May 19 – 8:56 AM
I woke at 7 a.m. Still getting up early. Had breakfast for the first time since the tour started. Eggs and corned beef hash, toast, butter and jam. Today is one concert.
May 20 – 12:47 AM
Terrific concert. Good feeling from the time we step out on stage. Huge hall, 3200 people, Canadian ambassador there and his wife, all of Dong-Wook’s students and Salmunori, the Korean folk group. Standing ovation – lots of autographs. KBS televised the show. Great performance of Mather, Cage, Takemitsu,Improv, Drum line, Kobina – two outbursts of applause in Birds and great Rags.
Dong-Wook is ecstatic. “We did it, we did it!” he cries. Embraces all around. He has been a dim light in the forest preaching percussion in South Korea for 10 years and finally has been vindicated for all his preaching. We have done it for him. A lovely moment.
All his students help us pack up under the supervision of his former students who are now professionals. One of his former student’s wives presents us all with a rose. This morning we take a bus with his students to a Korean folk village. By taking this trip we miss the telecast of the fifth game of the Stanley Cup from Edmonton. The Oilers could win it with this one.
May 20 – 9 AM (watching television)
Obviously a modern piece for c’hung (c’hing) solo and traditional orchestra with conductor! Flutes with the pieces of bamboo from the inside joints posted over a hole below the blowhole thus producing a buzzing quality. An instrument that looks like the player is blowing into the stem end of a small pear. This is a gourd flute with finger holes around the surface.
Percussion includes a marktree (western) and a large Paiste tam tam. Here the c’hung are played with the with a wooden bow (traditional), a string bow (western) and plucked. One model of c’hung had individual bridges under each string and another type has violin like bridges which many strings pass over. Another technique is to play with a small stick in the right hand.
A not too good percussion quartet playing traditional instruments. A crane dance – costumed dancing chorus of women singers. Probably this is Sunday morning folk shlock but some of it is interesting – taped in the same hall as our concert. On the US channel is an interview with a rock star. The men’s comedy singing reminds me of scat. I had the thought at Korea House that Louis Armstrong would have fit right in.
I must remember to bring some Fisherman’s Friends with me on the European part of the tour. Three fifths of the group has developed a minor flu and sore throat.
We’ve gone to the Korean Folk Village. A Pioneer Village but larger – very nice to walk in – beautiful walls. Dong-Wook complains of the use of Western instruments in traditional orchestra. We have lunch in the market square – a large space under tents supported by poles. The food is grown and prepared by the people who live and work in the village. Lots of people – children, parents, grandparents – a very friendly atmosphere in the shade – delicious food. First course is a fritter – pancake thickness – with scallion greens in the batter. Reminds me of Eleanor’s oyster fritter batter. A soya type sauce with seasoning for dipping the pieces.
Kimshi is a beautiful dish of pale radish cubes with some kind of orangish red hot liquid and pepper flakes. Very refreshing. Trays of brownish cubes of bean curd and made from chestnuts. Very good with the relish with which it is served.
A sweet rice liquid served cold with grains of white rice floating in it. The grains are the consistency of Rice Krispies and are white. Desserts for us are inedible. I tell Dong-Wook this is the first meal I had where the main courses were like desserts and the desserts were like medicine. Another aspect of the meal was that it was vegetarian. The entire meal was served by Dong-Wook’s students who otherwise sat in a group at the end of the table and showed that usual distance a student has from their master.
Before lunch, there was a performance of peasant village drumming and dancing. And oboist stood to one side and played a simple melody accompaniment. Very exciting stuff – some of the players wore hats with wands from which long ribbons flowed. They would move their heads around and the ribbons would twirl in large circles and undulate in various patterns. The leader of the group was an older fellow who would signal the changes with a small, handheld gong. The drums are shaped like large western military drums, suspended from a strap that is attached to either end of the drum and over the player’s shoulder. One head is struck with a curved mallet, the other head is struck with a strip of bamboo. The drumheads are held over shell of the drum with a rope which is tensioned by pieces of leather, exactly like our rope-tensioned military drums in the west.
In one of the Village homes is shown two women kneeling on either side of a low table each with a small club, the size of our hammer handles but shaped like a long flat shoe horn. Dong-Wook collects these and uses them in his music. The women pound clothing that had been washed and dried in order to stretch and smooth the cloth. Similar to ironing. They would pound very fast and play highly intricate rhythms and variations, much like jazz.
