Versatility and Exposure


Versatility and Exposure

First up, I would like to give a huge shoutout to Pantheon Percussion and Percussion Works for welcoming me into the family! I am extremely fortunate to have such support and to be endorsed by such a dedicated and talented team. Please check them out, especially if you are a percussionist or drummer! 

A few weeks ago I wrote an entry saying I'll elaborate on it. I was thinking about it and only wanted to write about versatility, but I felt that I had to address exposure too because I think they both go in tandem.

In a nutshell, you get exposed to a certain type of music, you work on it and get better, and then you can play said type of music - for example: when learning a Bach Sonata or a Strauss Lied or Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, we research on the composer, the piece, listen to different recordings while practicing, and so on. All these affects the way we learn and play and can help us when we learn a different piece from the same composer. It's all still Classical, but they're the sub-genres (if you will) to this broad genre of Classical Music. Simply put, one will not play Mozart the same way as Wagner just as how a drummer will not play jazz using Corpsmaster drumsticks. Not taking into account modern day arrangements, we become more versatile even in Classical music, just by being able to play differently when facing different music and composers. Even in Classical music, there are many who dislike "New Music" and to be honest, I was one of them!

I only knew about this "New Music" when I started my undergrad studies and naturally, I thought it was weird and didn't make sense. The rhythms and harmonies were unfamiliar to me and it wasn't the "Classical Music" that I know of. But because of the nature of being a percussionist, I was exposed to contemporary music daily and eventually grew to appreciate and love the art! 

But while being versatile in different Classical styles is necessary, let's take it a step further and look beyond the realms of Classical music. Rock, pop, jazz, metal, ethnic, traditional are just a few of the thousands of genres of music. Having some craft and know-how in any of these genres (even if you only know one) add to one's arsenal and skill set, thus increasing versatility and being able to play with a more musicians as well as reaching out to a wider range of audiences. Think of it this way: the ability to play different styles are tools to the musician just as ingredients are to the chef. If the chef only has salt and pepper to season food with, there is only a finite variety of food he/she can make. But if the chef has herbs and spices, then he/she is simply able to do more, create more, and expand his/her variety.

I think being versatile is essential in today's world, especially with the changing orchestra scene globally. As classical musicians, we cannot only focus on our craft while ignoring other genres of music. And that is why I am so fortunate and grateful for my musical brothers with me in Lorong Boys. We constantly push each other to explore different styles or just push the boundaries of what we are comfortable with (come catch us at my upcoming concert next week too see for yourself). Versatility is necessary for progress and survival. Of course, exposure, along with the willingness to learn, is needed to because you do not know what you do not know. I know next to nothing about rocket science because I don't read about it. I expect it will be extremely difficult to comprehend but I am just not that interested in it as I am in music. 

So here's calling to musicians to expose yourselves to different types of music, learn their intricacies and technicalities (even if it's just a simple one) and try it out! You'll never know if you become more attached to it after digging deep.    

Let me know your thoughts, especially if you've always been keen on working on something. And of course on my part, I'll get down to making videos of myself working on non-classical stuff! It'll have to wait till September before I actually start anything, but the least I can do is to walk the talk, right? 

Thanks for reading! Stay safe and be well.


P.S. I won't be writing next week as it is concert week! But I'll be back on August 30th :)


Steve Schick


Steve Schick

In April earlier this year, I had the incredible honour and privilege of meeting Mr. Steven Schick when he visited YST to guest-conduct and perform in their OpusNovus concert. He is no stranger to the classical percussion world and is one of my musical heroes. 

That was also when I realise my mind goes completely blank when meeting a legend.  

It was a surreal experience watching the current YST students perform for him in a masterclass setting, and watching him perform Iannis Xenakis' Rebonds during the OpusNovus concert. Such finesse and musicality could only come from a master and I was completely blown away! Watching him live was, and is, exciting as Dream Theater coming to Singapore (this October)! Side-tracking, but my wife and I are incredibly stoked for that!

Anyway, Mr. Schick gave a commencement speech in May and I highly encourage listening to his speech (or reading the transcript) as he talks about the future of music, in particular New Music. It's hard to summarise a 25-minute long speech, but there are a couple of take-aways from it.

I was very intrigued with his perspective on noise and music, especially for a percussionist. It's interesting because just the other day, I was in the lift (elevator for my American friends) and was speaking to a neighbour from a different floor. Our conversation went something like this:


Woman: Long day at work huh..

Me: Yea! You look tired.  

Woman: I am! What do you do? 

Me: I'm a musician. A-

Woman: Wow! So who do you play with? 

Me: Oh I just got done with a recording with the SSO.

Woman: That's fantastic! What instrument do you play? 

Me: Percussion! 

Woman: Ohh.. I prefer something more sentimental.. 

Me: Well, you'll be surprised to know that percussionists can be pretty sentimental too! 

But the lift got to her floor and she went off before I could elaborate further.


