Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Don't I Go to Piano Recitals?

I went to Ricker Choi's piano concert last Friday (Nov 21).  www.rickerchoi.com  Yes, this was an anomoly, but considering I knew one of the performers (Barbara Fris, soprano, I didn't know) maybe it's not too strange.  It did make me think about a few things:  performance, composition, and current piano music appreciation.  The latter is what I'll touch on first -- or the lack of it.

My first realization:  piano concerts are asynchronous with popular culture.  I thought it would be hard to get a friend to come watch with me (I think I'm right, but let me know if I'm wrong -- drop me a note if you'd consider joining me next time).  In the show, I sat next to 2 young, giggly Taiwanese women.  One of them admitted "I was dragged here by my friend."  One of the friends was a piano performer.  Then there was a short woman in the ticket line-up next to me flirting with me by asking:  "So, are you a musician?"  I was, and of course found out she was.  And more musicians:  the guy on my left was Ricker's friend and a U of T music composition grad student -- hence perhaps there was a social-professional interest in attending, and not strictly an enjoyment factor.  (BTW: Mark has some interesting work -- he wrote an Opera to Hamlet -- here's a short clip).   www.markrichardscomposer.com

I digresss.  My point is there seems to be a rather narrow range of people who would attend such a concert.  But I don't know why.  Perhaps in general, "classical music" (or really piano music from the 16th through the 20th centuries)  is reinterpretation upon reinterpretation of past musical works decreases its relevance and freshness as articulated over bubble tea by the ever-thoughtful Wei Hong.

Back to the concert.  Clearly Ricker is very talented:  He started piano at 13, got his ARCT by 18 (yes, wow!).  2nd place in an international Piano competition in Boston earlier this year (though he humbly asserts on his website this is for non-professional musicians).  His Ravel La Valse was top-notch -- evoking World-War One angst and chaos in a technically complex and polished performance.  All I could wonder is why Ravel would compose such a piece.  Dynamic, dissonant and disturbing.  Yes, disturbing.  But based on audience reaction, I don't think anyone else found it disturbing (only my deepest respect to my buddy Ricker):  HUGE APPLAUSE.  Obivously for the performer and not the composition.  Somehow the audience could separate the two pieces:  the performance, and the music.  I did not or perhaps chose not to.  I was, unusually, listening to the whole.  And the composition which started out reasonable, eventually became so dark (take a listen -- this will give you a feel for what I heard -- and you can let me know what you think).  I sat there questioning the audience's judgement. 
They appreciated the performer at the expense of judging the composition.  How dare I say this?  And how strange of me to do so.  Composition and performance go hand in hand, do they not?  So why should this be any different?  As if banging on the keyboard with such high levels of technical precision which was so amazingly impressive (yes it was) was the main thing.  Maybe it is when that happens...but as a performance (in the same vein as judging a musical, or a sketch show), somehow I feel that the composition and writing needs to be judged as much as the performance.  This isn't something I would have thought before -- but somehow, this view feels right.  Any takers on this topic?

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Musical Review: The Toxic Avenger 5.8/10

Toxic waste & the New Jersey river.  A reject nerd, Melvyn, turns into a 'green' superhero after getting dumped into toxic waste (yes to the double-entendre).  Bubbly, blind blonde falls in love with him only to reject him when she finds out his true identity.  One of my favourite lines in the show is as mom tries to get bubbly to accept Melvyn:  "But if blind people don't love ugly people, then noone will."

My favourite scene involved one woman playing two strong, interesting characters:  the mayor and Melvyn's mother.  The escalation comes when they're about to butt heads...but then you know they're the same character.  Help!  Then the characters meet.  Can you imagine the wack-o schizophrenic scene that results?  Well, it was GREAT.  The scene was well choreographed, executed perfectly, and was a joy to watch.

