The flower of sanshin: san shin no hana 三線の花

A love song played over loud speakers at the 2015 annual Maui Okinawan Festival brought back memories of growing up on Okinawa.

At the annual Maui Okinawan Festival, I heard three youngsters announce the songs they would be dancing to. When one of them added “and this one is my favorite,” I took out my iPhone to record it and began my journey of discovering this famous song about the Okinawan instrument. Continue reading “The flower of sanshin: san shin no hana 三線の花”

Producing an event without being there: classical guitar concert on Maui

Anne Ku reflects on the decisions and steps required to produce a concert, specifically, the first and second classical guitar concerts at Maui College.

It is entirely possible to make an event happen without being there. If we’re to deconstruct the steps to produce an event such as a classical guitar concert, we can see what it takes in the following phases. Continue reading “Producing an event without being there: classical guitar concert on Maui”

Halloween Piano Concert: music from horror films

Halloween music can come from horror movies or those with ghosts, vampires, monsters, and other fantasy creatures. Anne Ku gives a piano concert to celebrate this occasion on Maui.

In the spirit of themed piano concerts, I decided to do one for Halloween, after my previous one for Earth Day in April 2014. Because Halloween is so popular in the USA, rather than run away and hide from trick-or-treaters as I usually do, I thought I’d face the music and celebrate with an audience that may appreciate a journey down memory lane.

The word Halloween originates from “All Hallows’ Even” or “the eve of All Hallows’ Day.”  All Hallows’ Day is simply another name for All Saints’ Day, the day the Catholics commemorate all the saints.

Continue reading “Halloween Piano Concert: music from horror films”

Music for the earth piano concert

A concert of music works with titles to do with the earth so as to raise awareness and respect the earth and all that’s around us —

In tandem with arranging music for the Earth Day Jam, a free one-hour piano workshop to get people to experience making music together, I decided to end the week with a tribute to the earth. As in previous two concerts this year, my most advanced students opened the concert for me, this time with more confidence and conviction than ever before.

Continue reading “Music for the earth piano concert”

Music from Movies Concert

When choosing music to play for a concert, it’s important to have a theme, tell a story that not only introduces each work but also links them to each other. Balance the familiar with the unfamiliar; slow and fast. Variety is the spice of life.

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.

Continue reading “Music from Movies Concert”

Chinese New Year Concert

How to assemble a concert program for an elderly audience for Chinese New Year?

Friday January 31st, 2014 was a triple whammy day for me:
– end of the electric vehicle project that had consumed me for two years
– Chinese New Year of the Horse
– two concerts: morning in Kahului and evening in Kula

Continue reading “Chinese New Year Concert”

TEDxMaui 2013

I was introduced to TED.com a few years ago by a fellow Rotarian in the Netherlands. I’m convinced that it really is an idea worth spreading, and one that needs such a viral introduction at first. I probably would not have stumbled upon it had he not told me about it.

The value of videos on TED.com grows over time because it becomes a database of useful and inspiring presentations & performances all over the world, largely through TEDx. The way the presenters engage and empower the audience on topics that are timeless and yet timely is one reason why it will live on.

We performers have much to learn from its success.

TEDx are produced in different locations around the world. Maui started its own in 2012 with presenters somehow related to Maui or Hawaii.

On Sunday 13th January 2013, I attended the last 3 segments of the TEDxMaui 2013 production at the Castle Theatre of the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).

I was most impressed by the ability of certain speakers to convey a knowledge or skill that I had originally considered complicated in a way that made me learn and see the beauty of its simplicity. The elder explorer who taught the audience how to navigate the Pacific Ocean by the stars gave us a taste of that extraordinary craft of ancient Polynesians. The Hawaiian musician Mahala made us chuckle and laugh while he showed us the secrets of the slack key guitar, in particular, his view that each of the 6 strings represented a different instrument.

The lights were not off as typical of most performances. They were ON — because the audience was just as important as the performer(s).

Audience engagement is more important now than ever before.

My burning question was this: why was TEDxMaui able to attract a full-house at the 1,200 seat Castle Theater but not Dame Kiri Te Kanawa?

Post-concert recordings

Nearly a month after the concert, people are still raving about it. The CD recording brought back fond memories of that evening of standing room only on Maui.

A CD arrived in the post about 4 weeks after the concert. Listening to it brought back memories of that action-packed, full-house evening. The guests started arriving more than an hour before the concert. Half-an hour before it began, the hall was full. Minutes before the concert, I saw the “reserved for pianists only” seats taken by two ladies who read the cards but ignored the request.

It was every concert producer’s dream: standing room only.

Perhaps it was the rigor of concert promotion effort or the success of previous year’s piano concert or both, the outcome was impressive. Nearly a month later, my hairdresser mentioned that she heard about this concert though she was not able to attend herself. One of her customers raved about it.

