Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A disorganised reflection upon events occurring from May to July 2014

Advance apologies for incongruities in language, punctuation, or etc.

1. Prelate Javier Echevarria's visit, 17 May
2. Mission Trip Tagaytay, 29 May - 5 Jun and related events
3. Singapore and Southeast Asian Pipe Band Championship, 8 Jun
4. Grad Trip Kuching and Rainforest World Music Festival, 21 - 23 Jun
5. Retirement from GENUS, 26 Jun
6. Chinese RCIA at Holy Cross, 2 Jul and subsequent Wednesdays
7. Science and Engineering Retreat at Nativity Church, 9 - 12 Jul and related events
8. Commencement, 14 Jul and related events
9. Graduate cell group formed with Sr Sandra, 15 Jul and subsequent Tuesdays
10. Completion of CTIS Philosophy Course Translation tasks, 19 Jul
11. Lunch with the Chinese-speaking Catholic community, 26 Jul
12. Briefing for postgraduate course, 31 Jul (upcoming)
13. Diocesan Vocation Discernment retreat, 1 - 3 Aug (upcoming)

Living at the turning point of life has been eventful. I have graduated, but it is not so much a radical break from life as I know it into a world that is a linear combination of existential emptiness and fruitful labour, and more of taking a breath at the surface of the water before diving back in for another four years. Life goes on at the same place, and the same people are within reach, although some things change.

The Mission Trip airdropped me to the Manila suburbia, showed me how to love in a foreign land. The poverty of the shanty people was shocking, but I also saw in it something familiar... the dejection mirrored that of my hometown, which in addition to material destitution had also the pathetic emanation of a nation who has no soul, a nation who tails false gods, a nation with high-speed rail built across war-zones; what a scene! How do we find the faithful in such a place? Where do they dwell, what do they do? I only wish I knew, or found out earlier!

The takeaway from Tagaytay was a hangover that abhors a remedy, a message, a missionary spirit that is a fire in our hearts, there to burn on kindling, as far as we manage to sustain.


Three kinds of souls, three prayers
1] I am a bow in your hands, Lord. Draw me, lest I rot.
2] Do not overdraw me, Lord. I shall break.
3] Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break!

(Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco. DISCLAIMER: No imprimatur on this one!)


Postgraduates start on 4 August. The briefing will take place this Thursday. It is time to start reading again, and blend in nicely to what business I will be busying myself with. The busy days come with the blessing with the motivation to attend morning masses. If anything, let it be a chance to give up the day to the Lord in advance, all the days, just as the Opus Dei fellows do.

Prelate Echevarria gave a talk to the faithful in Singapore the other day. I forget most of what he said, but I never want to forget this. He said, "If you are at home with the Lord, you can be at home anywhere." This is a perfect license for Christendom to put themselves in all sorts of uncomfortable places and situations and still be at ease, as if they were at home. My commando instincts are tingling!

If you are at home with the Lord, you can be at home anywhere.
I don't know how to worship in Chinese now, but I can learn. I am able to. I don't know most the people, but I can earn their friendship. I have to. My comfort zone has been small and boring. It's time for a change.


The faith bit in "faith and good works".
I always recite to the priest, "yes, it is good to keep the communication channels open." Now I have to live it. The family now says grace before every meal, and it's passably good progress.

Catholicism in Singapore now has a charismatic bent since roughly the point when Archbishop William became Archbishop. I now regularly find myself in a crowd shouting to the Lord at the top of my voice, singing in a pitch so high it hurt my throat. Maybe after all I can reach him better in silent times than in emotionally charged times like praise and worship, because it was in one of these times that he brought me through the Acts of the Apostles, and it made for a very productive reading.


In the same stroke I would also like to talk about the earthly stuff.
I took leave from the Guitar Ensemble. It was a sudden decision, because once I got down to it, it was very easily made. If I may add a list:

Stay in GENUS:
The juniors would love to have me around.

Tuesdays are now dedicated to graduate CG.
Tuesdays may be re-dedicated to Chinese CG, or not, depending...
Saturdays are reserved in case I get to join the pipe band.
Personal philosophy regarding music diverged from that of the ensemble consensus.
Sitting down for long periods of time not very beneficial to physical fitness.

And so on and so on.
I shall be getting my musical adventures a breath of fresh air hence.

