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Home Recording – Part 3

I didn’t think for a moment that home studio recordings were going to be easy. Never mind that I wasn’t going to do both video and audio recordings and any mistakes would be very hard to correct. I reckon professional musicians typically do multiple takes when doing studio recordings, then splice and re-edit them so that what you get is often a piece that comprises the best bits of multiple takes. That’s why live recordings are often regarded as the most authentic performances.

Moreover, the fairly small living room and its odd shape, coupled with the against-wall placement of our piano also meant that sound would be bouncing everywhere and creating echos and reverbs that would be very tough to correct in post-processing. What I was totally unprepared for though was the physical exertion involved. I was perspiring buckets after a two-hour recording session on a weekday morning, even though the living room was air-conditioned!

Most persons would recommend that the top board be opened, and if possible, and if one is strong enough, even the upper and lower front boards. I found though that removal of these boards resulted in the piano becoming deafeningly loud in the living room! The two Samson C10 microphones were also relocated to further away from the wall too.

Microphone-placement was also extremely difficult to get right, compounded also by the awful reverb in the room – so it’s something I’ll have to keep trying until I find something that works. The raw video and audio files were at least manageable, though I was able to clean up only a small part of the echoing and muddy bass in Audacity. Also another part of the workflow I’ll have to read up more on.

I did a total of 23 takes of eight pieces over the two hours, of which seven takes for seven songs were the least sloppy LOL. Here’s the first one: Mika’s Song, a lovely piece written and performed originally by Korean pianist, Yiruma. The tempo I used for this song is a little more brisk than the original recording:

Home Recording – Part 1

One of my life-long ambitions has always been to do a proper studio recording of pieces I play on the piano. There’s been sporadic occasions over the years where I’ve attempted to do variations of that. For example, using a Korg keyboard work station to record my piano compositions in the early to mid ’90s and then using sampled notes from a Steinway & Sons Grand Piano to render the MIDI files to CD-quality audio recordings. And more recently, HD video recordings using the E-M1 – which I’m still not yet brave enough to make public on YouTube LOL.

I’ve never been fully satisfied with either method. Recording via MIDI format results in pristine audio quality, but the approach always felt a little unauthentic. You’re essentially recording computer data that gets next mapped via instrument samples, then finally rendered to an actual audio recording. The benefit of a MIDI approach though is that you can fix note errors and dynamic issues before mapping.

Recording via camcorders and digital cameras is closer to a studio recording – but the built-in microphones in these camera devices are usually second fiddle to imaging. These devices are first and foremost imaging devices not sound-recorders! The camera microphones do not offer good dynamic range, pick up all kinds of odd noises, and most significant, do not present a proper stereophonic experience.

So, earlier this year I resolved to get round to trying the real deal: I’ll find out and learn what is necessary and how to do home studio recordings. This is of course a highly specialised and professional industry, and those beautiful and warm-sounding acoustic piano recordings we hear are the intentional results of a whole host of contributing factors: including the performance of the artiste, the ambiance in the recording venue, the equipment setup, and the sound engineering.

The initial survey was pretty intimidating and learning curve very steep: a lot of the learning material both text and videos, and even equipment documentation seem to be written for persons who’re already familiar with the domain of professional-standard recording. I wasn’t ready to throw a lot of money into this thing either – professional level condenser microphones can easily cost thousands each – but I found very well-regarded branded equipment that were at entry-level prices, and was lucky enough that Amazon was able to ship them here too using free international shipping. More on that in the next post.

Freshly arrived kewl lewt from Amazon and Lazada SG.

There’s a last method too: using digital pianos, or acoustic pianos with silent piano modules – like the Yamaha U30BL upright we have at home. The U30BL’s module though hasn’t quite resulted in the kind of audio fidelity that I need, so in case this simple home recording studio setup still doesn’t work well, I’ll have to either revisit recording using the U30BL’s silent piano module, or think very hard about getting a digital piano – if we can find space at home for it to begin with!

Learning Music for Kids

Both Ling and I started our formal music and piano lessons when we were in junior Primary school, which is about the age that many parents here today still get their children started at too. Both of us learned the piano using what many music teachers refer to as the ‘traditional’ method: basically, you learn to read notes first before getting onto the keyboard.

