singing

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The simple life

Filed in General, LifeTags: , , , ,

My life for the moment is very simple.

I get up in the morning and take our kids for their morning walks; two walks, five kids at a time.

I have breakfast and feed the kids.

I then do my vocalising (singing) exercises. I visited Peisha again in L.A. in June July this year for two-and-a-half weeks. During that time, I studied twelve lessons with her and performed one cabaret. The lessons were all recorded on my MacBook Pro, and I now repeat them almost every day. When I visited her this time, Peisha taught me a new (and tough) vocalising technique, one that I wasn't ready for back in 2006 when I first studied with her. This new technique seems to be producing a very significant difference in my singing voice and I'm enthusiastic about where it'll take me. The vocalising part of these lessons takes anywhere from half an hour to forty-five minutes. Believe me. That's enough. Any more would be very difficult to handle.

After vocalising, I vacuum the flat. With eleven kids, there is a plentiful and continual supply of hair, so daily vacuuming is necessary. Vacuuming typically takes about an hour to complete. While I vacuum, I study a new language via my iPhone. Around two years ago, I purchased Mandarin and Indonesian language courses from Pimsleur. I studied Mandarin at the Chinese University several years ago, but without using it, I've forgotten most of it. I purchased the Pimsleur Mandarin course to help me get back up to speed. I purchased the Indonesian course because I wanted to learn the language of our helpers. I was so impressed by the Pimsleur courses that in December of last year, I purchased four more courses; Japanese, Hebrew, Persian (Farsi) and Italian; but it wasn't until August of this year that I actually began using them.

I chose to study five languages simultaneously. People, even close friends, question my decision to do this, believing that studying multiple languages together will be confusing. I chose to study them all together because I believe that becoming familiar with a language requires time. The more time you spend with a language, the more familiar and natural it will become. Your mind requires time to analyse and adapt to the new language. That doesn't happen overnight. I also believe that one will not be confused when learning multiple languages even if as in the Pimsleur case, the subject matter is almost identical. The brain is a lot smarter than that. Admittedly, there are times when my immediate response to a Pimsleur narrator request is not in the language I'm learning, but a reminder from the narrator and I'm back on track again. Time is the key.

I rotate the languages, keeping a record of which language and which lesson I've completed in my iPhone (courtesy of OmniFocus), trying to complete a new lesson for each language at least once every two days. That's only possible if I complete three lessons a day, so vacuuming is not the only time I listen to a Pimsleur course. I also listen when I'm driving (which requires extra concentration because the act of driving itself requires its fair share of attention), and when I'm exercising. I'm hoping to be conversant (obviously not fluent) in these languages within three years.

In the afternoons, I go to the local karaoke to practise my singing and research songs. A typical karaoke session for me runs for one-and-a-half to two hours of almost nonstop singing. Believe it or not, that's actually physically exhausting.

Then it's off to the gym for a workout before picking my wife up at work.

Home again, and it's time to take the kids out for their evening walks; two walks of course.

If my legs aren't injured (my left calf muscle is currently recovering from a serious injury), I'll finish my day with a short run (listening to another Pimsleur course all the while).

My life is simple, but it sure is tiring; both physically and mentally. I've never been so tired. It'll be worth it though. Fit, healthy, singing well, and conversant in five, six or seven languages. That'll do.

But, as Albert (one of my good friends) so aptly noted back in my uni days, I am very much a 大隻講 (big talker) so don't assume that I'll actually complete any of these lofty goals until I've actually completed them.

By the way, did I mention that I'll be one of the MC's at this year's Vancouver Miss Asia Pageant in December?   ;-)

Living the student’s life in L.A.

Filed in L.A. (Sept 2006), Music, TravelTags: , , ,

I came to L.A. to study singing, nothing else, and the studies are coming along wonderfully. I have one-on-one lessons with my teacher once a day from Monday to Friday. Additionally, I attend one Cabaret workshop with other students on Tuesday nights and another singing workshop on Saturdays in a totally different place.

My teacher is simply amazing. Her knowledge of singing is so broad and extensive that I would never be able to learn everything from her even if I stayed here a whole year. For the workshops, she has a friend and partner who acts as the musical director. He is also incredible and I feel incredibly lucky to have met both of these people. Sometimes, you get lucky!

Other than my lessons, I have very little to do, so my days are relatively relaxed in spite of the small hiccups I've encountered along the way (which I'll describe in a later article).

