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

Monday, December 10, 2012

Being Naked, Art and Music

Thank you Win-Ni for putting the words in my head and calling a spade, a spade.

"Naked music and art is always good, do more!" 

We all know that being naked is not the most comfortable thing to do...especially when you're out in the public (yes, being naked indoor and sleeping naked are wonderful things).  But have you ever considered going `naked' in other meaning?

I mean being `naked' and honest about what you really want to do, what your heart desires, what you love doing...putting your most real, authentic self/sound on stage.  In the case of our concert, we put all of that on our make-shift stage, made of six pieces of wooden platforms that came as part of the package of hall rental at Annexe Gallery.

The feeling of `going naked' is...if I were to say that it was liberating, then I would be lying and telling the truth at the same time.  Going naked is in fact, scary at first, then it liberates you, it is an exhilarating experience.

Long before I've done anything with my own instrument, I discovered the beauty of classical music through my sister's incessant piano playing at home.  I bought cassette after cassettes of classical recordings, Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky...etc during the schooling days.

The concert we put up had no sound system, no live bands, we had the most basic lighting, no amplifiers, just bare nakedness...and honesty, as Win-Ni said.  In fact, I would like to elaborate on the venue we hired for this concert.  The charm of this slightly shabby venue adds to the elements of the performance.  Our audience sat on brown plastic chairs, we had ugly wooden platforms as stage, six pieces of these platforms joined together as our stage, where sides don't close together nicely and we had to look where we step on stage so our heels wouldn't get caught in the gaps.  The dramatically old and black curtains behind us couldn't hang properly against the big windows (which I adore whole-heartedly).  Stripped white panels as our backdrop...we used the little hanging balcony in that hall as our dressing area and green room.  

I thought of all these with fondness a smile so I guess some of the small magic of the performance came from this humble and frill-free-ness of our set-up at Annexe Gallery.  We first walked into space less than impressed but we walked out of the space on Friday night feeling we were charmed and inspired.

So, there were only, Joseph and his digital grand piano (we couldn't haul a real grand unit up there without causing major damage in our budget), and his snug accompaniment with our voices...all that we managed to work on since three months ago till that Friday night.  We got dolled up in our pretty gowns and we stood there - we faced you.

The audience - you, who have paid for your ticket.  Many of you took the trains to brave the heavy rain and traffic to get there on time, most of you got there on time.  All of you sat on your plastic chair and listened to us throughout, some of you stood to watch for better view at the back.  All of you believed in us, you wanted us to sing like goddesses and angels.

So we did, in our own right, we put on the best performance we could that evening - under those both wonderful and horrendous circumstances (rain, traffic, nerves, lyrics, nerves!!).  We sang our hearts out for you, for ourselves, for the music.

In my case, I sang for myself.  I waned to expand on my `music character', to extend my limited definition of my little shallow life.  I was trying to find more meaning in all that I do - not very much so far.  Through those grueling sessions spent with my extremely patient singing teacher, those hours spent  singing in traffic jam behind wheels, and at home - I wanted to reach a different realm of reality with my music, a renewed tone and color with my voice, another facet of my singing - that is bel canto.

The journey to get there is an incredibly colorful, rich and complicated route.  The classical repertoire provides an endless adventure for anyone keen to play with it.  The venture into many foreign languages, the struggle to memorize (a brain that is no longer 18-years old) and digest foreign lyrics, all had me thinking about it while waking, driving, in the showers, at house chores, playing with cat...etc.

And not being able to sight read gave me an additional layer of work.  I'd have my trusted `note-basher' friend Christine to play all my singing parts for me on record so I could go home to digest and memorize.  Later I'd spend my mornings in bed clutching the scores and my iPhone with its mini keyboard - note bash to no end and further digest those French lyrics.  

Having been assigned to be the alto in the company has given me a whole new experience - learning to provided support underneath the ringing line of sopranos.  

Coming back to the nakedness and being honest to ourselves, by committing myself to the concert, I was forced to face my fears and demons.  The fear of singing in bare-nakedness, stripped of any technical and gadgetry assistance.  The fear of having to display a beautiful disciplined singing with absolute control, technique...and top that with expression and dynamics.  I had to fight my lack of discipline.  The concert was meant to be the cure for my laziness.

Sure, the 3-month long work was stressful, producing our own concert was time-consuming, putting together ensemble pieces call for teamwork, patience, and lots of love and respect for the work.  Ah yes, not forgetting the finance, it's also costly..bla bla bla bla.

But, had you been bitten by the same music bug as us, wouldn't you have done the same thing as us?  The wise ones see it right away that I, and my three talented friends are immensely blessed to have the passion for music, the support we get from people around us (husbands, friends, teachers, pianists, pets, kids, parents...), the emotional intelligence to cope with the tight rehearsal time, the will power to suck it up and pull it off on stage, whatever happens.  

So, I urge all of us to come on out and bring on this honest nakedness in us.  Be sincere, be fearless, be real, be naked...what do you really want to do?  The most expensive art is of those that are naked, sincere and honest, because it's priceless.  

Am not denying that money matters a lot.  There are always bills to pay at the end of the month...but what's after that all that?  At the end of the road where money does not matter anymore, what counts?  I want to continue to do all that I can, after I pay off all my bills, to feed my soul.  There will always be music, honest, and naked music.  I hope you too would join naked.