Hannah’s piano teacher – who himself is also a Minton resident – has been teaching her using the Suzuki method. There are many apparent differences between this method against the traditional form of learning, one of them being the emphasis of listening to a piece of music extensively to learn how to play it. Which sounds like a perfectly right way to learn – and one that Hannah has really taken to, since she’s inherited one of my old Sony MP3 players and listens to the pieces of her current Suzuki music book whenever we’re in the car.  I reckon that even my piano teacher had the chops to teach me all those years ago with such a method, it would had been a lot harder anyway since personal audio players weren’t the norm as they are today.

There’s one other key difference between learning music today yesteryear and today: and it’s that young learners today have access to all kinds of learning aids. Like these:

A Music Magnetic Board.

Two music books from a Malaysian publisher and from the same author Ng Ying Ying.

This book comes with stickers for kids to paste: exactly the thing to engage them!

Structured exercises laid out in child-friendly fashion.

And that’s not counting music software you can find on on computers and tablets. How I learned music theory was through a lot of rote: my teacher made me draw pages of stave lines for both clefts, and then all manner of notes on them as though I was learning calligraphy LOL. I think our old Lentor family home still has several of these books from more than 35 years ago – and I’ll find one such and scan those pictures in to show Hannah how her parents learned!

The Malaysian publisher Poco Studio has a decent catalog of music books, and their line is carried on international retailers including Book Depository and Amazon UK.  The former in particular lists the books from a shade under S$10 to S$13 including shipping. The Magnetic Board is also of interest: it allows young learners to arrange music notations and learn rudimentary concepts of timing and such. This particular board is from Yamaha Music School. Hannah isn’t enrolled in one of course, so we got one pre-loved.

 

AirTurn PED

We’ve had our new Yamaha U30BL piano for a few months now, and its usage hasn’t been quite what I initially thought it to be. Specifically, Ling barely touches it, while I have been on it more than I initially thought I would! I’ve been buying and acquiring sheet music from several modern day pianists-performers that I enjoy listening to, including Jim Brickman, David Lanz and David Foster, and practising them too. Hannah is also on the piano about 4-5 times a week for about half an hour each time – and myself slightly less but each time it’s an hour and a half to run through the 35 or so pieces I’m trying to master.

Incidentally, there’s an interesting debate among professional musicians regarding the use of digital devices to display sheet music. The advantages of using tablets like the Apple iPad Pro 12.9 are obvious: convenience, ability to hold a large amount of sheet music, and effective use of technology. The concerns largely lie around the fact that digital devices can fail (e.g. crash) or someone accidentally knocks them over if they’re being propped up on a music stand – both of which would be deadly to an ongoing performance.

The printed song books I’ve bought are typically larger than A4 print, but page turning is tough – since many of the modern day pieces are spread over 5+ pages. So, the 2+ year old Surface Pro 3 has been re-purposed as my preferred digital score display device. This digital display is likewise a challenge too though for different reasons. Swiping right to left to turn pages is much easier than trying to turn a paper edge, but still inelegant. On several occasions, Microsoft’s PDF reader mistook a quick finger swipe to mean pinch-zoom instead of a page turn – which resulted in a thumbnail version of all pages in the PDF i.e. immediately unusable for continued playing. Each time, I’d have to stop playing to reset the tablet display.

There had to be a better, e.g. hands-free, way of turning pages on a tablet. So, after some Googling, I found a small number of companies who make devices that do exactly just that. They seem to be primarily designed for use by professional musicians, and work on the same and maybe even obvious premise: controller device connects to the tablet via wlreless connectivity (e.g. Bluetooth) + musician uses their feet to tap pages front and back.

Evidently and from Internet research, the relatively better known company who manufactures a range of these devices is AirTurn. My needs weren’t particularly complex – I basically just need foot pedals to move pages forward and backward, and it needs to compatible with Windows and iPads. So, their cheapest model – the PED – would suffice. Unfortunately, I could not find the model on sale in Singapore. Amazon listed the device at USD69 but wanted a further princely sum of USD50 to have it delivered here. Ouch.