Anyway, the tradition for students here upon graduation is to fly to somewhere exotic for a Graduation Trip. I no longer have any patience for sightseeing in tourist destinations, but a concert is still very welcome. The nearest concert is the Rainforest Festival in Kuching, at the foot of Mount Santubong. A yearly event, it ran for many years while Singaporeans have been kept in the dark, because publicity somehow never reached there.

This year's guest artists seem to be rather big on the percussions.
I also mentioned the pipe band. That seems to be on hiatus for now.

Time to go and sleep.

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Tamzara - Dances from Armenia
Trad. Arr. Andy Paul Chen after Ithikon Akmeotaton (Mannheim 2006)
For the classical guitar, standard tuning (surprise!)

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Feet of the Hanged

And so it happened that the hellenes, who had been of this land since antiquity, were told that they did not belong to the new nation-state and were killed off, village after village. And young Nikos Kazantzakis kissed the feet of the hanged.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Translation Task

This venture has been exasperating. I had hoped to absorb and translate an honest, austere account of philosophy for the edification of the Chinese-speaking Catholics in Singapore. After seven chapters of Plato, Aristotlean metaphysics, Scholasticism and Leibniz, I have become less and less convinced of that lofty goal in the face of half-baked arguments for the lecturer's case and his unexamined biases; every proof or defense that he presented seemed to make his case less convincing. Consider me unlucky that it's this particular priest that teaches the course, and I only hope that the clumsy dialectics brings the class to an uproar and spur many lively debates, not dull their minds as I fear it would.

Upcoming tasks: Chapters 8 and 9 are in-depth readings of Summa Theologiae. Chapter 10 concerns the Classical-era Chinese philosophers, with emphasis on the Taoist school. Chapter 11 concerns Søren Kierkegaard and his melancholic pangs, and that seems to be the end of the course. I was first disappointed but then was relieved to learn that the worst asshats in modern philosophy in the ranks of Voltaire, Ayn Rand, de Sade, Nietzsche or Sartre have not been dredged from the depths. Exposure to these thinkers might turn the class upside-down. Still, being able to defend the faith against the fashionable ideas of the present might necessitate at least some knowledge of such minds that power them. Maybe the students should read up on them outside of the class if they feel up to it.

In other news, today is my birthday. I had clean forgotten about it until my sister's message popped in to congratulate me in the morning. At noontime I made two servings of pasta for myself to celebrate the occasion.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

No, Peter!

I don't know whether I have ever prayed for this to happen. What I'm sure I did was for God to give an answer, and however soft that turned out, I will strain to listen. I will try! Imagine how I felt when on that day God replied in the sounds of gunfire, when War has been brought to our doorstep. Too loud!

Feeling light inside with fear and expectancy, I dressed up and went to the street. Presently, the stretch close to where I was, just around the corner, was contested by two detachments of soldiers, and after a brief incendiary exchange close to the front door of my house, both groups had retreated, leaving in their wake a mortally-wounded young man.

The man had crawled to safety in an alley during the retreat; a teenager, barely nineteen, in a makeshift uniform of sorts that is typical of the guerillas. He clutched me when I reached him and I tried to prop him up against the brick walls, preparing to administer to him the last rites. He was moaning in agony from bullet wounds to his abdomen (there were several), and I said to myself, this is the Lord who moans. It was now when a soldier from the other side found us. Pointing his rifle at us, he screamed at me in a language I did not understand. He seemed to want me to give up the poor sod who was so close to death, so he could polish him off properly. I don't know if you would do the same, but I flared up because a man's sense of honour would never allow him to strike a foe already fallen, you know. I picked up a discarded sickle from the pile and brought it down over his head. The helmet withstood the blow and deflected the sickle, but I managed to slice off a piece of his right ear.

And would you know, the next thing I knew the young man was up. "NO, PETER," he screamed, and shoved me aside. He picked up the ear and put it back on, would you believe it, put it back on so that the soldier had his ear again, and the soldier knelt down and just stayed there, sobbing and muttering like an idiot. Now I don't know how his fellows found him afterwards, what happened to that young man, or even what happened immediately afterwards, because a strong shock knocked me out at that instant, and afterwards I was unconscious for days.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Obscurum Inter Stellas II

Writing as indication that I am still living

One. Translation work. Catholic Theological Institute of Singapore, Father Henry Siew's course starting July. Eleven chapters, at press time four completed. English to Chinese. Inevitably, Greek and Latin are also involved. What ensues is angst and a growing suspicion that the course is just a bunch of tautologies and deep thought would be unattainable, but I do my best.

