Tallahassee-Minneapolis Part II

Day II: NOLA-Memphis

Beginning the day with some really confusing parking in the French Market area, but when I got my coffee from Caffe du Monde in my car I legitimately screamed. That is a very different taste from anything! Yes I do think that the coffee itself was fine, not like outstanding, but the flavor of chicory adds so much to it and it made the coffee so unique. However, cold beignets weren’t good. I assume that they would have tasted much better if I didn’t get them at 8am and waited till 1pm to have them.

There were quite some wetlands before I left NOLA and it was another really gorgeous view. Driving in the Florida Panhandle has been awful – it was just constantly forest. However, seeing water bodies and more diverse plantations make the drive much more lively. However, it did take me some time to realize that Spanish moss is no longer in sight and that is kind of strange.

As I mentioned in another blog post, I decided to go to Memphis because I became really interested in Elvis after the documentary. It also happened that there might be music that I have not heard before. Visiting Graceland was a big investment. It is potentially the most expensive museum I have ever visited. However, how often would I be in Memphis and visit the house of one of the most iconic musician of all time? I was glad that I did the tour because it was all worth it. 

Visiting Graceland mansion was a very unique experience. The audio guide was very well done, even though there are actually not a lot of things in the house to be seen, as they are all moved to the Elvis complex.

The mansion itself is not as flamboyant as Elvis’ costume, even though there were a lot of elements that were obviously very luxurious back in the days. The living areas were just as elegant as many tasteful houses, but it was the entertainment areas that were wild. The fabric walls of the billiard room was too gorgeous, and having a racketball court in the property? How many musicians can afford that?

Thinking about the last recording in the Jungle Room, and imagining what happened emotionally in that room, were quite overwhelming. How difficult it was for everyone to experience that singing and musicking process. I can see the shades of faith and gospel throughout the whole place, and ending the tour in the memorial garden, with all the stained glasses and religios statues…what a contrast between his extravagent life and where his heart eventually rested in.

The rest of the museum is kind of essential, but too boring. I wish all the gold and platinum records could be placed at where they used to be, instead of being taken out of the context, becoming just a big wall. I also couldn’t care less about the cars, though I know that was part of his life. 

Visitng Beale Street was as exciting and as wild as my night in NOLA. Street bands were everywhere making music. However, comparing with NOLA, people are playing more diverse stuff, and there were a few places that are much more famous than the others. There are definitely more blues stuff here, (duh) but the rhythm is not as straight as New Orleans jazz, and there are more 12-bar blues going on everywhere, with some kind of country going on at multiple places. If I were to look for the classic sounds in New Orleans, I chose to see what new things Memphis could offer. 

I went to an outdoor bar and listen to a trio that is doing some fusion stuff. It was not purely jazz, or blues, or funk, or whatever. It was another sound that I truly adored. They also had a singer who sang a few very basic tunes, which I preferred to have less of that. The instrumentalists were so outstanding and the keyboardist’s improv was tremendous. I wandered around Beale Street just to hear more things, but in general it was not as creative as what I heard in NOLA. There is a little more emphasis on tradition on this street. 

I met a Brit who was on a month-long tour around the south, and we basically had a similar agenda. He was so eager to learn about the glorious past of American music, and almost convinced me to go to Sun Records the day after. However, the fact that tourists coming to Memphis, not the other big cities, to learn about music that were born in America is something to think deeply about. Music is how America was known. It is where a lot of the trend-setting music happened and it still does. Where is American music going? How can we, the classical musicians, create such an impact as well?

Tallahassee-Minneapolis Part I

Finally I have settled down in Minneapolis and things have been great. But I cannot not write anything about my trip up north. This trip has been amazing and there are a lot of things I have learned through the process.

Moving from Tallahassee and all the smart goofy colleagues was quite difficult emotionally, I was having all the farewells of people that I valued. They helped me tremendously in passing through my depression stage, as well as helping me see that I have some precious values inside. I also did something right for my students. Being away from them is scary, since they are potentially my first group of friends in the States that are so supportive. However, despite the fear of leaving them, once I loaded up my car with all my belongings and left my temporary hut, I was really excited to go on this grand 5-day tour filled with amazing music and scenery.