But after another week of scouting for International music equipment resellers who carry the device and offer options for shipping to Singapore and not cost the price of a return air-ticket, I finally found a UK-based store who was charging a nominal fee for shipping. Total damage was GBP59 + GBP4 for shipping. Total cost savings of about USD54 compared to Amazon’s price – not chump change for sure!

The item took two weeks to arrive, and here’s what it looks like:

The controller box was shipped in a parcel and also further protected by bubble-wrap, though the box itself does not contain foam padding to further protect the controller inside. So, if you want your device boxes to arrive shrink-wrapped with zero dents, you might be disappointed here.

The box contains a printed manual and the AirTurn PED controller itself. The controller exterior is metallic and feels cool to the touch.

Side profile of the controller. It’s sloped from one end to the other.

The reverse side of the controller has anti-skid padding, so no chance of it sliding on the floor. The device doesn’t look like it was entirely machine-made though. I reckon the anti-skid material was hand-glued. Note too: “Manufactured in USA” – a rarity since most of everything is Made in China these days!

The box comes with a small colored printed manual, with the online version available here too. The device offers connects to a variety of devices: including Windows, iOS and Android devices. The manual took a bit of figuring out though – I didn’t find the setup instructions particularly intuitive. But once I sorted it out, the Surface Pro 3 readily identified the device via Bluetooth for pairing, automatically downloaded the device driver for it, and thereafter connected without further hitches. The controller also supports different key associations for each foot press: e.g.up/down, left/right, page up/page down. So, the last step was to configure which of these key associations I need the controller to drive. Since I was using Microsoft’s built-in PDF reader, the correct mode was left/right.

The one down side of the PED: you can only pair the controller to one tablet at any one time. I occasionally use the iPad Air 2 for score displays too, so this is a bit of a dummer.

And that’s it. The device so far is still taking some use to. I have to use my toes to feel for the device and where I should be tapping on, since my eyes are on the song sheet when playing the piano, not on my feet!

The Piano Project – Part 5

One of the key things I was looking forward to with our new piano was composing again – with the last piece I wrote being just about 20 years ago. Unlike trained composers though, I write while playing on the piano and often with a very large dose of improvisation. And in order for a piece I’m playing off the top of my head to be transposed to a score, the piano needs to have a recording function.

We weren’t about to convert our living room into a recording studio for sure – it would had been logistically difficult and prohibitively expensive to achieve any measure of aural accuracy. Fortunately, the SG2 module on our Yamaha U30BL permits two methods of recording: via MIDI with a good soundfont bank, or recorded directly via the SG2’s audio jack. The SG2 module is the cheaper of the two Silent Piano options currently offered by Yamaha, and uses 30MB of wave memory to reproduce the piano sounds with a Yamaha CFIIS Concert Grand used to record samples. It’s not the highest fidelity sound you can get digitally, but it’s close enough. As for the former: I fortunately still have the very high quality note samples recorded using a Steinway & Sons Type C Grand, purchased from Warren Tracthman from 20 years ago – which I used to create a new soundfont bank for.

The recordings I made in 1996 were assisted by Cakewalk Professional and Encore Music Notation, and interestingly – both products are still around in their new versions, if also slightly rebranded. Thanks in great part because of open source, my software suite is a little different now and comprised of freeware. These might be somewhat gimped in support features, but they pretty much meet my needs. They include Anvil Studio, the ubiquitous Audacity for editing, and VirtualMidiSynth – a necessary item since I no longer have a dedicated Creative soundcard in my home computers.

The result after a first attempt is below: and a couple minutes of my playing Variations from a Theme from Pachelbel’s Canon in D by David Lanz. Numerous mistakes in my performance below, including a particularly obvious timing one at around 1 min 10 second mark.

 

The Piano Project – Part 4

More notes on my returning to the piano after a decade of hiatus!

Scores

Of all the whole bunch of things that’s different today compared to 38 years ago, the forms of sheet music probably offer the largest changes. Scores were largely available only in print bound form, and had to be purchased from stores. My Lentor family home still has shelves of Mozart, Beethoven and Clementi sonata books, Bach Well-Tempered Clavier books, Chopin waltzes etc. The printing quality and notation type sets used were also invariably dated, though I recall that from the late 80s’ onwards, it became more common for new editions of these classical pieces to use higher quality type sets, which in turn made reading the scores less difficulty.

