Runs on food and music, will sing for chips and pasta.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Winter Journey 2007 - The camp

(pardon the scew-ups in font size down the post)

I have known Madam Loh Siew Tuan since Turandot audition back in 2001. She mentioned Winter Journey, an annual winter music camp in northern Thailand for singers to me since then but I never get to really consider audition for the camp due to working full time and all. Last year I could, being newly singing full time :) She very kindly accepted me into the event.Khun Tuan, pic by Napadol
Not knowing what to expect, I packed two rather full luggage to Loei, northeastern Thailand...planning to get the camp done with and get the stress off my chest so that I could shop in Bangkok afterwards till my heart's content.

I have been `preparing' for the music camp since late 2006 after I have submitted my repertoire for the event. Closer to the camp dates I realized I was out of my mind for submitting the list of songs, they were too tough, I thought and I knew in December I haven't quite prepare enough...busied myself with year end singing schedules and neglected the camp work till pretty last minute.

Anyway, I went ahead and landed in the sizzling Bangkok on Jan 10 with fellow Malaysian Geneviene Wong whom has been commissioned to play at the camp for the singers, whom incidentally, was going to be my pianist too :)

We arrived at AMA Studio where we met Pitchaya (but everyone calls him Pub), Salith (but everyone calls him Boy and Superman later on), Ji-Young (some call her Rebbecca), Napadol (or Ek, known to all), Manit (whom I spoke to a lot when first met but I realised after two days he only understood a smattering of what I said to him in English), Karen and Ami (the other two pianists for the camp). Met Khun Num (whom I addressed as Prasit in email because that's his real name) and of course there was Khun Petch who fetched us at the Bangkok airport.We quickly settled in for a music rehearsal of the opera which was part of the line-up of work and final concert in Bangkok on the 20th. With many singers missing in the rehearsal action that afternoon (they would arrive at the camp at different times), we sang anyway for two run through and then relaxed till it was time to get to the bus station for the long haul bus ride to Loei.

I think for Geneviene and myself that evening, most things were fun since it was our very first experience in Bangkok, and with the new friends we met...of course the fun lasted till it got too cold on the bus and when we realised the 10-hour bus ride was probably really, should be a 5-hour-ride if not for all the unknown stops the driver was making throughout.

Still, we enjoyed the main stop where we had `subsidized' meals in this quiet and clean canteen...there were `chok' (thick porridge, watery porridge is called `kow-tum' there), noddles soups and other local dishes.

The rest of the journey was a struggle between trying to sleep and keeping warm. We survived and got to the camp site (Agalin) at about 430am where we hauled our luggages into our respective houses, fresh and half-shocked by the extreme cold we were in.

The house were all the girls were housed (except for pianists Karen n Geneviene) is called Prong Peep and it has two pianos and two rooms in it. The piano hall was transformed into the third bedroom to accommodate more girls. It looked wonderful and you can imagine my excitement then...a house full of singers and two pianos.

My roommate was Tham, whose real name is Nakananthinee Worakhitanan.Tham sang Debussy's Nuit d'Etoiles at the concert, pic by Justin Tan

My Thai was next to zero and her English was a bit of a struggle but we quickly discovered that we have Mandarin in common!!! Another small burst of excitement, we spoke mainly Mandarin for the rest of the camp, never mind that I should learn more Thai from her and she should be polishing her English with more conversations.

The next morning we got up after 10am, knowing we have missed breakfast. A few of us (Ji-Young, Geneviene and I) wandered into the main hall after 11am where we heard singing. What delight!! The alfresco breakfast was still on and the porridge (kow-tum) was the best one, we were starving. Khun Amnad greeted us there and advised us twice not to stuff ourselves because lunch was being served in about an hour!!

Beautiful alfresco breakfast place for all! (two pics by Napadol aka Ek)
I stopped eating reluctantly and went into the main hall, called Karn Kasem. Karn Kasem was where all the opera ensembles would be rehearsed, it is a lunch & dinner hall, a concert hall, and upstairs there are rooms where all the boys were housed during the camp. It has two pianos and the hall is decorated with murals of musicians and people from the previous camps, commissioned by Khun Amnad.