I live approximately fifteen blocks away from my teacher's studio. When I planned this trip, I used the internet to find the accommodation closest to my teacher's studio at the lowest price. The motel I'm staying is not quite the cheapest but it is the closest, albeit fifteen blocks. But I don't mind the fifteen blocks. When I stayed in Hollywood two years ago, I walked everywhere and quickly discovered that walking for an hour or so each day at a medium pace with seven to ten kilos in a backpack is a great way to get fit. So I decided to the do the same thing this time. Besides, I don't have a lot to do so walking for two or three hours each day is definitely not going to hurt me (although my beloved Birkenstock sandals are suffering). So my motel location has turned out to be excellent for my needs.

Coincidentally, my motel is just two minutes walk away from a shopping mall with a Starbucks store, so my coffee and internet needs are also provided for.

So basically, I get up in the morning, walk on over to Starbucks, have a cup of coffee and a raisin bagel, check my email, surf the internet for a short while and then go back to my motel. These days, I'm drinking a grande 4-shot 2% latte in the morning and another tall 3-shot 2% latte in the afternoon. I was drinking whole milk lattes but I soon realised that they were probably slowing my weight-loss in spite of all the walking, so I've switched to 2% milk which still tastes great nonetheless. At night, because there's nothing better to do, I come back to Starbucks for one last latte and a final email check before watching a little local tv and retiring to bed. Unfortunately, that night latte was causing sleep problems for me so a few nights ago, I started drinking the decaf version and my sleep is now much better.

Funny thing about Starbucks: They use less coffee here than they use in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, we have the Short, Tall and Grande sizes. The Vente size was only introduced a month or so ago in Hong Kong. In the U.S.A. where food portions are usually extravagantly large, Starbucks doesn't have a Short size. What is intriging though is that they use less coffee in their drinks. While in Hong Kong, the Tall and Grande sizes have two and three shots of coffee respectively, here in the U.S.A., they only have one and two shots of coffee. I remember the first time I tried a regular Tall Latte here. It tasted more like milk than coffee. I have subsequently remembered to always order extra shots of coffee. Conversely, Starbucks' primary competitor, The Coffee Bean, seems to use more coffee. Their regular Medium (ie, Starbucks' Tall) lattes taste just fine without adding any extra coffee.

It feels as if I've been here forever. I can hardly remember getting off the plane two weeks ago. It's been an excellent adventure though. My teachers are fantastic and I'm learning a lot more than I could have dreamed. And I've met new friends (hello Mandy and Michael ;-). In fact, it will be difficult to leave my teachers and go back to Hong Kong. But I miss my wife and family and it will be wonderful to see them again.

11 days of this fun adventure remain...

The debasement of pop music

Filed in Hong Kong, MusicTags: , , ,

The other night, I heard a professional singer recording for a music show. He was really good but I couldn't help but wonder if he was singing a song or singing a vocal exercise. The vocal range of the song was extreme with rapid movement between real voice and falsetto notes.

Popular music in Hong Kong has lost any sense of feel. In an effort to differentiate themselves, singers have moved to songs making heavy use of falsetto. First there was one singer, then another and then another. Even Jacky Cheung was persuaded to follow suit. The apparent opinion is that if you can't sing falsetto, then you're not a professional singer.

Listen to the Hong Kong pop charts today and you can't help but get the feeling that all the music came from the same computer program. It's monotonous and boring, and it's therefore no wonder that the singing program 名曲滿天星 on TVB Sunday nights m.c.'d by Miss Wong 汪明荃 is getting such high ratings. It's the only place in 'broadcast' town where you can hear real music sung by real singers.

Unfortunately, this is just one symptom of today's society of mass production, mass distribution and unjustly elevated corporate profits, and it's happening in all fields of life, not just music. People are being conditioned to accept lower quality product while thinking that it's better and sometimes even paying more for it.

What used to be solid wood tables is now cheap particle wood with thin laminate. What used to be metallic cups and bowls that lasted for years without wear and tear are now plastic cups and bowls that scratch, bend, melt, fade and may even indirectly cause the extinction of mankind via lower sperm counts caused by the man-made oestrogen used to make most of today's cheap plastics. Where we used to have a huge variety of tasty fruit and vegetables to choose from, we now; thanks to huge supermarket chain profiteering; only have access to a small variety of food which supposedly looks perfect but tastes like cardboard (except in Europe where they insist on only buying food that tastes good regardless of how it looks). Yet we are told that the standard of living is improving, and that we're better off than we've ever been before.

There's not much we can do about it, except perhaps to wherever possible refuse to buy product of lesser quality. Unfortunately, people in general are weak and easily moulded to do the bidding of the corporates so I have no idea where this will all end except to help the rich get richer while the poor continue to get poorer.