Crowd funding: get the music to my orchestra

An orchestra produces music. Why would you need to get music to the orchestra?

The title of Robert Bekkers’ crowd funding project begs attention. He needs to raise enough funds to rent the sheet music of the blind composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” or the “Aranjuez Guitar Concerto” so that the musicians can read from the score and perform it for his Doctorate of Musical Arts recital at the New England Conservatory (NEC) in Boston on Sunday May 11th, 2014.

Renting the scores is cheaper than buying but it’s still some whopping eight hundred dollars for a one-off performance!

Besides renting the score, classical guitarist Robert Bekkers needs to organize the musicians, none of whom are receiving any kind of salary or compensation. This means a good reception is in order.

One thing is guaranteed, however. The cost of performing and producing your own concert is always higher than you think. To be safe, you should prepare a financial cushion against unexpected costs. You never know if a musician is going to opt out last minute, and you’ll need to find a replacement.

Robert Bekkers, classical guitarist

Robert Bekkers, classical guitarist

I have participated in a handful of crowd funding projects. The first was to help a singer fund her upcoming record. The second was helping a friend who lost her husband unexpectedly. Bekkers’ “get the music to my orchestra” is happening right now.

How can you participate?

  1. If you have the money and the inclination, you can click on the <DONATE> button and donate. Write a few words to show your support.
  2. You can share it on your Facebook page or that of a Facebook friend or group. Say a few words to explain and motivate.
  3. You can share it on your Linked In profile or send as a message.
  4. You can tweet and retweet it, if you have a Twitter account.
  5. You can include the link and e-mail a message to your friends and contacts.
  6. You can email and share with people who are fond of Rodrigo’s Concerto Aranjuez, classical guitar, Robert Bekkers, the NEC, Boston, and classical music.

Crowd funding is not only a way to raise funding for a cause, it’s also a way to promote your event or cause. The viral nature of social media through buttons such as share, tweet, or pin it allows messages to be sent to many people through many media very quickly. By the time, Sunday May 11th arrives, Brown Hall (where the concert will take place) will be completely filled.

At least, that’s my hope when I arrive to attend this concert in Boston!

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Filed under audience, composer, composition, concert, economics, fundraising, guitar, planning, rehearsal, sheet music, sponsorship, travel

Playing music you love by reading notes

Besides playing the music on CD, via youtube, via iTunes, on iPod, on radio, on record player, you can enjoy it even more if you can play it on a musical instrument. Of course, you can always sing it acapella.

The oral tradition that is so strong before the monks wrote down the neumes is not flawless. It’s time consuming. Before notation, many people learn to play and sing by ear.

Last week, I introduced the Chinese simplified music notation called “jian pu” to students of a “History of Music in World Cultures” class I was covering. To my surprise, they were able to read and play a simple song on the piano in a very short time. This led to me explore different ways to read music notation that might be a stepping stone to the Western method.

I tell my students there are three parts to songwriting: melody, bass, and harmony.  Rhythm is what holds it together. When you learn to read notes, you can craft the melody line and a bass line. Give it a beat, and you have rhythm. Harmony can come later.

A student asked me to find the sheet music to a song by Anthony Hamilton. I could only find the chords which are laid out in 4/4 time such that you can play it and see the beat going through the chords. There’s also a tutorial showing you how to place your fingers on the keyboard below.

I have also seen a synthesia version of popular songs, such as “Imagine Dragons” below. If you’re good at the piano hero game, you’ll be able to catch on pretty quickly.

These methods of communicating which keys to play on the piano result from the rapid propagation of recorded music. You hear what you like before you develop a longing to replicate it by playing it on an instrument.

I grew up learning to read notes and discover the music before I have heard of it. My students, on the other hand, are more motivated to play what they’ve heard. They are less willing to work at reading notes and discovering the result.

How do I get them to read notes and eventually master sightreading? Give them sheet music of music they have heard before. Show that reading notes is easier than watching a youtube tutorial or figuring it out by playing by ear. For guitar and ukelele players, it’s much easier to read chord symbols and tablature. Is there a short cut to reading notes? Maybe try jian pu, chords, and eventually graduate to Western notation.

