audition season: worse than mating season?

this wk has been full of events, people, things to do, to organize, and to dream of.  minnow is visiting toronto for a week and it's the first time that he's flown into the chaos and the excitement known as life of a freelancer. it amazes me sometimes how many quick turns i need to make during one day to make things work. dont get me wrong, it wont take much to just get through the day. but it always leaves a rather unclean feelings in one's mouth- doing things for the sake of getting it done and no more. so what is about this freelancer life that is hectic? well, let me at least clarify that i am no the kind of person who takes all work that comes in my way.  mind you, i like to work, but you see, this freelancer world can be quite brutal: survival of... the aggressive?

one of the particularly funny thing is that because there is so many students who are experiencing something that is very new: audition, there are many questions that pops into the day that is a bit silly (from my point of view) yet incredibly valid if not heavy with concern (from their point of view).  i get questions such as: have i played with cello before?  the piano part is difficult, would i be able to learn it? and it goes on and on. never mind the discussion of the 'payment' schedule. this is where the survival of the aggressive comes in.

this is the way it goes: student apply for an audition spot. office sends them the date and the list of pianists who are 'recommended,' which means that we, at some point, all met the bottom line of 'acceptable' playing.  like dentists, we are 'qualified' by the school yet some are better, some are cheaper, some are difficult, etc etc.  freelancers need to reign in their personalities a bit, because the less 'strange' you are, or perhaps more 'agreeable' you are, the better off you are financially.  having your footings secured in particular instrumental studios also help quite a bit.  and yes, there's also that question of pay schedule.  it doesnt happen very often- the open bargaining, but it does happen. well, rather, the students will send out mass email to everyone on the list and then choose based on recommendation AND pay schedule.              

and you see, these kids dont necessarily understand what/who they are hiring, which can be quite amusing, if not flat out amazing.  but it's all in the learning process and i often remember how clueless i was- i remember calling up on a tonmeister for a recording session and had the gulls to ask him whether he's got an access to a real grand piano, not a honky-tonk.  i just didnt know! and knowing what i know now (there are many who fancy themselves as recording engineer and i think they are either largely delusional or just exemplary incompetents) (like kids who shows up having your next-door-karaoke-microphones set up on wire hangers kinda thing) so once again, self-reflection to take the edges off from the wanting of sending blatant emails ('you are hiring a pianist, no? i will be able to learn parts, yes...')

and why should they know anything about me? they have no clue nor given any clues about how i am or how i became who i am. yes, i played for many different things blah blah have been to festivals here there somewhere, but they dont know that. it's not a required knowledge. and if they do need to know my history to respect me as a person, well, then i suppose it's a lost cause anyways. one should be courteous to others for the simple value of respecting fellow citizen, nothing more/less.  so if they are to respect me just based on my banff-leipzig-pablo casals festival resume, well, it's the respect for the paper, not for me. hilarious, but true. same goes for this wonky 'dr' title. though i think i could probably save a life or two, given right tools and plenty of practice.

and then comes the audition itself: i remember having my first audition but coming in as a non-music major and no dashing hopes of becoming a soloist, i didnt really care, therefore had zero expectation or fear factors. i believe i went right after my chemistry midterm and left to go have a ball-play at a park with neighbour's dog.  walked in with jeans (which i would still do if i were a bit more ignorant. sigh), flopped down and played and answered questions. i remember this part:

piano prof 1: ... so you like schumann?
monkey: yes, very much so. i think he's awesome
*prof 2 buries head in score to laugh
prof 1: awesome- well, alright. what of schumann
*note: prof 1 was chopin lover/specialist
monkey: i think he's overrated.
*prof 1: drops eyeballs on ground in anger
*prof 2: heaving chest against the desk, muffled laughter
*monkey: has no clue
prof 1: so you auditioning for performance?
monkey: ooh no no no. that's not what i wrote? did you see it?
prof 1: (looks, frown) ... but why not?
monkey: i want a degree that can give some sort of income
*prof 2: dies on desk

and so on.

