Yamaha Piano Challenge 2012

After a hiatus of almost two years I’m back in the judge’s chair—this time for the Yamaha Piano Challenge 2012. Mrs. Fong asked me to judge the Finals together with fellow judges Razif, Soo See, and Mei Ling. The format was different compared to Piano Idol, with categories ranging from YPC1 (Beginners) to YPC12 (Advanced) and there were winners for each category. All in I think there were around 60+ contestants, and there were two sessions—one in the afternoon and another in the early evening. We had an early dinner around 5 pm. I brought my Canon EOS 550D along with the Speedlite 580EX II so here are some pictures.

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(Above) The stage is set at the Penang PAC (Performing Arts Center). That’s the Yamaha GB-1 baby grand piano together with the Digital Music banner. This is a smallish hall which can accommodate approximately 300 people, but it has great acoustics. The piano sound seems to bloom on its own accord. This would be a great place for solo concerts. I took this picture handheld, resting my elbows on the judges’ table, taking a deep breath before pressing the shutter.

(Below) Vincent was one of the guest stars of the day. He played Franz Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 in A flat major and Chopin’s Black Key etude, Op. 10 No. 5.

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(Above) Adriana was the other guest star. She performed Chopin’s Etude Op. 25 No. 1 and Debussy’s Prelude from Pour le Piano. These two talented pianists are my students and I’m extremely proud of them. Both have won Piano Idol in the past.

(Below) A candid view of the junior contestants in the afternoon session with their certificates of participation.

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(Above) For the Senior session the piano was moved to a different angle but the sound was still great. A slow shutter speed emphasizes the dexterity of this contestant.

(Below) A cross-section of some of the winners in the Senior category.

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(Above) Here I am, posing with Vincent after the whole show was over. The Speedlite 580EX II is fantastic; this was taken using direct flash and yet it handled the lighting conditions extremely well, exposing both of us just right.

(Below) I could recognize some budding talents today. Here I’m posing with Yeu May, the Level 8 winner. She played a scintillating Chopin waltz—I’d love to have this 15 year-old for a student.

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I have to commend Mr. and Mrs. Fong for organizing these competitions. They really foster and encourage the upcoming musical talents in our midst. I’m looking forward to more in the future.

A transition of sorts Part 2

I’m into my fourth week of happily settling down with Mom. Here are some pictures of my new music/computer room. All pictures were taken with my Canon PowerShot SX120 IS.

My music and computer room

CD cabinet on the left

The wooden paneling floor seems to have given my Yamaha Clavinova more bloom in its sound. My Creative 2:1 speakers also seem to sound better here. Perhaps it’s just me.

Here’s a picture of my humble bedroom. Not much, but I call it home!

I believe that everything happens for a reason. Moving here and bonding again with Mom has been wonderful…we each talk when we can and during lunch and dinner (pizza occasionally, yay!) and more often than not, we give each other space—Mom likes to be GTTT (you know what that means, Miss Miller) and I like to be glued to my tube too (aka the computer) I’m eating very much like a piglet here, and what with Mom being a fruit fanatic, it’s fruit all the way—apples, mangos, watermelon, bananas (that’s for you, Miss M) etc. And let’s not forget my yogurt and dark chocolate—yummy!

Till the next post, this is your friendly host, signing off…

A transition of sorts

I hate moving. The last time I moved was about 12 years ago. Last month I had to move due to some unusual circumstances—I really had no choice, I wasn’t happy where I was. So I did it. The first day was the worst—the movers showed up late, I was waiting and getting more anxious by the minute. I called them up several times and always received the stock reply: “We’ll be there soon.” They finally arrived about 90 minutes late. Most of my big stuff (like my Yamaha Clavinova) was packed up pretty fast by them. Soon everything was on the truck, on its way to my new abode.

Yes, I’ve moved in with Mom. She has been living alone since my dad passed away more than two and a half years ago. Somehow or other I thought it’d be good for the both of us and guess what, I’m very happy here in my new place. It’s been three weeks since I landed in my new home and so far so good—I’m surprised that Mom allows me my own private space and I reciprocate the gesture too. Did some minor refurbishments to the music/computer room and my bedroom, but that’s about it. I also discovered that the tile and wooden floors were a mess, sticky and with some bug “deposits.” Can’t fault Mom because she’s in her seventies and I don’t expect her to do cleanups on a regular basis. So I took it on myself to do the housecleaning chores. Never knew I could do it with such a vengeance! I swept the floors, mopped with disinfectant, removed all those disgusting bug droppings, wiped the furniture, etc. etc. I got some good exercise and the place certainly looks cleaner now. And Mom is probably pleased with it.

Moving house is a big decision. I’m so glad I did it, but this may not be the last time I move. I’ll just wait and see.

