Divertimento Op. 51, by Paul Juon

November 30th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

The chamber music repertoire for sextet comprising of wind quintet (flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, horn) and piano isn’t very large. I know, because one of my music groups has spent the last several years plowing through much of it. The canon includes a couple of more familiar warhorses: Opus 6 by Thuille (which I detest) and Opus 100 by Poulenc (which I love). However, several years ago I also found a piece by Paul Juon for that instrumentation: a Divertimento for Pianoforte and Wind Quintet, Op. 51. It’s a breezy, yet surprisingly deep piece with a lot of character which showcases the tonal qualities of the various instruments, and my sextet spent a lot of time working on it last year.

Until now, the only edition I know of for the music is from imslp.org, which is in the public domain; Edition Silvertrust appears to be a duplicate of the same edition. It is hand-written, has numerous errors, and the score is ill-suited for piano performance. In the hopes that some other sextet finds this useful and also performs this fairly obscure but well-deserving piece, I took the opportunity to typeset the whole thing in Sibelius, cleaned up inconsistencies, and also created a piano part with suitable page turns.

There’s only one professional recording of this that I’m aware of, by the Hexagon Ensemble. To this I humbly add an amateur performance by the Ascot Sextet: Nancy Loomba, flute; Tim Meals, oboe; Linda Wilson, clarinet; Frank Lahorgue, horn; Marj Prindle, bassoon; Julian Fong, piano, performing at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian in Pleasant Hill on April 22, 2012.

Son Of A Preacher Man

January 31st, 2013 § 5 comments § permalink

A couple of months ago, I was listening to Dusty Springfield’s “Son Of A Preacher Man” on the radio, and suddenly realized the bass line was something quite extraordinary. I’ve been paying more attention to bass lines as I learn how to play bass, and until then hadn’t noticed this one right under my noise, right off the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.

Here’s my transcription of that amazing pentatonic bass line played by Tommy Cogbill.

Fingerings are my own (and may not be to your taste).

A Gun Story

January 12th, 2013 § 0 comments § permalink

(This is the same essay I posted on Facebook.)

This is a not terribly interesting post about a gun, which may help illuminate my views on gun control. You may think of it as a set of statistical points, if you like.

As many of you know, I spent most of my formative years living in a house directly attached to a grocery store. Various family members have been held up while running said store. Fun times! Actually, every single Fong (Susan excepted, I hope) have various fun stories about psycho customers that are much more fun than this story.

I can’t remember if Mom – who spent most of the time in the store – ever got threatened with a gun, but I know she was threatened with a knife once, because I came home from school one day to find the police interviewing her over the incident. Turns out Mom, who is a far bigger badass than I ever will aspire to in this lifetime, grabbed her own knife (we kept it around for slicing open Freezies, if you know what those are), waved it at the assailant and threatened to take his ear off or something, and sent that guy running for his life. I wish I was there that day, because I love my Mom and all but her English has never been good and in her relating the story, I suspect something has been lost in translation as to just exactly what part of his anatomy she threatened to cut off.

One sister was once threatened in the store by a person with a snarling adult German shepherd, but that wasn’t a robbery, that was a revenge scenario – and I was involved. No, you will not hear that story today.

Brother-in-law had it by far worst: he was robbed by two men with guns – ended up hog tied, face down, etc while they raided every carton of cigarettes they could grab. Thankfully he wasn’t hurt in that one. But that’s his story, and anyways I don’t remember the details about that one.

Which gets us to my story: I got held up at gunpoint once in the store. This means I get to legitimately state I’ve stared down the wrong end of a gun held by a criminal. And I was a teenager at the time: I was at most fourteen, and actually probably even younger, since this was before Rosalind moved east. It was dinner time, which took place in the room immediately behind the store; we alternated amongst the kids who got to go out to the store and man the counter, and this time it was my turn. When I got behind the counter, twitchy customer guy who was maybe all of twenty or so draws a gun, demands all the cash, no funny stuff, etc. I don’t remember much about what I was thinking, except for one weird thing: I found it really odd that the barrel of the gun was way larger than I expected. My sisters still think this means I was actually threatened by a flare gun, I still maintain I was just scared shitless and my brain was acting funny. Anyways, my sisters’ opinions count for exactly squat in this particular situation because at first they thought this was all a prank pulled by a schoolmate. As if my high school friends would ever go through with pulling that sort of stunt: cf candy cane lottery forgery incident. Anyways, I handed over all the money in the till (wasn’t more than fifty bucks), and by this point other family members were finally figuring out what was up and appearing on the scene, so the guy had to divide his attention and threaten all of us – so he gave up and ran off with his spoils.

There’s not much more to this story. No one was hurt. To my knowledge he was never caught (I did a pathetic job of description to the detectives afterwards – they even gave me photos to look at and I still drew a blank).