I never really explored the real Southern culture in my two years in Tallahassee for multiple reasons. Half of them were money and time. I was also planning on working till 2-3 days before I had to move in order to see my friend’s wedding in the area, but with a confusing management and schedule, I decided to earn few less bucks and left early. That makes it possible to take time to explore a few of the great American music mecca, and time to return to Kansas and visit people that matter to me greatly.

Day I: New Orleans

The drive to NOLA was unbelievably gorgeous. I passed by a huge lot of national forest areas in FL and AL, then the archipelago area and the huge bridges. How much things have I missed in the last two years? 

Once I settled in the motel, it started raining heavily as I headed to the French Quarter. It was not a very nice feeling. But I’m back in an area where streetcar is a thing (from then till the end of my doctorate!), where music is not a responsibility for students only, where something really beautiful is easily accessible.

My first impression of the French Quarter was just strange. I totally did not realize how much Spanish influence there is in the southern part of the States. Looking at the really weird-looking houses, it reminded me a lot of the earlier European architecture that I saw a little back in the days. Not the romantic style, but something more down-to-earth while strange. A lot of the bars also embraced the history of the buildings and kind of created the atmosphere of the old days, with minimal electrical lighting, and very bare floors. I also did not expect that I would see so much architecture in European style. It definitely reminds me of the great old days when I was travelling all over the place in the Baltic States. But the sounds I heard in the early afternoon was already telling me that I was not in Europe. That raggy sound and super rhythmic sound is so unique in American music. Seeing a kid dancing so naturally on the street with his dad banging on a water bucket was surreal.  There were also a fair amount of street musicians already getting into business after the rain. Well, tourists are there, money is just flowing around. Just like those big-ass bottles of booze, even if they are awful someone is wanting to be wasted in one of the burlesque show right? 

My professor insisted that I need to try crawfish etouffe and gumbo. I just randomly went to The Gumbo Shop, and ordered Jambalaya, which my professor also mentioned. I never thought that Jamabalaya could look like this and tasted as flavorful. The waitress suggested me to add some garlic hot sauce to it. I hesitated but what the heck, my heat-loving friends would be proud of me if I tried. That turned out to be an amazing decision. Yes I tried hot sauce and it wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, it is heavenly.

Then I started my evening of exploring music. It was a Monday and many places either did not open or would not have live music till late night. But there were still places that had something, and I went to Mahogany Music Hall (plus Burlesque Hall) and saw a pianist-song writer singing to nobody. He sang some NOLA-style classics and something that’s newer but still quite close to the classic style. That was so soothing and gorgeous. I talked with him a little during his break and tried to get some hints about getting started with playing something somewhere. To be honest, I just need to constantly remind myself that nothing will happen if I didn’t say yes to things, and put myself at an uncomfortable position. Also, I thought I would not like sazerac, but it was quite tasty.

Stuart suggested me to check out The Spotted Cat to hear more classic NOLA-style jazz. I went there and stayed a little later than I should be. There was a quartet with a singer and they were singing a really good mix of classics and folk stuff. The atmosphere there was equally great. With a nice local wheat beer, that was so soothing, and marked such a great first day of my 2000-mile drive. I was also reminded a lot of the groovy moments that I expeienced in Silk Road GMW. Yes this type of music is something that does speak to me, just like many things else that I experienced in the past few years. In fact, I missed the feeling of grooving with music. I barely did that during my Master’s degree. I was depleted with good music for so long! What a good reminder that I needed to be fed with good stuff in order to create my own!

Once I left Spotted Cat, there was a 9-people band playing right outside with another style of NOLA music. It’s not exactly parade music even though it was definitely outside music. Wow, I never experienced anything like that. What a night. What a night.

