How Do You Do It?: Part II

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How Do You Do It?: Part II

Thanks for the wait! Part II is going to be different. It's not going to be about music, and it's not going to be about you (or me) as well. It's going to be about those around us. And if you haven't read Part I, please click on the link and give it a read! I promise it's short and succinct :)

But how exactly does what you do depend on those around you? After all, we are the ones who have to put in the time and effort ourselves. To me, that's only half the formula. The other half comes from those around you who allow you to make things happen. I'm not sure how to best explain this, but let me speak based on my experience. From conversations with friends and colleagues, especially about Life, these phrases usually come up:

 

  • "How do you practice with a kid?"
  • "If you can do what you do with a kid, so can I"
  • "I don't know how you do it"

 

And while it seems like I'm doing the right thing, I know that it is only possible through my support group - those around me. If you're married and already have kids, you'd probably understand better. Not that this isn't applicable to singles (more on that below), but it's really about those around you who enable and allow you to grow, pursue, and chase your dreams. 

I have been extremely fortunate and immeasurably blessed with loving families and a selfless, supportive, understanding, and encouraging spouse. And because all of them understand what it's like to start a career and a family, they help in every way they can. My wife even tells me to practice or to take up jobs and gigs, and assures me not to worry while she takes care of our son. Honestly, it is a bit hard to say "ok" because my son is also my responsibility, and I always feel bad if I'm not taking care of him and helping out when I can. But having said that, I also understand the need to use that time to work hard through practicing or performing to my best abilities, so that I ensure a future for them.

A while ago, I was having this conversation with a friend (which actually sparked me to write this post) and it went something like this:

 

Friend: "How do you practice with a kid? Isn't it tough?"

Me: "Yea it is! I mean, the only time I can do anything is at night, but you have to give and take and make sacrifices."

F: "That's the word - sacrifice. That's everything."

 

And it really means to give up on things or to put some things on hold, at least for a couple of years (I think.. I'm only 2 years into this "business" haha!). But how I seem to make it work is really through my support group - my family. They enable me to hone my skills and my craft, and always provide the best for me. It is something I am so thankful for (because I know, some individuals may not be as blessed as I have been) and is why I work hard, not to make myself feel or look better but rather, in appreciation for their time and sacrifice to me.

Now, for those who are single, it may seem as if this post isn't meant for you. Here's the thing: while a lot of it deals with family, child-caring, and having a supportive partner, you too can surround yourself with like-minded peers, friends, colleagues, etc. Those people will become your support group and help enable you to be a better you - I touched on this in a recent post. I truly believe that if you surround yourself with people who inspire you and push you to improve, this positive cycle will feed itself, and you in turn, will also inspire those around you.

I'd like to dedicate this post to my support group, for their sacrifice for me - if not for all of their help, I will not be where I am today, doing what I do every day. As for you guys, I really hope you enjoyed reading this, and if you know and have your support group, be sure to thank them! It also pays to help them out whenever you can too - I think it's what makes the world a better place :) Do share this post and/or your stories below, and I hope everyone stays safe and well. As always, thanks for reading!

Joachim

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Reflections On JARD

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Reflections On JARD

Learning something new is akin to opening a can of worms, and it can either intimidate you or inspire you. I've always been inspired by jazz musicians. Their ability to express themselves on their instruments with such ease and finesse, their control and mastery over their instrument(s), and their listening precision are all qualities and traits that amaze me. And when I was informed by a close friend of the Jazz at the Red Dot (JARD) workshop happening again this year, I knew I had to sign up for it - to open that can of worms.

JARD didn't disappoint at all. Of course this was because I knew next to nothing about Jazz, and this 5-day workshop was like a crash course on how to play, listen, and practice jazz. It was even more inspiring to learn from so many big cats in the business, to listen to advice and hear stories from their experience in the industry. I'll be honest - it was intimidating, especially during ensemble rehearsals (for me at least). I know, I always talk about practicing to make sure that the effort pays off when the time comes for execution. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you don't have to practice (you still need to), but from attending JARD, I've come to realise that experience also plays an important role in the overall plan of improvement - it's been an eye-opening experience to say the least. I think I've got quite some experience with classical percussion and if I was in a position of unpreparedness, I probably can still tread water and stay afloat to survive. Being behind the kit this time round felt like I was drowning.. lol! That being said, I really loved and enjoyed the pressure and most importantly, I knew that these cats mean well for us, that they want us to improve and play the best we can, and so I took none of it personally and used it to fuel my drive to improve and learn.

Greg Hutchinson was a beast too! Our masterclasses with him weren't too much about technicalities/coordination (something that we just have to work on on our own) but were more focused on the art, the passion, and also some life lessons along the way. We paired up with Ben Williams for some drum and bass playing, and hearing what these masters said about other instruments were in itself, great lessons. Which also got me thinking - sometimes, we have to learn from someone other than our main instrument to learn more about it, and also more about music. It's all about the perspectives as well. 