okay, so i was an a$$hole.  i didnt know. if i knew, well, i would be even more of an asshole, i tell you. knowing what i know now... i may even ask them questions:

what can you do for my learning? what's your expectations?
whats your career like? how about your students?
what do you plan to teach me? would i have to continue to master's to be independent?
is it worth it? are you happy?

oooh loaded questions. so may be these clueless happy audition students are better off than i ever was.  they usually have this huge goal theyve been nursing since they were itty children at the local music school. a superstar in making. ive seen a few, though, i havent seen a superstar yet, out of this self-imposed protege kiddies. though there's a girl cellist who is bloody close to it- and she is a superstar in her manners. which is... awesome.

anyways, am boarding the plane across the atlantic this eve and i will be away from the business of it all, just to return on the last day of february, at which point i expect this music-related madness will continue in full swing. just like the college basketball season. may students, teachers and freelancing musicians survive the month of march and april. and should i be pressure to become aggressive for the reasons of business, i hope that i will have enough sense left to leave it all behind, perhaps by choosing to move chairs at the hall instead of playing some obscure piano parts.  does it make less money? well, yes, just about a quarter of what i would make playing. but does it help to keep me sane? yes.  well, then- i dont have much choice do i? i havent made much wealth yet, so may as well continue to be a bit poor, i suppose. but it doesnt matter as my life is rich.

and i have no auditions to judge any parts of me- intellectual, playing, whatever.  im done with all of those things, i suppose. i recently started to sign my emails with 'dr. c' with all those expensive titles as email 'signature,' which seems to scare off the people who tends to be rather aggressive.  who knew- all i need to was to show off the gilded titles. haha.  and another small point is that auditions arent the place of criticism. sure they listen to you and make judgement, but i am sure most of the time, the audition panel wants nothing less than the auditioners to do their absolute best.  they arent there to watch people suffer. there's plenty of television shows for that, properly produced with all the sarcasm and schadenfreuden.  so let us continue with this audition business, with centered mind and the willingness to do one's best, no more or no less.  and that means i better practice all these obscure piano parts as well, haha.  love to all musicians and freelancers, keep your hopes high and dont let the world become the judge of you.

and pass on the word: monkey doesnt do discounts.


dis, quand reviendras-tu?

it's been rather cold in yyz for last couple days. but the upswing of it is that when it's really really cold like now, as soon as the sun comes out, the whole city is glowing, with super sharp edges. the wind makes your nose run, your eyes are half closed or squinting the whole time because it is so bright, and top of your ears are... well, frozen. and yet, it is possible to enjoy the crispness of it. just like the ice particles under one's feet, walking from/to a place to another, hard, super-focused wintry sensations.

last couple posts have been somewhat introspective if a touch depressing. however, like most things in life, i feel that things are on the move again and that it's another cusp point to upward. just like how i imagine the young bulb shoots must look like back in english home.  little green tips pushing through the cracks of the dark soil. what a hopeful sight.

i recently bought a recording- of my two favorite aritists, anne sofie von otter and brad mehdlau.  the first of the two cds contains a new song cycle, collaborated between them.  in the interview on youtube, von otter says the whole thing so simply: well i like all kinds of music and (so does he).  after all that concerts and big names she worked with, it's always back to the core of things- it's beautiful and it can be any kind of music.  i have promised minnow that i will save the teasdale song cycle but i had to break out the second cd, recording of- what we may call a set of standard french chansons and some english songs.  why do i hesitate to call it a standard set? well, because it's not ordinary.

one of my favorite singers of all time is jacques brel.  and not just because he's a fantastic singer/performer but also because his songs can b so honest and empathetic.  and in this cd, von otter and mehdlau takes one of the brel numbers: chanson de vieux amands.