Oh heck no.

Oh heck no.

Much easier to read!

Much easier to read!

Buying these music books from stores today though isn’t the preferred option to obtain sheet music for classical music. There are several projects seeking to make publicly and freely available classical music sheet music, like IMSLP Petrucci Music Library, The Mutopia Project, and Musopen. The databases are well-organized, and all one needs is just a couple of minutes and a good laser printer to get reasonably good quality prints of sheet music. For example, the set of six Clementi Sonatinas that I practiced on in the 80s was from a Schirmer book that’d cost about S$15. The same pieces are available in different editions and publishers through IMSLP – free off charge.

Modern music though is a very different story. Copyright for the well-known ones from the last couple of decades still lie with publishers and authors. Interestingly, there are fan and enthusiast transcriptions of these music. I haven’t read enough to know for certain if such transcriptions aren’t running afoul of music intellectual property rights, but they are certainly a valuable resource, though the amount of music in such transcribed versions are selective and don’t nearly encompass the length and breadth of modern music.

What music

The modern music I played in my learning years included 80s’ pop songs (think George Michael haha!), opening title themes from the local TV drama serials, and the grandfather of 80s’ piano love ballads: Richard Clayderman. I reckon that the latter is still within my current technical playing ability since his pieces were never especially challenging to begin with. That said, I doubt I’d play his music again – on account that very few persons under the age of 30 would have ever heard of him! I’ve instead been trying pieces from more recent modern day pianists, including David Lanz, David Foster, and Jim Brickman. Song sheets and books are available from Amazon and Book Depository at reasonable prices – averaging about S$25 each volume collecting several pieces.

Still, It’ll be several months of continual practising before I can reach the same kind of technical agility I had 30 years ago. And if that point ever comes, there’s a long list of classical piano pieces that I’ve always wanted to play but never did in my learning years (largely on account that up till the mid-80s I hated classical music as a learner!). The list includes Bach’s Goldberg Variations, English and French Suites, Italian Concerto, most of Mozart’s piano sonatas.

Metronomes

The most common type of metronome that were persistent devices for piano learners years ago were the traditional mechanical ones with polished wood, and the pendulum swinging via a clockwork mechanism. Our Yamaha from Asia Piano threw in the same, though the ‘ticks’ it produces are extremely loud. We’re not limited these days to just mechanical metronomes though: there are digital ones, highly customisable metronomes you can install on your smartphones, and even web site-based ones!

The last bit for this post is a perennial problem faced by all piano learners: page turning! The music rack on our old pianos could hold up to three pages of music, while our new Yamaha’s longer rack can hold four. Many scores though are longer than that, and it becomes a real challenge to turn pages of the sheet music while you’re trying to keep up with the playing.

Thankfully, there’s technology to the rescue. Scores can be scanned and digitized as PDFs, and dropped into tablets. And swiping a sheet page from right to left is now much easier than struggling to flip a page, and risking either damaging the book, or having the entire book crash onto the keyboard. There are even Bluetooth devices operated by your feet that will turn pages. Another problem comes up now though: the absolutely minimal size of a tablet for such score displaying is a 9.7inch tablet. Anything smaller and you’d have to squint! There was the Surface Pro 3’s larger 12″ screen which provides significantly more display space than my iPad Air 2’s – except that it needs a Windows-based PDF reader that lets you swipe right-left when in portrait mode. Oddly, none of the PDF readers I’ve tried support that.

Maybe that’s a reason for me to seriously think about getting that the iPad Pro with its 12.9″ screen – and for displaying song sheets!:)

The Piano Project – Part 3

I don’t have the faintest recollection of the purchase or delivery of our first family piano, 38 years ago from 1978. My mom did write in her diary though that the piano cost $3,950 – not $4,200 as blogged earlier – and purchased from Singapore Piano Co., and my first piano teacher, Mrs. Teo, even accompanied us to select the piano at the store.