A blog post on jian pu is definitely in order.

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Filed under arrangement, composition, piano, research, sheet music, sight reading, video

Getting the word out

How do you let people know about your event?

The traditional way is to create an eye-catching poster and post it everywhere people are likely to stop and notice or wait and kill time (such as bus stops, elevators, and bathrooms).

  1. Write and send a press release to all print and online publishing sources.
  2. Write and send a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to radio stations.
  3. Mention the event in newsletters.
  4. Convince those with huge networks and connections to help you get the word out.
  5. Do a tit for tat. If you help me promote my event, I will help you with yours.

Before you get all excited about the different ways to let people know about it, be sure you have something to offer. Why would anyone want to come to your event? What would they get out of it?

Don’t let music play on deaf ears. If it’s fish you’re looking for, why climb trees?

People who love music will listen to the radio. Do you know how to write a PSA?

People who browse calendar listings will be looking for things to do. Do you know how to update newspaper and website calendars?

The nontraditional way of getting the word out is to do all of the above early enough, frequent enough, and ALL AT ONCE.

Yes, people need to hear it from different sources to be confident that it is indeed happening and that other people will be going.

These days, there are too many things (news, hobbies, work, events, rumors, gossip, people, etc) that preoccupy people’s time and attention. To get people to come to your event is a daunting task. How do you lure them away from all these other competing events? How do you get them to first of all, pay attention, so that they know about your event?

One way is to get people talking about it. Involve as many people as you can. And ensure it’s the only event on that day, at that location.

Earth Day Piano Jam at UH Maui College 2014

Earth Day Piano Jam at UH Maui College 2014

I suggested to my colleague to get his photography students to take pictures of my piano class that also meets on a Friday afternoon. He offered to get his Tuesday/Thursday design students to use those photos to design posters for my piano workshops and concerts.

After the posters were made, I asked professional artists and teachers to look at the results and “vote” on the best. I arranged with another department to print the posters. I got permission to hold a poster exhibition and printed the best posters for distribution and posting elsewhere.

But that’s not the event itself. These are activities leading up to the event, which are used to develop an appetite for the event: piano ensemble poster exhibition.

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Filed under art, articles, concert, culture, exhibition, photos, planning, research

Time from Inception for easy piano

Time from Inception arranged by Anne Ku for easy piano and ensemble

Time from Inception arranged by Anne Ku for easy piano and ensemble

I’ve not yet seen the movie Inception but its music is already haunting me. Youtube has several versions of it — played live, extracted from the movie itself, and looped for as long as 10 hours!

When I started analyzing it, I learned quickly that the same four chords are repeated through in the same order through out the piece. There is a slight exception, however. The second time the E minor is played, it has a C in the bass, which makes it a C major 7. Thus I’ve arranged it with different patterns every eight bars, allowing my students to choose a section they are comfortable with and repeat that section over and over again.

Time by Hans Zimmer is an example of minimalist music. Minimalism is a technique of music where you use few elements. As a result, it takes a long time to show change. Such music uses a lot of repetition. Keeping to time is critical.

In this piece of music, we start low, soft, and few (notes) and gradually expand from closed to open chords, up the register, louder and louder, layer upon layer, thicker and thicker. We then add additional patterns in between the outer bounds of bass and melody. At some point we retreat.

This is a cool piece to introduce the class to minimalism.

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Hearing piano practice

In the distance, I can hear someone practising piano. Last night, until about 9:30 PM, it was harmonic minor scales. Maybe it’s a music school. How can someone practice at all hours in a day?

As a pianist, being able to practice has always been a concern. Would I be disturbing my neighbors? Would someone knock on the door and ask me to stop?

Owning a piano does not mean I get to practice it.

Ironically, now that I’m in a hotel in the city of Taichung in Taiwan, I quite welcome the sound of someone practising the piano. It’s a familiarity that’s reassuring. It’s not piped, electronic music. It’s not radio. There’s an actual person behind the piano.