A candy maker nest to a large tray of rice confections is playing the scissors he uses to cut the long strands. The blades are very loose and shaped similar to large tongue depressors and rattle easily against each other. Bill said he had heard these “scissors” in the city as far as a block away. The fellow played a few licks for us.
One of the country gentleman’s home complex has an interesting heating and ventilation system. All the smoke from the various fire in the complex is vented under the floors for heat and the excess smoke from all the fires is vented underground to a smoke stack in a corner of the compound.
Carl Rustrum mentioned a similar technique on the much smaller scale which he learned from an Indian tribe in northern Canada. When snowbound, and their tent is closed, the Indians would dig a tunnel under the floor to the outside and the smoke was invented down and out rather than the opposite.
At Korea House, the floors were heated with hot water run through pipes. I did not learn the system for moving the water but it was continuously re-cycled and reheated. Mr. Li said that this would heat the entire room and the only inconvenience of having to be careful not to step on the floor with bare feet.
Also at Korea House, we tasted the Korean rice wine – milder then Japanese sake and slightly thicker in consistency. We were introduced to the Korean dry white wine –”Majuang””. This wine is certainly competitive and could be imported with good chances of being popular. It reminded me of the Greek wine Appelia – woody flavor, very smooth with a reasonable body. The grape from which it is made is the Seibel. It is almost twice the price of an imported white Burgundy. 5800 won as opposed to 3400 for the burgundy. In fact, it is more than twice the price because the 5800 is for a half bottle. A little over eight dollars US.
Another practically full day of the guys spending money and having lunch with hosts. We leave in a few minutes to give our concert clinic. Early day tomorrow with a 10 AM flight to Tokyo.
Salmunori gave us lunch at a fine restaurant on a very tiny street near the traditional music shop where we purchased instruments. The street and the restaurants reminded me of Tokyo. I began to get a rather severe headache soon after lunch began – perhaps an MSG rush. Salmunori is starting to get jobs in the West and will make their first trip to Europe this summer.
After our drum shop experience one of the members presented each of us with an autographed hand-drum of the type used by the farmers in the dance we saw at the Korean folk Village.
Back at the hotel, I ran into one of the embassy staff who teaches English to the staff of the Hilton Hotel.
One thing that has become abundantly clear, is the tradition of ensemble music performance without music and non-playing conductor. We have heard incredibly complex and lengthy compositions involving 2- 20 players, all memorized and played without conductor.
The first thing that struck me about the composition for c’hung which I heard on TV the other day was the tentative and stilted way in which it was played. The close up shots of some of the ensemble performers gave further proof to this.
The level of ensemble playing here and in China is far superior to most of our symphony orchestras and chamber groups. Usually, when we get a piece together in terms of intonation and rhythm, the performance lacks the final quality of spontaneity. Only with the finest orchestras and conductors do we have a chance of hearing a really convincing performance and even then, only once in a while.
Seoul is very hilly and Hanyang University is on top of one of those hills. The lecture concert is given before a full house and is very well received. We played music for” Pieces of Wood”, Cage “3rd Construction and three rags and “Imbira” There are questions from the audience – music students,Dean of Music, composers and various teachers.
After the performance there is beer, soda pop, and nibbles in the lobby with a couple of hundred students and faculty. Many autographs and questions. A girl approaches and wants to question me about the Cage. I call over our lecture’s translator and the girl wants to know what the title “3rd Construction” means. That one’s easy enough, but then she asks how she, as a Korean, should react to the piece. Both the translator and I smile at this one and the translator explained that Orientals – she is oriental – must know first before they can react. whereas Westerners feel first and then react. I tell her of my conversation with Kwang Chao in Shanghai concerning friendship and Kwang’s reaction to that as being abstract. The translator relates this story about our improvisation and the girl says also that friendship is abstract. In China, I was told that audiences required the music to have a story, be programatic, and know the story before a performance.
As we’re talking, a young girl who plays percussion in the Pusun Symphony asks if there is anything I can tell her – any advice I can give her – a student of percussion. I tell her to trust herself and concentrate on sound. She asks if there is a different between European and North American percussionists. I say that generally European percussionist are concerned with percision.
Russell now has our flu. Bob and I are very flushed – sore throats, headaches. John, Jean and Bill go to dinner with Dong-Wook and some faculty and we returned to the hotel. I just had seafood gumbo, tenderloin steak with noodles carrots, zucchini. Perfectly prepared, very rare.
