Category Archives: hook

The Arki Files: UP Arkaira in Sonata Form

EXPOSITION

arkaira3.jpg

December 14, 2007 (11:30 P.M.)

I knew I shouldn’t have hopped (yes, hopped) all night and drank that cold glass of coke because I can feel the clammy hands of the flu I thought I had shaken off this afternoon reaching for my neck as I type this.  Suddenly, after a night at the ball, I am again the pumpkin abandoned by magic.

It wasn’t the first time I’ve trained and conducted a choir.  Nor was it my first competition or performance in front of a large crowd.  But I know myself and my tendency, not to forget exactly, but to look back and feel that the things I’ve done were not that special.  It’s not that I don’t value the things I’ve done; I just tend not to rest on my laurels.  Sometimes, though, this compulsion to move forward results in me taking my accomplishments for granted.  I wouldn’t mind so much if they didn’t involve other people, but when they do, and the images and names of the people in my past circles blur along with the memory of my deeds, I feel like I’ve betrayed them in some way. 

Because I don’t want to forget this, the people and the three weeks we spent together, I will write about it. 

Because it is special, I will recount it so the memory of it will live on in the telling and reading.

DEVELOPMENT

UP Arkaira is the College of Architecture’s organization that “provides a venue for architecture students to put to use their musical talents and to simply enjoy music.”   I came to know of the group’s existence because, Val Con, a former student off mine at ICA, texted me three weeks ago asking if I can train and conduct their choir for the upcoming UP Carolfest 2007.  I didn’t really have plans of accepting choral work this year since I had so much to do, but I told myself, if I like them I’ll say ‘yes’.  I met Val the next day along with their 2 representatives: Richard, their former conductor, and Ekang, one of their sopranos and, I must say, a real charmer.  I liked them immediately, but there was the final test: I wanted to see what they thought I was worth. 

I’m not money-hungry, people will tell you, but I recently made a bold statement in my other blog about naming my price and sticking to it since I always seem to give in to requests of reducing my fee.  I told them my hourly rate and that I was willing to give them a package price, but that they had to decide what to pay me.  I even warned: “There’s an acceptable fee and one that borders on insulting.  Think about this carefully.”

To make a long story short, Ekang got back to me and quoted an acceptable fee, adding that this was everything their org had in the bank.  I was so touched that, instead of accepting the fee, I voluntarily reduced it by 20%. – doh!  This has made me the butt of jokes amongst my musician friends who laughed like hyenas after I admitted it.  A freelance-writer friend, after much computation, gave me the exact amount I was getting per hour and told me, in a disappointed tone, to stick to my guns next time.  Those hyenas (I say this with great affection) and that writer didn’t have to rub my spinelessness in.  I know that, because I am not earning enough now that I’m back in school full time, I will always question the soundness of my decision.  Sigh.  Never mind because, right then and there, a bulb lit: for the longest time, I’ve been longing to nurture a music group and this situation seemed serendipitous.  I made a deal with them: I told Ekang I’d reduce my fee if

  1. They make me an honorary member of Arkaira.
  2. I will be their official trainer and conductor.

She seemed happy, although I think it was more for the money that will remain in their account than for my volunteering.  Tee hee.  Up to this day, though, I still don’t know if she took my first condition seriously.

I’m not going to reveal my training method in this post (perhaps in a future post), which is a synthesis of 30 years of Music training (I started out young), 21 years of teaching non-singers to sing together and the amalgam of everything I’ve learned in theatre, dance, psychology, science, and even sports (running and boxing).  Let’s just say it’s pretty grueling.  It requires energy and focus.  It also touches on metaphysical concepts since I believe singing and musicking involve more than the body.  It requires me to constantly think on my feet and take risks.  Being a military man’s daughter, my approach is a lot like training soldiers for battle, I’m afraid, since, besides training them how to sing, my goal is to build up their courage for the performance. This hardly meant that we dove into the process in total seriousness.  We did get quite a few laughs in and, after a while, my students got used to my random shifts from drill sergeant to clown.  Despite the seeming unpredictability of my moods during rehearsals, they are, in fact, calculated moves, always done with a purpose in mind, and never capricious.

Arkaira was made up of 15 budding singers, meaning they were non-singers who loved to sing and had good voices.   It was hardly unexpected that majority of them were musically illiterate and so expecting them to sight-read was out of the question.  It left me the option of teaching them by rote, but this meant giving them a quite a bit of ear training in the 3 weeks we had. 

arkaira4.jpg

I’ll say a bit about each of my singers.

