Tag Archives: London

Piano Medley on Bach’s Prelude in C

A piece for performance needs to be long enough for the audience to digest. There is such thing as a minimum and optimal length for the listener. Easy piano pieces are often deemed too short. One strategy for beginning piano students to play a piece long enough to satisfy the ear is to combine what they know into a medley.

How does one arrange a medley?

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Hooked on dancing

In the “mixers” the women line up and wait for their turn to dance with a man who leads in a dance around the room until it’s time to join the queue again. This is Maui on a Saturday evening on the parquet wooden floors of the Omori Dance Studios at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).  In London, it was the opposite — the women were in short supply at Friday night CEROC dances, and the men had to queue for their turn.

The tall gentleman, who led me on my third waltz tonight, gently lifted my left hand from his shoulder and directed it to his shoulder joint. “There,” he said. “Isn’t that more comfortable?” On a previous occasion, an older gentleman kept saying,”Relax. Relax.” It’s been years since I last did ballroom dancing. I finally got the message when I was told, “You’re probably used to being around a lot of women. Please relax and let me lead.”

The regulars were polite and curious. Are you visiting? Where are you from?

I felt embarrassed when I replied that I lived close by and that I actually wanted to participate for quite some time. It was a chance encounter, while looking for my creative writing instructor in the English Lecturers Office, that I learned of “Advance Your Dance.” Verna, the secretary, said, “We meet every week. Several times a week. Are you on Facebook? You can find them there.” That was three months ago. I couldn’t find anyone to go with me on a Saturday evening. The first time is always the hardest. Who dares go into a room full of strangers?

Not disco dancing in Leiden but ballroom dancing in Maui

Not disco dancing in Leiden but ballroom dancing in Maui

The men and women who come dance here are serious about dancing. They bring their dancing shoes and water bottles. From 6 pm, they can sign in and pay $5 per person to dance until 9:45 pm. From 7 to 8 pm, a particular kind of dance is taught. The rest of the evening is a mix of music for jitterbug also known as East Coast Swing, waltz, quick step, cha cha, tango, salsa, West Coast Swing, and other styles. Last Saturday, my first time, I lasted barely two hours after learning three kinds of line dances. Tonight, it was intermediate foxtrot. The hosts Frank and Sandy Hook are back from Connecticut. Apparently, they also give dancing classes on Monday and Wednesdays in Wailuku.

Dance music brings back fond memories. I recall organizing a latin dancing evening so that I could learn new latin dances from my friend Tim, who was leading a fourteen-member band in London. I rented the church hall on my street and charged five pounds at the door. My friend, the late Ayyub Malik, checked everyone in. All was perfect, except there were too many guys and not enough ladies. I learned a few things that night. Guys were fine going alone to a dance. Girls would not go alone. They’d go with another girl or a guy. A girl was okay dancing with another girl. Guys didn’t do that. Not latin, anyway. Being the responsible host, I made sure I danced with every guy so no one was left out. I even threw in a raffle draw to give away my personal things to make it worthwhile. In the end, we broke even. Everyone was happy, except I couldn’t walk for a few days.

Graduation dance at Duke University?

Graduation dance in North Carolina ?

Last Saturday, someone asked me if I had been dancing regularly. “No,” I answered, wishing I was able to say yes. “Not continuously. Just off and on.”

I did ballet when I was six. It morphed into Chinese Folk Dancing. In high school, I was voted “Dancing Queen” at age sixteen. In college, I took a social dancing course to satisfy half of the physical education requirement. My partner and I worked out cha cha moves to KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Give It Up.” During my junior year abroad in Montreal, the overseas Chinese crowd got me interested in ballroom dancing. With this minimal experience, I was invited to organize social dancing classes in my second job in Singapore. It became so popular that my colleagues asked if that was my real job at the bank. Seeing how it flattened the organizational hierarchy and made a community out of my colleagues, I proposed to start a social club to engage the single foreigners from forty different countries at the London offices of another employer. And that’s how I learned to salsa, lambada, and merengue.