In Houston, I learned that my neighbors loved that I practised the piano. When I knocked on my neighbor’s door to warn him about an upcoming going away party in which I had invited a violinist to duo with me, his remark was not what I expected. “You mean, you are leaving?!? That’s too bad.”

In London, after spending three months searching for a flat that was big enough to hold a baby grand piano with access wide enough to move it upstairs, I was hugely discouraged to discover that my neighbors didn’t want me to practice. I could only practice early in the morning when they’ve left for work.

In Bussum, a village of 10,000 in the outskirts of Amsterdam, I was constantly checking to see if my next door neighbor was home. He once knocked on the door to ask me to stop playing. I wasn’t playing the piano. It was the classical guitar.

In Utrecht, one set of neighbors loved the sound of music making. The other set asked to close our windows tight.

Practice is not performance. The minute I’m aware someone is listening to my practice, I’m no longer practising but performing. That’s what I tell my students. Every performance is a rehearsal for the next one. You need to practise to perform. But piano practice is not meant to invite an audience.

I can imagine a musician, lost in a strange city, to seek out the origin of the piano practice. For now, I’m content hearing it in the distance.

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Over the Rainbow for Easy Piano

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with finding the Great Iz’s version of “Over the Rainbow” for easy piano.

The song is so popular here on Maui that one forgets the original melody written by Harold Arlen, made famous by Judy Garland in the movie “Wizard of Oz.” Iz’s version, however, is quite different from the original.

The valley isle of Maui is also known as the island of rainbows, a frequent and beautiful phenomenon. In my fourth year of living on this sunny tropical island, I daresay, it truly is THAT awesome and THAT beautiful.

As a newcomer to the music scene in Hawaii, I easily associate Iz, short for Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, the late Hawaiian singer, to Oz — the stories I grew up reading in Okinawa about a magical land. Indeed, Hawaii is a paradise of nature, music, and aloha.

Below is the result of my obsession, after pouring over various versions of “Over the Rainbow” including a choral piece. [Click on the sample image below to get the four-page score PDF format.]

Over the Rainbow from ukelele to easy piano

Over the Rainbow from ukelele to easy piano

I have to confess, however, that I deliberately arranged a version that’s incomplete, for it’s intended for my piano students to figure out the ending and the flexibility to play in a group situation. Of course, some of my students also play the ukelele. If we run out of pianos, they can always whip out the “uk” !

Not surprisingly, I chose this piece to add to the “earth day” repertoire for my concert on April 25th and the free piano workshop on April 22nd — the Earth Day Jam.

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Music from Movies Concert

For the record and to avoid repeating the same program in the future, I’m documenting what I played for the concert I gave on Friday 28th February 2014. I had contemplated the possibilities of piano music from movies a few days earlier.

Before an audience in North Cyprus (2003)

Before an audience in North Cyprus (2003)

After an opening by two of my students, I presented the following program — on a tour around the world.

Cloud Atlas (2012) by Dennis Aman


  • “The Passage of Time” from Chocolat
  • two movies based on Victor Hugo’s novels set in Paris:
    “Castle on a Cloud” and “On My Own” from “Les Miserables” the longest running musical in London
  • “Bells of Notre Dame” from Walt Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)

Not sure where the movie “Frozen” took place — but its title song “Let It Go” eventually won an Oscar for best original song

England – different parts, including London:

  • Theme from “Romeo and Juliet”
  • Two of Jane Austen’s novels
    “My Father’s Favorite” from “Sense and Sensibility” (1995) — I will not include this solo piano piece in this program as the music is TOO slow
    “Dawn” from “Pride and Prejudice” (2005)  — Dario Marianelli’s solo piano piece is enchanting.


  • Theme from “New York, New York” (1977)
  • “All that Jazz” from “Chicago” (2002)

New Zealand:

  • “The Heart Asks Pleasure First” from Jane Campion’s “The Piano” (1993)

Finally, back to Maui

“Miss Celie’s Blues” from “The Color Purple” (1985) which starred Oprah Winfrey, a part-time resident of Maui. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, whose daughter Rebecca Walker also lives on Maui.

Next concert:

Friday 25th April 2014 @ 10 AM

Music for the Earth

Roselani Place, Kahului, Maui


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