Categories
General

A Charity Concert for the Children of Nepal

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(Top) Vincent doing what he does best.

(Bottom) Adriana playing some very polished Chopin.

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(Top) Maestros Loo Bang Hean and Ng Chong Lim playing Schubert.

Great afternoon concert at the PenangPAC (Performing Arts Center) on September 6, 2015. My student Vincent Ong played Mozart’s Sonata in B flat major K 333 and three of Chopin’s Op. 10 Etudes. Adriana Chiew played Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brilliante Op. 22. Maestros Ng Chong Lim and Loo Bang Hean played the Schubert Fantaisie in F Minor for piano four hands, D 940.

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(Top) The four performers with their bouquets after the recital ended.

(Below) Mrs. Fong presents a cheque to the Buddhist Tzu-Chi Merits Society of Malaysia.

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(Top) The closing performance by the students of Digital Music—It Starts With Me.

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
Cocktail Piano

So you wanna be a cocktail pianist?

I had played solo before going overseas for my further studies. However, it was mainly on the Yamaha Electone organ in those days (I thought the Electone was so cool compared to the piano, my opinion is reversed now!) I did play some small gigs in the US by myself, but mostly for my “supper.” And don’t get me started on the pianos—I have played on some extremely crappy ones, but once in a while a decent one comes along and makes up for the other junk. Furthermore, playing the piano in the US is so much fun because of the tips—a tip jar is always provided, and people drop money in occasionally. Not much, but a dollar here and a dollar there does a lot for my humble ego. Some places even threw in a sandwich or burger for me, so I wasn’t complaining!

My first solo piano gig here in Penang was at the Golden Sands Resort in 1982. Trust my dad to network and find out that they were looking for a pianist to play in the fine dining restaurant. Since I was out on a two-month Summer break, my thoughts were “Yay, some pocket money coming my way!” It was a very nice stint there, I got along very well with the friendly staff and guests; that prepped me up for my future solo piano gigs. I’ve learnt some lessons along the way and I will share them here in my blog.

So you wanna be a cocktail pianist? From my experience, you’ll need the following:

  • A decent repertoire of songs
  • A good knowledge of chords and playing styles
  • Good improvisational skills
  • An ability to sight-read well
  • An ability to interact well with people
  • A keen sense of intuition of your surroundings
  • Nerves of steel

I’ll expound on the above points in future posts, but for now you may have wondered why I chose this cocktail pianist line in tandem with my piano teaching. The simple answer is, I find it very relaxing…and since I’m playing solo I am my own boss. I choose which song I’d like to play next, what key I want to play it in, how many choruses I want to play, how long I want to improvise, what intro and ending to do, etc. It’s totally under my control! Besides, I have an extra source of income and that’s a good thing.

And what other job allows you a 15-20 minute break every hour? Allows you to choose your own repertoire? Allows you to practice while supposedly working, hee hee? And most importantly, allows you to relax while you’re at it?

There is a downside, admittedly. Since I don’t sing (I have never been a singer—period) I have to be able to make my instrument sing. This is easy on a good piano, less so when I’m playing on a piece of junk. Still, I can’t be like a bad workman blaming his tools, so it’s up to me to wring out whatever I can from the instrument itself. Another downside is when I’m playing to an almost empty restaurant or lounge (trust me, you’ll have days like that). Conversely you could be playing in a packed venue where it’s so darn noisy that you’re almost drowned out. You just have to grit your teeth and bear with it—yeah sometimes I go into auto-pilot mode, but the show must go on. And it definitely has in my case—for 25 years.