though some things do carry city prices), and as friendly the people are, it's the right time to be here because I'm like the chicken that took time to bake. I now know how to get straight to cooking, or to know how to navigate myself around a town - and well, for that last point it helps that I also now own a GPS. That kind of thing.The city really is what they say it is - all the amenities you'd expect of a city with the feel of a town - I read that months ago but I didn't really get what it meant until I was actually walking through the streets, feeling the pace of people and the size of the streets and the kind of shops and cafes and hotels. It has a small touch of the charm of Chicago, but more of the feel of a place like Melbourne. The people tend to have a - well I was going to say moderate, but I think the correct word is inclusive - attitude, are really quite friendly. At the same time they aren't afraid to speak their mind and are particularly eco-conscious:The first week has been adventurous, sometimes out of necessity as I needed to find the best places to buy things, and to test both the walk and the bus routes to get between Massey and Victoria universities in order to choose where I want my office. I settled on Massey for real academic and pragmatic reasons, though I can't say it isn't helpful to have the best fruits and vegetables as well as the Asian food store next door. That, and even the most hard-core violist would find it difficult to get lost with Wellington's clearest landmark on Massey's doorstep, the War Memorial:And other times it's actually voluntary, which somehow seems strange for my rather sedentary tendencies (i.e. find the curry chicken paste and the bok choy and go home coz you're all set for the next three years). The Te Papa national museum will take days to completely explore, and visiting the harbour is worthwhile.All things said, an excellent start - and am looking forward to meeting more people, especially the fellow music students, when term starts on Monday.[...]

Met a Four


Sometimes it's true that it's easy to find metaphors where none were meant to be. But at other times it's hard not to notice the juxtapositions that life puts in front of you. Like a Hong Kong sampan - right in the district of millionaire yachts:

It makes it sink in a little more when the tour guide tells you one of them (I think the one covered up) is used by the head of our Malaysian-based Public Bank:

But in the spirit of Cuti-Cuti Malaysia, we should search for meaning in our own land, but at the risk of being cynical, I do have to wonder whether when out of the holiday season, we have to be careful that our Merdeka spirit - and the Malaysian unity behind it - isn't hidden in scaffolding as well.


2010, Here I Come


It's the Year of the Tiger up ahead, and since I'm leaving for the land of the sheep on the second day of Chinese New Year, I thought it good to usher in the luck of the feline.

Actually, I forgot to add this in the 2009 end-year post and it was too adorable to not share.

Ending With A Flash


Well, not exactly, since when it comes to cameras I'm rather keen on natural lighting.I've decided to finish this decade rather simply, with a bunch of assorted - or not sorted - photos. Much like life, sorted in some ways, but oftentimes not, and perhaps its best that way.Nature is artwork, and I wish my photography better captured this.I really like things which dangle and suspend themselves in midair.Look carefully. There's a bug there disguised as a stick. A role model to violists everywhere.Look closely - the sign says, "Modern Hotel". Every time I pass this I'm reminded that if something states something which should be taken as understood, something's fishy. Like "I'm a honest politician."The view from my room, of the neighbour's massive renovations - apparently to rare dogs. Before this, the entire area now grey was a lawn, with one extra tree. Tan Dun or Steve Reich would have a field day with the sounds they make from nine-plus every morning.Took this in Perak, where I found it ironic considering the political coup sending the National Justice Party back to "Square One". I've always favoured underdogs, especially in the case of Perak, but more than just sometimes these opposition folks have to prove they're worth rooting for.I like many things about heritage buildings, like this obelisk-like pillar at Suffolk House.It doesn't have any apparent use, which makes me like it all the better.And inside, I feel like an oversized chesspiece. All it needs is a small bottle on the floor marked, "Drink Me."Happy new year everyone. And may the flash be with you.(Or not.)[...]

Do Re Mi Zap Zap Zoom Zoom!


I've opened the door towards using Fourier analysis (FFT - Fast Fourier Transform) in my upcoming research. Thanks to an old friend from Thailand, I managed to get freeware called Audacity late last night - and tested it with my voice:

This is going to be interesting once I get started on using it for instruments. The questions that arise are 1. how far I can use it in musicological research without needing external mathematical expertise in interpreting the analysis, and 2. how sensitive current technology is towards analyzing sounds which are pretty close to start with. One way or another, this will be an interesting adventure.