Our Yamaha U30BL arrived on Saturday afternoon. It was originally scheduled for a mid-morning delivery, but the delivery vehicle’s breakdown led to a couple of hours wait – which thankfully was the only hiccup. The piano works great, and our notes and observations after two days and about a dozen hours on it:

The piano – even at 26 years old – looks exactly like new on the outside, and the interior shows a well-cleaned and maintained unit too apart from some minor stains on the manufacturer steel plate attached near the sound board.

Over the years I took my ABRSM exams, I remembered always being a little unsettled at how different the exam pianos sounded compared to what I practiced on. Neither my teachers’ nor our family pianos were Yamahas, and they produced somewhat brighter tones. Our new Yamaha, likely because of the size of its sound board, produces fairly warm tones and similar to what to the Yamaha piano exam rooms.  This would be a pretty important aspect of exam preparation for Hannah if she, at any later point, prepares for her ABRSM exams.

The SG2 Silent Piano works as advertised and is simple to operate. Power on, connect one or two headphones to the audio jacks, set the reverb and volume knobs to preference, and play away.

Playing with the Silent Piano mode on feels very different to playing with it off. Specifically, the latter requires a lot more delicate and careful playing, and a lot of concentration is required to hit the note with exactly the right amount of pressure to achieve the desired tone weight and volume. Playing on the Silent Piano mode on the other hand is a lot more forgiving, as the dynamic range seems slightly less wide.

One trait of silent pianos though: there’s no soft-mute any more. It’s normal non-dampened acoustics or on silent mode all the way.

The soft-fall hinge works as stated, and possibly maybe even too well. It takes almost 10-15 seconds for the fallboard to fully close with the hinge.

The store’s custom-designed bench is very comfortable with great support for one’s bum. Unfortunately, the bench doesn’t come with a storage facility, so we had to find space in the living room to keep the piano’s maintenance accessories.

Seriously buffed and polished ebony exterior of the Yamaha U30BL.

Seriously buffed and polished ebony exterior of the Yamaha U30BL.

The keys were re-polished again from what I observed in the warehouse a week ago.

The keys were re-polished again from what I observed in the warehouse a week ago.

The soft-fall hinge.

The soft-fall hinge.

Hannah has our genes: she seems able to play by ear.

Hannah has our music genes: she seems able to play by ear.

Next post on music, metronomes, and songsheets!

The Piano Project – Part 2

Truth to tell, when Hannah decided that she’d like to learn the piano rather than the violin, I was probably the more relieved – even happier – of the two of us parents. Ling’s neutral since she can play both instruments. On the other hand, I can’t play anything other than the piano and been longing to return to practising for years now. And what kept holding me back was that pianos are not really the best instruments to play in a living room! Possibly because of how small Singaporean apartments are, sound gets bounced around the house, and also that my skills on the keyboard have deteriorated significantly over the years, I was – for want of a better word – embarrassed to return to the piano.

Thankfully, while the basic technology in acoustic pianos have not changed over the years, the add-ons have. Selected piano manufacturers now offer acoustic pianos with an additional module – the silent piano feature – which drive piano sounds to a digital module and in turn headphones, while muting the external acoustic sounds altogether. The digital sounds aren’t quite like what one would hear acoustically and also limited by the tonality of the audio samples used to recreate the sound of each key. But it’s close enough for non-professionals like myself.

With the school holidays starting in just a few weeks, we decided that this would be about as good a time as any to get Hannah started on formal lessons. We’ve been scouting the neighborhood for teachers. We’ve shortlisted a couple, and have been bringing Hannah for trial lessons to see which teacher especially ‘clicks’ with her. With any luck, we’ll decide on her teacher will be in the next week or two. Foremost in our mind too is that we want her to learn as an engaging and enriching activity, and will not have her take exams until she wants to.

As for the instrument, our hunt for it only started a week ago. Yep – a lot quicker compared to the amount of time we routinely spend on large investments, in this case, both in the price dimension also in the literal physical sense! We didn’t have too many requirements: apart from that we were going to avoid South Korean and Chinese makes (good reads here and here), keep to an upper price ceiling of about S$7K, and hopefully something with the silent piano feature.

The last requirement also meant that there were only so few piano models in consideration. At least in Singapore, the piano would likely be a Kawai or a Yamaha, and thankfully both are Japanese-designed pianos. After checking out the showrooms and obtaining indicative prices of new units, our choices were about narrowed down to:

A new Yamaha JU109 Silent Piano for about $5K.