What is so fun about dancing? It makes me feel alive and free. It also brings back fond memories, such as the night I crashed a London Business School Annual Ball with a friend who was in town on business. According to Facebook, he is now a serious ballroom dancer.

My next mission? Bring guys so that the ladies don’t have to wait.

Dancing in the mother of all fortresses in Naarden Vesting, October 2005

Dancing in the mother of all fortresses in Naarden Vesting, October 2005

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3 things I dislike about long haul travel

As much as I love to travel, there are several things I dislike about long haul travel.

First, it takes time to get ready.

Not only do you have to prepare for the trip, you also have to clear and clean up your home so that you can have a peace of mind while you’re gone. I’ve often made the mistake of hiding important documents for safe keeping only to forget where I’ve put them upon my return.

For my most recent trip, I had to pack the right clothes for the different weather: warm in Knoxville, possibly cool in Boston, cold in London, hot and dry in Davis, and variable in San Francisco. It was spring and the pollen forecast was important for hayfever sufferers. I carried sufficient antihistamines to ward off allergies that are nearly non-existent in Hawaii.

Second, it takes time to unpack after you return.

For the same reasons that it takes a long time to prepare for your trip, it will take time to unpack all that you’ve accumulated and attend to the backlog built up during your absence.

It took me a day to do two loads of laundry, clean the floor, and unpack my two suitcases. It took another day to review my snail mail, water the garden, and get myself back on track.

Third, it takes time to shed the weight you’ve gained during your travels.

What a paradox it is to gain weight while traveling! The lack of routine and exercise combined with the temptation of eating out all cause water retention and the build up of fat. On this trip, I attributed the weight gain to having to wear a lot of clothes to keep warm — and subconsciously having to consume more food to feel warm and comfortable.

So now I am on a strict regimen. I wake up by dawn. Walk to the office. Do the one-hour workout class. Yoga. Swim if possible. Eat often but little. Abstain from alcohol. Aim to lose 10 pounds.

If it takes 2 days to pack, 2 days to unpack, and 2 weeks to lose weight for a 4 week trip, I suppose it’s worth it. Oh — did I mention jetlag? Time to get over your jetlag?

Other than these three items, I could list a hundred things I love about traveling. I will save that for another blog post.

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Mozart’s Requiem to mourn a loss

Can anyone tell me the name of the movie in which a man and a woman date, get into a relationship, and split — the man listens to Mozart’s Requiem to cope with the break-up? The woman can read minds, so he is never private?

I watched that movie a long time ago — and developed a habit of listening to Mozart’s Requiem whenever I wanted to feel the sadness and tragedy of a situation.

When I returned to Maui recently, I came upon such an occasion. But my CD of Herbert von Karajan’s conducting Mozart’s Requiem was no longer with me. It’s probably among the entire collection of CDs that have vanished from my life — in Utrecht.

That in itself is cause for mourning.

Thanks to the Internet, I googled “Mozart’s Requiem” and listened to a version on Youtube. Much to my dissatisfaction at the slower pace and thinner texture, I searched for “Mozart’s Requiem Karajan” to find that particular version I knew and yearned.

Not only was I able to listen to the entire Requiem but also see the performers on Youtube. This nearly beats listening to the CD, except I have no stereo system. That too is gone.

What am I mourning? The loss of what is meaningful because the situation dictates it. What is meaningful comes from intention, be it a gift or purposeful acquisition. Over time, even that which was not intentionally and deliberately acquired could become meaningful if dwelled upon and appreciated.

Two weeks ago, I returned to London and took out what I had stored in suitcases, photo albums, and boxes — everything that I had wanted to keep and preserve in the secret loft. I was like a child again, returning home, surrounding myself with everything familiar and nearly forgotten in the years I’ve been away.

Sadly, after reducing my possessions by half, I had to store the remaining half away, boxed up and sealed. I don’t know when I will return again.