The woman standing on far left in this mural is Loh Siew Tuan The man with glasses, standing, is Khun Num.
After lunch we launched into more music work, this time with Benoit de Leersnyder, the staging director whom I met first in 2004 where he sang Ping in the KL production of Turandot.

Benoit wearing the `props' I bought from a mall which was intended for boys to wear (at the concert) but we figured the girls wouldn't be able to hold a note long enough before they burst out laughing so I ended up with the props at home.Benoit at work...."You see guys, you won't talk to a person with your body facing out like this? Would you?" (pic by Napadol)

Benoit did amazing work with us for a week, with the amount of patience I didn't know exist in human. He worked with all 12 singers on the 5 Mozart opera ensembles (5 scenes from Cosi Fan Tutte, act one) and one finale number, the Die Fledermaus finale, in Thai!!!! He made sure all singers know their music, lyrics, characterization, plot, scenario...well, he made us think and that was good!

Each ensemble worked with Benoit once a day, slowly we moved away from the piano and text work and started blocking for each scene. The acting bit was most fun for me, maybe a bit painful sometimes for some (painfully shy ones). Thai translation bounced off everywhere and the process of understanding what the director wants and what the singers understood was most amusing. I think most of us will always listen to those
Cosi pieces with a special feeling in our hearts.

"Look at Don Alfonso when you talk to him, Despina!!" (pic by Napadol)After the afternoon work on the ensemble we had a leisurely dinner. After dinner we had a fun session learning Thai for the finale number, from Die Fledermaus. Ema (Japanese) who would be singing the solo in the first verse made faces while memorizing the Thai. I had mine the day before when I first met Pub, Ek and Boy...thank you guys!!! I will always remember how to pronounce it properly when I have to sing

'Pauk-rau ruam gun duem tawai pra-pawn'

It took some getting used to to have to turn in so early in the night, like 11pm or earlier. Though the evenings after we managed to stay busy till at least 1130pm before we prepare for bed.

The following was official day one at camp where we started our master classes with Khun Tuan. The individual master classes would start at 10am each day where singers would go to the `white house', real name Term Tawan with their pianists and work for 30 minutes on vocals, music, delivery...etc.

pic by Napadol
The scenery leading to the house (taken from my phone camera)In the morning mistAny classical singer would know that to have one master class each day for six days in a row is no easy work. A clear (open) mind, good health, good preparation, right attitude are needed for the class to work for both the tutor and student.Tham in classEugene in class, pic by Napadol
Other singers without having any rehearsal or music coaching with their pianists were encouraged to observe the lessons at white house to benefit from the sessions.From day three onwards we had a nightly concert. 12 singers divided into groups of 4 to perform two or three songs of their choice at Term Tawan after dinner, on three evenings. As we were given the freedom to perform any song of our choice, musicals like Phantom of The Opera seemed to be the favourite repertoire there. I even get to `guest-sing' for Jong-On on her performance night as Meg in her rendition of Angel of Music. The concerts displayed enormous creativity among the singers, most of the singers displayed most natural showmanship and the entertainment value was sky high (the comedic ones got us laughing non stop). Ek (Napadol) provided aptly funny emceeing for the three evenings and he really spiced up the classical repertoire with his impromptu stand-by comic.Panit and TienChai (observer) performed the song Phantom Of The Opera after her solo of Think Of Me.

The really hilarious ones were Ema's Una voce poco fa with surprise appearance from Pub, ended up as a cat-fight duet with happy ending, my `duet' with Jong-on for Angel of Music cracked up some people when we forgot our lyrics and looked for help with lyrics written on our palms (of course it didn't help much because we wrote them in red ink!!!), on last night of concert there was this incredible medley of...err, a Thai folk song (sung by observer Bobby with Khun Amnad on piano playing Moonlight Sonata as the accompaniment), Habanera aria, Casta Diva aria and Flower Duet (all by Ek n Bobby) with perfection, having guest/observer on stage (sorry forgot her name, anyone care to remind me?) as the `actor' who played along. I have a video of that.Ek in his funny emcee get-up, a French celebrity was it?

