Archive for the ‘Music’ Category


Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

Over the years I’ve often complained about how long it takes me to write a single piece of music. Last year, I came up with a fun activity to combat this apparent block. I started composing tiny micro-pieces on the piano and recording them in one sitting. There was only one rule: I was to record a complete take at the end of the session, post it online, and move on with my life. Tonight I made the tenth of these little “impromptus,” adding up to about 12 minutes of music, so I thought I’d finally announce it on here, though I’m nowhere near finished. I plan to continue adding to this project whenever I get the chance.

Listen to Impromptu on Bandcamp | Watch Impromptu on YouTube

Each session (to conceive, to finalize, and to record) has taken about 2-3 hours, so the challenge has been to create long stretches of uninterrupted free time in my schedule. Usually I sit at the piano with no idea of what to do and pound some notes. Eventually, an idea begins to take shape. Some days it’s harder than others, but if I keep at it, I tend to come up with something I like. While each piece is a tiny microcosm on its own, with no relation to those around it, I like hearing how they go together as a set, too. I’m in the process of writing them down so that I can share the score with others someday (and remember what I did!).

Watch me play “D”

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

This piece isn’t new. I completed in 2009, but the recording I made at the time was poor. I’ve been meaning to re-record it for years now, and I finally did it!

This time, I added an extra challenge of recording it on video simultaneously. This meant that I had to play it perfectly in one take. I had my doubts at times (I mess up a lot), but I knew it would happen sooner or later if I kept doing it over and over again.

It reminded me of my piano lessons as a child, when my piano teacher would make me stop and go back to the beginning every time I played a wrong note.

It’s not perfect, but all the notes are right. And, overall, I am happy with the phrasing and dynamics in that take. It will never be perfect, but this is the closest. It was take number 78.


Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Imagine that it 5am and you’re in a bed somewhere thousands of miles away, wide awake in a pitch black room. Or, don’t imagine that. But at least take these 10 minutes to do nothing but listen.

I hadn’t made an electronic piece (or any music, for that matter) in a while. This one is a little softer, a little more delicate than the others. Headphones recommended.

My First World Premiere!

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Last Saturday I flew in to Dallas to see a world premiere performance of my choral arrangement of Carol of the Bells. It was performed by the Cedar Hill High School Forte Vocal Ensemble, directed by Chris Rhodes. Mr. Rhodes was my choir teacher back in high school about 15 years ago! It was great to reunite with him and see one of my pieces come to life for the first time.

The carol’s mainly in 19/8 meter, which tripped up the choir a bit as they were rehearsing it, as you can gather from my two favorite testimonials from the weekend:

“Singing your piece made me feel like I have Tourette’s!” – a tenor in the choir

“This is like walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls.” – Mr. Rhodes

In the end, it turned out sounding pretty good! Here’s the first performance, with a cool introduction by Mr. Rhodes and the choir demonstrating how they learned the piece and put it all together:

Here is another performance of it during the choirs’ winter concert the following Tuesday:

I’d written this carol back in 2010 for two voices and piano, then arranged it for a 6-part choir the following year. It was so fun to meet the choir and watch them sing. A few came up to me and told me that it challenged them, but that they enjoyed the song. Now I’m all pumped up to write more music!

Los Angeles Music Explorers

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

I created a new Facebook group called Los Angeles Music Explorers. Join us on our quest for concerts that feature music a little out of the ordinary in LA. Heavy emphasis on new/experimental music and early music. Feel free to add your musically adventurous friends to the group.

When I graduated from college, the one thing I missed was being constantly surrounded by countless opportunities to hear different types of music. Since I now live in L.A., I have a large pool of concerts to choose from, but I have to be more proactive about seeking the types of performances that are worth my time, money, and mind.

If you’ve been following my blog over the years (and/or looked at my Music section), you might have noted that new/experimental music and early music are of particular interest to me. Naturally, I am most interested in seeking out concerts that feature mainly this type of music (among others). I was sitting by myself at a the wulf. concert featuring Ingrid Lee last Saturday night, and the idea struck me that it’d be nice to create a group where I can share these rare and unique gems with others who are interested. So I did, as soon as I got home from the concert.