Mais mon amour (but my love)
Mon doux mon tendre mon merveilleux amour
(my sweet, sweet, my beautiful love)
De l'aube claire jusqu'à la fin du jour
(from dawn till end of the day)
Je t'aime encore tu sais je t'aime
(i love you still, you know i love you)

it's a killer tune and killer text. and i have been enamoured with von otter's singing ever since i saw a dvd of her doing carmen.  i like the purity of her voice, the way it is not thick but almost endless at times- like violin's high e string, thin, singing metal.  and mehdlau- well there isnt many who play so intimate, without guile in my opinion (if you have other suggestions, please do keep them coming).  i love the way he weaves the pitches, always moving, but in gentle arcs, surrounding the thoughts around themselves. a note is never without its pre-post event. but writing about music is quite a difficult if useless task. i think that above link will clear many things- than my clumsy writing.

the text is bittersweet and i wonder if i could dare listen to it when i am in a bit more fragile state. but at the moment, being in the upswing of things and all *plenty of love, yay, i think the melancholic quality is even more highlighted.  what a common theme- of old, tired lovers, but of what beauty!

it's easy to pursue fresh beauty, especially in these days. newer is always equated to better- until one realizes that shiny new shoes mean a new set of blisters. that new bag makes you worry because its leathery surface is so new- yet to receive a scratch.  the new wallet that doesnt quite fit the pocket..  so sometimes, though tired, old things, like well-worn gloves, can form around one another with great beauty and grace.  it is a luxury to think of such real things of life, especially inspired by such beautiful performance. and even with tired pairs, like the one in brel's, i am sure there are days where both parties have such spring in their steps- as it says so eloquently in no. 9 of the cd, 'dis, quant reviendras-tu?' a barbara tune.

Dis, quand reviendras-tu (say, when are you coming back?)
Dis, au moins le sais-tu (say, at least you know)
Que tout le temps qui passe (that all the time that passes)
Ne se rattrape guère (does make up much)
Que tout le temps perdu (that all the lost time)
Ne se rattrape plus, (do not make up for more)

and with such riches in my ears, i felt as if im gliding on the wintry streets of yyz.  as if i can spontaneously break out in a parisian waltz. haha, probably never.  but it's another point of my life- of clarification. things that has been disturbed have found their centres again, much like dusting. i am once again sure of people i love and care for. of the things that matters to me. of the sublime beauty that exists in the smallest cracks of the daily grind.  so with that lovely refrain, i bid everyone a good day and much love.  and yeah, go buy this recording. it will bring another mind above the treacherous slippery winter steps, so that one may float above the wet pavement- along with the flow of things that are ephemeral, like... love.  im so hopeless at times.


singular and indivisible

city is quiet, it's saturday evening. i am wrapping up the left overs of the wk now so i can head up and see my parents and granny for lunar new year's.  well, that's a bit of weird thing to say isnt it- i dont need a reason to go see them. i should just go see them because i do.  because we are connected.  as i am still connected to my wee brother despite the fact he is no longer alive.  as i am connected to my blue rabbit, also named 'wee,' who may appear to be a simple fluff to the untrained eyes. as i am connected to minnow who is far away, over 5500 km.  another night, separated, full of wintry weather- snow and quick wind.

i can almost sense the coming snow- that cold scent on tip of the nose.  it's not here yet. but it'll be.

my best friend here in toronto is gone to see his friends.  the house is empty.  soon, i will be out of the door as well.  it's a weird feeling to be so alone in such a big place, where there is enough energy to keep one awake till deep night hours. my building is 34 floors high. there is no floor thirteen.  still, that make it possible to host  at least 800 some people. often it feels as if im more connected out of my own bird cage.  though, recently, i have been real rubbish on spending time with friends. they are busy. i understand. i know. and i am also busy- for what, i am not so sure.

we all desperately try to connect to one another, cling on to that fading sense of- togetherness. not just simultaneous but of co-existing and living together.

as i pass beautiful things, i think of my granny- it's been snowy and icy and it's not very easy for her to walk around by herself anymore in such weather.  she's housebound, with no jail walls and no guard.  i often wish to bring her something fresh, something beautiful.  but usually the best i can do is a bag of candies and such.