The ABC’s of Me (D-E)

D: Digital, Dell, Drums

I simply love digital stuff—whether it’s a computer, my camera (Canon PowerShot SX120IS, yup), my amazing Yamaha Clavinova, or even my wrist watch, and lest I forget, the humble CD. I was so glad when the compact disc came out in the 80’s because I listen to a lot of classical music, and it’s a sheer annoyance when the record warps, or I’m trying to find the third movement of a Mozart symphony on cassette tape (ah yes, remember that? And that unbearable hiss?) I’m just knocked out with the CD, where one can simply jump forward and backward to any track. And not only that, recordings are clean as a whistle (most of them anyway) without the annoying hiss.

I’ve mentioned enough of my Yamaha Clavinova digital piano in previous posts. Suffice to say, digital pianos beat acoustic pianos flat (excuse the pun) because of several things:

Yamaha CVP-409GP Clavinova

  • No need for tuning and maintenance (yes your piano tuner will hate you for buying one) Just remember that it needs some electricity.
  • The sounds are sampled from a concert grand piano costing more than my house, my car, and all my other worldly possessions combined.
  • Recording can be done on the spot for burning to a CD or uploading to a blog, as I’ve done in My Music page.
  • Lots of other sounds available, plus drum accompaniment, etc. A built-in metronome is included too.
  • Large LCD display for viewing parameters.
  • Now what I need is the kitchen sink.

All I can say is, live long and prosper, digital!

 Dell Studio 15

Truth be told, I’ve been contemplating getting a Dell laptop for the past year, and kept putting it off. Now it seems unavoidable that I get one, because I need it for teaching students advanced music theory when I’m out of the house. I’d originally planned on getting the Dell XPS M1530 but that has been discontinued and moreover it was a little on the pricey side. Now I’ve set my sights on the Studio 15 and it comes with Windows 7 to boot. And *snigger* next time when I spend a night or two at the E & O Hotel I can just bring this baby along—no more Internet withdrawal symptoms!

Yup, believe it or not, I was pretty good on the drums when I was a kid. My dad used to conduct a big band at home, and although I was intrigued by the piano and other instruments, it was the drummer that had me swinging along. When the rehearsal was over, everybody left with their instruments except for the drummer. Then it was my turn to groove. I hopped onboard, imagining myself playing with the other musicians, and pretty soon I was lost in my own world. My folks were amused and mom used to put on a record or two and I’d play in perfect time with the music. I remembered one of my favorites was Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman. I could play a wide variety of drum styles including the rumba, tango, fox-trot, bossanova, etc. Although my dad was pleased with my drumming talents he rightfully had my future in mind for me and steered me back to the piano. However, I’m still a pretty good drummer!

E: Eyes, E & O Hotel

Don’t get me wrong, but I don’t like my eyes. They’re small, they have been giving me trouble since 5th grade and as a result I have been wearing glasses and contact lenses ever since. My vision remained quite stable during my 20’s and 30’s. However, it began to deteriorate after that—I was having a hard time seeing faraway objects. A checkup with my optometrist and ophthalmologist confirmed my fears—cataracts were developing in both my eyes (this was about 10 years ago).

I had thicker glasses made. I wore contacts with a higher power, it reached a point where I was wearing contacts with the highest power available! And everybody knows that you can’t reverse cataract growth, it has to be surgically removed. I put it off until earlier this year, when a visit to Valerie (my optometrist—she’s great) became the straw that broke the camel’s back. My glasses were like bottles already and she said it was pointless to make new ones which would be even thicker—yuck!! She advised me to see my ophthalmologist saying that now would be the right time to have my cataracts removed. Guess what, this time I didn’t put it off. I went straight to see Mr. Lee, my ophthalmologist.

To cut a long story short (see my Eye to Eye posts for the details) I had the cataracts from both eyes removed in June and July of this year. And what bliss it was to be able to see well without those hideously thick glasses! Nonetheless I still had to wear reading glasses because my intense myopia had actually masked my long-sightedness. But reading glasses are fine with me. I just thank God when I wake up every morning that I’m able to see well without reaching for glasses. It has truly been a wonderful blessing for me this year.

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Sir Noel Coward has stayed there. So has Douglas Fairbanks, Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin, and Joan Chen. I’m talking about the E & O Hotel, Penang’s Grand Old Dame. P/S I’ve stayed there too! I feel like I’ve known this hotel all my life. After all my parents were entertainers there for over 40 years, and I used to visit the hotel regularly when I was growing up. During my teenage years I would often take over playing the piano for my dad when he desired a break (but actually he wanted me to gain experience playing in front of an audience, thanks, Dad!) Of course the hotel has changed over the years. Its last refurbishment was in 1997 but due to the Asian financial crisis this had to be put on hold for a few years. The hotel finally reopened in 2001 and the refurbishment has really brought back the shine to this renowned establishment.

One of the main corridors of the E & O

I started work at the “new” E & O in December 2004. I’ve been playing there ever since, on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s a wonderful job, I have a fantastic boss in Mike, and need I mention that the food is glorious (yes, Food Glorious Food!) The rooms are unlike rooms found in any other hotel. You just have to stay at the E & O Hotel to experience and bask in the ambience and glamour of this fine lady. And…I gotta cook up an excuse to ask the boss for another night’s stay again, hee hee!