I find it a pity that there is this association of percussion and noise (just loud random sounds actually), which is why I held my concert last year and am continuing it this year, to expose more people to classical percussion and to show that it's really not all noise and loud sounds. It's a pity because percussion is so much fun (as a performer and a listener) and these people are missing out. Of course if I wasn't in this line, I probably would think the same way as my neighbour! And that is exactly why the educational side of things are crucial - education breaks stereotypes and creates exposure for those who have yet to come across percussion music. If you have doubts, hopefully my concert can prove you wrong! 

Returning to the point at hand, he did have good reasoning to believe that not all sound is music. John Cage's idea of "sound = music" was a fascinating one and was extremely unorthodox. Well, at least 60 years ago. And while I was slightly thrown-off with that statement, I believe his deduction did not come about without much thought, maturity and life-experience. 

Another point he made was to face the same direction as everyone else - the future. If we continue looking and working towards the future, we ensure the survival of our art work, of our craft, of music. That same hunger of never settling, never improving enough, and never being complacent. From a 63-year old, it does put some of us younger folk to shame, especially when we only settle for mediocrity and only do the "minimum" (sound familiar? Michelle Chong made a post on her Facebook page a while ago, and is something I would like to talk about soon). Still, I resonate with the idea of rallying everyone, supporting each other and working towards the future together.

But support is also a two-way street. One cannot expect to keep receiving or giving support without the other party reciprocating. In all honesty, I am guilty of not catching more concerts than I wish I could. Having a kid changes your life a lot, and although it does complicate things, I don't want to use it as a comfortable excuse. So, I would like to urge everyone (including my guilty self) to go out and watch more concerts, to be more involved in supporting the future. Having played for many concerts, it sometimes is good to just be in the hall from the audience's perspective. And also, watching someone perform live is completely different from watching a concert from behind a TV screen! The atmosphere and experience is more than just watching and listening, but includes being physically and mentally in that space for that finite amount of time.

There is a lot to digest in his speech and I hope you find the time to watch it (or at least read the transcript) because I think his words have meaning, especially since they come from a legend who has paved the way for us musicians in the 21st-century. 

As always, thanks for taking the time to read and do let me know your thoughts and/or comments. If something intrigues you too, let's start a discussion! In the meantime, get out there and catch some live music! Stay safe, be well, and Happy Birthday Singapore!



Skateboarding and Tenacity: Part II


Skateboarding and Tenacity: Part II

If you have not read Part I, please check it out! I promise, Part II is way less serious and deals more with music!

Christian Flores' attempt to nail the trick is similar to musicians in a practice room trying to work a difficult passage. The only thing though, was that Christian did not seem to think about how to improve the technique of landing the trick, but rather just wanted to plough through it in the hopes of landing it once. 

Now, I'm no skateboarding expert (although I used to skateboard when I was 12!) but doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting to land the trick, seems like a path towards failure. Everything was the same - the same setup, same run, same location, etc. Again, not a skateboarder, so I cannot comment on how these athletes practice nailing their tricks. But as musicians, if we did everything the same way, wouldn't that produce the same results? We will then, not be progressing as fast as we could or want to.

Having tenacity is important, but having the wisdom and knowledge of how to tackle problems is equally important! Efficient practice is key to maximising your time spent in the practice room. So next time you are in one, I would suggest not to just plough through it but rather, think about how the technique/piece/anything-you're-working-on can be achieved. Spend time in front of mirrors (they're a musician's best friend) as they are good "third-eyes" to really hone in on specific technical or passage difficulties. Record yourself with audio/video or both (another best friend!) and see how you can take things to the next level. Better still, be creative and come up with new ways/exercises to practice! Spice things up and be ever-changing. That way, you don't have to deal with burnout sooner! 

If you can't think of anything, check out my previous post or Noa's more recent newsletter and hopefully it'll provide some inspiration and stimulation! Also, do subscribe to his weekly newsletters as they can offer some fresh insights and ideas. Being creative is hard work, so don't give up!

As always, thanks for reading! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and do share this post too!

Stay safe, be well and I'll end it with this video.



Linkin Park


Linkin Park

I woke up on 21st July to some shocking news - Chester Bennington's death. In my formative teen years, Linkin Park was the band I listened to most of the time. In fact, the very first rock concert I ever watched was Linkin Park when they came to Singapore in 2004. I still remember it was held at Padang, and my friends and I were in the queue for what felt like the longest time. We would listen to Linkin Park all day long, and even formed a band in school because of them, writing music and recording them in GarageBand!

At that time (around 2002 or so), GarageBand was just released and we had lots of fun recording and writing our own somgs! My family had a MIDI keyboard (I have no idea why though - my parents aren't musicians and there was no reason to own one) and I managed to persuade my parents to buy me an electric guitar. So with those 2 in hand we would write our music, taking our inspiration from Linkin Park. I did most of the music and chords while my dear friend wrote lyrics and then we will patch them together to see if it works. We even used their (now) old school form of writing - singing, rapping, and having a mix of both! We would track the guitars, and then use the MIDI keyboard to add the bass lines and other parts, like an electric piano. No one owned a drumset so we resorted to using the drum patches from GarageBand. Although, we did use one of our friend's drumset to track the drums for one of our songs, but we couldn't possibly keep imposing ourselves there.