With so much fun and laughter around, time flies in the camp and in no time we felt the hint of stress in preparing for the final concert, happening on 20th in Bangkok. Suddenly everyone was busy deciding their solos for the concert, coaching like mad with their pianists, ensemble pieces were rehearsed over and over, master classes with Khun Tuan had a different air to it in the last few days.

While the stress set in, we had fun in the evening. Alfresco Thai barbecue for dinner, setting hot air balloons, going to the beach (the camp is ON the Mekong River!) for bon fire and fire-roasted potatoes...
Thai barbecue!Benoit and wife, Ann enjoying the bon fireKarenYummy potatoes being cooked in hot sand by Suan, employee at AgalinTham's cook out night of instant noddles...communal meal (pic by Napadol)other sights in the camp
Geneviene, Ji-Young and Karen posed for me
doesn't Geneviene look cute? nobody really believe her age there...
Tham, Ami and Salith showing off...(what, Salith?)
Eugene (Ferrando) & Salith (Guegliamo) getting ready to be `Latin Lovers'Geneviene and I at the beach of Mekong River ...I tried sand surfing (pic by Napadol)Ji-Young, Ema and Benoit at the morning exercise...On the day we left the camp we had a `dress-concert' before we pack up for Bangkok. When it was time to leave I went round to the working area to say goodbye to the staff member of this gorgeous place.and then I said bye bye to my roommy housemy running shoes...torn after years, final resting place at Agalin, not bad Bye bye Agalin, for now! pics by Napadol

The concert in Bangkok!

backstage laughs!
Panit & Ema waiting patiently to begin
"What! This dress is longer than me!" Geneviene laments while Tham n Jong-on laughing on
Ami and Geneviene took my instruction to goof around while Karen figured out her next move

Finally, here we are, the performance.
Held at Pridi Banomyong Institute Auditorium
pics by Justin Tan, in order of appearance

Panit Somana, Caro mio benJi-Young Yoon, Per pieta, bell'idol mioJong-on Daoratananhong, Vittoria, mio coreNakananthinee Worakhitananan, Nuit d'EtoilesEma Naito, MandolineNapadol Wirakan, NellManit Thuvasethakul, StandchenEugene Eustaquio, Non t'amo piuSalith Dechsangworn, Come Away Death
Ong-Ard Kanchaisak, Ave Maria
Pichaya Kemasingki, Vagabondme, La Zingara

2nd half, Cosi Fan Tutte ensembles

Ferrando (Ong-Ard) having a case of his lover's fidelity with Don Alfonso (Pub) in the terzetto, La mia Dorabella capace non e
in Ah guarda sorella, Tham and Jong-on were lovestruck sisters
In the next scene, Sento, o Dio, che questo piede, Ema and Ji-Young took over the roles of the faithful n tearful sisters
the couples saying goodbye, Manit as the scheming Don Alfonso
The worldly and gum-chewing maid Despina sang her aria, In uomini, in soldati
to the stubborn sisters....Fiordiligi (Ema) "Why are we listening to the silly maid!!"
Here comes the hot Latin Lovers!! In sextet Alla bella Despinetta
extreme rage on one side (the sisters looking down at the creepily strange men in their house), extreme control on other, Despina and Don Alfonso waiting to see what happened next..
we know we did well and we HAD FUN!!!
and cute finale choreography!!!!! Cho-cho train and Fledermaus in Thai
Khun Tuan gave us all a warm goodbye speech (for now!) with lots of love & encouragement...weep....
Next year's operatic Charlie's Angels?Supper at China Town was our final parting place for most of sure many of us will meet again
I will be back, Winter Journey! See you folks soon!