Life as a Musician: A Very Human Music


The number of things that one has to do to make music tends to distract from what it’s really all about. We start off as students, and many of us get into this about whether we’re first clarinet or second clarinet, and whether we’ve some level of music exams that too many young people equate to actual musicianship. Then we’re at a stage when hey, this music thing could be serious, and there’s this massive planning about travelling to get high level lessons, or thinking about investing in an instrument and how much it’s going to cost and what we can afford. And suddenly you find out there’s a bow or a mouthpiece that you never knew you needed and you can’t imagine living another day without it. And then you enter university studying music, or dive straight in to the working world and you try to squeeze 25 hours out of a day which stubbornly wants to stick to 24, struggling in personal practice in that push to be all you can be while teaching or working part time to to make sure you have enough to get something to eat. You start thinking about new applications, auditions, competitions. As you get more into the industry, you realize that if you want to be involved in certain projects you’ve got to take a role in actually organizing it, and then you get into scheduling of rehearsals and booking a hall and licensing and sponsorship. And then it’s networking, meeting the right people, worrying about whether you said the right things at the right time, and self-examining which part of each of us is most useful in fitting in to this giant jigsaw puzzle. Investments. Practice rooms. Arrangements. Scheduling. Organizing. Networking. Public relations. All these things which make up being part of making music, and all necessary in moving ahead in the world. It’s a real world, and these are all elements of that reality. But the best parts of making music are the things that don’t really get mentioned when we think about a career path. For many it’s the parents that start us all off on some instrument because they think it’s going to good for you not so much as a future job but in developing who we are – and for some, when that money for lessons doesn’t come easy. It’s about the teacher who knows better than to argue with you wanting that exam certificate but tries to make sure that in process you get more inspired about the music itself than the piece of paper. The friend who knocks on the door of your practice room and reminds you to take a break before your arms fall off or your lungs explode. The fellow musicians who welcome you back when you return after your studies elsewhere – or welcome you in a new role as a colleague and partner. And musicians who introduce you to others and help you to find a place in their world. Sometimes because some time, somewhere, somebody did the same for them. Sometimes because some time, somewhere, somebody didn’t do the same for them, and that’s the opportunity to make the world a little bit better than the way they found it.For every one of these very special people, there are probably a dozen backstabbing others, or more often those who are just more in it for themselves than anything else. But then, that’s exactly why we call them special. People. At the end of the mad race for success, that’s what music is really all about. [...]

It's All About Communication


It really is, when it comes down to it. Music is a clear extension of it... there's some quote from some musician that if he could express what music intends to express through words alone, he'd have stuck to words. But since words aren't enough - he's a musician.

These days there seems to be a new ad blitz on milk products that repeat the well-worn assertion that you should drink a particular product so your kids will grow up, "big and strong". I think it's time for a new paradigm, use the fear factor and all - say, drink this dammit, or your kids will be weak and stupid!

Someone pointed out to me recently that our road signs are too polite, especially when asking us to slow down. Singapore, apparently, gets to the point: "SLOW DOWN NOW!"

Whatever people imply from road signs, I do hope that they don't take too much from our government websites. I got the following under Soalan Lazim (Frequently Asked Questions) under the Immigration Department's website:

Q : Saya telah bergaduh dengan isteri saya dan beliau telah mengambil tindakan mengoyak PMA saya. Apakah tindakan yang perlu saya ambil untuk menggantikan pasport tersebut?

(Translation: I have fought with my wife, and she has taken the action of ripping up my Malaysian International Passport. What action should I take to replace my passport?)


Keeping it Moving


You know those scenes in movies where the writer just can't get it right, crumples up a sheet of paper and tosses it into the trash can, where you see about a dozen other failed attempts? Well, I've been having that with this blog posting and I have to tell you, it's a shade less artistic when you click 'select-all' and press 'delete'. Some things get lost in the technology I guess. I've been back in Malaysia since May of 2008, which makes it fairly long interim before heading to New Zealand in February 2010. There's a certain restlessness that comes from this - a lot of the musical opportunities require a commitment to stay on longer. In this industry there are really no part-time summer jobs, though there are sporadic freelancing possibilities. The MPO auditions every two years. And the local universities... well, shall we say they function in ways complex. Basically, I realized when I turned 30 that I'm in the centuries-old tradition of the wandering musician. The vagabond. The gypsy.On the positive side though it's given me the opportunity to help fresh some old networks, and build a whole lot of new branches from them. The plan is to get some name recognition, show a bit of what you're capable of, and the next time I'm back for summer holidays have something to do. I've explored with a certain amount of success the art of organizing a one-off event, whether it's a masterclass, workshop, or seminar. The trickier thing is creating a niche where one doesn't quite exist yet. Which makes it somewhat difficult to pitch to people in the market who aren't familiar with it, which isn't that surprising: you can find out a lot easier if someone is a good musician, but it takes a lot more groundwork to establish oneself as a marketable speaker, facilitator, or presenter. To make it even more complex, there's also quite a few differences between being a good musician or a good presenter, and knowing how to market oneself. But we do what we can. Sometimes you know someone's taking advantage of you but you keep quiet and keep going because it nonetheless doesn't mean you still can't get something positive from the situation. Sometimes you have to push those who find the idea of a fair symbiosis interesting, but have a tough time keeping a momentum going.And once in a while you have someone selflessly supportive, and you have to make sure you live up to that goodwill. Since my return, on the top of this very, very short list is Brian Tan and all the others at KLPac. I just wish that that list was somewhat longer, that we had a more inviting atmosphere somehow. We're looking our first real batch of people going into the field with formal training in the viola - myself from the States, Joycelyn in a year from Germany, Chin Ning a little after from Taiwan, and Jebat from Singapore. How many of them would aim for a primary role as an orchestral musician we have to wait and see, but I hope that that does not become the avenue of choice simply because the other choices aren't as stable or worse, unappreciated. I'm clearly biased, but I do hope that when the time comes, the success of music, the success of appreciating the diversity of musicians, and the success of keeping our best of them, will not lean so much on the goodwill of a few, but will really be the spirit of the musical community, particularly the way I've seen done in the Phillippines and to an extent Singapore and Thailand. Because we have to get out of this now somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy that the highest[...]

