I Made A Web Site!

No, not this one. You already know about this one, heaven knows why you still read it.

So, I joined an orchestra last year. We play lots of music! You should check us out. Then I asked “Why does the orchestra have two Twitter accounts?” and somehow that led to me being a board director tasked with one of the Twitter accounts. Lesson learned: never ask smartass questions, you will only pay for it in the end. The orchestra badly needed a new website, and got one made by a contractor. It was terrible. I volunteered that I could make a better one in my spare time, despite there being some reservations about the definitions of “spare” and “time” and whether Susan actually sees me outside of work hours.

About the website? Not having built a web site from scratch in ages, I wasn’t really looking forward to it when I started. But it turns out in year 2014, WordPress is a perfectly viable platform to build a website for a non-profit org. Okay, CSS is still a major pain in the ass and PHP is still godawful. But IE 6 is finally dead..ish, most browsers more or less behave the same way, webfonts are finally actually viable, and a lot of decent plugins exist to extend WordPress far enough for what I needed (two critical pieces: event management and orchestra roster). The default WordPress theme was actually a decent starting point and had the right buzzwordy features (must work with mobile: “responsive!”). Free non-profit hosting by Dreamhost and painless CDN from CloudFlare and the pieces all came together in a way that would have been unfathomable to me only a scant couple years ago.

Anyways, you should totally check out the Diablo Symphony because we are awesome musicians (seriously), and have a totally hip and happening website.

Divertimento Op. 51, by Paul Juon

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

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

(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

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.