A Date with Four Singin' Skirt was held on December 7th, 2012 at Annexe Gallery, Central Market to a packed room of friends and music lovers.  We sang as soloists, and ensemble.  Various composers' work were featured, such as Haydn, Bellini, Rossini, Lehar, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Satie, Poulenc and more.  There were two Chinese folk songs too.  The singers were Ashley Tan, Huan Huan, Janet & Meng Nee, accompanied by Joseph Leow on piano and Yem Voon on flute.  

Thank you loashi for your love, in our music, tolerating our antics and silliness, laziness...your generosity.  Cecilia Yap...and your brilliant emcee script!

Thank you my new found friends in music, your friendship and your love is well received.  Huan Huan, Ashely & Meng Nee.  I admire your art and beauty.

Thank you, our partner in music - for your musicianship and love.  Joseph Leow.  Your page turner was amazing too :)

Thank you for kick-starting our music session with much patience, your friendship is much appreciated. Seow Rong.  

Thank you emcee for your most adorable and loving performance, you had the whole hall at `hello'.  Samuel.

Thank you front of house crew and `stage managers'.  The best things in life are free, Nuff said.  

Thank you recording crew and team, you made me feel I was on a set in Hollywood.

Thank you team of impressive photographers.  It pays to have great friends and husbands :)

Thank you audience for allowing us to live the music through your presence.  

Thank you angels of music, your magic was felt...all night and day.


Saturday, December 08, 2012

Letter one hundred and twenty-one

Dearest J,

Even though Thursday really, really talk much.  She can.  She usually makes noise only when she is in really really bad shape - extremely angry or scared.

But once in a while, at really quiet just 3 mins ago, she would look at me and meow a little bit, just very very little bit..only loud enough for me to hear for a short split second.  And it's not a conventional meow.  It's more like a slightly throaty, guttural murmur from her.

At times like this I feel really grateful to have her here, just being here.  A very small, quiet presence here, but so full of character.

I never stop wondering about her...all these times, I wonder if she is having a good time living here.  I wonder if she ever gets lonely...all those hours when am out of the flat, or staying in the flat and not paying any attention to her.

I guess I'd never know.

I like watching her.   Sometimes I do that to de-stress, or to take a break from my work.  When I do sit down with her and play with her or stroke her or comb her hair, it's always such a lovely break from whatever am doing here.

She is a mix of gnome-lessness and excitement, and endless curiosity.

Miss you much,


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Thursday, December 06, 2012

walking, talking, thinking, breathing --- singing

The advantage of having friends who are equally passionate about the same craft as get to chat, inspire, encourage each other in going forward.

Scott Woo recently got posted to Adelaide for work, for a year or so.  All his music projects in town had to go on hold.  He dived head into the local music scene literally the second he touched down, his determination and interest are amazing and inspiring.  He has been auditioning non stop for choirs and such, seeking out singing teachers in the neighborhood, etc...scouting non stop basically.

A long email came from him today, `forcefeeding' a few of us here in town with his latest finds in music, his auditions, his new offers and his thoughts on the `local sound'.

I clicked `reply' the minute I finished reading.  I too have been over working in the singing department and want to share with him my latests:

"wow, i like that you just write in and force-feed us!! LOL way to go!!

sounds good, I think the `too much music' in a year thing may keep you
happy in your `off-shore' posting there?  put up clips ok of your
rehearsals and such.

it certainly sounds really exciting there, whatever you have been
putting yourself thro...these scouting and auditions and meetings.

i am struggling with my singing technique here, while i got some new
useful skills from cecilia the last few month - it's proven that am a
bit slow in getting used to using these new skills as my second
nature.  my bad habits are quite severe... good news is that she made
me discover how far i can push my voice and how much richness i am
capable of producing...of course, only when i do it right ;p

so, anyway, hopefully with next year looming and I hope to be more
focused and discipline - a constant struggle, i am able to graduate to
be a slightly more skillful singer and perhaps, a mezzo :) with better
high notes :)

ok, better get back to my work for now.  keep the
updates/force-feeding coming :D "

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Tuesday, December 04, 2012

face the music and dance

You gotta face the music and dance.  I talked to my nerves almost non-stop for days.  It's always been a work-in-progress - figuring out ways to work with nerves and inner demons.  

So I decided to just go right up to my nerves, acknowledge its presence, shake hands and lay down my grounds.  I cannot drive it away so I will learn to live with it and make the relationship work.  
I sang three songs last night with Mei Lin on piano.  The Fazioli has its top opened wide and big.  One of my songs had passages that were hanging a little too high for me.  I didn't get suck up on stage and die, I stood there and delivered the performance...through all my flaws and warts.  Some people thought I was good, I had so much to tell them about what needed major work in my singing but I tried to just say thank you, and that I would work harder.

Chie Haur, flute master

with Mei Lin

This is a transformation year for my portfolio.  So will be next year.  

2011 - the breakthrough of my own gig at No Black Tie, the beginning of a language of a songstress.  Hold your own 2 sets on a stage where people sit down for the happenings on stage, not for an annual dinner, or a wedding, or a fashion show.

2012 - the portrait of a songstress that takes the shape of The Shanghai Jazz singer, with a flavour of Cabaret and show tunes.  Original tunes start brewing.

2013 - juggling song-writing, French song recital, work more in singing class, learning French...and continue getting better at singing Mandarin.

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