SOPRANO

ekang.jpgEkang: A smart nut. A loony bundle of energy. I had to restrain her during the performance because she would sing faster than the pace I set.  She’s my BIO 1 classmate and I always tell her, “If you can grasp the workings of the electron transport system, you can get this melody!”

cachi.jpgCachi: She can be kooky.  She can be serious.  This girl was able to sing a high a-flat after spending a whole morning bent down, trying to find her head tone.  Talk about determination. She almost quit, though, saying she had to find another reason for staying since it didn’t make her happy.  I hope she stayed because it made her happy in the end.

nikka.jpgNikka: Poker-faced and almost bored-looking.  She suddenly came to life onstage with her 100-watt smile.  A real surprise.  Another surprise was her talkativeness and honesty during our jeepney ride from UP to Katipunan.  I knew, despite her shy demeanor, that she had the strength to endure my method because of the things she shared.

allie.jpgAllie: Her outfit one day reminded me of the cheese flavored snack so I started calling her Mr. Pringles.  Cute as a button, I found it hard to jolt her (a.k.a. shout at her) but had to because she had crazy eyes while singing (a.k.a. she would look around instead of focusing on me while I conducted).

ALTO

grace.jpgGrace: She lent me her havaianas when the heel of my shoe broke before the competition so I ended up wearing very expensive slippers on stage.  She had the sniffles 2 days before the competition.  I caught her bug and spent the day before it shivering in bed with the flu. 

faye.jpgFae: A real puzzle at first.  She appeared sullen sometimes but I really liked her spunk.  In the end, she opened up and I appreciated it since her sassiness was one of the things from which I drew strength.  She made it a point that I notice that she’s been recording and practicing her part which really cracked me up inside.

greta.jpgGreta: Sharp ears but tentative.  She wavered at the beginning of “Kumukutitap” and looked like she was about to faint.  But I saw the exact moment her eyes brightened and her face lit up, and I knew she allowed herself to be part of the music at last.

val.jpgVal Con: She sang tenor in 2 of 3 songs and learned their part enthusiastically.  I coined her “hermaphrodite”.  (Yes, I’m a meany.)  After the first rehearsal, she told me: “So this is what it feels like to be a Glee Club member.”  My rejoinder: “Just you wait.  That wasn’t even half of it.”

TENOR

james.jpgJames:  A natural tenor.  I had to keep reminding him to push down his shoulders to keep from tensing up.  He had a constant smile which always easily returned after a scolding.  

anjo.jpgAnjo: This one reminded me so much of my best friend.  They had the same hearty laugh. His stuffed-toy appearance also made it hard for me to push him, but he was always ready to laugh again afterwards which I took as a sign of forgiveness. 

He proudly stood in front of the large choir at the end of the competition, a mistake since he didn’t know the lyrics to UP Naming Mahal.

chirstian.jpgChristian: Quiet and serious-looking.  I had to woo this one to smile during our performance which he gave grudgingly, it seemed, in the end.  You never know what he’s thinking since his expression never changes.

BASS

ralph.jpgRalph: He was the unwitting comic-relief on the very first day of training.  His laughter always made me laugh and I enjoyed seeing him happy.  On the last few days, he couldn’t focus because of his upcoming thesis submission and I had to ask him, “Are you mentally present?”, to which he would honestly reply, “Not really.” 

I learned on the day of the competition that his thesis deadline was moved yet again.  Yipee!

edpat.jpgEdpat: He had a stare that never wavered.  He was mostly quiet but you can feel him thinking. He approached me with honesty and told me that he gets rattled whenever I look at him sternly, this after I gave them a scolding on stage on our first technical rehearsal.  I thought it was very brave. 

john-jay.jpgJohn Jay: He had the sharpest ears of all basses.  He confused me, though.  I had the impression that he was an extrovert but as time passed, he turned out to be quite the opposite.  He receives distinction for having 2 very obvious booboos during the performance.  There he was sincerely singing to the crowd after I had told the group time and again to stare only at me.  I had to madly gesture at him before I started the second song – a sort of non-verbal scolding. The other happened after the end of African Noel.  Unexpectedly, and in his excitement, I imagine, he raised his arm at the end and was the only one to do so. All of this caught on tape.      

george.jpgGeorge: The rocker-intellectual.  He’s the anti-rocker, actually, because you wouldn’t know he was one from his serious demeanor.  He over-thinks while singing and misses his pitches because of it.  This got me into a pretty pickle because I would always tell the choir: “You must be thinking singers! Think while you sing!”, then a few beats later would turn and spot him over-thinking and say, “Stop thinking! Just sing it!” Ay-ay-ay. How I hated the inconsistency.

HONORARY CHOIR MEMBERS

francis.jpgFrancis:  He designed the group’s African sablay-over-white attire.  My singers’ costume rocked the stage, and at one point, our turn-the-sablay maneuver made the audience cheer.  I was so thrilled that I blanked out on the pitches of African Noel and had to be corrected by Val Con.  Whee.