The only downside is that it’s a Facebook group, so if you don’t have a Facebook account, you can’t see it. I considered starting a Meetup, but ultimately decided that it would be easier to get started on Facebook. Let me know if you have suggestions for alternatives.

How to Develop Myself Musically

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Old piano in the college dorm at MIT.

I want to become a better musician. Specifically, I want to write better music. I know exactly what I need to do to improve myself, but due to many excuses I make for myself (work takes up a lot of time, social obligations, family obligations, overcommitting myself to non-profit volunteering, enrolling in grad school in chemical engineering, competition with other hobbies such as Matchingfreak, addiction to social media, laziness, food comas), my musical self-development agenda has been pushed aside. That is the first problem I have begun tackling.

My grand plan to develop myself musically (partially implemented so far) involves the following activities:

  • Eliminate all other “unnecessary” activities. My main focus outside of work should be on two things: music and grad school. Anything outside of that realm should be highly scrutinized. Social activities shall be reduced to a sustainable (sane) bare minimum. I will get better at saying “no” to people. I have already leaned down my out-of-work life by withdrawing from two non-profits on whose boards I was volunteering as secretary.
  • Focused listening. Listening assignments were a large part of my undergraduate musical education. When I had a listening assignment, the only thing I would do would be to pay full attention to what I was listening with full silence in the background. That means no internet browsing, no driving, no reading, no thinking about anything else. I haven’t been doing much of that since I graduated. It doesn’t have to be music. It can be a very specific sound or a noise. It doesn’t even have to be a recording. I recently discovered, an audioblog dedicated to binaural recordings from a small town in Russia. Most are 1-minute recordings of a moment at a park, the babbling of a brook, the bumps of techno music heard through a car… The magic isn’t there unless you are paying full attention to it with your headphones. It’s making me realize all the sounds I used to hear around me, and what I’m missing out on by blocking them out mentally. While we’re on the topic of listening…
  • Construct a listening diet. I’ve been brainstorming ways to find new listening opportunities for myself to expand my ear. I flirted with the idea of spending a certain amount of time per week on finding new music, but I’m not exactly sure how I’ll structure that yet. The easiest place to start would be to revisit my listening in college, and branch out from there. And by branch out, I mean in all directions. More jazz, more opera, more ‘experimental’ music, more of Indian classical music and “non-Western” music, as well as more Western classical music, as well as progressive rock, pop, country, electronic, etc. I should create a “listening wishlist.” It would help to have a few websites I could draw guidance/inspiration from.
  • Go to concerts. I already know many places to look. It’s important to keep my personal concert-going calendar constantly updated.
  • Participate in a musical group. I’d been doing this until a few months ago. Work’s been busy, but I plan to get back into choir as soon as possible. It’s a routine that forces me to set aside time for music-making, and I enjoy it immensely.
  • Learn a new instrument. I started learning violin when I was 23, because I wanted to learn an instrument that was technically different than the piano. Now I just have to keep getting better at it.
  • Play the old instrument. Duh. I have a piano sitting right next to me, and I never touch it. Whenever I don’t take regular lessons, my motivation for playing the instrument goes to zero. The main problem is that I don’t know what to play. But we can deal with that with the following next steps.
  • Improvise. I hear all the time that a good composer is also a good improviser. It’s definitely a musical muscle I need to flex. We used to do frequent vocal improvisation exercises in high school jazz choir. It had taken me a while to get over being self-conscious, and the feeling is still there even if I’m in a room all by myself. We’ll have to fix that ridiculousness.
  • Improve piano sightreading. I must say, I’m a pretty good sightreader when it comes to voice and violin, but give me a piece of music that involves use of my ten fingers, and I’m stumped. The solution is to sightread more and more. I have tons of piano books, and there are tons of free sheet music I can download from the Internet.
  • Exercise. I’m not talking about physical exercise (sorry, mom). I have a bunch of theory books I’ve amassed over the past few years – classical Western theory and jazz theory from school, and several books on modern counterpoint or harmonic tools used in the 21st century. I should give myself assignments on writing short exercises that apply the concepts in these books. Maybe set up a certain amount of time each week to dedicate to this activity. I may come up with new musical ideas as a result.
  • Jot down ideas. I already do some of this. I either write a few notes that are stuck in my head, or I have verbal clues of musical concepts I think up during the day. It usually takes me a few years to get to them and flesh them out, but they’re all there, written out in a list!
  • Just sit down and write. I have a few unfinished pieces. It takes a long time to get into them, so I only revisit them once every few months. I’ve been unable to do it in short, consistent chunks of time. I need 4-5 hour periods, if not entire days, to be fruitful. The first step would be to make more of an effort to set aside time for them, no matter how painful. Still working out the time management logistics of this one.
  • Cherish musical friendships. I have musical friends, but I don’t see them very often. I also have a few musical friends online. It’s refreshing to share works and ideas with them.