Two. Tagaytay mission trip. Verbum Dei Missionaries. Philippines, Cavite Province, 45 km S of Manila. 29 May to 5 Jun. Spartan packing list plus old clothes and supplies to donate. Learning a bit of the language (now to the extent that I know the Hail Mary and 1x song). Lesson planning for 1.5 hours, various admin duties, replenishing medical supplies as is the drill.

Three. Guitar Ensemble people in Japan. Two weeks in Japan, also being subsumed into the Niibori cult. Concert today.

Four. Thursday lunch. After lunch we were bored. Naturally, we went to visit the Parliament.

Five. Monday Civilian Route March. 17.3 km West Coast to Bishan. Route could have been better planned to avoid hectic stretch at Adam / Lornie / Braddell Road. Bought tea and read Philosophy of Mathematics by James Robert Brown, a refreshing break from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Mayday Music Library Audit

A. Breakdown of musical pieces by country of origin
Green: less represented - Yellow: moderately represented - Orange: heavily represented

B. Breakdown of musical pieces by language
More than 50 songs:
English [1021] - French [418] - Swedish [354] - Finnish [276] - Breton (France) [147] - Irish [141] - Scots Gaelic [102] - Latin [98] - North Sami [91] - Icelandic [75] - Tuvan (Russia) [69] - German [57]

21 to 50 songs:
Castillan Spanish [34] - Koryak (Russia) [32] - Mongol [31] - Korean [31] - Scots [28] - Polish [25] - Greek [24] -  Norwegian [22] - Catalan [22] - Mandarin Chinese [21] - Danish [21]

11 to 20 songs:
Ainu (Japan) [20] - Wolof (West Africa) [20] - Yakut (Russia) [17] - Bulgarian [16] - Persian [16] - Angermanlandic (Sweden) [15] - Uyghur (China) [15] - Even (Russia) [14] - Chukchi (Russia) [13] - Japanese [13] - Karelian (Finland and Russia) [12] - Portuguese [12] - Romanian [12] - Yukaghir (Russia) [12]

3 to 10 songs:
Elfdalian (Sweden) [10] - Uzbek [8] - Italian [7] - Inuktitut (Canada) [7] - Urdu [6] - Xhosa [6] - Azeri [5] - Hindi [5] - Welsh [5] - Arabic [4] - Galician (Spain) [4] - Russian [4] - Turkish [4] - Manx Gaelic [3] - Maori [3] - Seediq (Taiwan) [3] - Slovene [3] - Wongatha (Australia) [3] - Zulu [3]

Two [2] songs each in:
Armenian - Guarani (South America) - Hebrew - Indonesian - Jamtlandic (Sweden) - Livonian (Latvia) - Miyako (Japan) - Swahili - Swazi - Ukrainian - Vepsian (Russia)

One [1] song each in: 
Baegu (Solomon Islands) - Basque - Bengali - Bosniak - Cantonese - Estonian - Faroese - Fulani (West Africa) - Greenlandic - Hungarian - Judeo-Spanish - Kurdish - Latvian - Mandinka (West Africa) - Mikmak (Canada) - Okinawan (Japan) - Old Church Slavonic - Punjabi - Quechua - Sanskrit - Serbian - Serer (West Africa) - Seri (Mexico) - Sotho (South Africa and Lesotho) - Shawnee (Amerindian) - Slovak - South Sami - Suya (Brazil) - Tok Pisin (Papua New Guinea) - Vietnamese - Votic (Russia) - Yiddish

Instrumental and lyricless vocal songs: 3257 pieces
Not sorted: 184 pieces
Total 6936 pieces 

Updated: 6 May 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cantiga del Fuego

How is it that this fiery and passionate affair,
ignited by cinders,
consumed my life so completely
and yet was over before forty days were up.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Román népi táncok, Sz. 56, BB68: Arrangement Notes

The Concert, 16 March 2014: This semester's concert by GENUS began and wrapped up in the Conservatory's concert hall. It was marketed by Randy's dashing profile as the Man, Consumed By Wanderlust, Embarks On An Odyssey To Eleven Countries Around The World. My assignment for this round is Bartók Béla's Román népi táncok. The song has been filed in as the second last piece in the concert as well as the encore (to everyone's horror). It was only on the day of the concert that I was aware that the title of the piece had become Six Romanian Dances, but if that means that our emcee Ajay doesn't trip up his sexy baritone voice in the weird Hungarian consonants, I think it's a fair compromise.