Wintergreen Summer Music Academy 2016


It has been a little while since the festival, since right before the festival I was in the process of moving out, and right after I went back to Lawrence and loaded all my belongings in a car that had wiring problems, and drove two days to Tallahassee, FL. Now I have settled in Tally for a week and I can finally typed something here about the festival.IMG_2528

I think it is my first participation in a festival. Last year I was at the Global Musician Workshop, but that’s really more like a one-week intensive of world music tIMG_2417hat does not involve many guests artists or is loaded with tonnes of performances. Wintergreen is located in the mountains with some really interesting history, in many ways it surprised me, by the scale as well as the organization, but more inspiring than the concerts were the people I met here and the scenery.


In terms of composition, I must say it was more because of me being lazy, as well as not willing tIMG_2402o start a big project in this transition process, that I didn’t do too much in these two weeks. (and we weren’t assigned anything during the festival) But I spend so much time talking with fellow composers, about life, really intimate parts of life, as well as our views on music. It really made me think how introspective I am as a person, I listen to others a lot, I hear a lot of stories, I ask myself why they matter, I ask how I could do something, either through music or my own actions. At the same time, I really need to listen to a lot more music.

I was assigned to work with the Trillium quartet, 3 of theIMG_2544 members were still in high school and one is a freshman to-be. I knew I wrote a simple piece. However, it turned out that for the kids, they didn’t found it that simple (while they worked on Beach’s string quartet in one movement which is, to be honest, a million times harder), and they progressed fast. In the unexpected dress rehearsal, things went really well, but in the real performance, they probably suffered from both anxiety and fatigues, that the performance/recording was not as satisfactory. Nonetheless,  I had a great time seeing the kids working hard and asked intelligent questions, and really tried to make things sound good. They are all so gifted and I hope to see them shine on big stages soon.



The composers also had a chance to write a movie score collaboratively. The more-than-a-thousand-measure monster of music was executed in a very nice manner. I heard some words about the project, but it was a great experience for u s. There are a lot of funny moments in the movie that was illustrated through the score effectively.

I also volunteered to help the chef Giustino in preparing dinner once, and I think I learned how to use the deep fryer perfectly after frying two big boxes of tofu and 3 packs of dumplings. It is veryinteresting to hear his perspective as a chef and an observer of the festival, and his participating in a salsa band.

The most impressive and inspiring thing during my stay is definitely everything about Joseph Conyers. Not just because he presented a ridiculously wonderful bass concert, but his absolutely passionate and useful masterclass that addresses so much performance issues, his absolutely selfless sharing on his musical journey and his project 440. I really would ask, how can one has such a big heart, such musicality, and such entrepreneurship? Maybe having a big heart itself is the answer.


I really miss the nights when my housemates and a friend hanged out in a 70s-styled house in the woods, but in many ways, I am glad that I am back to the modern world and I am using a modern stove.

Story behind Lalita

I first reIMG_2242ad about the AGO Student Commissioning Project in August last year when the TAO magazine arrived. I thought to myself, how boring it was not to allow a composer/organist to do it on her own. What I didn’t notice was that the winner in the previous year was actually someone that I know fairly well, Mr. Alex Meszler. At the beginning-of-school year organ studio party, he approached me and encouraged me to find someone to enter it, and I suggested in return that he should try it two years in a row, if he had a greater plan in mind. So that led to the piece, and the first organ composition I started (but not the first one that was completed, that went to a little chorale prelude).

The opening theme was written before it was decided to be an organ piece. I began the piece with another instrumentation in mind (percussion and flute, for another pair of my good friends), which allows me to explore dryness and silence better than the organ. Yet, I was determined that if I were writing something for organ, I would write something atypical to the organ repertoire and creating unusual sounds, so I did not even change a single note from my first draft. As I continued writing, the whole piece just laid in front of my eyes, which was a very interesting feeling. I never wrote anything as smooth as this piece, and it felt wonderful to just pour out notes after notes.

After completing the piece and look back, I could still recall the feeling of writing music effortlessly. However, writing for organ is simply a nightmare. I am writing something with organ in it, but not a solo piece. Just like writing for orchestra, I would think a thousand times before I decide on writing another solo organ piece.

That said, my first attempt of writing for orchestra is actually rearranging and orchestrating THIS EXACT PIECE. It is definitely too difficult for a large orchestra though.