In the 10 hour flight to San Francisco, I bid farewell via two onboard movies and a nap. Flying westbound was a journey of goodbye, mourning of a reluctant loss.

Listen to Mozart’s Requiem on full blast — and you will experience a great tragedy.

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Replaced by a string quartet

It’s 8 am in London. My next door neighbor starts practising promptly. I have only met his wife who explained yesterday that he had a concert that evening. They moved into this neighborhood, what, 4 ? 5 years ago. Yet I never bothered to get to know them because one of them smokes, perhaps even both, albeit outside. The cigarette smoke drifts into my garden. And for that, I did not bother to get to meet, much less, know this virtuoso Russian concert pianist.

As the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” wears on, I find myself as the beneficiary of live background music. Ten years ago, I housed a young pianist who practised this exact piece every day while I made my move to the Netherlands. I could only imagine what my neighbors experienced through the brick walls.

Just last week, I unpacked my suitcase to the live background music of the classical guitar — Robert practising for his 3 gigs.

The third guitar concert culminated in Mauro Giuliani’s Theme & Variations. It was a piece I knew like the back of my hand. We went through it many times, the guitar struggling to be heard, the piano unresponsive and unsympathetic. After many years of tug and war, I finally relented.

The guitar cannot sound well if the guitarist has to force it to sound louder than the grand piano. Although it is absolutely possible, as Amsterdam-based composer Allan Segall proved in his first piece for piano and guitar, in most other cases the guitar has to struggle and the piano has to give in. The traditional way in which the duo is written assumes the piano is a fortepiano or some other subservient predecessor of today’s modern piano.

So Robert upgraded to a “concert guitar” — built to match the concert grand piano.

But I still had work to do. I had to constantly adjust to the volume and quality of the guitar sound.

There in Williams Hall at the New England Conservatory, on Tuesday 8th May, at approximately 9 pm, Robert performed Giuliani’s work with a string quartet. The four string players, by sheer nature of their instruments, brought out infinitely more color and texture than I could produce with 88 keys. Each of their four strings was a different instrument. They had the bows to help produce sound at different parts of the strings. They could pull, pluck, strum, hit, and more.

I sat back, resigned to my fate.

I had been replaced by a string quartet.

In the simplest case, my right hand was replaced by two violins and the left hand by the viola and cello. Thinking like this, every piano guitar duo piece can result in guitar and a string quartet or wind quartet or other combinations.

My eyes moistened as I thought of the years of preparation that led to this day. The guitarist can go on — playing solo with other instruments.

The pianist?

I’ve sold my Gerhard Adam grand piano in this Victorian cottage where I experimented with chamber music, house concerts, and eventually decided to pursue a degree in music. My Steinway Grand is sitting in a piano shop in Zeist, the Netherlands, waiting to be noticed, tried, and bought.

And I?

I have returned to where it all began. No piano. No audience. No house concert, but neighbor to a concert pianist who practises all day long.

C’est la vie.


Filed under audience, concert, piano, travel, venues

Positive feedback

This compact Victorian cottage has excellent feng shui and a history of house concerts that made the neighborhood a community. Shortly before I left London, I set up the Neighborhood Watch which became a resident association. Soon I will experience that familiar feeling of “coming home” once more.  Below are examples of positive feedback from satisfied tenants.

Garden at Victorian Cottage in London

Historians from Canada and USA, October – November 2008  The house was lovely, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to have a proper home. I’ve been researching with much less comfortable housing for the past three weeks and I definitely miss it.Thanks again for everything. I’ve really loved staying in your house. It’s a wonderful place.
Medical doctor, nurse, and young daughter (3) from Alaska,
Jan – July 2008
We are going to have so many fun memories. Icing on the cake to a great sabbatical in London. Thank you so much.
Family of four from New Zealand: grandparents & two grandchildren (10 & 12),
July 2006
We would recommend it to anyone considering renting the house! We were all very happy there and enjoyed our holiday immensely.The cottage is ideally situated – sunny and comfortable. Quiet location – handy to all facilities. The house is very well equipped – everything we needed for a family stay. We had a most enjoyable time and, although it was only for three weeks, the house was soon referred to as “home” – such was the pleasant atmosphere that has been created.
Family of four from abroad,
We took a long let (18 months) at this lovely property and have not regretted it for one minute. The house has an ambience that makes it a home. We have two small children and there was plenty of space for them to play in the living room, the dining room and the tiled, walled garden with its gorgeous camellia.It was lovely in summer or winter to stroll in Fielding Walk, which the back garden overlooks, while the close proximity of Lammas and Walpole Parks were such an advantage for the children. The play centre in Lammas Park is a wonderful free resource and close by Fielding School has a great reputation.

