[ENDLESS ROAR — Riga] Programme notes for https://youtu.be/a3FOOFPspS8

In the winter of 2015, I took off my tutoring hat and put on my musician’s hat to join my old friend and ex-bandmate to create the musical project Endless Roar. We don’t play music that people are used to — have you ever heard of semi-improvised electro-acoustic ambient post-rock? Yikes.

Our music may be a little bit strange, so here are some tips for how to enjoy the recording of the performance.

  1. Make sure you can focus on the video for an hour, undisturbed.
  2. Put yourself into the frame of mind you have before an orchestral performance.
  3. Prepare your best sound system (because the quality of our recording wasn’t the best :P)
  4. Enjoy! (Optional: glass of wine)

 

We did it! Sing50 is now offering “honoraria” to their “community performers”!

Screen capture on 19 Jan 2015

Screen capture on 19 Jan 2015

Congratulations, all you online netizens, denizens, and Citizens of the World! Sing50, who were initially not going to pay the majority of its performers, will now offer honoraria to their “community performers”! (See this post and this clarification for more background information.)

Screen capture on 14 Feb 2015

Screen capture on 14 Feb 2015

Of course, labeling the payment as an “honorarium” is a sneaky way of saying that Sing50 still treats its performers as volunteers. (Honorarium: A payment given for professional services that are rendered nominally without charge.)


There is a horrible, toxic culture of not paying musicians in Singapore. When I played in Perth, festival organizers were thoroughly apologetic that they could only pay my band a small amount (only in the hundreds of dollars). When I played in Copenhagen, festival organizers were similarly apologetic that they couldn’t pay me anything, but they gave me tickets that I could sell (I would keep all the money from any of those ticket sales). There is an understanding in these cities that musicians should be paid, and that it is a shameful, shameful thing when musicians are not paid.

In Singapore, people act as if musicians should be grateful for the opportunity to perform.

Of course, this isn’t the only problem that musicians face in Singapore. This may sound a little strange, but if we want Singapore’s music industry to thrive, we need more social safety nets, and we need to be more forgiving of “failures” in our local system.

When people dare to fail, they often succeed. We need to have some kind of safety net for entrepreneurs and artists who try for their entire lives to accomplish something, but who eventually end up in a financially dire situations. Yes, a welfare system is tricky to create and to maintain — but I don’t think it’s an accident that countries with solid welfare systems (the Nordic countries, US, and UK come to mind) also have very healthy music industries.

It is absolutely ridiculous that being in the “Normal (Academic)” or “Normal (Technical)” streams in secondary school is seen as a major life failure. These are teenagers we’re talking about, with their entire adult lives ahead of them. Why do we need to condemn these children as failures when so many of them have the potential to excel in other fields beyond the academic?

Everything is connected, and our local music scene is inextricably connected to our local politics.


 

Everything is connected, and this post is connected to this post, where you will be able to find Mr Seah’s (Kevin Ghosty’s) music 😉

Russian student takes the O-levels in Singapore, and makes good. An interview with Roman Tarassov of Shades In Grey!

I first met Roman Tarassov in my early twenties, when we were part of the same rock band. Roman is now the lead singer and mastermind of Shades In Grey, a rock band that has played in places as diverse as Japan, Taiwan’s Spring Wave Festival, and the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Singapore.

Listen to the band as you read the interview!

Who is Roman Tarassov?

I’m a full-time guitar instructor with 6 years of experience in working in various music schools, as well as providing private lessons. I also play guitar and sing in a rock band and write my own songs.

How was life as a student for you?

Life in school in Singapore was actually quite fun. Coming from a different country at the tender age of 15 and doing Sec 3 and 4 and O-levels in a local school was a very interesting experience. Although I knew the basics of the language, I had never really spoken or used any English prior to coming to Singapore, so initially it was a challenge. Having to do the Sec 2 exams and having to do them well before I could be admitted into Sec 3 as a foreign student was tough. Thankfully I managed to pull through, but still struggled a little bit with my English grammar for the next 2 years. Being in a science class didn’t help either as we were always pushed by our teachers to do better as we were the cream of the crop of the whole school.

I think my English teacher was a little bit tough on me, because she knew my background and therefore she wanted me to be even more hardworking in order to succeed and do well. I have to admit that even now I’m a bit of a lazy bum! Down the road, she was right to push me as I scored a solid B3 in O-level English, from just doing the language full-time for 2 years. Not bad, considering she would hardly give me anything more than a C5 in my other in class assignments. Her “tough love” for me was justified in the end.

How’s the English language for you now, away from school?

I still struggle occasionally with the English language, when it comes to writing lyrics. The music part has always been easy for me. So I think its important for anyone who’s looking into songwriting as a hobby or even being a professional in the field to be able to take in as much inspiration as possible during the study years. Just as its important for musicians to listen and to play as much music as possible, its very important for lyric writers to read and take in as many books, poems, novels as they can. Inspiration may come during the time when we least expect it, and it’s important to have a source to draw from, like the books we’ve been reading.


Mr Seah’s ending remarks!

Roman is perhaps being modest about his abilities. He also works as a voice talent, both in Russian and English. He attributes his vaguely American accent to his early English teachers, who were mostly American. If you ever meet Roman, ask him to do his Russian villain accent, it’s hilarious.

Over and above that, Roman writes lyrics that can be surprisingly good. My favourite line of all time, from his song “I can tell you” goes “You say that my life/ Has no meaning/ You are not completely right”. Wowza!


