Thursday, February 25, 2010

Recollections (part 3)

OG's guitar upgrade came about some 3-4 years back. We were 'shopping' in Yudi Kwok's (another guitar afficionado, who followed his passion and opened a guitar shop in little Singapore. Good for him!) shop located in Bukit Timah Shopping Centre, and was introduced to a Spanish luthier called Juan Hernandez. Yudi let us try several guitars (of various grades and prices) from this luthier, and it was clear to us that although the quality may not be as consistent as we'd like, there are certainly some gems to be found amongst his make.
In particular, OG liked a spruce top guitar and made up his mind to get it almost there and then.

Meanwhile, Alex was contented to strum along to the tunes of the broken Esteve (Chin Yuen eventually retrieved his broken Bernabe from Alex). Kevin? Well, let's just say he was happy to pull the strings of any guitar as long as there are still 6 strings attached to it! ( I recall that at one point, he was even playing on my Yamaha CG110, which sported some venerable strings, brown with age and history. Needless to say, his tone was "one kind!" )

Alex's big break came when we got news of a Kohno No.30 available for sale. This news came from Charles - a luthier hobbyist who I'd contacted sometime back to do some repair/repolish work on my Kohno. At the price it was selling for, we felt it was a very good opportunity for Alex to finally own a decent guitar to call his own. After much persuasion and peer-pressuring from OG and myself, the barber decided to go test the guitar and after another round of hesitation and peer-pressuring, he finally "settled down" with his new-found 'wife'.
Alex's Kohno is very similar to my own, except that it was in considerably better condition and possibly looked like how my guitar was when I first got it from Michael Ho (which shows how bo-chap I am as an owner...something which I hope to improve on as the owner of a new Ruck guitar). I guess it is fair to say that he is enjoying the guitar as much as he should - he even bought a new cool-looking case for it!

Finally, to our quartet's resident DIVA, Kevin Ow. Due to his diva-ish requirements (e.g. must have 7 strings, must feel heavy, he must like the sound/looks, within a certain budget, etc.) OG and I had to practically source the instrument and present it to his highness for approval. Fortunately, we found out that Yudi was able to contact the Asturias factory, and commission a custom-made order for a 7-string beauty befitting our diva.
It took some effort on our part to constantly negotiate and cross-check between both buyer and seller, but eventually the deal was done! Our Diva now plays on a custom-made 7-string baby from Asturias. He is happy plucking away at those low register notes and giving the quartet an extra edge when it comes to taking on scores which require a lower register (typical for many LAGQ scores).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Recollections (part 2)

It is interesting to see how the personal instruments of the quartet members 'evolved' over the last decade.

Soon after the quartet formed, I upgraded my guitar to a Kohno (No. 30) - an instrument I picked up at from a second hand guitar dealer in Singapore, Michael Ho. It was (almost) love at first sight - or rather, first touch. I was initially targetting a more costly Kohno No.50, but when Michael Ho showed me the No.30 model which he had, I knew I would be taking it home. I loved the clear and defined tone it produced, especially the trebles. The fact that the guitar was 3rd or maybe even 4th hand didn't matter, as it was a quality instrument and could give me the extra motivation I'd needed to carry on my passion of playing the classical guitar.
** Still, I knew that eventually I would need to upgrade to a truly concert-level guitar, especially if I forsee myself playing for the next few decades of my life. The Kohno could easily last me for the next 5-8 years, but I felt I would eventually 'out-grow' it. That was when I decided to do some 'research' and ended up writing to an American luthier named Robert Ruck to be put on his (then) 7 year waiting list for an instrument to be built for me.

Still, back during those years, Michael Ho was the one source who could provide us access to concert guitars. I recalled trying out several Richard Howell instruments he brought in, as well as a Sergio Abreu model. I also distinctly remembered him asking if any of us were interested in a Miguel Rodriguez guitar - but which cost $8,000 - and we were all thinking, "So expensive?? Where got money???". Now looking back, that could've been a steal!

Both OG and our dear fellow guitarist/composer Raj had also purchased their instruments from him at various times over the years.

Yet, curiously, there would always be one particular member (at any one time) who did not own his own instrument.

First, it was Kevin - who insisted on borrowing Moh's Alhumbra guitar for many of our quartet's performances. He just didnt bother to look for a decent instrument for himself. (And when he did go look, the instrument he bought turned out to be an expensive piece of metal - the flute)

Then, when Alex joined, he became another long-term 'borrower' whenever it came to performance time. He relied on Chin Yuen's weird-sounding Bernabe (student model) for his daily dose of guitar indulgence. It was not that he didnt own any instrument - he did - but it was an old, weary-looking (and sounding!) Esteve model which made even the GENUS Prime guitars sound good!

For the longest time, all OG and I could do was to shake our heads in resignation and sigh together.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Recollections (part 1)

My Robert Ruck guitar arrived at my door step late January 2010. It was a like a long awaited dream finally coming to fruition.

I remember my first classical guitar - a Yamaha CG110 - was my parents bought for me back in the mid 80s. I had just joined the guitar society in my secondary school, and needed to have my own guitar so that I could practise at home and be familiar with the instrument. I was fortunate in that my mum had 'forced' both me and my brother to learn the piano from a very young age (I must've been 6 or 7 years old then), so I already possessed a good foundation in music theory & knowledge, as well as a 'sense' of music - things like rhythmic sense, appreciation of pitch & tonal qualities, etc. - by the time I picked up the classical guitar.
Of course, in those days, a guitar is as good as any other guitar. I was simply happy to strum on the 6 strings of my guitar and to hear the sounds of the melodies and chords that I could play. I performed with the school ensemble, and I vividly remember that I played the guitar 1 part in Besame Mucho. I had no knowledge of position-playing, and it was good enough to just hit those notes using any/every technique possible.

