Catmint Writing

Culture & Politics

Category: Music

Chopin’s Nocturnes are for Women and Metrosexuals

This is definitely my favourite nocturne by Chopin.

Especially when it is performed by the highly evocative Yundi Li.

Oh my goodness! This is so emotional! I’m going to start weeping! *weeps like a crazy woman*

Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp Minor Op. posthumous comes in a close second for me.

You see? Chopin was a real metrosexual and a bit effeminate. You can tell if you listen to his famous nocturnes.

“I’m going to drink a glass of red wine, cut and eat my steak in dainty little bites, weep over my ideal love poetry whilst wiping away the tears with my square handerchief that I miraculously produce from my suit jacket, and sniff the fragrant red roses on my table while I gently hold your hand and gaze lovingly into your eyes.”

But I like it. Women and metrosexuals love Chopin.

World Music Appreciation

World music appreciation is a part of the London and Boston music education standards. Even Leehom Wang was influenced by Cantonese music.

Below is an erhu version of the Cantonese classic Autumn Moon over the Calm Lake by Song Fei.

Below is the Cantonese vocal version of Autumn Moon Over The Calm Lake.

Even Lang Lang, an ethnic Manchu, performed our piece. I honestly think he has transported himself to another realm or dimension where he is looking at the beauty of the moonlight reflections on some hypothetical lake. Lang Lang’s facial expressions are a bit too theatrical for my tastes and I strongly prefer Yundi Li’s beautifully evocative playing instead.

There are many references about wine and admiration of the moon in Tang poetry.

On Berklee School of Music Grads

Americans always break the rules. Below is an example of Berklee grad, Leehom Wang, taking the classical (his favourite classical composer is Beethoven), American (jazz and R&B), and Cantonese musical traditions complete with the percussion and drumming in lion dancing and fusing them together (harmonizing them) to create something new. This is not easy. He’s a true musician. This is a very experimental piece – a 21st century masterpiece. A standard for those who aspire to harmonize world music styles with contemporary and classical music styles.

You know why I say it’s not easy? Try to harmonize the Chinese pentatonic scale with the Western scale. They are two completely different systems. So he would have had to transcribe the Chinese notes to Western notes before harmonizing them so that they don’t sound off. That’s what the Cantonese composers did. Not everybody can do it well.

RCM would have a hissy fit and throw a temper tantrum like a five year old who had been refused candy because they look down on contemporary and popular music and pay scant lip service to world music. But I love it because I broke out of my RCM cult-like mindset. So would London as they have already added world music and contemporary pieces to their syllabi and exam repertoires.

This is the Berklee (they are located in Boston – the birthplace of the American Revolution) philosophy, which is totally counter to RCM’s (Toronto) underlying focus on the European medieval/baroque/classical/romantic era tradition: “Founded on the revolutionary principle that the best way to prepare students for careers in music was through the study and practice of contemporary music.”

Different schools. Different philosophies. Toronto’s RCM is more about following the rules, learning only to pass the exams (that they profit greatly from as RCM is loaded with money and teachers here who only teach the RCM curricula also profit from it as well so they refuse to teach the curricula from the other conservatories even if they are aware of them), and accreditation/credentials. Students wind up not truly understanding what they just learned – just enough to get a good mark on the exams to get the credentials. The European and American schools are more about instilling a love of music, musical experimentation, and innovation.

Berklee is known informally as the Boston Conservatory. See the link below for more information.

On Cantonese Composers

Below is a Cantonese classic by the Cantonese composer Peixun Chen (No. 1 from Four Piano Pieces based on Cantonese Melodies, Op. 5) that’s also part of the London ABRSM Level 8 Piano Practical Exam (Toronto’s RCM Level 10 Piano Practical Exam) repertoire. I now realize that the Canadian RCM curricula is too rigid, restrictive, stifling, and narrow. It is completely out of touch with reality, unwilling to modernize and consider other styles. Medieval, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic are not the end all and be all of music and they are perpetually stuck in a living time warp. Music is music regardless of where it came from. Even rap is a form of music and deserves to be studied seriously like how they would at progressive music schools such as Berklee School of Music (the Boston Conservatory) that produced music legends such as Leehom Wang. Unfortunately, this is precisely why there is a lack of musical innovation in Canada.

I know this because every Canadian music student has to go through the RCM system unless the music teacher has trained with other conservatories and knows how to put his or her students through alternative examination systems such as the ABRSM system in London.

ABRSM sends out examiners to over 90 countries every year and has international recognition.

Europe and the US are still leagues ahead when it comes to formal musical training in the Western tradition.

Please see the link below for more information about Peixun Chen.

Below is the original guzheng (Chinese zither) version of Autumn Moon Over The Calm Lake – a Cantonese classic by the Master of Cantonese music, Lu Wencheng. This piece has been arranged many times for different instruments and even for vocals. Isn’t it beautiful? I can almost feel as if I am really by a lake and looking at the bright and shimmery reflection of the bountiful autumn moon on the watery waves.

Lu Wencheng’s Autumn Moon Over The Calm Lake is a fine example of Southern guzheng. There’s also the Northern guzheng as there are two schools.

Below is a link to Lu Wencheng’s biography.

Peixun Chen transcribed Lu Wencheng’s Autumn Moon Over The Calm Lake for the piano.

Peixun Chen is very traditional Chinese. He had surpassed Lu the Master without being unfilial and disrespectful by paying homage to his masterpiece through the piano transcription.


Breaking the Rules: A Jazz Piano Standard

Below is amazing American classic that’s now part of London’s ABRSM (Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music) exam repertoire. Unlike Toronto’s RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music), there is less emphasis on strict music theory requirements to complete the practical exams for the upper levels and beyond. Fewer rules mean fewer restrictions on innovation beyond classicism as well as personal expression and interpretation.

This is the man who started it all – George Gershwin. This is the man who started the jazz movement in the United States that soon overtook the world by storm. The jazz movement was pivotal in the development of contemporary and popular (pop) music in the United States and the rest of the world.

Below is Leon Bates’ amazing arrangement of the piece.

And who can forget Gene Kelly in An American in Paris? Gershwin transcribed the song for the vocals and the orchestra.

Gershwin also inspired the beginnings of Shanghai Jazz in 1930s Republican China.

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