Hey Jude on ukulele

As usual in our jam sessions, we get bolder and bolder the later it gets. By 9 pm, the ten chords in “Hey Jude” don’t look formidable anymore. How can we sing “Let It Be” and exclude “Hey Jude” the last number in the Beatles Carpool Karaoke? Besides, Paul McCarney sings it in the same key as the song sheet from San Jose Ukulele Club.

Continue reading “Hey Jude on ukulele”

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From ukulele jam to gig

Also known as “from participation to presentation

Getting together to play music together is akin to everyone chatting musically at the same time. In my ukulele jam sessions, we accompany ourselves on our ukuleles to songs we pretty much know how to sing already. It may seem like sight reading, for we don’t usually practice or know what we will be doing beforehand. In one two-hour jam session, we could go through as many as thirty songs without a break.

There is a subtle difference between a jam and a gig. While there may be onlookers watching and hearing us from the sidelines, we aren’t playing to an audience other than ourselves. A jam session is participatory music making, where everyone is participating by singing and or playing. A gig, on the other hand, is presentational where we play to an audience.

Continue reading “From ukulele jam to gig”

Palladio by Karl Jenkins arranged for piano

Anne Ku arranged a piano solo version of Karl Jenkin’s Palladio – made popular by Escala.

Have you ever become so obsessed with a tune that the only remedy is to play it on your instrument? When I watched the following clip, I knew I had heard the music before — in London, but not for guitars. Continue reading “Palladio by Karl Jenkins arranged for piano”

Requesting sheet music

I get requests for sheet music I have composed, arranged, played, or simply acquired. I usually don’t know how to answer these requests. Why?

1) I don’t have the requested sheet music at my finger tips. It’s not like I can just click on the e-mail address of the person who requested, open my mail, type a few polite words, attach the PDF of the score, and press . It’s far more complicated. I have to locate that PDF first.

2) The requested sheet music is not in a format that I can easily attach to an e-mail and send off. It could still be in Sibelius. I’d have to open Sibelius and print as a PDF, and repeat step 1 above. It could be a physical printout or hard copy. I’d have to scan it. Open it in Adobe Professional or other high-end software to check that it’s been properly scanned and repeat step 1 above.

3) The requested sheet music is not for me to share or send. Perhaps I bought it. Perhaps I borrowed it. Perhaps it was dedicated to me.

4) The requested sheet music is incomplete. I may not have all of it.

5) The requested sheet music is not what I have but I’d have to do work to what I have to make it available. For instance, it could be in a different key.

6) I don’t have the time to do any of the above. Of course, I even get requests to pay for the music I have. While it may be a motivator, I still have to make a conscious effort to set a price, get payment, and do one of the above. It’s much easier to say,”please order one of my solo piano CDs or my piano guitar duo CDs from CDBABY and let me know you have done so and then I will happily e-mail you what you want.” For some reason, people never respond to my request. They probably think “but I don’t want a CD much less pay for it. I want that piece of sheet music!”

7) Once upon a time, I have dutifully responded to requests positively and e-mailed the requested sheet music. I have stopped doing so because I usually don’t get a thank you, feedback, or any sort of follow-up or reciprocation.

8) When there is a piece of music I really want, it’s usually something I want instantly. That’s when, out of desperation, I too will email to request for the piece of music. And usually I get dead silence. Perhaps the person who has what I want is also struggling with one of the above.

9) One of my students asked me to find the score for “Lean on Me.” I did a little search and found no free sheet music that’s really easy to play. So guess what? I arranged it for his level. Now, maybe there is a value proposition in customizing music to suit a person’s level.

Vomit draft: write badly the first time

When you write your first draft, you need to get it out — not a time to waste on perfecting your grammar or spelling.

I first heard the term “vomit draft” at an introductory course to filming & scripting. The words of my colleague “to write badly the first time” suddenly made sense.

The first draft is to “get it all out” — in other words, throw it up. There’s not a moment to waste on perfecting your grammar or spelling.

Just get it out.

Similarly, the first time you read a score, you can’t afford to play it perfectly. You want to get an idea how it sounds and what you need to work on.

Playing a piece for the first time, however, is different from writing your first draft. In the latter case, you have stuff you want to get out.

Google “vomit draft” and see what others have said about it — a nice secret to successful writing, for sure.

Girl with the Hat Box for 3 hands, 1 piano by Freihofner

San Francisco-based composer Phil Freihofner’s arrangement of his wind quartet into a 3-hand piano work is delightful and fun. Anne Ku introduces this programmatic piece that has been tried by pianists in Maui, San Francisco, and Utrecht, Netherlands.

Subtitle: From quartet to trio to duet

This blog post concludes my review of all shortlisted works from the 42 multi-hand piano duets received from 30 composers in my Call for Scores project. After this, I will write and speak about the insights garnered from trying these duets with pianists from Maui to the Netherlands. “Trying” included first-level sightreading and making a decision about the difficulty, playability, readability, and potential for further study, performance, and recording. Some pieces received a proper performance-level debut. Others were attempted and discarded.