A Purple-Toned Celebration: Showcasing the Viola


Concert programme introduction for An Afternoon of Chamber Music, Sunday, September 6, 2PM.

(image) The viola has been called many things, from the “Cinderella” of the orchestra, to the mysteriously “purple-toned” instrument.* Those who have met the unique viola on the playing field have ranged from the world’s best violinists such as Yehudi Menuhin, Nigel Kennedy and Maxim Vangerov, to more unlikely characters like Jimi Hendrix, newly-crowned American Idol Kris Allen and the fictional Fantastic Four character The Thing.

Perhaps the magic of the viola is that just a shade more so than the signature grandeur of the trumpet or the characteristically ever-graceful harp, the viola’s triumph is in its versatility of colours in truly shaping itself to the hands and ideas of its player. Its imperfect dimensions (somewhat squashed as the ideal size for its pitch range being too long for even the best basketball players to handle) on one hand makes the player work even harder for sound colour. But on the other hand it is perhaps why the viola has been attributed as being able to convey the imperfections of humanity more clearly than any other instrument. Further, while the cello still boasts the frequency of vibration closest to the human heart, it is the viola that fits the range of the human voice.

This afternoon’s selections showcase the viola in the diversity of its roles, from a viola-only duo and quartet, to partnerships with the cello, violin, and a more traditional role in the string quartet. The centerpiece of the programme, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 is so rarely performed because of its challenging instrumentation focusing on the mid- and lower-range. Here we see the violas shine in a solo light as well as in the ensemble, exploring the full baroque range, celebrating the compositional genius of Bach in fugues and fluid phrases that flow from one viola to the next, and bounce back again.

Andrew Filmer

* And oddly enough, both of those descriptions came from the same violist: the world-renown Kim Kashkashian.

An Afternoon of Chamber Music - FREE ADMISSION


September 6 at 2PM
ARECA Center of Performing Arts ~ 50, Peel Avenue


W.F. Bach: Duo No. 2 ~ Tan Mei Ying and Samuel Khoo, violas

W.A. Mozart: First movement of the duo for violin and viola, arr. viola and cello ~ Joycelyn Tye, viola and Stephanie Tye, cello

A. Corelli: Arrangement of Concerto Grosso No. 8 "Christmas Concerto" for four violas: Lo Mei Yoke, Joycelyn Tye, Wong Chin Ning, Andrew Filmer, violas

J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 ~ Wong Chin Ning, Andrew Filmer, Joycelyn Tye, soloists. Ensemble: Lo Mei Yoke, Samuel Khoo, Tan Mei Ying, Stephanie Tye, Chee Hui Hui, conducted by Khoo Teng Jian.

Handel-Halvorsen: Passacaglia ~ Khoo Teng Jian, violin, and Andrew Filmer, viola

A. Piazzolla: Libertango and Por Una Cabeza for string quartet: Khoo Teng Jian and Lo Mei Yoke, violins, Andrew Filmer, viola, Stephanie Tye, cello.

At the End of the Day, A Real Lesson in Bogus Degrees


I must say, sometimes these bits of investigative journalism by the Star turn out interesting results. The recent probe into bogus degrees for example. It's only peripherally interesting for me to know about the people who want to sell them (though it's interesting that Google the website of Isles International University and you get a picture of Big Ben!) - what's more fascinating is the people who buy them and then get shocked when they find out that it's not for real.

And what's their response when the little light bulb goes off (and explodes)? That the convocation ceremony was real! Not a mention whether the education was real, not once. And therein lies the crux of the issue, with people thinking that it's about certification and ceremony, and not whether at the end of the day you have a little more rolling around upstairs. There are plenty of stories about pictures of convocation ceremonies with deputy ministers (who obviously aren't too bright themselves), and money gone down the drain, but no complaints about how this could be when I spent so much time in classrooms, pouring countless hours to produce a academically worthy thesis...

You can pity them, I guess, in the sense that you pity anyone who was taken for a ride. But somehow I don't really have much sympathy for these people who essentially thought that money could allow them to cut the cue - putting their quick-and-easy degrees ahead in interviews with others who actually spent time and energy towards getting theirs. So if some of them are worried about their jobs, well, good. Because chances are if it was that piece of paper which got you the job, someone else probably deserved it more.

The real lesson though is that the letters at the end of ones name are only good as an indicator of the intellectual strength of the person. Whatever degree it is, exists as a yardstick to what one has learned, and how useful one can be with that knowledge.

One particular case in the Star:

"Vernon, who works in the hospitality sector, said that he found out about the university from a booth the institution had set up at a Tesco outlet."

Poor man. I could have told him, you can't get a degree... at Tesco.