as i see siblings bickering, i think of wee brother, though he is under the frozen january winter ground, quiet. i write letters to him.  i cant really post them.  i wonder if anyone have posted an address-less envelop to their loved ones, letting the confused post system to figure it out- what would happen to them? i suppose they are eventually disposed.

as i yield to friends talking, with animated hands, walking and taking the small path on sidewalk, covered and occupied ed by the snow banks, i think of friends who i wish to be with.  but they've been busy- following the direction of their own little waves, as they should.  and it's a pity that it is becoming more difficult to find the time to see them in person- so they drift away, i feel, one inch at a time.  minnow is currently existing in pixelated forms and digitized sound. he tries to swim with me, to weave, every chance he gets. we do our best. sometimes he' a bit far though.

so on a quiet saturday evening, i will be heading out, to ride the subway, with many others. we'll simultaneously board the car and empty out when it reaches our mutual destination.  but they may be just as alone, as i am.  i carry the wee blue rabbit with me, clutching it in my pocket.  a gesture full of hope. i am not alone.

or am i

with quiet playing of brad mehldau ringing through my ears, i am looking into the city. it is now snowing.  millions of flakes, all different.  i wonder if they also feel lonely at times, as i do, sometimes.


...'cause the circus left town

it's lunar new year.  another circle around the sun, carefully counted by the quiet moon.  though in my year in banff, i have learned that moon, when she wants to, can speak clearly and brightly, changing the entire world by turning it into millions of shades in monochrome.  and in yyz, the last day of last year was full of snow, where the wind carried them upward, against the fall of gravity- snow wasnt falling. it was blowing. flying. anything but settling.

i called briefly to wish my family a happy new year. in midst of the daily grind, we spoke briefly, wishing the best,  using only plain words, nothing extravagant or elaborate.  perhaps all we wanted to say is that (i) love (you).  

it's quite unsettling time for many different things.  but then since i have finished my last degree, things havent been settled really, so it's really not a surprise.  rather than growing a root in a place and nurturing all the little roots that grows out of myself, feet deep in the ground, what i have is- well, pieces of me, scattered all across the different path i have taken since then.  and i dont quite have all the pieces because some of them has been given to others, to keep. and some of them, i will never get them back.  like the pieces gabe took.

koreans, like chinese, usually give out good-luck money along with handful of useful advises to children, every new year's.  gabe used to DEMAND this money from me and though i am clearly not his life-giver (though i wanted to be life-threatener at given moments), i would give it to him.  sometimes in form of fags. hahaha.

little man is not here anymore.  every new year's, when people talk of family and friends, he may grow paler ever so slightly.  as he's going to stay in his last point in his life, on the side of the road, alone, in foggy night in kelowna, british columbia.  as he's no longer going to age with us, he'll always be twenty-eight.  

when there arent enough words to say what i want to say, often i turn to music. today, i turn and cling to mr. clapton, one of the songs he wrote when he lost his little man.  today's a new moon night.  the opposite of full moon.  unlike the nights that she burnt bright in the shadows of trees and rocks, tonight, she's remembered in darkness, illuminated with man-made lights.  gabe used to be such a fun/annoyance.  but we all knew where he was- either by being infuriated or missing him.

"...and it's sad, so sad, there ain't no easy way round,
and it's sad, so sad, all your friends gather round,
'cause the circus left town..."

tonight, i am curling up in my bed with blue wee rabbit, thinking about my brother. and how i miss him. and how i miss the people i love.  fortunately, i can be in touch with most of them so easily- flip of a phone, a click of a mouse, a ride on the subway. except gabe.  

it's sad. so sad.

*lyric to 'circus left town,' eric clapton:
Little man with his eyes on fire and his smile so bright.
In his hands are the toys you gave to fill his heart with delight.
And in the ring stands a circus clown holding up a light.
What you see and what you will hear will last you the rest of your life.