Despite funny moments throughout, a very strong scene, a few other strong scenes, outstanding singing (9/10), lively choreography (8/10) and strong performances (8.5/10) all around, I gave this a thumbs-down overall:  5.8/10.  Why?  It's not the too-simple story which was a 6/10.

It was the bland music (4/10).  Boring melodies laid on top of major chord to major chord and again to major chords.  Song after song.  Melodies were simple, uninteresting and went nowhere.  And song variety felt missing.  I listened for the occasional minor chord and soaring melody, but alas, they were limited.  If almost entirely major-chorded music doesn't bother you (~95% of it was major), then maybe this musical is for you.  Otherwise, along with the Sound of Music musical, I recommend a pass.

I saw this on Tuesday night (November 17, 2009) at The Music Hall (147 Danforth Ave east of Broadview).

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Restaurant Please

This is it.  You should be able to figure out the type of restaurant with these two pics.  It's not a style of food I eat too often  -- at least not out...but it's worth trying every now and then.



This is it.  It's a shabu shabu restaurant.  Which in my mind is identical to hot pot, isn't it?  Put food in boiling broth.  There's a restaurant on the NE corner of Kennedy & Steeles, next to the Canada Trust Bank on the corner (not in Pacific Mall, but just west of the main mall.
I give this restaurant a 8/10.  Good food.  Not too expensive.  And a fun time.
$15.99 for all you can eat and all you can drink (soy bean, sour plum, pop -- all good).  Everything was fresh.  The meat wasn't frozen (unlike some other places), and the sauce was possibly the best part:  soy sauce, raw egg, satay, hot sauce, peanut, sesame, garlic and even thousand year old egg (this is a particularly tasty addition to the sauce).  All delicious.  It made the food taste really good if you get the sauce right.  Yum.
Also, really good are the dumplings/wonton.  Delicious!  The ones with shrimp were particularly good.  So while the food was simple, there were things you may not normally get (pig blood jello, lotus root).
Actually -- the best part was possibly that each person had an individual pot to cook in.  No need to share a main pot so low risk of cross-contamination.  Not sure if this is what makes it shabu shabu.  I say give it a shot.
Rolling Pot
7077 Kennedy Road
Markham, ON L3R 0N8
(905) 946-0888

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Name these somewhat bizarre-looking foods.

Take a look at these pics of my dinner Sunday evening when someone told me I looked like his cousin David Suzuki out of university.  Can you identify what the food items are?  And perhaps decipher where I had dinner?


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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I am David, Watashi wa De-bi-du

That's Japanese for David.  David Suzuki.

Yep.  Jim thought I looked like his cousin, David Suzuki out of university.  Not only face, but mannerisms.  What a weird moment!  I hadn't really noticed any resemblance, but did find it weird that he was looking at me in a strange way for a lot of the evening.  I had played David Suzuki in an Asiansploitation sketch called Earth Hour (an excellent skit written by Gary Chan) and even had my picture taken which later become hence my Facebook pic.  So for someone who I had never met before to tell me I looked like a character I played in a sketch that he had never seen was coincidental and bizarre.

Mr David Suzuki:  if you're out there, I'd love to meet you!

Next:  I have some pics of the food I had for dinner on Sunday.  See if you can identify what the food is (and together, decipher the restaurant).

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who Do I Look Like? Who? Who? Who?

How many times have you been told that you look like someone else?  Everyone has probably heard this at least once if not more.

I was out for dinner tonight with some friends and their badminton friends.  I was chatting with one couple about badminton, house building, and their time in New York City:  basic stuff.  Jim sporting a full head of mostly silver hair (didn't know his last name -- though he had a pure Canadian accent; 2nd/3rd generation Asian was my guess) was making eye contact with me as if I reminded him of someone.  Then he told me.  "You look like my cousin when I was 13 and he was just out of university.  Face, mannerisms, everything."

"Hunh?  Who's that?", I wondered.

"David", he replied.