As all the project requirements were completed, now Alex and I can head to our next destination in peace. Good luck at ASU Alex.


這不是第一個在外國過的新年,但這一次,我沒有和在Lawrence的同學一起過。之前在中秋節認識了堪城中華民樂團的長輩們,也在他們在Lied Center Pavillion的表演混了一下。在年三十晚和初八這天,我跟了他們到了Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art和Washburn University表演,也看到了一點點不一樣的堪城。

“The Nelson”每年都會舉行大型的新年慶祝活動,把區內的華人社區藝術團體都帶進博物館裡。這年博物館舉辦了「江山行旅-中國古今山水畫展」,而展覽就是在新年慶祝活動當日開始,整個Timing剛剛好。

民樂團是一個很有趣的小組,裡面的人都上了年紀,都在Kansas area待了好一段時間。他們有時本是在內地讀音樂的,來到了美國就轉了行;也有人是來這兒做Post doc和做教授。然而,區內的華人真的不算太多,我們到不同地方表演時,那兒的華人也對這小組入面的人很熟悉。


The Nelson的表演在Noguchi Sculpture Court舉行,我們表演的位置一部分被其中一個雕塑擋住了,看來還是有點搞笑的。但當晚看表演的人出奇的多,很大部分更是外國人。演出以後,不少人都來看看我們的東西,也問及很多和中樂、樂器、樂譜有關的問題。我遇上了一個媽媽說她的女兒喜歡我彈的東西要找我拍照,也遇上了一個伯伯,可以說普通話之餘還可說幾句廣東話,也遇上了一個玩結他的專業音樂人。回家搭車的那司機說他去年也有來湊熱鬧,還是覺得這辦得有聲有色的。


這天到了Washburn U演出,那是在一個小型演奏廳+Lecture Hall吧。那兒有個小小的Organ可憐地站在一角。這天演出的東西還一樣,但有一些內地的交流生表演鋼琴獨奏和獨唱。獨唱的曲目,呃…好紅。晚上他們去了吃Buffet,聽到了更多他們的故事。還是在想,其實,上一代的華人們,面對的苦頭一點也不少。在美國他們得到了平靜安穩的生活,但要建立自己的家,自己對這新地方的歸屬感,要花多少的時光。


「這是我的音樂」- Jean Guillou

來到KU不久,學長就問我會不會跟他和他的女友到St. Louis聽這場音樂會。那時我還傻乎乎的答應了。怎料這個星期忙得不可開交之餘,音樂會之後就要出席一個面試。但,票買了,怎樣都要去聽的了。

從Lawrence到St. Louis要開上近五小時的車,然而進入聖路易斯時看到了Barnes Jewish Hospital,感覺它大得有點不可思議。已經好幾個月沒見過高樓大廈的小鄉姑,看到了醫院都可以有這麼多座大樓,而且每座也這麼高,感覺有點要昏倒的。而且這兒很多建築物也帶著中古的氣息,感覺很美。不過,她始終是一個大城市,還是有一點透不過氣。

音樂會的場地是聖路易斯的主教座堂,英文叫作”Cathedral Basilica”。上著藝術史的我看到Basilica這字就慌了。而進了教堂,看到了金色的、拜占庭風格的馬賽克,用著英文字和一點點拉丁文記著聖經經文和人名,感覺還是有點古怪。但來到這兒,終於找回了一點點歐洲的感覺,不再只是那空洞的美國印象了。


Jean Guillou現已八十二歲,穿著藍色Tuxedo的他顯得特別瘦小,而面對4 Manual的風琴,他的演奏卻是很宏偉。我很慶幸地有機會聽過幾位老演奏家的演奏,如聽過林石城老師彈的十面埋伏,還有一些但忘了。他們的演奏都是功夫十足,對音樂的想法能夠很有力的表達出來,但技巧始終沒年青時熟練。但Guillou的技巧仍在,很複雜的織體還是能夠很從容地表現出來,高難度的部份還是很有熱情地演奏著。我一邊看一邊想著,這老人家現在還是可以彈得這麼好,他的高峰時期會是一個怎樣瘋狂的人?

