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General

Gangnam Style!

Fooling around with Psy’s mega hit. I recorded this using my Canon PowerShot G15.

Categories
Music Teaching

Always a glimmer of hope

The Northam 001

The piano teaching field is always unpredictable. Making a living out of it is a gamble, a risk. Like any other job, it has its ups and downs. I’ve had some wonderful students in the past but as my piano professors used to remind me—everything has a beginning and an end. No student, no matter how wonderful he or she is, is going to remain with a teacher forever. It’s a little sad when some students drop out for one reason or another; more so if they do so suddenly and I feel they have potential. Sometimes I click with a student, sometimes I don’t. And yes, at times they surprise me with stuff…like this new student who sent me this text. She was just shy and didn’t have a high opinion of herself, so I tried my best to coax her out of it by reassuring her that her piano playing would blossom and improve, given time. Getting this text from her meant a lot to me…at least I’m helping one student along and restoring her dignity to herself—she thought she’d lost it but it was always there, inside her…waiting to emerge.

Categories
General Music Teaching

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. Both these talented pianists are my students and I’m extremely proud of them. They each won the 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.

Categories
General Music Teaching

Congratulations, Adriana and Vincent!

finalists

Two students of mine—Adriana and Vincent, recently participated in the Steinway & Sons Malaysian Youth Piano Competition 2011-2012. I received some good news today that they have made it through the audition stage. Now it’s onward to the semi-finals where these 10 shortlisted contestants will battle it out for the finals in Kuala Lumpur on March 22, 2012. Five will be chosen from this stage and then the first prize winner will go to Singapore to compete in the Regional Finals. If they make it through that they will then go to Hamburg, Germany to compete in the Grand Finals.

Congratulations, Adriana and Vincent. Now I’m going to roll up my shirt sleeves and work you two—stay focused and on course!

Categories
Cocktail Piano

The Scourge of Musicians

aka “Old pianists never die, they simply tinkle away”

I recently read Mary Schneider’s thought-provoking and witty article about trying to enjoy a nice dinner at a local Italian restaurant whilst being bombarded aurally by the howling of a band of minstrels.  Being a pianist myself, I totally sympathize and agree with her and so here begins my rant about musicians. Before I proceed please bear in mind that the following criteria applies to this post:

  • I’m talking about live music in a nice restaurant (not coffee shops or pubs).
  • If this post strikes a nerve in you, please forgive me. I’m not targeting anyone in particular. Honest.

I feel like I’ve been playing solo piano all my life. I actually started out my first gig at the Golden Sands Resort here in Penang, way back in 1982. I was out from the States for a Summer vacation and my father said he had secured a piano-playing job for me at the named resort. Seeing that he had paid for my air tickets, who was I to argue? So I did the gig, I loved it, and I learnt some useful stuff along the way. I’ve loved piano playing so much that since then until now (imitates a Clint Eastwood accent) “I work alone.” No singers, no violinists, no kazoo players, zilch.

I’ve stuck with these rules of etiquette when playing the piano in nice, posh restaurants.

  • You are only the pianist, you are not the main attraction. The food and company is.
  • Don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Blend in with the ambience of the establishment. Look at the customers. Are they talking softly? Then play softly. Don’t be an ignoramus and drown out their conversations.
  • If you aren’t sure whether you’re playing at an ideal level, get your ass off the seat and ask. Customers are usually direct and they will tell you. Also observe their body language (an outlandish example is if you see someone covering his/her ears. That is a strong signal for you to clam up!) If you’re too shy, ask one of the staff (I am assuming that you get on well with the staff. They’re always downright honest about music levels).
  • I’ve also learnt that it isn’t worth it to bang on the keys even when the restaurant is packed and the noise level has increased dramatically. Why? Because you won’t win. So why make a fool out of yourself?
  • It’s good to lose yourself in the music while playing but don’t get so carried away that you’ve forgotten about the level of sound you’re producing.

Ah, you ask. What’s your pet peeve? You really want to know? It’s this—I absolutely hate it when I walk into a fine restaurant and the pianist or musician insists on stuffing his/her music down my throat, together with my food. BLECH!! And also this—if you need someone to tell you that your music is too loud, you’re not a professional at all, you’re simply a show-off. So there!

Let me conclude by telling you one of my favorite pianist jokes.

A man and his neighbor are talking. The neighbor asks, “So now your missus has taken up the clarinet instead of the piano? Is that better or worse?”

“Better,” the man replies. The neighbor is intrigued. “Why?”

“Because she can’t sing and play at the same time.”

Categories
Music Teaching

Student Spotlight: Tan Bao Xiu

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Following on the mini interview with Annabelle, here’s Bao Xiu’s version of it. I first met Bao Xiu when she was auditioning for the first Piano Idol. Since then I have seen this reticent young lady mature in her piano playing; she’s yet another very obedient student. It’s really students like her that make my piano teaching life less stressful (and believe me, as far as I’m concerned piano teaching can be stressful) So on with the interview.

When did you start learning piano with Mr. Yeoh? How old were you then?
Ummmm…I don’t really remember so clearly…. It was sometime in early 2010 I think, when I was…14?

What certifications have you achieved in your piano so far?
Eh, if you count the Yamaha piano exams that’d be quite a lot of certs….but for ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) exams I’ve done theory till grade 6, and I just took the practical grade 8….but since I haven’t gotten the results for that yet, I guess it doesn’t count? (Ed note: Bao Xiu scored a Merit for her Grade 8 piano exam taken in July 2011)

How do you find Mr. Yeoh’s teaching?
Hmmm. Honestly, (and I really am being honest here), he’s quite an awesome teacher. He’s got lots of stories to tell, about basically anything. But—he can be very strict sometimes…. I wouldn’t actually use the word mean though, cause even though he gives me intimidating tasks (like lots of sight reading), it actually does help me quite a bit.

Have you enjoyed your piano lessons so far?
Well yes, except for times when he starts playing some piece on the piano straight from memory like it’s the easiest thing in the world….then I feel pretty disgusted by his amazing piano playing skills (ESPECIALLY when he’s sight reading something!)

What would you have liked Mr. Yeoh to focus more on? Less on?
I don’t really know…. I guess he keeps a good balance of everything. And he knows exactly what a student’s strengths and weaknesses are….so….yeah.

Has Mr. Yeoh made you more interested and motivated to learn piano, or less?
Uh, honestly, I’ve never really liked playing piano that much, it’s like, a natural thing….but after learning with him I’ve definitely built more confidence in my playing 🙂

Any other comments, complaints, etc. will be welcome here.
Hmmm. I don’t know what else to say 😛 Oh yeah, he’s a technology geek too. So I would conclude by saying he’s a high-tech piano teacher/storyteller! 😀

Bao Xiu’s interests and hobbies include dancing, drawing, reading novels, and photoshopping.

Thank you for your time in doing this interview, Bao Xiu. I’m sure you’ll do very well in your recent Grade 8 piano exam.