I have to mention Sir Ozaeta and Sir Mata who sat beside me during the competition. They cracked me up with their comments that went straight for the jugular.  They were pretty fair, though, and would be the first to admit when a choir was doing well.  Their tandem reminded me so much of the 2 hilarious critic muppets, Mr. Waldorf and Statler, who sat in the side balcony while heckling the Muppet Show.  sir-o-and-m.jpg

At one point, I heard Sir Mata softly singing the Latin version of “O, Come All Ye Faithful” while one of the competing choirs was singing the English version.  Not bad.

arkaira2.jpg 

RECAPITULATION:

December 15, 2007 (11:30 A.M.)

I’m near the end of my first account of my experience with UP Arkaira.  As with all recapitulations in the sonata form, we go back to the main themes presented earlier: that of my flu and my need to write about this before the lid on my memory of it drops.  I still have the flu, and, a day later, I’m still writing and remembering, remembering and writing.   But, of course, the recapitulation is not an exact repetition of the exposition.  My variation would be my thoughts of the future.  They have “Haraya”, a yearly college anniversary celebration, coming up this February and Sir Ozaeta told me that he’d like the choir to present a song.  I’m looking forward to this but I have to wait and see if my singers are up to it. Last night, as some of them and I munched on our burgers and fries (and all the food they had to give up for 3 weeks), I broached the subject of continuing what we started and even possibly have the group sing at my thesis presentation.  Val Con, Ekang, Cachi and Fae seemed quite excited and I hope that feeling stays on. 

A recapitulation signals the end of a sonata’s section. 

I hope that this end only speaks of this post and not of my involvement with UP Arkaira.   I’ve never encountered a non-music college that is so into music. They have a piano in their college secretary’s office, for pete’s sake — I think that says a lot.  Maybe I’ve found kindred spirits there: me with my fascination with architecture; and they, with their love for music.  

The results of the Carolfest will be announced on December 19, during UP’s annual Lantern Parade. (Yipee!) I hope we place because last night my singers were phenomenal.    

Congratulations, choir.

mcdo.jpg

Pablo Honey!

                senior.jpg

I had a music room in my former school, ICA*.  It took me a few months before I started feeling like it was MY own room.  I brought a couple of personal things for the room which the students immediately noticed.  I realized then that I could make the music room an extension of myself, a way for my students to know a little more about me.

After the Christmas break, Cherry, one of my co-teachers, brought some toys her daughter had outgrown to donate to the school’s social action club.  Among them was a green rubber cactus in a cowboy get-up: big red hat, shades, and purple bandanna.  It was one of those toys that you can slip into an antenna or bar-b-que stick, having no spine to keep itself upright.  Its strange soft rubber texture amused me so much that Cherry gave it to me, and I returned the favor by using it to play pranks on our co-teachers, making her laugh the whole day.  A spineless rubber cactus + teachers caught unaware = a recipe for a roaring good time.

Well, not really.  Maybe just a fun break between the mundane routine inside the faculty room.

When the novelty of the rubber cactus wore off in the faculty room, I relocated it to the music room where the CD player antenna became its permanent backbone, and forgot all about it — until my first class for the day arrived.  They noticed the cactus right away and seemed fascinated with it.  When they asked me why it was there, I told them it was an observer and will make sure they participate in the activity.  Here he is:

                                 pab4.jpg

During recess, I thought I’d give the toy a name.  I thought of Pablo but wrote Pablo Honey on its name plate without thinking.  I decided not to change it, thinking the girls would easily make the connection to Radiohead’s first album.  pablohoney.jpg  They didn’t.  Many of them teased me, saying Pablo must be my ‘honey’.  Others had their own theories, like a reference to Pablo Neruda or to other famous people named Pablo.  I saw the futility of insisting its Radiohead origins and decided to remain mysterious.  What surprised me was the girls’ immediate acceptance of its name.  Not one of them suggested a different name or wondered why a toy would have a name in the first place.  From then on, the rubber cactus ceased being called ‘it’.  He became my sidekick and the music room’s official mascot.

                                 pab2.jpg

Pablo Honey helped me reach out to my students.  His presence caused a change in my and the girls’ attitude.  Maybe it was because he really did seem to watch over them from its high antenna spine, maybe it was because they saw a different side of me, one that was more playful or cool enough to bring a toy to class; whatever it was, the girls became more relaxed and happy to be in the music room because of him.  They liked shaking his jiggly arms and patting his head.  They took his picture (in fact, the one I’ve been using was taken by a student and Emailed to me) and doodled him during and outside of my class.  One of my seniors, Meggy, even drew his portrait:

                       pab3.jpg

It hangs above my clavinova at home.  Another senior, Christine, gave me a little cactus on the last day of school.  The tag on the pot said: “Pablo’s Honey”, which really warmed my heart.  As much as he gave my students the chance to see a different side of me, he gave me the opportunity to see a different side of my students, one that I never would have seen had I remained distant and non-human in their eyes.

