A Concert Grand

Thank you Steinway Concert Grand* for singing wonderfully tonight. Thank you for making Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude and Fugue live and breathe for us. For having Robert Schumann’s Papillion flutter and dance. And for letting Maurice Ravel’s Sonatine serenade us tonight.

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I know you have played in so many recitals and concerts before. I know you have performed with so many great professors and excellent students. I am even sure you made music with some world-renowned pianists in the past.

But tonight is different. It is special. Very special. At least for me.

Thank you Steinway Concert Grand for letting my little daughter play with you tonight. For letting her delicate little fingers run and tinker with your ivories and ebonies. Those beautiful little fingers, that only yesterday, were playing with dirt and plucking dandelions in our yard.

I know. She’s not as little anymore, than what I want to believe.

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(*A Concert Grand piano is the standard for Classical performance and recording. It measures about 9 feet long.)

(**Photos taken during a university’s junior solo recital.)

Christmas in June

Sunday is a day of chores and house cleaning in our home. Unlike the norm of the middle and upper class families in the Philippines where they have house helper or maid, we don’t have one in our home. So me, my wife, and my two kids share in all the household chores. Having your kids share responsibilities for regular chores around the house teaches them the virtue of work. And it does not mean that we could not have fun while we are working. Because we do.

I usually have my iPod on and listen to my collection of 80’s music when I clean the floor. Yes, “Floor Manager” is my designated title. My 80’s music (from my highschool and college days) includes songs from Spandau Ballet, Tears for Fears, Sting, The Cure, A-Ha, Depeche Mode, REM, Mister Mister, Pet Shop Boys and many others. It makes me feel young again.

My teenage daughter will most of the time listen to her music on her iPod too, while she does her chores. She loves Classical music and only listens to these. I am not sure where she got her genes for the appreciation of the works of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Dvorak, Chopin, Vivaldi, Debussy, and others. Maybe we really have a highly cultured and aristocratic bloodline coursing in our veins. It just skipped me.

For my son who is now nine years old, he is in charge of dusting the window blinds and furnitures. He likes to listen to music also while working. So he have our CD player at full blast when he is working. And what kind of music he listens to? He plays Christmas music! His favorite album is Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Symphony. And he even dances with it as he performs his tasks. It does not matter whether it is Christmas season, or it is in the month of June and in the middle of summer, we have Christmas songs blaring in our radio.

Does music help us do our work better? Studies have shown that music increases workers’ productivity  by about 6 to 10%. It appears that music helps us work harder too. In one British study performed in healthy college students, they let them ride stationary bike while the tempo of the music they are listening to are adjusted 10% faster and 10% slower. The researchers found that speeding up the music increased how fast and how hard the participants pedaled while slowing the music has the opposite effect.

Music uplifts our spirit and puts us in the right mood as well. And what kind of music can make you feel jolly? Christmas songs of course!

I don’t mind having Christmas music in the summer, as long as my kids do their work and have fun completing their chores. I just hope the neighbors will not hear “Deck the Halls” in midsummer, or they will think we are a bunch of weirdos. Or maybe they will just think that we are a bunch of hardworking Christmas elves.

(* image from here)

From Barok to Baroque

I am not much fan of classical music. Maybe I am not cultured enough. I grew up in the rough-and-tumble streets of Sampaloc, Manila. I am not saying that it is impossible to have a highly cultured person in Sampaloc who loves classical music. I am not just one of them.

My choice of music is more of folk, rock and country. I grew up listening to Pinoy artists like Asin, Mike Hanopol, Florante and Freddie Aguilar. Sometimes I would also listen to Yoyoy Villame and his “Barok” and other quirky songs.

My daughter is quite the opposite. She is entranced with classical music and only listens to this kind of music. When she hears a classical piece she even knows whether it was composed during the Romantic era, or Classical era, or the Baroque (no, not Barok!) period, or whatever. She also has a gift of absolute or perfect pitch, the ability to identify a note without any reference point. I wonder where she got this gene.

Last week we watched a string quartet concert. It was sponsored by The World Food Prize, whose headquarters is in Des Moines. This is an international organization that recognizes, “without regard to race, religion, nationality, or political beliefs, the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity or availability of food in the world.” It was founded by Norman Borlaug, who was awarded in 1970 the Nobel Peace Prize for a lifetime of work to feed a hungry world.

The concert was a part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the said organization. They invited the Tokyo String Quartet, a world-renowned and considered one of the best, if not the best, chamber ensembles in the world. This group was founded in 1969 at the Juilliard School of Music, and has performed all around the world. Even though the group was officially formed in New York City, the quartet traces its origins to the Toho School of Music in Tokyo, thus their name.

Tokyo String Quartet (image from New York Times)

The members of the group are highly accomplished and distinguished musicians, as well as professors, as they conduct master classes in North America, Europe and the Far East. If the musicians are not impressive enough, the instruments that they are using are more than spectacular. The ensemble performs on the “Paganini Quartet,” a group of renowned Stradivarius instruments that was once owned by the legendary virtuoso Niccolo Paganini of the 19th century. So from the violins, to the viola, to the cello, they are all touched by master Paganini’s hand, and are all original Stradivari’s handiwork, probably costing a few millions of dollars each one of them.

There were lots of very important people (national and international guests of the World Food Prize) in that concert. Lots of high society crowd too. And I brushed elbows with them. (Though, I still feel somewhat out of place.) Since my daughter is a member of the Des Moines Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, we had an insiders’ invitation, though the concert was open to the public.

As I sat there in the concert hall (we were less than 20 feet from the performing musicians that I could almost smell the Stradivarius), and listened to Franz Joseph Haydn and Antonin Dvorak compositions, I reflected on how far I have come. I still like my grass-root music, but I am starting to appreciate this classical music genre. And what was the best deal of this concert? It was totally free.

What’s next? The Opera? (Never been to one.) But first, I have to learn Italian.