The Yamaha stayed with me throughout my school days. In my Junior college years, it was my faithful companion as I was appointed the Song/Singing Section leader in the Chinese Cultural Society due to my ability to grasp chords of the (then) popular chinese pop songs. Singers & song-writers like Eric Moo(巫启贤), Liang Wen Fu (梁文福), and in general the Xin Yao (新谣) movement was very strong then, and a lot of people, including myself, were hooked on these locally produced songs which featured little more than an unplugged guitar accompanying a singing voice. Though the arrangements of these songs may seem simplistic and 'bare' by today's standards, these songs possessed a kind of simple charm and flavor, which is difficult to find and almost impossible to replicate in modern pop compositions some 20+ years down the road today.

It was until I joined the NUS Guitar Ensemble (GENUS) in the mid 90s that I started to have a better appreciation of the classical guitar as a 'proper' concert instrument - as compared to one which is meant only for accompanyment-styled music such as strumming and/or chord playing.
During my years as an undergraduate in GENUS, I was exposed to a myriad of songs varieties, from different genres of music. The Resident Conductor then was Mr Alexander Abisheganaden (more fondly known as Mr A), who'd almost single-handedly arrange the repertoire and prepare the ensemble for its annual music affair - the Genus Annual concert. It was there that I first encountered experienced solo guitar players - people who were able to play a piece of music in totality without depending on a singer/other guitar voices. Prior to this, I'd always thought of guitar as a group instrument (as compared to the piano, which is obviously more easily recognised as a solo instrument).

I remembered listening to John William's recording on cassette tape (in fact, I got that recording as a birthday present from one of my seniors then!) and I wondered how it was possible for a person to play Asturias (Leyenda) which sounded like easily 2 or 3 players playing at the same time! Or for that matter, Receurdos de la Alhumbra also remained a mystery to me for quite a while....

I guess that was when I really decided to take on this instrument as a life-long hobby and to enjoy playing it for as long as I live. I took the money which I saved from giving tuition and my work attachment to purchase my first 'proper' guitar - a second-hand Asturias model. It was a large step up for me. The sound produced from this instrument compared to what my Yamaha could produce was akin to listening to a CD-quality sound compared to that from a cassette tape. I fell in love with my guitar and that fueled my passion to begin playing and expanding my solo repertoire.

While some players feel that ensemble-playing is second-rated compared to solo guitar playing, I must say that at no point did I feel that ensemble playing was in any way inferior to solo playing, as I continued to stay with GENUS and enjoy the process of group playing. While not all ensemble players may make excellent soloists, it also dawned on me that technically strong solo guitarists may not necessary be competent ensemble players too. The reason being, different sets of skills are required for these 2 areas, and while the technical competency requirements may be higher for a solo player, the listening and rhythm skills are of much more value (and importance) in a ensemble player.

It was also in GENUS that I found like-minded guitarists who enjoyed playing the instrument and wanted to take it far beyond it being an "extra-cirrucular" activity in our varsity days. That was how Guitaresque (first called Genres Guitar Quartet) was formed, sometime in 1999-2000.
Back then, we had a member in the quartet who'd bought a Richard Howell guitar, and it was easily the best sounding (not to mention most expensive!) guitar we have all come across at that time. I must say, even now, I still think it is an excellent instrument. Pity then , that the player no longer seem interested in the instrument and its music....

Saturday, February 06, 2010

The little moments

As parents, most of us'd always make it a point to celebrate those special days with our kids - be it their birthdays ( ang-moh and chinese birthdays, sometimes both!); children's day, or any other particular special occasion that we deem "worth" commemorating and celebrating.

Yet (and I read this on the James Dobson's column in Today), it's really some of those small moments which we tend to recall and look back on, after a long long time. And each time we think of those short (and seemingly passing) yet significant moments in our kid's life, it always brings a smile and a nostalgic shake of our heads.

Recently EP and I celebrated beastie's 2nd birthday. We each applied for leave from work, to spend the day with him. We'd wanted to bring him to Sentosa (as it happened to be the day that the Resort World Sentosa officially opens) and spend "quality" time as a family together.
Well, not that the actual day wasn't a good one, it just didn't turn out to be a specially memorable one in the end. In fact, we were largely disappointed with the RWS - as many shops were not yet opened, and there were pretty much little to see besides hotel lobbies and cafes...

Instead, I realised that little 'incidents' which occur on "normal" days - like on weekday evenings at my in-law's place, or after we've brought him back home; or over the weekends - tend to be the ones which create lasting memories.

For example, beastie recently got hooked on Barnie and Bob the Builder. He loves to read the books on Barnie (rather, he wants us to read to him), and each night he'd badger us to play the Barnie/Bob videos for him.
This creates a slight dilema for us, as sometimes we'd also want to watch certain programmes on the TV in the living room. Hence, I would lead him to the study (well, actually it's going to be his room eventually), and play the DVD for him to watch. This usually keeps him occupied for around 10-15 minutes.

Last night, we did the same thing. But what was interesting was that as we left him alone in the room to watch the Barnie video (by himself), after 5 minutes, we could hear him singing along to the song in the video! We took and peep and found him standing up trying to dance along with the characters on the screen too! It was really cute! We then quietly took out the video camera and starting filming it all down. =)

There are many more examples of little moments like this one which I will certainly remember for a long time, and will think back with great fondness.
I'm glad we've captured at least one of them on film!