My last day at ICA was bittersweet.  Pablo Honey watched as I packed up all my stuff, making me feel less alone inside the quiet music room.  In my new school, SPUQC**, I don’t have a music room or my own CD player.  Even if I did, I couldn’t bring Pablo Honey over there: he will always belong to my girls at ICA.  In the meantime, my new students seem quite fascinated by this timer I bring to class to keep me on schedule.  It’s shaped like a carrot and everytime I take it out of my bag, they giggle. 

                         carrot.jpg

Maybe it’s time to think of a name. 

*Immaculate Conception Academy
**St. Paul University Quezon City

Tay Zonday: A Chocolate Philip Glass?

Before you raise your fists in an uproar and call me a racist, watch the clip… 

The title is a play on Tay Zonday’s song, “Chocolate Rain” which, according to Yahoo and Eonline, is sweeping both virtual and real worlds.  A few nights ago, Zonday was a guest on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’ where he performed his famed song live.  Famous musicians like John Mayer and Tre Cool have made their own version of the song while 8,000 spoofs were uploaded in YouTube.  His clip garnered 5,140,000 hits and was made favorite 22,223 times. 

                                          “Chocolate Rain” as Hook 

Now, why would a serious music teacher like myself write about Tay Zonday?  Is his song worthy enough to be mentioned here, much less a classroom? 

I say, yes.

5,140,000 hits. Made favorite 22,223.  Chances are my students could have been one of those who watched the clip.  Yours could have been one of those who saved the clip to their favorites folder.  In this day and age of virtual living, we teachers should not find that surprising. 

My once-a-week class of 50 minutes gives me the burden of revving my students’ interests.  I deliberately chose the word “rev” instead of “motivate” to emphasize the urgency of catching their attention.  In order to do this, I’m constantly on the look-out for ‘hooks’: things that 12-18 year-olds might be interested in.  They could be positive exemplars that don’t have to have the same exact characteristics as my topic.  A few solid similarities go a long way with ‘hooks’.  The same goes for negative exemplars.  Their differences can be a basis for comparison and, therefore, fodder for discussion.  Of course, there’s a huge gulf between concrete contrasts and flimsy connections.  Students can detect desperation faster than vacating their chairs at the end of the day.  In order for me to find real solid connections between what might interest them and my topic, I put myself in their sneakers, so to speak, and listen and learn until I find it interesting, too.  I find that that’s the best way to be sincere.

                                        “Chocolate Rain” and Minimalism

Aside from its obvious potential for teaching vocal timbre and electronic music, we can use “Chocolate Rain” as a jumping off  point for introducing minimalism, the twentieth century genre popularized by the likes of Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Terry Riley.  Minimalist music is based mostly in reiteration, stasis and, slow transformation.  It is:

“… any music that works with limited or minimal materials: pieces that use only a few notes, pieces that use only a few words of text, or pieces written for very limited instruments, such as antique cymbals, bicycle wheels, or whisky glasses. It includes pieces that sustain one basic electronic rumble for a long time. It includes pieces made exclusively from recordings of rivers and streams. It includes pieces that move in endless circles. It includes pieces that set up an unmoving wall of saxophone sound. It includes pieces that take a very long time to move gradually from one kind of music to another kind. It includes pieces that permit all possible pitches, as long as they fall between C and D. It includes pieces that slow the tempo down to two or three notes per minute.”

                                                            Tom Johnson, The Village Voice, 1989 

                              A Quickie Musical Analysis of “Chocolate Rain”

  1. Reiteration of a musical phrase: Zonday had a theme made up of 13 notes (the rest are passing notes) which he repeated for 4’52”.  Referring to Tom Johnson’s explanation, it was a piece that moved in a seemingly endless circle.
  2. Repetition of text: His repetition of the words “chocolate rain” contributes to the constancy of the piece.
  3. Subtle transformation: Although the theme was consistent, you can hear that he created subtle changes by moving the bass to a lower and higher register.  He also made use of syncopation, stressing a subdivision of a beat usually not emphasized, in the shift of the bass to the lower register. 
  4. Single timbre: The most obvious. Although he used an electric keyboard and could have programmed it for other timbres, he chose one and stayed with it throughout the piece.

Okay.  That may have been a simplistic dissection of his song but, hey, unlike Zonday I can’t go on and on about one thing.  Besides, the ‘hook’ is just the beginning.  IF you plan to use “Chocolate Rain” as one then the goal is not to dwell on it.  Cite it, silently thank Tay Zonday for the help, and then get down to business.  That is, if you can stop the students, and yourself, from humming his hypnotic repetitive melody.  Last Song Syndrome (LSS) can be such a pain in the butt.    

My sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minimalist_music
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Glass
http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/Tay_Zonday
Kids, repeat after me: plagiarism is a stupid person’s only recourse.