A funny story though - we were set to perform for a school event and I got myself injured the night before. Had about 5 or 6 stitches on the back of my head, got bandaged up, went back to school the following day and performed with the band! I think that was one of my highlights in secondary school. That and performing and competing in the SYF competition with the same bandage on, a week later. 

Although my musical tastes have changed over the years, I'm glad my close friend still listens to them and avidly follows them! He truly is a hardcore Linkin Park fan, despite them changing their sound and direction multiple times. And while I do appreciate their musical taste over the years, I wasn't especially drawn to it like I was with Hybrid Theory and Meteora. 

While I am not particularly devastated about his death (life still goes on), it does feel weird to hear about the death of one of your childhood musicians. Kind of makes me wonder about those who grew up listening to people like David Bowie and Prince. Reports say that he committed suicide from depression and mental illness. If you are reading this and you feel that your life is bleak, I implore you, speak to someone and open up! Things will not change overnight, but I guarantee it will help, bit by bit at the very least. The worst thing about mental illness is that outwardly and physically, we all look fine. And the ones that usually come out most hurt are the people around those afflicted.

Sorry for sounding morbid but mental illness really is concerning around the world. I can't say or speak from experience (about having depression of sorts), but we will always need someone to confide in. I can definitively say that my wife has helped me in so many ways that changed and shaped me to want to be a better human every day. The thing about it is that it only happened because I allowed myself to love and be loved in return, and to trust in this broad term of "humanity". 

This really is a personal post from my other more neutral and thought-provoking writings, but I hope that we learn from instances like these, that no matter how bleak it may seem, there really is a light at the end of the tunnel. Now I know there are articles and opinions out there about how people suffering from depression is not able to view the world as non-sufferers do, and with my statement about the light at the end, they see suicide as the only way out. I get that! I accept that thinking and that reasoning. I just pray that for sufferers, that light is something powerful and warm and involves the support and encouragement from family and friends. 

I hope each and everyone of you continue to be safe and well, both physically and mentally. Thank you for taking the time to read as well. I know I'll be putting some Linkin Park songs on repeat for the next few days.


P.S. Part II from last week's post will come the following week!



Skateboarding and Tenacity: Part I

Check out this video before proceeding!

I watched it and thought to myself "that is some serious determination!" Now, put yourself in his shoes - do you think you will be strong enough to keep practicing a trick for years, never knowing when you are going to nail it?

I think it is a serious question we need to ask ourselves, no matter what field we are in. This guy took 2 years of broken bones, hospital trips, bruises, cuts, blood, sweat, tears and who knows what else, to finally land the trick he was doing! Just ONCE! Makes me wonder if he attempted it again after that.. And this brings me to attitudes. Christian Flores had the perseverance and dedication to land the trick, no matter how long it took him. But he had more than perseverance. He had a tenacious attitude.

Perseverance vs. Tenacity - what's the difference? When you compare both side-by-side, to me, it just feels like perseverance is lacklustre, and an item you buy off the shelf in DOTA. Of course this comparison is when you put both words together just for its value, but I do feel that Tenacity has more bite, more edge, and has this raw energy and hunger of wanting something. The attitude and ability to be tenacious is fundamental in one's craft - whether you're a musician, a baker, a scientist, a chef, an athlete and so on. Having this energy and hunger to want to improve on one's self is key to making strides and breakthroughs in any field. I truly believe that the earlier and longer you get your hands "dirty" and really just do all the hard stuff, the more you will reap the benefits in the future. 

All my musical heroes have in one way or another, had to go through hard times to get to where they are now. They've been through hard times in school, in social difficulties, family difficulties, financial difficulties, national/political difficulties and the list never ends. Let's not even talk about musicians. Famous people like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres, J. K. Rowling and Jim Carrey (do a Google search and many will be women. Are women then, really the "weaker" gender?) all have had troubling and seriously rough times. They certainly weren't born into stardom and if their tenacious attitude failed them, we definitely will not know who these people are today. 

This is going to be a pretty bold statement, but I think the younger generation is seriously lacking in this attribute. Times are different no doubt, and the methods of both learning and teaching are different. But it is still undeniable that students are not as focused, and not even as interested as before. Many young students seek rewards without wanting to put in the effort, or they give up shortly after. Of course, sometimes people just need time to learn and mature - yours truly being the perfect case study. I only chose music as a career path in my early 20s because I thought it was easy (I was really ignorant back then) but I found that to be untrue. Even then, I really only started taking it seriously at about age 22. Imagine what more I could have accomplished if I was just a tad more matured earlier. But these are things that one cannot rush into and nature just has to take its course. I do hope the millennials (as they are now termed) reading this take time to reflect and that start working towards a future you want.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below and as always, thanks for reading! Feel free to share this post and I hope everyone challenges him/herself to have that tenacity to keep improving.

Part II will come soon so in the meantime, stay safe and be well!