他演奏了Pictures in an Exhibition,他用風琴處理這作品,是用了一個很具體、用聲音說故事的方式表達。層次、聲音、構想也是很明確的表演到。這個Transcription感覺像是看一篇用步移法寫的文章,和原曲比有了更強的時間和空間感。









這兩日一夜的St Louis之旅其實沒看到甚麼,只是在Guillou身上看到了很多音樂家的氣質。但這已對我有了無限的啟發。


上星期看到Honors Program的電郵說著會有一個日本傳統表演,作為common lecture的頭炮節目。說真的,我想不到有甚麼聯繫,本身也沒想過要在瘋狂的時間表之中再拿時間來看。但星期一時教授又再三提醒,說著這是很難得的表演,又讓我心癢著。昨天又甚至收到了她的電郵,邀請我和表演者午膳。


來訪的是電影弁士片岡一郎,他正在U of Michigan作駐校藝術家。弁士是在默片時代為電影配上說話的人。西方的默片會用上theatre organ作配樂,日本人處理默片,不管來源,除了會使用音樂還會配上說話。這聞說是日本獨有的事弁士要做的不單是說故事,還要扮演不同的角色,用聲音的變化把電影影像表現出來。他受的是劇場訓練,也對Theatre Critic有深入的了解,要深入地把電影故事表現出來,大約不是很不可思議的事。


然而台下的他是一個很年輕的先生,比我大十多年而已。但他竟然會對這「已退役」的藝術產生興趣甚至成為主要的工作,當中大約有很多很有趣的故事。午餐在場的除了我的教授,還有一位人類學教授和讀電影的日本博士生。五個人來自完全不同的地方,但當中也有一點點的關係。我和片岡先生的共同話題大約是關於theatre organ和默片配樂為主了。




我在往底特律的航班上遇上了兩個很好的鄰座:一個是來自North Carolina、到中國旅遊的少婦,比自己只是大兩歲,但已結婚五年;另一個是來自廣州的某某大公司副總裁,陪兒子到美國讀書。他們都有很多的故事分享,聽了很多不同的東西。那少婦和我說,我會喜歡美國的,但這個,我真的不肯定了。

到了Kansas City時,還未有離開機場已感受到外面40度的威力,這兒的熱是太陽直射下來那一種,是很直接的energy transfer,即使不會在太多的汗水,但還是很不好受。師兄載著我和另一名師兄到lawrence,在宿舍登記以後,我們路過了Bales Organ Hall,聽到這兒完美的音色就很期待上學,之後就到了一家中式自助餐館吃晚飯和到walmart買點必需品。


到了第二天開始orientation時,我還是沒有太大的感覺。聽迎新講座的地方像是一個有點點歷史的講堂,有點點像當日在KTH聽orientation那一個,但沒那麼大。大部份坐著的人也不是歐洲人,而是中國人。到到主持人叫不同國藉的人站起來時,大部分國家也不多於十個人,但到中國是有過半數人都起來了。有點點無奈的是,那主持把香港和澳門都放在中國人之列,但台灣人就分開叫了。我反應不過來也沒有站起來,之後覺得,這很政治正確啊…後來聽到一個澳門的學生說,以前港澳的學生會多一點,今年來的也許就有三四個。但說真的,不是意外地看到這兒有個很美的organ hall,我也不知道這個地方啊。

這兒的同學也很友善,也很樂意幫我這不懂駕駛的人,載我到不同地方。到了傍晚,我已開始喜歡這個校園。這兒的人都很懂唱自己的校歌和那著名的Rock Chalk Chant,而校園到處也是那搞怪的Jayhawk。本來第一天感到很不舒服,只是看到夕陽和日出感到很美妙,但過了兩天,我已經開始感受到自己屬於這個地方。

這個早上有點冷,但走在校園裡面,感覺到…也許這個和中大大小差不多的地方,會讓我成長得更多。第一天在房間看到了彩虹,想著天主和諾厄的約定,想著這是一個很美好的開始;晚餐的fortune cookie寫著”You will have a change for the better”,那時還是感到很不可思議。但到現在,我大約可以肯定這是真的。