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!

Joachim

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