Over the course of the workshop, I met many new friends, and really capable musicians! Our lessons and rehearsals culminated in a concert at Botanic Gardens, and it sure didn't proceed as planned! I was told that last year's concert was also wet, but the rain this year was just insane - shoes and jeans drenched even though I was carrying an umbrella, and it caused huge delays for the performance. The soundcheck was scheduled from 3pm to 4pm, but the rain came in about half way through and didn't let up. And then Greg made an announcement that the concert had to be cancelled!! But it was an April Fool's joke hahaha. We ended up starting past 5pm (from the scheduled 4:30pm) and everyone had a great energy and put in their best efforts in the show.

It was also comforting to hear Greg always saying "Go slow" every time something technical came up - partly because I tell that to my students all the time, but it was also because it aligned with my beliefs that music is not a race. We're not out to compete with one another or to see who plays faster or longer or better. It's all just about being a better musical self than we were yesterday, and constantly seeking improvement. The only true "enemy" is our self, and that's who we should only compete with.

And I guess my takeaway from all of this is that you don't have to be afraid of doing something you're unfamiliar with, or something you've always wanted to do. All it takes is some humility and willingness to learn - we all start off somewhere, and it just so happens that I'm starting my jazz journey now. I don't expect to be the greatest - there are tons of better drummers out there, but I do expect excellence from myself, for myself.

As always, thanks for tuning in and I hope you enjoyed the read. Stay safe and well!

Joachim

P.S. I wanted to post Part II to last week's post, but since JARD was still kind of fresh, I thought for sharing it first. Part II drops next week! :)

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How Do You Do It?: Part I

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How Do You Do It?: Part I

During my schooling days, whenever my teachers demonstrated something technical or cool, I would always ask "how do you do that?" I'm pretty sure all of us have experienced the same awe and thought when seeing our teachers perform on stage or demonstrate for us during lessons. Even now, while I watch YouTube clips or listen to music during my commutes, I find myself asking "how does he/she do that?" and saying "damn.. that sounds good!" 

It's not a secret, and we all know the formula to getting good - practice. But as with everything else, it is always easier said than done. Always! It's easy to tell young students to practice, but they usually end up getting lost in what to practice. For high school or college students, it's usually the how to practice that is frustrating. And honestly, I find myself still going through both phases, especially for areas and instruments I am less comfortable with!

 

So here's the brutal truth - there are no shortcuts to getting better. You want it, you have to work for it.

 

Hurts doesn't it? During one of my undergrad semesters, I asked a senior who had graudated, how he "chao keng" and yet, manage to play reasonably well. (If you don't know what chao keng means, click on the link!) He replied me something along the lines of "what chao keng? I worked hard man.." and it opened my mind and changed my perspective forever! Throwing a super loose statement here, but many people want good results without putting in effort, and I was one of them. I wanted to get better by putting in minimal effort, but things don't work that way. My senior's honesty in working hard to attain his level of playing took me aback. It got me seriously thinking that the only way to get better is to really just work on it. If you think about it, athletes don't get faster by sitting on a couch, bodybuilders don't get stronger by drinking protein shakes, and musicians don't get better by just staring at their instruments, hoping to play like a pro one day.

So then how do you do it? While practicing is the answer, I feel that it also boils down to two factors - time and commitment. You have to be absolutely committed to wanting to improve, and you have to put the time in to do it. Time is tricky because we always don't see immediate results, but we have to trust our investment in time in order for it to really shine and bloom. Once you take charge of both, practicing will be fun and oriented! I have some goals I would like to achieve this year, and I've either started on some or "completed" them already. It's not completed because even though I finished the routine, but that doesn't mean I stop working on it. Nothing is ever really completed too.. but hopefully it inspires you to work on something you've started but had to put on hold for a while, or something you've always wanted to do but could never "find the time".

Again, thanks so much for reading this week's post! Do leave some comments on what you think, and especially if you know how hard you've worked to achieve something - I'd like to hear from you! In the meantime, I hope you all stay safe and well!

Joachim

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Surrounding Yourself With Excellence

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Surrounding Yourself With Excellence

I read this article by The Band Post, but took a while to pen my thoughts to share with you guys! There definitely is some psychology to all of it, but I feel strongly about the author's post.

From my personal experience, my time at Peabody was a lot crazier than when I was in Yong Siew Toh because of the people I was learning and surrounded with. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying one school is better than the other - my friends and colleagues from both schools were equally hardworking and we dedicated our time to our craft. So what exactly do I mean? The reason I say that is because it really boils down to accessibility.