"David who?" I darted back.  My mind started to race to possible twins including all the people I've been told I remind them of.  I'm sure most of us at one time or another have been told that you remind them of someone else.  I've gotten that before.  But how many of you have been told that you remind them of someone THAT YOU ACTUALLY KNOW?

Can you figured out who this is?  Feel free to take a guess.  The answer I was surprised to hear is coming up in my next note.

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The Highlights of FOCUS are...(drumroll please)

So here are THE highlights of the FOCUS poker charity formal I attended last night that you've been waiting for:
1)  shocking about 200 dinner guests as I pulled my pants and underwear down to a crowd dining on $45/plate formal dinner service.  I heard some expected gasping.  No, I'm not an exhibitionist.  This was part of one of the 7 Asiansploitation sketches that we performed.
2)  playing in my first-ever live poker tournament where I paid money to enter ($40 buy-in).  Chatted with a few nervous poker players as I was nervous myself.  Knocked out a few.  Managed to eke out a 3rd place position which was actually quite intense and tiring -- but a good time overall.
3) John Ki, a very good stand-up comic had a polished piece touching on Asian-Canadian embarrassments and awkward moments.  I couldn't see it all, but from the parts I did see, even from the back, he had a nice connection with the audience.  Smooth.
KUDOS to Peter Vuong (who was at the final table with me placing 7th) and the FOCUS team for putting on a really good event for a really good time.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Why Am I Hurrying my Dinner?

Dressed warmly on a cool night, after wolfing down a rather delicious sanuki noodle stir-fry with scrambled eggs, sauteed red onions, green onions, bean sprouts with the right amount of chicken essence, soy sauce and lime, I made my way down to Theatre Passe Muraille on a full and joyous stomache to catch some shows at Toronto Sketch Fest.

Sitting in prime seats, and 6 troupes later (with the ocassional head nod especially when the lights go out), one troupe stood out and gets my unabashed reco:  Uncalled For from Montreal.  Better than reading an awesome book, the story jumps off the page onto the stage and into the audience zig-zagging through time, space, science, and connections as the actors embrace a multitude of characters into a linked journey through seemingly unrelated scenes and characters tying together into a complex and satisfying romp that ends with a figurative boom.  The weird beginning (man looking and treating the audience as 'babies') has a really different and all-knowing feel when its reincorporated back.

In retrospect, the show was more entertaining than funny, and despite that or perhaps because of that, I though it was GREAT.  I highly recommend this.  They won last year's Second City Best of the Fest award and support it if was anything like this year's show then perhaps it was very well deserved (didn't see the other groups, so can't objectively say).

If you missed it, and you have time Friday night (Nov 13), I say go check 'em out.  Nov 13th @10:30pm at The Second City (51 Mercer Street, Toronto).

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poker is not Gambling: or is it?

I've been learning poker (Texas Hold'em) over the last few years and have been entertained with a persuasive argument that poker is not gambling.  I get the distinct impression that most people think it is gambling.  I could be wrong.

Why not?  If gambling is defined as a game of chance, like a lottery where every ticket has an equal chance of being picked, then poker is clearly not a game where winning and losing is based on chance and hence is not gambling.  It is a game of skill.

In a game of chance, if played repeatedly, the distribution of winners would be randomly distributed.  So one day, Manitobans win the jackpot; another time it's an Ontarian.  Those who buy more tickets will on average win more often.  That's how lotteries seem to work (excluding any of the suspected fraud taking place by those who sold lottery tickets).