Two additional important points:

  • Notwithstanding the point I was under-fricking-age at the time, it has never crossed my mind that if there was a gun at hand, I would have acted any differently. First, there was no time. When there’s a gun two feet from your face, you do not think about reaching under the counter. You do not think about making sudden moves. We had an alarm button below the counter (all it did was ring a bell in the back) and reaching down to push it was the last thing on my mind. Second, I’m not that kind of person which counters lethal force with lethal force, I’m still not that person and don’t want to be that person. You may draw your own conclusions as to what kind of person that makes me. (“chickenshit” has come up before amongst drunken companions when I relate this story.. heh)
  • This took place in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. Not the nicest part of Vancouver, certainly, but also not Oakland, California, USA which is where I live now.

If you’ve actually read this far – all I will claim by making this post is that there are some fine nuances to the gun control debate which we as a country shouldn’t be afraid to discuss. I’m tired of seeing everyone spin recent tragedies into a OMG partisan moment without at least rationally considering both sides of the issue. I think you can draw points from this post to support either side of the debate (I know *I* certainly can). That doesn’t mean I don’t fall pretty firmly on one side of the issue, but since moving here I’ve always been willing to consider arguments from the other side, as long as the points are made in ways I deem credible (i.e with science and statistics and logic, not guided by strong emotion).

Schubert Cello Quintet

April 5th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Musicians hard at work on the Schubert cello quintet

Top to bottom: Julian Fong, Ting Chin, Miriam Blatt, Milton Wong, Joe Neeman. Photo by Olivier Hubert

Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, D. 956, is one of the most sublime pieces of chamber music ever written – especially if you’re a cellist. It’s one of the few string quintets that feature two cello parts, and it doesn’t matter which of the two cello parts you play, they’re both great. Recently five friends and I have performed the piece at two separate house concerts (along with other chamber pieces performed by other musicians), and we get to play it one more time at 3pm on Sunday, April 10th at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Pleasant Hill.

The picture above was taken at the first house concert, but the recording for that concert didn’t turn out well. The recording for the second house concert turned out better, so here it is. The acoustics in the church for the last concert will be even better so if you’re available, come check us out! There are also some wind quintets on the program that should be interesting.

String Quintet in C Major, D. 596, by Franz Schubert

Performers: Joe Neeman, violin 1; Milton Wong, violin 2; Miriam Blatt, viola; Brady Anderson, cello 1; Julian Fong, cello 2.

What’s Your Price For Flight?

January 25th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

My lovely wife bought me Rock Band 3 for Christmas. I already owned some incarnation of Guitar Hero (also a gift, also from wife), so a plastic guitar with five clacky plastic buttons and clackier strum bar already cluttered a corner of our living room. Guitar Hero belongs to that genre of video game known as a “rhythm game” where correctly pushing buttons on a nominally instrument shaped controller in response to visual or audio stimuli racks up points. You may argue this is true of all video games, so the distinguishing factor here is that the stimuli are nominally music related. Push the buttons in time to the beat or flashing light, basically. Rock Band 3 mostly follows the same model as Guitar Hero except with the addition of more instruments (vocals, drums, and keyboard). With the purchase of a microphone we now have a video game that Susan and I can actually play together.

Rock Band 3 interested me because of the new “Pro Mode” feature. For instrumentals, rather than playing a cut down instrument with five buttons, players now have the option to play the real thing, or at least something a lot closer to the real notes. This requires a MIDI capable device which in the case of the guitar or keyboard could be considered a bona fide genuine musical instrument. The guitar is already on order and won’t show up until March, but I already have a MIDI keyboard. So I plugged it in expecting to kick ass and was instantly, crushingly humiliated. A virtual audience threw beer bottles and kicked me off the stage in the midst of playing “Roxanne”. I barely managed Devo, and “Whip It” involves a grand total of seven keys, dammit.

The problem is, my brain is wired to read music notation. Very hard wired. To the detriment of many other things.

And Pro Mode does not involve reading music. It involves reacting to upwardly scrolling columns of beads. This is the normal modus operandi of these musical rhythm games, but Pro Mode more than doubles the stakes (twelve columns instead of five buttons, mapping to a keyboard octave), and throws in whole scale remappings to other parts of the keyboard for good measure. As a generous gesture, it color codes these bars. However, even this generosity does not create anything close to resembling to music notation. In fifty years, as music education dies a slow agonizing death in elementary schools, it may perhaps supplant music notation and mnemonics such as Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge may be perceived as an utterly quaint historic custom. But this is not the musical notation that I can read today better than I can recognize my neighbor’s faces.

I struggled with this for a few days and got somewhat better. Then I went after a Trophy: playing 200 consecutive notes on Pro Keyboard mode in Sister Christian. I tried for two hours, clawing my way to 170 before screwing up, and gave it up. My brain waggles fingers in reaction to a restricted set of stimuli involving black beans sitting on horizontal lines on a page and that wasn’t about to readily change. So I did what any sane musician would do: I went away, found a recording, transcribed the keyboard part of Sister Christian to manuscript paper, came back, and kicked its ass.