A new Yamaha JX113T Silent Piano for $6K

Both of the above are considered ‘standard grade’ in its sound boards, strings and hammers, and are assembled in Indonesia. Brand new Yamahas silent pianos of higher-grades (e.g. in the U series) would easily bust our budget.

There’s quite a vibrant used piano market here in Singapore too. After reading up online and making some initial queries with a couple of stores, we visited an importer of used Japanese pianos – Asia Piano – over the Deepavali public holiday.  And after an hour of browsing/chatting/Hannah playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy on every piano she could get to in the store, we selected a Yamaha piano: a used U30BL with an added SG2 silent piano module. And from what we can see/tell and found out:

There’s a lot of very interesting discussion about the ‘grey’ market for pianos, including here, here and here. All this said, even in the worse possible scenario, the prevailing Japanese climate isn’t exactly similar to Singapore’s, but as far as humidity is concerned, I reckon it’s closer than say the US.

The U30BL is an improved variant of the very popular and well-known U3 pianos, though there seems to be little information on what are the differences between the two models.  Beyond that, it’s the same size, built to the same quality and at the same factory – Japan’s famed Hamamatsu factory – as its better-known sibling.

The piano is 131cm tall: which, all things being equal, is always better than a shorter piano on account that a larger sound board can be fitted into it.

Judging from the piano’s serial number against the Yamaha’s database of serials, this particular piano was manufactured between 1989 to 1990.

The piano was made for the Japanese domestic market with its original owners there. The dead giveaway is that the Japanese-styled power plug to the piano’s SG2 module, which will in-turn require a transformer for it to work with local power points.

The SG2 module was added to this unit just a few years ago by Yamaha-certified technicians. Didn’t know that was even technically possible! I’ll have to read up more about it, and see if an upgrade to the newer SH module is also possible.

There was a about same age used U30A model in the store going for $100 more than this U30BL, but offering the older digital module which did not include a recording function. The piano sound was also tonally different and very slightly brighter. Ling preferred the U30BL, though I would had been fine with either – though a recording feature was quite desirable.

The piano was coming with just over a dozen freebies, which the attending salesperson, also the co-owner of the store, explained in detail of. Of particular interest was a soft-fall hinge that he would be installing to the piano (decades ago, my mom on many occasions would thunder at us for letting the piano’s fallboard slam against the keyboard ledge), and also his store’s custom-designed adjustable bench with its innovated seat overlaps, an innovation he seemed particularly proud of.

Comes with 5 years parts warranty, 1 year exchange programme, guarantee buy backs up to 7th year, and two free tunings in the first year.

Asia Piano, opened on a public holiday.

Asia Piano, opened on a public holiday.

H manages Ode to Joy on two fingers.

H manages Ode to Joy on two fingers.

Our U30BL.

Our U30BL.

Near mint on the inside.

Near mint on the inside.

The piano will be delivered this weekend, so more notes to come on it soon enough.:)

 

The Piano Project – Part 1

It’s been almost eight years since I last blogged here about piano-playing (have we really been blogging for that long?!). A new home project started though that will likely see an emergence of new posts on this topic in the months to come, and starting with this one below.:)

There was a period of time here in Singapore – perhaps around the 1990s to early 2000s’ – when learning musical instruments was the ‘in’ thing for parents with young kids. Many families would put their children through formal lessons to, for example, learn the piano and obtain the various ABRSM grades over what would normally be around 10 years of training. I remember hearing anecdotally that occasionally, learning the instrument was the expectation of parents than any real, sustained interest in the child, leading to the result that many kids would give up midway, or find formally learning the instrument so much a chore that they end up disliking the instrument.

I reckon I’m one of those oddballs. I didn’t need cajoling to learn a musical instrument. In fact, I made a conscious effort to parents hinting that I wanted to learn – e.g. creating a huge din with the Melodica in front of the TV while my dad watched Big League Soccer when I was six – that they got the message! I began formal lessons to learn the piano in April 1978, and took about ten years to finish all my Piano practical and theory up to ABRSM Grade 8. I had only two teachers during that long stretch. Both teachers were sisters too, with the younger taking me through Grades 1 to 5, and her older sister – Mdm. Ler Hui Siam – taking me through the rest. There were long periods where the training was so intense and preparing for exams so stressful that I hated lessons one particular year, and I vividly recall my mom having to drag me to lessons even. I don’t think my first teacher did much to make me love the instrument either! Both teachers must be in their 70s now and long retired, though I’ve been trying to get in touch with my old final teacher, Mdm. Ler, for years now.