In poker, such a random distribution of winners does not occur.  Winners continue to win.  Losers continue to lose.  Winners of poker tournaments or cash games have a higher chance of winning again than some who doesn't.  Hence, poker is not a random game and as is not gambling, it is a game of skill that may or may not involve the use of converting points to money for the purpose of distinguishing winners and losers.  Sometimes cards flip that make a losing player into a winner, but this is variance, not randomness.  This is the gist.  So I stop here.
Do you have a view on this slippery slope?  I understand things are not black and white, and am interested in hearing what poker players and non-poker players have to say on this.  Or perhaps this discussion is moot and everyone is bored by poker/gambling talk.  Clearly, there must be more pressing things to discuss.
BTW:  My comedy troupe which includes yours truly will be performing an audiciously fun 30-minute comedy set at a poker charity formal this Saturday, November 14 at 7:30PM (see www.focusnetworks.org for more info) in Markham (Shangri-La Banquet Hall -- tickets available until Thursday).  Yes, please come check out Asiansploitation (www.asiansploitation.com) and maybe play a hand or two in a skill-based game while wearing formal wear -- not something you do everyday.  It'll be FUN.  Let me know if you're interested.  And the sketches we'll be doing have never before been performed together.  So unless you've been to every single major performance that we've done (I'm thinking through everyone I know and can't imagine anyways who has), then there will be at least one thing that is NEW for you to see.  Regardless, I'll blog about the experience and if I can, I'll post photos of the experience.  Wish me a broken body part!  And Happy Remembrance Day!

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ode to Solace

I'm going to post a music file I created tonight.  Yep.  I was on the keyboard at 10:45PM feeling a little melancholy from a shiva visit I made last week so I created a little tune to put me in a quiet mood before sleep.  For you.  May you find solace in your rest:  a quiet time when we accept one another for who we are.  As the warm days turn cool and the cool evenings turn cold, may you be warm and at peace with your soul.

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First Time

Today I did something I have never done before.  And after I finished and emerged a slightly more worldly man, I somehow felt cheapened, and slightly worthless, a little less sure about who I was and what the world around me was all about.  I do admit it was overall a good experience, but the moments of excitement were balanced with moments of self-reflection:  "Am I inadequate?"

What did I do?  I don't think anyone will guess this:  I read Hello! Canada magazine.  http://www.hellomagazine.ca/magazine/

That's right.  The magazine that somehow makes celebrities accessible like the people next door.  Madonna didn't choose Malawi.  Malawi chose Madonna, so she says.  Or the Vermount house where writer John Irving lives with his Toronto career-woman wife turned agent is enjoying the life in their long and narrow house, specifically built to maximize sunshine in each room.  Then pictures of Business Magnate Lise Watier and her husband's wine cellars and poodle in a country home so that her 'vision' of the family sharing 'special moments' in this sprawling lakeside mansion where each grand kid can have his or her own space all of sudden makes me realize that I have none of this.  And that I have no vision for any of this.  My simple urban condo life doesn't have zebra skin zig zags on exotic hardwood stain floors, or gala dinners, or being called a god or godess by the media.  Intersperse that with ads about opening your "Scuba in Aruba" account with the Royal Bank and the LOVE hanging out "Blackberry" phone, and you go from opulence to dreams, to a world that I simply am not connected with.

The verdict for me is still out whether or not this dream academy is a good thing or a bad thing.  Will I aspire by reading mini-stories of Jude Law shunning his new daughter and shopping with his 3 sons and father in London, or Brad Pitt falling off his custom made motor-bike but that he's 'OK'?  Or will I ask myself -- "um....why is this relevant"?

So -- perhaps I can just say, I'm not the target for this magazine.  I flip through and see ads for Covergirl (I don't use make-up except for the odd stage performance), Cascade (which I do use), and Nina Ricci (which I don't).  Then I feel the texture of the pages.  Smooth.  Glossy.  Coloured (= expensive) pictures of everything.  And I spot that this is a weekly.  Maybe I should just touch the magazine.  Perhaps if I do that, I won't feel so cheapened, so worthless.  I'll remain vigorous and tactile and keep my soul and self-worth intact.  We'll see.  I may read a couple more mags just to see if it changes me as a person.  For those who interact with me in physical space, mark this day, November 10, 2009.  Is Hello! Canada changing me for the better or worse?

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