And now you know why this page of music is floating around my living room. You may call it a cheat code if you will. It is certainly an arcane scribbling that, when correctly followed, allows one to beat an arbitrary task set in a video game. The fact that there is some higher merit attributed to this piece of paper is perhaps just a stubborn fiction that I will cling to in the name of my art.

ChessByBlog 1.1.5

June 23rd, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

Somewhat long overdue release! Here’s what’s new:

  • Piece animation has been added. This may require a fairly modern browser.
  • The game log can now be viewed as a compact paragraph instead of a table.
  • Problems with ill-behaved themes (including the 2010 default WordPress theme) leading to badly spaced boards have been addressed.
  • Boards and pieces are now separately themed, and can be chosen independently of each other. A few new themes have been added.
  • A problem with FEN strings specifying Black’s turn has been fixed.
  • An issue with numeric annotation glyphs has been fixed.
  • Various other user interface fixes and tweaks.

As usual, here is the Chess By Blog blurb page. You can download the release directly from the wordpress server: chess-by-blog.1.1.5.zip, or first take a look at the Chess by Blog page on wordpress.org.

Please post any questions or issues in the comments. If you are having issues, please be sure to post what browser and what version you are using. Happy chess playing!

ChessByBlog 1.1.4

September 7th, 2009 § 19 comments § permalink

This version of the plugin is compiled using Google Web Toolkit version 1.7. Along with a small fix to nested PRE within DIV tags, this upgrade of the framework should fix the problems encountered with closed boards under Internet Explorer 8, as well as any other issues specific to that browser that may have been lurking. I also took the opportunity to clean up the code to compile cleanly with no deprecations under GWT 1.7 as well. Anyone who is compiling from source should note that the prior release used GWT 1.5, and the directory structure is completely different in GWT 1.7; the source code in this build reflects that new layout.

This release also moves the config page from the Tools menu to the Settings menu, since this is where most plugin users expect it nowadays.

As usual, here is the Chess By Blog blurb page. You can download the release directly from the wordpress server: chess-by-blog.1.1.4.zip, or first take a look at the Chess by Blog page on wordpress.org.

Please post any questions or issues in the comments. If you are having issues, please be sure to post what browser and what version you are using. Happy chess playing!

ChessByBlog 1.1.3

July 12th, 2009 § 16 comments § permalink

Another minor release. Sorry for the extended delay on a major issue, but I’ve been busy nursing my fiancée back to health, and getting married. Anyways, this release primarily fixes authentication issues primarily seen when using boards inserted by the editor button. It turns out this problem was due to the wpautop() function in WordPress which automatically munges text in posts and inserts <p> tags in the middle of PGN, which screws up the client. This issue has been worked around and should not require disabling wpautop().

The PGN button has also been altered slightly to try to improve functionality when using Internet Explorer. It seems marginally better, but not all the way there yet. (I hate working with IE.)

As usual, here is the Chess By Blog blurb page. You can download the release directly from the wordpress server: chess-by-blog.1.1.3.zip, or first take a look at the Chess by Blog page on wordpress.org.

Please post any questions or issues in the comments. Happy chess playing!

Susan and Wedding Update

April 29th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

I’ve been genuinely busy (really!) and generally not able to commit an hour of brain time to write a decent blog entry. Some of that was self inflicted: I committed to playing cello with the Stanford Savoyards latest production of the Gondoliers, and that more or less killed three consecutive weekends right there.

Beyond that, Susan has been very sick. I’ll avoid duplicating effort and instead point you at the page we wrote for our wedding web site. I can only hope she’s on the mend now that the pancreas is out and she’s off immunosuppression.

Nonetheless, the wedding is definitely still on, in large part due to the heroic efforts of the future in-laws. Caterer, cake maker, florist, DJ have all been committed to, with two months to spare, and invitations were all sent out yesterday. Yes, life continues here even when I’m not posting about it.

A decade at Pixar

January 21st, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

I started work at Pixar on Thursday, January 21st, 1999, so today is my tenth anniversary.

I was supposed to start on Monday the 18th, but INS saw fit to deny my entry into the country, mainly because I’d chosen to believe something I’d read on the Internet instead of following the advice of the immigration lawyers. Then on the second day of work, I went to my first beer bash, and had a beer and probably a slice of Zachary’s pizza. At the time I wasn’t consciously aware that the drinking age in the States was higher than in British Columbia. So second day on the job, and already getting Pixar into legal trouble. You can see the seeds of a pattern of behaviour that perhaps hasn’t changed all that much over the ten years.

Anyways, thanks to all of my co-workers in the RenderMan group, past and present, for being supportive, helpful, and generally cool enough to make the last ten years go by in a blink, even through offices in six separate buildings and three zip codes.

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