I was warned that seats would be taken early for the 7:30 pm concert at Maui Music Conservatory, on the second floor of the Queen Ka’ahumanu Mall in Kahului, the capital of Maui County. “Piano Synergy” was the name of this concert, which, for us 6 pianists, actually began 4 months earlier with Sunday afternoon group rehearsals.

On Saturday 14th July at 7:30 pm, Ebb & Flow Arts, the non-profit arts organization on Maui, presented that one-hour concert (without intermission) of original works for many pianos, including the premiere of a new piece it commissioned for this occasion.

The composer Thomas Osborne was not only present for this premiere but also played one of the parts: Piano 1. Aptly titled “Canyons,” it began with Piano 4, nearly always in forte or fortissimo and definitely always the loudest of all 4 pianos. Piano 3 echoed Piano 4 but slightly softer. I played Piano 2, even softer. Piano 1 was nearly always pianissimo. This method of imitation in terraced dynamics continues until an augmentation, a spacing out of the repeated passages. Listen below.

Canyons as performed by Beatrice Scorby, Robert Pollock, Anne Ku, and Thomas Osborne (mp3)

The last work to be performed that evening of the celebration of French independence on Bastille Day was none other than Darius Milhaud’s 4-piano work “Paris.” Wearing my dry-cleaned black silk dress purchased in Paris in summer of 2009, I stood up to introduce this 6-movement work. It was, without doubt, one that required the most study of all works selected for this concert.

“And now, for the piece d’ resistance, Paris, which is the raison d’etre for tonight!” There were French-speakers in the audience who were glad to help my pronunciation. Before each movement, I introduced that part of Paris and what to listen for. After Montmartre came L’isle St Louis. On a foggy day, you can hear the church bells of Notre Dame and nearby churches. Sometimes you can hear they are out of tune!

L’isle St Louis from Paris by Darius Milhaud (mp3)

Longchamp refers to the race courses. The composer chose a fugue to represent that. A fugue literally means a chase. You can hear it getting faster and more intense.

Longchamp from Paris by Darius Milhaud (mp3)

The recordings were made by John Messersmith for Ebb & Flow Arts.

Improvisation workshop

Miss Lee Pui Ming is an exceptional improvisation pianist who began her classical music training from the age of 3. Her approach to improvisation is very unique. After giving an improvisation workshop in Kahului, she will give a solo concert in Makena the next evening.

The workshop was in full swing when I arrived — 5 minutes late. The pianist, Lee Pui Ming, looked up and acknowledged me. She said that they were just going around introducing each other. She’d let me catch my breath and get to me last. I didn’t have to feel guilty. I already felt like I was part of the workshop.

Only glass doors and an entire glass wall separated the inside of the Maui Music Conservatory from the rest of the mall. It was a Friday night. Teenagers were out and about. Where else do you hang out on Maui, as a pre-drinking aged teenager? At night?

Yet inside the spacious reception of the conservatory where 4 grand pianos stood in a fan shape, lids wide open, ivories fully exposed, waiting to be consumed, was a different kind of space. No teenagers sat here — only individuals my age and older. The Friday night here was filled with purpose.

Every person there was interested in improvisation.

“Can you practice improvisation?”

“Do you know what you will play before you play it?”

“Can you repeat yourself if you like it?”

“Is there any structure to it? Where does your inspiration come from?”

At some point, I wished the questions would stop. I wanted badly to hear the pianist play.

Nearly 45 minutes into the workshop, after several hints, someone finally asked her to play. She stood up and said, “I feel like a teenager again.” She gestured, “My mother is telling me: go, go play for these people.” In other words, she was not ready to perform for us.

Instead, she asked three volunteers to sit at the pianos. She asked one to start, and the second to join in whenever he felt like it. When the first one takes a break, the third pianist should then enter. It was like a relay duo.

Robert Pollock, the founder of Ebb & Flow Arts, the nonprofit organization which introduces such variety of interesting contemporary and avant garde music to Hawaii, began his improv on the black grand piano. Although the trio had never played together before, they sounded like they knew just what to do. The transitions to different genres were organic and unpretentious. They listened to each other. Each got to lead with their forte. I could almost sense what they were feeling and thinking as they improvised. I felt no anticipation or worry about how long they would play or get out of sync. Amazingly they ended their performance at the same time.

We discussed the improvisation performance. I had forgotten that it was possible to enjoy watching others improvise together.

Years ago, I was invited to an improvisation concert in River Oaks in Houston. I had brought half-the audience. When it was my turn to improvise, I played just the white keys on the Steinway Grand. I didn’t know what to think or say about improvisation then. But tonight, there was much observation and articulation.

