Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Suitcase Man - Reloaded

He didn't come with a suitcase yesterday... He was armed with a laptop instead.
And some notes.

It was really a long day of meetings and more meetings yesterday, i could hardly believe it.. It felt as if i'm back in the Genus Committee, holding discussions about March concert repertoire planning, Music Camp planning, attendance for sectionals, rehearsal discipline issues, etc..
Guess a Genus tutor doesn't just teach guitar technique and hold sectionals nowadays. :P

The 1st meeting was at 1pm, over lunch - and it was the concert repertoire agenda.
This was followed by updates/review of LT13 and other issues with the entire Committee and Shyan-Hwei, at 2pm.

The short sectional and ensemble session actually served as a "break", and at 5pm, we duly met up again for a 3rd round of meeting. This time - the Suitcase man was the key figure.

The agenda? How to make guitar ensembles in S'pore more professional and reach higher standards, ala the various symphonic, winds, even chinese orchestra groups.

The basic ideas brought up by Suitcase weren't bad ones. He suggested having some form of grading system to gauge members' level of competence (to convince us of the need and practicality of having this grading system, he waved the Chinese Orchestra's brochure at us several times. Looked like a politician waving his manifesto.. truly one kind :P ). This will help members in guitar ensembles (not just Genus - he's thinking BIG, as in ALL ensembles from Sec, JC etc.) have a clearer picture of where they're heading, and to learn some good and applicable guitar skills even when they leave the ensembles.

That much i accepted. But the thrust of his arguments appeared to be centred around teaching SOLO GUITAR. More focus on solo playing is the way to go, he went on. Good solo players will make good ensembles. (really?? hmm..) And to make sure they truly are competent, make all the members take guitar exams.

And here's the best one (IMHO): the Genus structure should look like this:

Assistant Conductor - min. Grade 7 guitar (ABRSM)
Sectional Leaders - min. Grade 5
Members - Grade 3-4

I shook my head rigorously at that point (and not just because i would FAIL this criteria miserably.. haha! ). That's bringing things a little too far...

Not surprisingly, for the first 20 minutes or so, the audience - S.H. (not me lah), Raj, Dr R.C., Derek, P.Y. were pretty quiet. They either seemed a little stunned or perhaps unable to respond. I happily took on the devil's advocate role and i kept prodding Suitcase with questions, and requesting more clarifications on this and that.

But 40 min into the discussion, R.C. also became rather impatient (he had to go off soon, and we still had another segment of meeting to carry on with after this...) and began to rebutt some of Suitcase's suggestions as well.

One classic example was when Suitcase suggested using exam grades as a selection criteria for members' intake. I objected, on the basis that some members may have the ability but NOT the qualifications (not all ppl are interested in taking exams, ya know..). And what about those who may not have great skills now, but are able to demonstrate a deep passion and commitment to learn and play the instrument? Then there are those slow starters, who suddenly show great promise after 2 years of relative low-profile-ness. We would be losing these people if we strictly go by the exam grades..

Suitcase then tried to go round my objections by asking R.C. how the Winds went about selecting their members. Didn't they also look at grades, he prompted.

R.C.'s reply? No. We also do auditions. And so what if the fella had grade 8 if he cant play the instrument well? A guy will absolutely no music qualifications, but could play the instrument well enough would be taken in.
Furthermore (and i liked this part best), it also depends on situation sometimes - e.g. if we're seriously lacking basoon player, and this guy who could hold a tune comes along, we'd beg him to join, regardless of grades, or even if he's not as good as we'd hope our players should be.

**Haha.. that reminded me of Genus intake each year. Some years, we get lucky and have a better, more skilled intake, but other years.. well..

R.C's reply seemed to stunned Suitcase. He tried a last ditched effort and turned to Derek & P.Y., and asked wouldnt they want to learn more solo guitar skills in Genus?

The reply - yes, of course. But already the students are struggling to make time for ensemble practice sessions, being swamped with school assignments and their other commitments, how to find extra time for solo stuff? Bottom line - let those who are really interested in solo playing find their own time/resources for solo guitar learning and playing.

Most of us there (minus Suitcase of course) concurred with this. I wrapped things up by in a sentence - Yes, while we (obviously) encourage our members to seek improvement in their own personal guitar development, e.g. solo playing, but the emphasis and resources (time, venue, instruments) in GENUS must be kept for the ensemble activities, which include though not limited to concert(s) preparation and rehearsals.

That said, i appreciated Suitcase's idea of having some sort of measurement yardstick for members to gauge if they're improved over the years they spent here in Genus. But when i asked him for any concrete ideas of HOW to implement this or how he would like GENUS to change to become more focused on technical skills development of its members, Suitcase seemed unable (or maybe unwilling?) to give anything substantial.

I felt, after the meeting , that he gave us a vision of his ideology (to bring guitar ensemble standards in S'pore to a higher level), but no concrete plans for execution whatsoever. Nice sounding ideas, but ultimately hollow due to lack of substance.

All in all, it was rather interesting day of meetings and discussions... (though i got the black face from Kuja who waited for me to come home at 5pm, which i usually do on Saturday afternoons. heh)

Those good'o days of being a Genus Comm member... *sigh* :)


Blogger Wai said...

Huh. Guess I wouldn't even make the cut then, not having taken any guitar exams yet... :p

What exam grades tell us, is the player's proficiency in certain aspects of music, that may or may not be relevant to ensemble playing. While he has a point regarding technique, I've learnt much much more beyond my understanding of music as a pianist since I've joined Genus. I have to say from personal experience that in a lot of cases, solo lessons tend to neglect the little details of the music itself, unless you're talking about the really high grades (like grade 8 and diplomas). One reason I didn't want to take exams for the guitar was because most of the time was spent rushing to prepare for one exam or another rather than learning.

I've also heard too many completely unmusical renditions by self-styled pro soloists (including someone I'm told was qualified as a teacher) to give his suggestion much credit.

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:35 PM  

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