Songs of location and history: Charlie on the MTA

Songs about location and history evoke nostalgia to those who have travelled or lived in these places. Long-time Boston residents know the song “Charlie on the MTA” but newcomers are curious:

  • Who was Charlie?
  • What does MTA stand for?
  • Why couldn’t Charlie get off the train?
  • Why didn’t his wife give him the money to get off the train rather than throw him a sandwich?
  • Is that why the subway card is known as a Charlie Card? Unlike the Oyster Card in London and the OV Chip Card in the Netherlands, you only need to swipe the Charlie Card when you enter the bus, trolley (tram), metro, or commuter rail (i.e. not needed when you exit).
  • Is Charlie related to the River Charles that divides Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts?

Continue reading “Songs of location and history: Charlie on the MTA”

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Star Spangled Banner for not so easy piano

Anne Ku’s arrangement of Star Spangled Banner for not so easy piano was inspired by the book “No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love” and subsequent visit to the USS York Town in Charleston, South Carolina and a meeting with the author.

The National Anthem of the United States is neither easy to sing nor play. It’s not easy to sing because of the wide octave range. It’s not easy to play because the melody and bass move all over the place. What motivated me to arrange the American anthem for piano? Fourth of July?

Continue reading “Star Spangled Banner for not so easy piano”

2010: a year in reflection

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo traveled and performed in three continents: Europe, Asia, and North America in 2010. Among the highlights were house concerts, concerts in churches, collaboration with other artists, and showing others how to produce concerts.

As the last blog post in 2010, we would like to thank all readers for reading, referring, commenting, and supporting this blog. 2010 has been an incredible year for our piano guitar duo. We have never traveled as extensively in any year as this one. We have never collaborated with so many people as this year. We have never had such a variety of gigs.

Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands
Monument House in Utrecht, Netherlands

We began the year in the Netherlands with our usual concerts.

In February, we made a weekend trip to Belgium to open a new exhibition with a selection of solo, duo, and improvisation in beautiful historic Brugge. It was one of several collaborations with other artists.

In April, we made a whirlwind tour of Taiwan, introducing ourselves to the Taipei Rotary Club and a string quartet in Taipei.

From January to April, we coached new house concert hosts on how to produce concerts from their homes, culminating in our debut of the 30-minute long Grand Potpourri National to open a new concert series and the release of our first CD Summer in the home of an artist.

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo CD Summer
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo CD Summer

In May, we organised our biggest house concert yet: a dozen musicians in 4 different concerts in one day! The Glass Vase Concert was free entry with cover art commissioned for auction. The bonus was the chef-catered Egyptian dinner for 50 people, who queued for seconds.

All the insights from our experience of producing house concerts and interviews with others were presented in a paper to economists at an international conference in Copenhagen in June.

Besides performing as a duo, we also worked with other musicians such as French horn player Emile Kaper and American cellist Stephanie Hunt. We found that piano and guitar worked well with other instruments and the audiences love the idea. We programmed one house concert in Amsterdam with our duo, Robert’s solo guitar of Bach Chaconne, piano and cello, and finally piano, guitar, and cello.

In September, we traveled to Zeeland in the southwest coast of the Netherlands to give 5 concerts in 3 days. It was a busy month, made busier by our reluctance to cancel any concerts including those that took us by surprise and decided upon last minute (impromptu).

The highlight of the year was undoubtedly the coast-to-coast America Tour, from Boston to Sacramento in 5.5 weeks. We thank our hosts, guests, and everyone who made this tour happen. We had no idea it would be so empowering and fantastic.

What next? Who knows? We bought ourselves one way tickets to paradise and started a new blog to lure our friends to come visit us. We look forward to seeing our friends from Davis, Houston, Seattle, and Nebraska in the first few months of 2011.

Hope you have enjoyed these blog posts. 2011 promises to be an entirely different year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

BEST WISHES TO ALL!!!