I’m all packed except for my shaving kit. 7:40 AM bus to airport. Despite my touch of flu, I’ve been fortunate in the main concern of travel. Good bowel movements. I’m still waking up at 6:30 AM. Christ, I wish I could sleep late just once. Speaking of Christ, Dong-Wook Park is a devout Catholic. He gave a long speech after one concert. I think he was making as much political hay as possible for the percussion department. He went down the line shaking our hands and giving each of us a big hug. I felt a little uncomfortable with that kind of display under such public circumstances but, what the hell he’s the one who has to stay behind.
PS – Students wearing masks and holding hands over face as we drove on campus. Yesterday a student demonstration was tear gassed. 15 hours later, the smell still hangs in the air.
Concerts in Toronto – No. 3, October 28, 2015.
On October 28, a cabbie with too few miles in the driver’s seat and too little command of the English language, dropped me off in the dark of night on a street unfamiliar to me, somewhere in Toronto. With directions from individuals I met in an alley, I found my destination, the Australian New Zealand Club on Brunswick Avenue. Commonly referred to as The Tranzac, the club is a bleak concrete rectangle that looks as if it could house illegal activities.
The corridor from the entrance to the main performance space is narrow. Jerry rigged curtains are only partially successful as sound barriers or as masks to hide staff and cases of beer. A few right angle turns add to the illusion that I’m in a carnival fun house or a Murray Schafer opera.
I like this place. Though the room is a bit seedy, it has a friendly feel and a rather large crowd has turned out to hear TorQ. TorQ audiences are made up of music professionals, students, friends, sponsors and the curious. They are always an important part of a TorQ concert, providing a refreshing blend of good humour and a bit of frisson.
TorQ member Dan Morphy greets and directs me to a chair along side his father Frank and Michelle Hwu, a former percussion student. Directly in front of us is Ray Dillard, percussionist, composer, recording engineer and producer and President of the local Musician’s Union. Further on is solo percussionist Beverley Johnston and her husband, composer Christos Hatzis. Rick Sacks, Artistic Director of Array Music is also in the house.
Tranzac’s bar is in almost every respect, in need of a serious upgrade; imagine no Campari on the rocks with a slice of orange, but then, Aussies reputed drink of choice is beer. I settle for a diet Coke and accept Ray Dillard’s offer to pay. Tranzac is a good place for small ensembles to proffer their wares and expect some return on their investment.
Judging from the number of guest artists and the amount of equipment on stage, I doubt TorQ made anything much beyond a couple of beers each. The programme was titled OCTET, their guests being ARCHITEK a quartet of percussionist friends whose base of operations is Montreal. As usual, TorQ provided no printed programmes, preferring to announce everything from the stage. I must remember to bring a pad of paper and pen to their next concert. TorQ’s announcements have devolved upon Adam Campbell who is informative if at times loquacious.
The program consisted of a couple of very good works and a few not so good. The two bookend works were octets by Tim Brady and Michael Oesterle, both winners. Brady’s Spin (2012) was arranged from a large ensemble comprised of electric guitar, harpsichord, percussion, harp, electric piano, viola and bass clarinet. Rhytmically exuberant, it provided an exciting start to the concert. The Oesterle work took the grand prize. Titled California (2015) it was a mesmerizing stream of long tones and subtle harmonic progressions that never flagged. My question was whether or not this work could be played as a quartet? Funds for California were donated by Daniel Cooper who was in the audience and acknowledged.
Oesterie’s other work, Cepheid Variables for Quartet with Quarter Tone Glock soloist (2008), was not as successful. According to my source, a Cepheid Variable is a star that pulsates radially, varying in both temperature and diameter to produce brightness changes with a well-defined stable period and amplitude. It seemed to me that those brightness changes were the glockenspiel and its notes in quarter tones created startling moments when played with traditionally tuned notes.
Time Travels Light (2015) by Andrew Stanilan and Drum Dances (1993) for Piano and Drumset by John Psathas and arranged in 2015 by ARCHITEK member Ben Duinker, filled out the programme.
TorQ Percussion Quartet continues to thrive. Their collective imaginings create programmes and performances which communicate directly with audiences.
Posted by robinengelman on December 1, 2015 in Commentaries & Critiques, Composers, Contemporary Music
Tags: Andrew Stanilan, ARCHITEK, Christos Hatzis, John Psathas, Michael Oesterle, Ray Dillard, the Australian New Zealand Club, Tim Brady, TorQ Percussion Quartet