And it's sad, so sad, there ain't no easy way round,
And it's sad, so sad, all you friends gather round,
'Cause the circus left town.

Little man with his heart so pure and his love so fine.
Stick with me and I'll ride with you till the end of the line.
Hold my hand and I'll walk with you through the darkest night.
When I smile I'll be thinking of you and everything will be all right.

Muncie, Indiana, Empty Store With Circus Posters
margaret burke-white, april 1937
from times inc., online collection


let the blue sprinkled february begin!

tis february! the most depressing month of the year (or so i hear) is here... for next 28 days.  hooray. it's been new music festival! kiddie concerto competitions! amusements and collectible tools everywhere! come and get your pick from the lot! there's been some amusing things recently.

"have (monkey) every play elgar cello concerto reduction?"
: reduction? is it tasty?

"i would like to thank... urr what's your name?"
: strike that cymbals on drumset. inst, shake head.

"i dont know whether or not you already know this but-"
: this is well-educated high school speech?

"- you can't just yell at me-"
"okay, then (hang up)"
: well, that is efficient eh?

"i never start on time!"
: and that's good?

"btw, i dont think i want to pay that much-"
(end of a rehearsal)
: hmm that did leave me speechless

"do you know who i am?"
: does it matter? and no, i dont, and i dont really... wanna...

"btw, i dont have piano score. can you get one for this afternoon?"
: if i say no and still show up, do i still get paid?

"i still have so much practicing to do!"
: what/how are you practicing?! dont you also want to live it up a bit?

and things just go on and on. but there has been some highlights, certainly.  people who says 'thanks,' people who say 'please' are good start.  i have to think often to turn the situation around to really understand where things are coming from; such was the question of 'have you played a reduction before?" - i mean, why or how would this kiddie know who i am and what i have done with my life?  not being bitter, it's just that things are often difficult for many people without reason. but that does not make it any easier for them. i have to remember that.  another case and point:

( instrumentalist running in, house light is dark and everyone is waiting for this person. the person is rushed, muttering under the breath, gets on way to stage)
"that intermission is supposed to be 15 min!"
*dirty look to house staff
staff one: "what's his problem?"
staff two: " he can't add. must be difficult being him."
staff one: " huh?"
staff two: ": 38 + :15 = :53, yet, current time is :55, 55 > 53, therefore the only conclusion is that he cant add. when you cant do arithmetic, life must be very difficult."

want another case?
case 2: frantic situation as performer's interface have gone bonkers. it wont work.  stressful situation.
reason: somehow, the interface was fed speaker output as input. when there was a huge noise, it just blew up. 
reaction: nothing to do, trying to not to laugh as the interface is an expensive protools product.

re: case 2,
i may add that performer did his own wiring. as true self-contained professional of a sort, he required no assistance.  and he required no assistance in removing the dead interface. good for him. with damage of near 1695 USD before tax and shipment (according to sweetwater.com), i wouldve buckled and cried. i am a weak monkey.

wee rabbit's been around the school this week and i totted him in pockets and backpacks.  he's always very calm and inquisitive.  it's always worthwhile to move one degree away and think about the flow of life in general, especially in a different perspective. then small things become visible- the need to be humble, to be emphatic, to be honest and be flexible.  like wee rabbit.  he doesnt speak much yet so many people have spoken to this little blue fluff.  he's a sage.  and yes, he does look really cute, with his big big ears.  ready to listen. calmly and willingly. i will keep that in mind, as february rolls in.  after all, it will be a splendid month.  not only minnow's flying over in a tin can for a wee visit, i just booked a flight ticket last night.  can you guess where?  and great rehearsals and playing to come, looking at my calendar. with awesome people.  so why worry about a few stray young, green ones? february is starting on the right note. the non-fitting accidental note of the scale can be quiet magical depending on what other pitches are around it.  let the little annoyance and incomprehensible small-person-ness be those blue notes.  after all, who does not like a beautiful jazz harmony?