San Francisco-based composer and oboist Phil Freihofner brought his new “Girl with the Hat Box” score to the sightreading workshop and piano soiree in San Francisco in mid-May 2011. It was sightread twice, first by me and 2 others and second by 2 late comers who chose this piece over others in the binder.

In the preface of this 5-movement piece sprawled over 30 pages, he described the work as a “three hands” arrangement of his “Quartet #1 for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon.” I can already think of friends in the Netherlands who would readily request to play the original quartet. It’s a programmatic piece inspired by a Russian silent film Devushka s Korobkol which translates to “The Girl with the Hat Box.” The one page preface tells the story as plotted over the five movements.

Now, three-hand, one piano pieces are not the norm in piano duet music. The most prevalent form is quatre-mains, i.e. 4-hands on one piano. Three hands? The International Petrucci Library lists just a few on its 1 piano, 3-hand page. I think this scarcity of repertoire stems from a desire for pianists to play with both hands. Furthermore, pianists want to play constantly. Pianists are not like orchestral players who are used to counting empty bars.

Freihofner specifies that the work is intended for 3 pianists, each using one hand, at the same piano. It’s also possible to play on more than one piano. But he did not state that 2 pianists could play. I decided to try it with 2 other pianists in San Francisco and later just one pianist in the Netherlands. The effect was very different. I agree with the composer: it should be played by 3 pianists and not 2. Thus this multi-hand duet could be categorized as a trio.

Sadly I did not find an opportunity to record this while in the Netherlands. Hopefully this blog will inspire my peers in Hawaii to make it happen. It can easily be a nice multi-media project to accompany the first 14 minutes of that film from 1926, directed by Boris Barnet or part of some Russian festival. I know of a house concert producer in Virginia who has a captive audience in the Russian community. Having grown up next to Russian neighbours in Okinawa, I can see how this piece would work well in such a thematic event.

I extract a system from each of the five movements in an attempt to give my readers a feel for the piece.

Girl with the Hat Box: 1. Galop by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 1. Galop by Philip Freihofner

The second movement is a pleasant waltz with quarter note = 108. If only 2 pianists were to play, the second one should do the middle and bottom parts which form most of the accompaniment.

Girl with the Hat Box: 2. Waltz by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 2. Waltz by Philip Freihofner

Like the Galop which starts slowly (in a very short intro), the third movement quickens in the main part of the March.

Girl with the Hat Box: 3. March by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 3. March by Philip Freihofner

The fourth movement is a fugue, one of my favourites in piano duet playing. A fugue translates to a chase. Here the main character Natasha (the girl with the hat box) takes the train to Moscow where she meets a poor but handsome student.

Girl with the Hat Box: 4. Fugue by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 4. Fugue by Philip Freihofner

This five movement trio ends slightly more upbeat (quarter note = 126).

Girl with the Hat Box: 5. Coda by Philip Freihofner
Girl with the Hat Box: 5. Coda by Philip Freihofner

When I tried this piece for the last time on this 3 month journey from Maui to the Netherlands, one pianist exclaimed, “May I please have this piece?” At first I was reluctant because the well-prepared, printed score was my only hardcopy, and one with my penciled markings. Then I remembered that this Dutch pianist had an established piano teaching practice for some 30 years and she usually never asked for music unless she liked it. This meant she would be enthusiastic in playing it and sharing with her students and other pianists. My reply?  “Here, take it. This would give me an excuse to meet the composer again, on my way back through San Francisco to Hawaii.”

On my return journey, I met with Phil Freihofner for breakfast on my layover in San Francisco Airport. He gave me a new version of the score, this time “dedicated to Anne Ku.” What an honor! I have five copies now. Who will I meet in this part of the world wanting to try this work with me?

For more information about the composer and his various arrangements and compositions, visit Phil Freihofner’s website at http://www.adonax.com.

Full moon on Maui with lunar eclipse

Full moon on Maui is the title of a piano solo piece composed by Anne Ku after a beautiful sunset in upcountry Maui. The score is available for free. The music can be ordered via CD Baby.

After our kung fu class at the Kahului Community Centre, one classmate announced that the full lunar eclipse was tonight 20th December 2010. But it was too cloudy to see it.

Last night, I watched the DVD of the movie “Eclipse” of the Twilight saga for the second consecutive time. The first movie had me mesmerized in Denver, Colorado.

It’s also the winter solstice. Eight years ago, I was crazy enough to organise a house concert of that name: the Winter Solstice Concert. Two people in the audience fell in love at first sight.

Eleven years ago, when I visited Maui for the first time, I saw a full moon that inspired me greatly. I rushed home to compose a solo piano piece called “Full Moon on Maui” and took it to the Maui-based composer Robert Pollock for feedback. Several years later I played and recorded it on my solo piano CD “in pursuit of flexibility.”

Full moon on Maui by Anne Ku solo piano score
Full moon on Maui by Anne Ku solo piano score

What a coincidence that I am once again on Maui, for the third time in my life, during a full moon.  Only I can’t see it because of the eclipse and the clouds.