Back to Basics

Being a piano teacher of classical music and a cocktail pianist allows me to have one foot in each camp. I’ve been teaching piano for over 25 years now, but one of my philosophies has always been this:

If you want a student to do something, you have to be able to do it yourself.

Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of practicing the piano. It’s easy to dish out orders to your students when you’re “in command”—things like “Play with more feeling please,””Could you bring out the right-hand melody?””You ought to practice more carefully” etc., etc.

I teach mainly the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, UK) Piano syllabus, so students do the usual scales, exam pieces, aural, and sight-reading. Modesty aside, I have prided myself on being able to do what I ask my students to do. So when it comes to choosing exam pieces, we pick them and then agree on both of us learning them. Then I do some practice on the pieces myself, so that I can show the student what I want. I’ve always tried to be hands-on, Lord knows how many times I’ve asked students to get up from the piano bench and plunked myself down on it.

OK, that’s the usual stuff, but lately I’ve been digging up some past repertoire and asking myself “Hey, when was the last time I tried out this piece?” Over the years I’ve been playing so much jazz and standards that regrettably, I’ve left the classical stuff behind. I haven’t abandoned it totally—nope. And I still have a humongous collection of classical CDs that gets played in my car. It was only after this year’s Piano Idol that I decided it was high time I revisited this old friend.

So I dug out some old repertoire. I’ve started with my regimen of scales and Hanon exercises, followed with repertoire like:

  • J.S. Bach: Prelude and Fugue No. 5 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, volume 1
  • W.A. Mozart: Sonata in G major, K283
  • Chopin: Fantaisie Impromptu
  • Ravel: Prelude from Le Tombeau de Couperin
  • George Gershwin: 1st Prelude

And guess what? I’m having a whale of a time! I haven’t touched these five pieces for years and years but when I started on them, it was like, “Wow! Good to see you again!” Unlike Jazz and popular music, everything on the page has to be strictly followed, which is why I sometimes think playing classical music is like living in a military camp. Be that as it may, I’ve got to try to play out the composer through the music, doing the proper technique and all the stuff that I’ve been telling and imploring my students to do over the past decades.

My Yamaha Clavinova digital piano has been my faithful ally, since it has the touch of a grand piano, never goes out of tune, and most importantly allows me to record my performances on the spot. This is great because I can play it back immediately and spot my mistakes (I have to be able to criticize myself too). So there you have it. Now excuse me while I go back to play the piano. Ciao for now!

Piano Idol 2009 Finals…

…will be held this coming Sunday September 13, 2009 at the Copthorne Orchid Hotel here in Penang. I’ll be judging it again this time together with my fellow judges Helen, Razif, and another judge from Kuala Lumpur. The star instrument this year will be the Yamaha GB1 4’11” Grand Piano. I’ve tried it already, and it’s a very well-made instrument.

As always I’m looking to seeing and hearing what the contestants come up with this time round. Hopefully they will choose their pieces wisely to make us judges sit up and marvel. I’ll be bringing my Canon PowerShot along to snap some pictures for posterity, and yes yes, I will be posting some of them here after the competition.

I’m certainly looking forward to this year’s event. See you there!

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The Longest Day

The run-up to Easter Sunday was very unsettling for me. Reason being that my church had just bought a new Yamaha Stagea Electone organ, and it was due to be delivered on Thursday afternoon prior to Easter. The next day was Good Friday, and with the church sanctuary (where the organ was situated) in use, there wasn’t a chance for me to give the new organ a go. Saturday morning arrived, so off I went to try it out. However, as luck would have it, I found out that the sanctuary was open for prayer for the entire morning until 2 in the afternoon! I had to play very softly so that didn’t help much at all. OK, I went to the sanctuary again that very same evening, on my way to work at the hotel. This time I managed to try out the organ, for about forty minutes, and then along comes the choir to practice. Anyway I had to leave for work.

Come Easter Sunday, and I awoke very early. I prayed that I would play well. Had some breakfast with a strong mug of coffee and off I went. Arrived in church, plugged in my thumb drive, powered up the new baby—all seemed well. Played some music for the Prelude; I was literally shaking in my boots, feeling very unsettled until George (a church member) came by and said, “Don’t worry. The holy spirit will play for you.” That seemed to calm my nerves somewhat. The rest of the service went by without a hitch. When it ended, I was so relieved. Had some positive and glowing comments—that gave me a boost. Well, also some suggestions from others; ok, I’ll work on those.

However, I was surprised that for the rest of Sunday, I was mentally zonked out. It had nothing to do with the 4 hours of teaching I did in the afternoon. Or the client who wanted me to go check her computer after that—I was just so dead tired. Reached home around 6:30 PM, took a short nap, had a strong cup of coffee, some dinner, watched some DVDs, and then hit the sack.

That’s it for now. Hope your Easter was good.