Background to the Piece: Bartók Béla composed the first Six Romanian Dances in 1915, based on folk tunes gathered from Transylvania. Transylvania was a region in the Kingdom of Hungary at the time of composition, but was lost to the Romanians in the Treaty of Trianon of 1920. It was at this point when the slightly bummed Bartók presumably shrugged and changed the title from Romanian Folk Dances from Hungary to Romanian Folk Dances. This also why explains why this Romanian piece has a Hungarian name like the composer's, and why five of the movements have two unpronounceable titles instead of just one.

The Six Movements and Where They Come From:
All six songs can be nailed down to a map of Transylvania, or the half of Romania situated to the north and west of the Carpathian mountains.

1. Bot tánc / Jocul cu bâtă / Stick Dance: from Mezőszabad village (now Voiniceni)
2. Brâul / Sash Dance: from Igriș (village within walking distance from Bartók's hometown)
3. Topogó / Pe loc / Standing Still: also from Igriș
4. Bucsumí tánc / Buciumeana / Dance from Bucsum: from Bucium
5. Román polka / Poarga Românească / Romanian Polka: from Belényes (now Beiuș)
6. Aprózó / Mărunțel / Fast Dance: First part from Belényes, second part from Nyágra (now Neagra)

Working Material: The arrangement relied heavily on the piano original, to which the scores are available free of charge on the IMSLP database. Arthur Willner's string orchestra arrangement also accounted for some of the inspiration; I referred chiefly to the 2010 rendition of this piece by Danubia Orchestra and the folk group Muzsikás, who have unrepentantly butchered this piece from its original state, even adding their own movement between Dances 5 and 6:

The work on the guitar ensemble arrangement started on the day of the concert Food for Thought in 18 September 2013. A workable draft was produced in November, and then playability issues were mopped up in the finalised version in 15 January 2014, after negotiation with section leaders.

Technical Issues:
1. Instrumentation:
Wan Ching was roped in to lead the ensemble in movement 2, play a solo in movement 3, and follow along the ensemble in movements 5 and 6 with the Yangqin, a close approximation to the Hungarian hammered dulcimer. Anna led the ensemble in the later half of movement 3 and then movement 4 and then closes with all the rest in movement 6 with the glockenspiel. Movement 3 is extended by half a movement to make space for the Yangqin solo. Everything else was guitars. There were no percussion parts.

2. Speed: 
It appears that the tempo indicated for the later movements was the main reason why people hated the song so much at first. I used Bartók's metronome marks in the piano scores, which most piano players already don't follow. Ultimately, the ensemble decides how fast they would play the songs.

Robert, our conductor, has taken the liberty to play movement 6 part 2 faster than part 1, despite Bartók's recommendation to take it one notch slower.

3. Rubato
I put some segments of movements 2 and 3 for the Yangqin player to play not to any specific tempo, but in any way she damn well likes. This is because I found the movement 2 original to be boring and want to spice it up, and also to force everyone to look at the conductor when they play. The short (angled) fermata at the end of the first two lines are recommended to be held for just long enough for the audience to start feeling impatient and cheated, but not longer.

The speed at which the movement 3 Yangqin solo is to be played is up to the player. Anything other than a regular beat is fine.

4. Chords: 
Chords are chosen according to those in the piano scores. I used the fretboard function in Sibelius 6 to determine if a chord is playable. Even then, a lot of changes had to be made to the chords after the first print to make them easier to play. I have known that the alto players to be allergic to chords, so have minimised chords in alto parts. Much apologies to the basses.

Heng Zhong (Prime 2) accompanied the glockenspiel in the second half of movement 3 with strummed chords. Those things are seriously easier than they look in the scores. Also to whoever plays this part, I don't actually recommend looking at the scores, but instead to write down something like this that fits on a post-it note:

... | Bm | " | G | " | Bm | D/A | " (+G#) | " | D/A | ...

The strum rhythm written in the score is just a recommendation, and one can afford to throw that page away after he has learned the chords by heart and figured out his favourite strumming pattern.

Signed off
8 April 2014