Have I missed any? Let me know what you think!


Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Henry: Do you listen to old music?
me: How old?
Henry: Like Motown, oldies…
me: I listen to 14th century music.

Ken: You know, when I was young, a good friend and I would go to a diner at 2am, and order a large order of onion rings…
John and me: Yummm..
Ken: …fried zucchini…
John and me: Mmmm!
Ken: …and hot chocolate.
John and me: Wait… WHAT? All at once?
Ken: Of course! Why not?
John and me: Ugh.


Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

I went down to the ocean one day back in January, stood knee-deep in the water, and pointed my new recorder at the vast expanse of horizon. The sun set and the colors of twilight tinged the waves with warm, dark hues as I contemplated eternity. The waves gave this piece its shape and brought out different shades of sound when I convolved my voice with their recordings, carrying with them mysterious ocean songs from far away.

Sirens by queenmelike

Above is uncompressed version uploaded into Soundcloud. Below, mp3 for download:

Sirens (13:43)

siren (Classical Mythology) One of several sea nymphs, part woman and part bird, who lure mariners to destruction by their seductive singing.

USC, here I come!

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

I am starting my master’s education in chemical engineering this fall at USC. The catch? I’ll be working full-time at the same time!

The thought about whether or not I was going to pursue higher education had been stressing me out since before I even graduated from MIT. The “advice” I’d heard from most people was that the longer you wait, the less inclined you are to leave your cozy job. I felt myself falling into the same trap. The longer I wait, the more difficult it will be to find the initiative. I like my current job, and it keeps better and better as I am given more responsibility and complicated plants. I’ve already learned so much that I couldn’t have learned in school, and the master’s classes I’ll be taking will help supplement that knowledge, now that I have a better idea of why the heck they taught us all that stuff in undergrad. It will also put me in a better position should I consider obtaining a PhD in the future. For now it’s all up in the air.

The thought of working and going to school scares me a bit. I barely find time outside of work now; how will I do with grad-level classes added on top of it? Do I continue the weekly choir rehearsals and violin lessons? Do I put off hanging out with friends even more than I do now? Whenever I am faced with these questions, I tell myself, “I had one semester where I took seven MIT classes and had a colorful social/romantic life. If I got through that, I could get through anything!” Seriously, my MIT experience is a reminder that I’m capable of a lot more than I think I can handle.

What does this all mean for you, the reader? I will have even less time to blog! I find, though, that the more I have on my plate, the better I am at managing my time (also, procrastinating). It’s not like I blog often now anyway, so this will probably have a minimal impact on your lives. Phew!

The one thing I can’t wait for is the student discounts for concert tickets again! As a frequent concert-goer, that was the most discouraging thing about being out of school.

Violin Upgrade

Monday, June 6th, 2011

I ordered a new violin back in March, because the time had come to upgrade from the annoying-sounding beginner violin I started on three years ago. Lucky me, work became insanely busy right around that time, so I’ve only had a chance to play it a few times so far.

Its sound, like its color, is warmer and more beautiful than the old one’s. Now I have to practice more to live up to its beauty.