Let's look at both countries. Their "age" already speaks mountains of differences. Our tiny red dot has only seen 50 or so years of independence and in my opinion, is still growing its culture and identity. The United States on the other hand, has centuries of history and a totally different culture, especially when it comes to the Arts and music. If we use the article's "formula", it's not hard to see why many musicians want to be in New York, where you can find great musicians literally anywhere - throw a stone and you'll probably hit someone who already plays on an extremely high level. By just being there and listening to so many great players, there will be a tendency to want to match that or even outdo it. It even happens through what I term, osmosis - just being around the scene and absorbing every detail is in itself, exposure that allows the ears to open up and pick up the language needed. (I know, osmosis is a scientific term, but hopefully you get my drift haha). But I do feel that with this, there will always be a push to excel and the good will keep getting better.

On the other hand, throw a stone and hit someone in Singapore, you'll see yourself getting sued... haha kidding! Chances are, you won't find someone with the same "New York" level. Instead, you'll likely end up with someone who's more academically inclined. It's something that has been cultivated to us from the start and with every passing generation, the biggest worry that transcends generations is academic grades in school. Not that it's a bad thing - they're both just different. So what's the point about accessibility?

New York (and America in fact) is saturated with thousands of great players and musicians whereas Singapore isn't due to our academic focus. During my YST days, we had about one or two guest artists visit over the year whereas at Peabody, it was probably once a month, sometimes more. And it really is because it's just way easier to get around in America than to fly halfway across the globe to a tiny island for a couple of days. Because of that, I found myself surrounded by many musicians of a high calibre, and like osmosis, I tried to take it all in. Even while growing up and in school (during my younger days), I remember being influenced to either do better or worse in school - peer pressure after all, is tough during formative years as we always want to fit in and not be the odd-one-out.

So having said all this, I highly recommend reading the article (if you already haven't), and applying it to your activities, no matter what field or specialisation you are in. This energy does feed you as you also give that energy to others, and personally, it just creates a really positive cycle of learning and progress. What do you think? Have you encountered something similar before? I'd love to hear from you in the comments! Thanks again for taking the time to read, and I hope you all stay safe and well!

Joachim

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PCS: Lorong Boys @ Huayi

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PCS: Lorong Boys @ Huayi

If you were there watching and supporting us, thank you so much! It was fun performing and presenting our tunes and I hope you all felt the same way! In case you missed out, the Lorong Boys performed at the Esplanade Concourse during this year's Hua Yi Festival. It was a thrilling and rewarding experience for me, as I used it to grow in various ways.

Our preparation was necessary to put up a good show, and despite not having great arrangement skills, I'm super glad that the Boys agreed to let me arrange a couple of tunes! It's usually a team effort and decision, but sometimes some of us have ideas and would like to try them out with the group - and that is what I love about the versatility and diversity about the band! Everyone is willing to try new or even crazy things, and we learn, grow, and develop from there.

Now, I don't listen to a lot (or any, actually) Chinese pop music, and the only times I hear them are on the radio or in shopping malls. And since this was part of the Hua Yi Festival, it was more appropriate to perform Chinese tunes than English or Classical pieces. Choosing songs was already going to be difficult, but I guess what spurred me was my experience from our gig last year at the National Gallery, where we performed as a trio. We played a couple of Chinese pop tunes there and we had a blast with them! So this time round, I really wanted to do something different, test my limits, and push myself.

It's not a lot, but I managed to come up with some arrangements! Some were in a different style, and others felt a bit more contrived especially when mashed with another pop song. But it was a great growing experience for me, to get better and faster at using Sibelius, to meet deadlines, and also to push my imagination, inspiration, and creativity! I managed to come up with about 4 to 5 arrangements and now, I can sort of understand how composers feel when they get to hear their music 'live' and not through MIDI sounds coming out from their keyboard speakers! 

Another way I did things differently was to make use of my cymbal/cajon setup. I used to do a lot of this when I was part of The Trella Trio, playing twice a week at Stärker (Holland Village), but never used much of it for the Boys (except on a couple of occasions and performances). It creates a completely different sound and vibe to the music, changing its character and mood, and can either be really helpful, or make the whole thing sound bad. It's still an area I'm recently exploring, and am thankful for the band for letting me experiment and try out new things!

I know this week's entry isn't much, and especially so if you weren't there to catch our performance, but I guess my takeaway from this is that you can only grow when you're placed in difficult or uncomfortable situations. And recently, the more difficult and uncomfortable they seem, the more I find myself wanting to take that risk and step into the unknown because to me, it is the perfect way to develop! It's akin to practicing only in the practice room, but not venturing out to make music - if we stay in our practice room forever, we will only be good in there. We have to get out of the room and actually make music with people and that way, we put our practicing to good use, as well as develop other skills like listening, adjusting, and really just being a team player. You don't want to be the person who can only play with a metronome and not with other musicians.. well at least, I don't want to be that person, and I hope you don't too!

Thanks for reading this really short post! If you're curious as to what my arrangements are, do let me know by writing in the comments below and/or reaching out to me privately! I hope you all stay safe and well this week, and don't forget to share this post with friends!

Joachim

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