It was nearly 9 pm. Lee Pui Ming wanted to stop, but we didn’t. Upon urging of the conservatory’s owner, Ruth Murata, I went to a piano. Lee Pui Ming started tapping an ostinato on the wood of the piano. I barely sat down before I copied her on the piano bench. Then I moved to the keys. She was behind me, so I could only hear her. Another person joined me on the other piano. I crescendo’d and added more fingers, then the palms of my hands, my fists, my elbows. I did clusters all over the keys to a fortissimo. I could sense the audience’s reaction behind me. I was pounding on the piano, like the young boy whom I taught in Utrecht. He had pounded on my piano to vent his frustrations. So did I. The piano suffered. The pianist next to me changed his tune. He wanted to move into a soft, melodic soundscape. I resisted joining him until another pianist went to the 4th piano. I was overpowered. And the world ended in a whisper.

Tomorrow evening, Lee Pui Ming gives a solo performance in a stone church at the very southern beach of Maui. It’s a church I’ve seen from the waters. She wanted to hear the ocean as she plays, so she said.

I want to walk the beach, watch the Summer Solstice sunset, and listen to her improvisations.

Piano synergy: music for many hands on many pianos

As preparation for her next concert of many hands on many pianos on 14th July 2012 in Maui, Anne Ku discovers other interpretations on the Internet.

In preparation for my next concert in mid-July on Maui, I decided to check out performances of the selected works on the Internet. The interpretations are much faster, crisper, and cleaner. It’s really hard to play fast, crisp, and clean —– that is, with many pianists on many different pianos.

Darius Milhaud’s Paris: Suite for 4 pianos spans different arrondissemont of Paris. I try to remember the Paris I know but I only remember Montmartre, L’ile Saint-Louis, and the Eiffel Tower from the 6 movements. I could not find a video clip of this fantastic work against the different scenes of Paris though the 2 on Youtube are sufficiently interesting. This piece is by far the most demanding of our entire 1.5 hour program.

Next, I looked for Gerald Busby’s Four! a statement for 4 pianos. Instead, I found Plucked — 15 hands on one piano. It’s a most remarkable and funny piece. If you have time to watch it, do enjoy the performance art.

Another 4 piano 8 hand piece is Wallace DePue’s 16 Pawns. It’s a short and fast one page work. No videos on the Internet. No background description. Perhaps we can get our own recording at the concert.

We will be playing two multi-hand pieces by Robert Pollock, founder and artistic director of Ebb & Flow Arts, the non-profit organization that is putting together this concert of Sunday 14th July 2012. The titles reveal just how many pianists and pianos. Five for Four. Three for Six. Answer: Five pianists on 4 pianos. Three pianos for Six hands.

I finally get to play a work of Morton Feldman, a composer I have heard much about but never studied. His “Piece for 4 Pianos” is interesting in that all pianists have the same score. It’s up to each pianist to decide when to play each note. Everything is soft. The result? a kind of rippling, echoey effect. Watch the meditative result below.

John Cage’s “Music for Piano” is another aleatory piece (one which the composer instructs the performer to decide on duration or other aspects of the composition). We each chose two consecutive pages from the album. It’s prepared piano at its best, though it would take about 30 minutes to prepare. We each have a bag of black rubber and white felt objects to insert between the strings of the piano for those notes we need to mute. The result? Texture that we’d otherwise not hear. Again, we decide when and how long to play each note. Last time we had agreed on the piece to last 7 minutes, but some of us were too fast and others too slow. It does take some practice to get 4 pianists to end at the same time.

Below is one interpretation of John Cage’s “Music for Piano”

Sadly there is not enough music for many pianos. Ebb & Flow Arts commissioned composer Thomas Osborne to write one for us. The mp3 version of his “Canyons” for four pianos is very powerful. I will try playing it today.

Luckily there is plenty of fun pieces for two pianos and even two pianists on one piano. As 14th July is Bastille Day, we decided to choose works of French composers. Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite; Faure’s Dolly Suite; and Debussy’s Petite Suite.

I am so glad to be able to participate this time. Last year my multi-hands on one piano work “Three on One” was performed in the Battle of the Pianists concert in Maui while I was in Utrecht. Ironically, rehearsing these multi-hand, multi-piano works with other pianists just makes me miss sightreading chamber music with string and wind players even more!

Free concert – no reservation required. Get there early — last year was standing room only!

PIANO SYNERGY FREE CONCERT

Sunday 14 July 2012

7:30 pm

Maui Music Conservatory
Queen Ka’ahumanu Mall (upstairs) 
Kahului, Maui, Hawaii

Pianists (alphabetical order): Lotus Dancer, Anne Ku, Peiling Lin, Ruth Murata, Robert Pollock, Beatrice Scorby

Ebb and Flow Arts North South East West Festival of New Music
Ebb and Flow Arts North South East West Festival of New Music