Piano and guitar in the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands
Piano and guitar in the Monument House Utrecht, Netherlands

How to book a concert tour (part 1): a peace of mind and the sizzle

How do you book a concert tour for yourself? If you are a classical musician who is not internationally famous, how would you get someone to book you for a concert where you have to travel a great distance to? And when you’re there, you don’t want to just give one concert. A concert tour is a journey of more than one concert. Here are the first two steps to the dilemma.

Back in early October 2010, I posed the circularity of booking a concert tour. It’s the chicken or the egg question. Do you book the tour first or the concert?

In other words, do you get the gigs lined up before you book the flights and cancel other commitments? Or do you book the flights before the fares go up and then hope that you can fill your tour with concert bookings?

Continue reading “How to book a concert tour (part 1): a peace of mind and the sizzle”

Life in the USA vs that in Europe

Now that I’ve lived outside the USA for more than a decade, and in particular, on continental Europe for most of the past decade, I daresay that I have absorbed some of that European attitude, especially when compared to the way I was. I’m not sure if going to the USA will bring it all back. I notice the differences when I converse with newly arrived Americans.

My late friend, the London-based architect Ayyub Malik, often critisized me for sounding too American in my attitude towards life. He told me to stop trying to optimise and be a go getter. Just sit back and have some slack. Relax. These were not his exact words, but I concluded that’s what he disapproved of. The fast pace of life, the competitiveness, and the 24 by 7 existence was what he wanted to avoid when he turned down that job in Chicago many years before he met me.

Bekkers Duo with Ayyub Malik and Mayor of London Ealing, 30 May 2003
Bekkers Duo with Ayyub Malik and Mayor of London Ealing, 30 May 2003

Now that I’ve lived outside the USA for more than a decade, and in particular, on continental Europe for most of the past decade, I daresay that I have absorbed some of that European attitude, especially when compared to the way I was. I’m not sure if going to the USA will bring it all back.

I notice the differences when I converse with newly arrived Americans.

They are surprised that they can’t get from A to B by car. I patiently tell them that they can hop on a bus (which seems very foreign) or cycle (which requires renting a bicycle or buying one). “I’ll walk,” they say. But they forget what distances are when they are not used to walking.

American students complain of a lack of flexibility and attentiveness of Dutch administration. Having studied in the USA, I do admit that American universities do a much better job of ensuring new students are provided for. They certainly don’t need to sweat for accommodation after they arrive. It’s all taken care of BEFORE they arrive. It’s almost as if their needs are anticipated before they are voiced. In the Netherlands, I learned that if you don’t ask, you won’t get it. Those were the exact words of a student administrator at the Dutch conservatory where I studied for four years.

I explain the recycling rules. Americans that have lived in Germany nod in understanding. Those that haven’t think it’s novel to separate your waste into different compartments: paper, plastic, glass, refundable glass or plastic bottles, compost, and real trash. It does require getting used to. It does take up extra space before the weekly collection or trip to the depot.

I warn them to get their grocery shopping done before end of day Saturday. Unless it’s the first Sunday of the month, expect all stores to be closed and not reopen until Monday 11 am. Restaurants are even worse. I have starved myself trying to find outdoor seating on a warm summer’s evening, only to be turned away at 10 pm that the kitchen has closed. In some smaller towns the restaurants close at 9 pm. [This happened in Doorn on a Friday evening in July.]

One Dutch-American observed that the Dutch seem so much more organised than the Americans. “There are rules for everything, and the Dutch abide by the rules,” he said. On the flip side, the Dutch are not as flexible or spontaneous as the Americans. You could say that the way of dealing with uncertainty is different: rules vs flexibility.

As I plan how to travel from our upcoming concert in Newton, Massachusetts on 22nd October 2010 to the next one in Hampton, Connecticut on 23rd October, I’m amazed that no public transportation is adequate. “You’ll have either get someone to give you a lift,” advised an American friend, “or rent a car.”

Thank goodness gasoline prices in America are not $8 per gallon as we pay here in the Netherlands!