Street parking has never been a problem and the tube is just a few minutes walk away, great for getting to Heathrow or going to the West End for a night. The local shops were a few minutes walk away and bigger supermarkets just 15-20 minutes walking or a short bus ride.

We felt like we were living in caring community where neighbours are neighbourly, helpful and friendly and our landlady, Anne, very easy to get along with.

Thanks so much Anne and Robert. When we are settled back in our home country, please come and visit us.

French/Chinese couple (30’s) with 6 year old son, January 2004  We stayed in Anne’s house for five weeks before moving to our own.Anne’s house is lovely and comfortable, especially the very bright kitchen with a view to the garden.The house is in a quiet and convenient area (for those who take the tube).

We really made ourselves feel at home in Anne’s house, partly because Anne is a very nice and understanding landlady (not easy to find in London)!!

3rd generation Irish
single, harpist, 40’s
As always, one instinctively knows within minutes of walking in the front door, whether or not a house would be a happy place to make your home. On my first visit to Anne’s home, I instantly knew that this house had been given much love, care and attention over the years.The nice exceptionally clean and bright dining room and kitchen are very romantic. The rear walled garden is where we had the most rememberable barbecue last summer, I remember playing harp in the garden after the party till the early hours. The house is in such a quiet road, I slept so well and felt I was on holiday there !
single, pianist, 20’s,
Sept-Dec 2003
Anne’s house is a haven of peace and tranquility, the kitchen is modern and very cosy and the antique wooden floors and white walls make the whole house very furbished and very clean with a rich Victorian feel. I loved staying there, there’s lots of room, lots of people could stay as there are 2 bedrooms and a completely furnished loft. You won’t find another house like this that you can rent in Ealing.The garden is very peaceful and extremely well kept and has the been the scene of many garden parties and barbeques. Everyone who has stayed there, including me, have felt disappointed to leave.
single, pianist, late 30’s
Anne’s house offers the perfect ambience after a busy day in London. Situated down a pretty tree-lined avenue, the 10 minute walk from the tube station is well worth the effort.Inside there is everything you need: a well equipped kitchen, spacious dining room and lounge, quiet comfortable bedrooms and a modern stylish bathroom. The house is also within easy reach of late night convenience stores, restaurants and take aways.

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100,000 visitors to the Concertblog


How did this happen?

During my 12-hour sleep when the full moon travelled from the east to the west?

Why is 100,000 a significant number? Is it really time to celebrate?

My piano classes met for the last time this spring semester: a final exam that gave them confidence to perform well in the final recital.

Why is it that the pace seems so slow when the numbers are low? After some point, time seems to zip by. The difference between 99,000 and 100,000 seems miniscule compared to 1 and 1,001.

Why is that?

It’s been just over 4 years since I began blogging about our piano guitar duo’s adventures.

I’ve been yearning to write about other things: electric vehicles, the path to simplicity and nothingness, quenching desire, and changing oneself.

Many people have asked me,”How do you manage to make a living in paradise?”

I reply, “First you need to be able to let go. Start by getting rid of clutter. Lessening your load. Otherwise you can’t leave.”

Now I am returning to London where my memories live in the paintings on the walls, the second-hand furniture, the dishes that served many meals, and my boxes of books and knick-knacks.

Letting them go will be the final frontier. I will walk down memory lane once again, reluctant to part.

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