The real change came when I started listening to classical music – at about the mid 80s – and I started doing much better in lessons, and finished the practical and theory with merit and distinction awards respectively.

The piano that I trained on – alongside my two brothers who also completed their ABRSM grades up to a point – was a Squire & Longson that I remembered my parents paid a princely $3,950 for in 1978. That’s a huge sum of money, even more so for its time. I haven’t been able to find much information about this model, apart from bits of information in a Piano encyclopedia that write that Squire & Longson was a highly respected English manufacturer of pianos, and were already making them in the 19th century. Our family piano though has not fared well, due totally to the lack of care for it in the last 20 years now. The keys are badly out of tune, and one or two of them no longer work even. And there are possibly entire colonies of roaches somewhere inside the piano cabinet even!

Which brings us to our new home project. Hannah has also been interested in learning to play an instrument, and I reckon she should credit both her parents’ genes here haha. We were debating for the last two years what instrument to get her started on, since she didn’t mind either the violin or the piano then. We were initially decided on the violin, on account that it’s portable, a less costly investment, and won’t occupy the same space that a piano would in the house. That line of thinking was largely the reason why we gave away Ling’s old piano when we moved from The Rivervale to Minton – a decision that still breaks her heart every time she thinks about it.

It was only a few months ago when we started reconsidering her starting instrument, and Hannah also showed a stronger inclination towards a keyboard instrument. So, a piano it was. More on this in the next post!

 

"Praise My Soul The Kingdom of Heaven"

I adore hymns. I’ve blogged here about my playing of hymns as the ACS School Pianist 24 years ago before. I love hearing and singing with a large congregation songs of majesty and praise, accompanied by a pipe organ.

Just a few months ago too during a small group meeting, I was musing that whenever I turn the Wesley Hymnal to each song during early Sunday morning worship, I also always pay attention to the year it was composed. There’s just something incredibly significant about singing songs that Christians have been singing in churches for hundreds of years now. Just think about it. In another hundred years’ time when we’re all long gone, people will still be worshipping God in churches singing these same songs.

There’s a couple of hymns that are my perennial favorites. E.g. Praise My Soul The Kingdom of Heaven (audio)  which incidentally was the opening hymn I chose for our wedding, And Can It Be (audio), and Be Thou My Vision (audio).

My knowledge of hymns didn’t come from just 12 years of singing them as an Anglo-Chinese School boy. There were two hymn audio albums that I first bought in the 80s on cassette that exposed me to songs I’d up till that point haven’t heard. These two albums, Hymns Triumphant, were performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra and are pretty well-known and have been available on CD for years now. The sound even on CD (at least the versions I have) haven’t aged so well though since they were recorded more than 20 years ago, but the first album especially offers an extensive introduction to numerous hymns as they’re arranged into medleys.

The last hymn CD I bought was like 5 years ago, specifically this one by the Halifax Choral Society, one of the world’s oldest choral groups. Their rendition of Praise My Soul (audio sample on the link) is simply awe-inspiring, so much so that upon hearing it years ago, I immediately wanted this song as my opening hymn if I ever married—and this was like 2 years before meeting Ling.:)

CD albums are now harder to find given the general worldwide decline in classical music CD sales. However, I recently discovered Classics Online, and have been browsing through its very large catalog and purchasing the MP3 versions of hymn albums again. Of several albums I’ve picked up, there’s another album that’s just as amazing as the Halifax Choral Society’s one. It’s sung by the Huddersfield Choral Society featuring a mix of both well-known and less known songs in a generously filled album. There’re some audio samples here; just listen to their singing of Jesus Christ is risen today. Simply amazing.:)

One thing about the Classics Online site though; there’re so many albums there a classical music fan could easily blow his credit card limit if one wasn’t careful.:)