To engage Roman as a guitar teacher or voice talent, contact him at roaltar@gmail.com or 9six-six9-five-zero-zero-3.

The Talented Mr Seah is on iTunes and Spotify as “Kevin Ghosty”

On iTunes and Spotify!

On iTunes and Spotify!

Mr Seah is proud to announce… his first album on iTunes and Spotify! And Bandcamp, for those who wanna download the thing for free — but you can also leave me a small (or large) tip there 🙂

I’ll admit, it feels just a little strange, announcing a musical project on my website that I use to advertise my tuition services, but long-time readers of my website will notice that I’ve been leading up to this, bit by bit, fusing my “Kevin Ghosty” and “Mr Seah” identities slowly but surely. It’s something that only makes sense, since I’ve had opportunities to use music as a teaching tool, especially for my younger students.

I don’t want to talk too much about this, but all you have to do now is to click on one of the links above and listen to my little musical gift to the world. There’s still a (tiny) chance that I’ll have a hit song, and for that to happen, I’ll need all of you reading this to choose your favourite song and share it (LIKE CRAZY) with your friends.

Enjoy!

Performance vs Precision

Mr Seah circa 2008

Mr Seah circa 2008

One of my old band members once said of me: “The reason I like Kevin’s playing is not that he’s technical. He’s not. He’s not the fastest player I’ve ever seen, I think (our old bassist) was faster. But while (our old bassist) was faster, Kevin’s playing is just more entertaining. With (our old bassist), it felt like I had to hit every note precisely, but with Kevin I feel like I can rock out.”

I think that’s the task for every kind of performer. If you’re a teacher, it doesn’t matter that you speak with imprecise grammar, as long as your pass your passion for your subject on — even if you’re an English teacher (but only to the extent that your speech can still be labeled as “international” English and not Singlish, la).

So many singer-songwriters I see these days are just concerned with hitting the notes. Come on. Musicians are not just called on to be precise machines, we are called on to entertain, to shock, to amuse, even to enlighten. If listeners really wanted precision and nothing else, midi-controlled music would be dominating our airwaves. But we still have armies of singers and bands performing live, making the mistakes and ‘mistakes’ that identify us as living, breathing, feeling human beings.

If you’re a performer, go out there and perform. That’s your calling.

AWARD: Most Creative Lyrics (Homesongs 2014)

Kevin Seah -- "Kopitiam" -- Top 12 Finalist (Homesongs)

Kevin Seah — “Kopitiam” — Top 12 Finalist (Homesongs)

Most Creative Lyrics -- Kevin Seah  (Homesongs)

Most Creative Lyrics — Kevin Seah (Homesongs)

New news! I’ve won the award for “Most Creative Lyrics” at the Homesongs competition, with my song “Kopitiam”. I’ll attach the lyrics below, and if there’s some kind of demand, perhaps I’ll post a recording 😉

I’m wondering if there’ll be any demand for a “learn English via lyrics” kind of workshop in schools, hmm..

Lyrics for “Kopitiam” by Kevin Seah

Shall we meet at the fancy cafe
Wag our tongues over expensive lattes
Shall we have a plate of pasta
And get high a little faster
With a bottle of expensive chardonnay

No, we’ll meet at the kopitiam
We’ll have a little beer, and spread a little cheer
At my local, favourite kopitiam

Shall we board a flight on a whim
Go to France for expensive cuisine
Shall we work for our pay
And wait for the day
When we can eat and not go to the gym

No, we’ll eat at the kopitiam
We’ll have a little food, chase away all our blues
At my local, favourite kopitiam

I know you may find it a bore
That this song sounds a little too Ang Moh
But I can’t help myself
My shame must be upheld
I speak no Chinese coz I didn’t go to my..

Kopitiam
We’ll have a little beer, and spread a little cheer
At my local, favourite kopitiam

Oh my kopitiam
We’ll have a little food, chase away all our blues
At my local, favourite kopitiam

Robert Fulghum — underrated master of the short story (or so I say!)

Robert Fulghum’s writing saved me. When I was in university, I was a little bit of a nervous wreck, as I was pushing myself a little bit too hard. I didn’t know how to stop, rest, and smell the roses — but I definitely knew how to read, and it was only through reading that I could recharge.

I first found Fulghum’s work lying on a table in my university library, a title that I found almost completely incongruous to the setting of a university library — All I Really Need to Know I Learned in KindergartenIt was a book that was just so full of joy, the hours that I spent reading it passed by with me almost forgetting my troubles.

Fulghum’s work is often filed under the self-help/self-improvement section, but that makes almost zero sense to me. His writing, to me, is self-help only in the sense that it helps me feel better about the world and myself, it helps me feel more hopeful, and it helps me to enjoy the English language just a little bit more. His work contains very little advice of the “do this and you will be happy” variety, and even if Fulghum dispenses advice, it never is pedantic.

I reproduce a short chapter from his book, Maybe (Maybe Not), to show my readers how impressive his writing can be. No copyright infringement is meant (this post is not for sale!), and I’d like my readers to go out and buy/borrow his books, because they are really that good. As Fulghum says below: Tell it to someone. This is urgent news. Keep it alive in the world.

(But if Fulghum or his lawyers ask me to take down the extract, I will :P)

———–

Excerpt from Maybe (Maybe Not):

It is the year 2050. In a large Eastern European city — one that has survived the vicissitudes of more than a thousand years of human activity — in an open square in the city center — there is a rather odd civic monument. A bronze statue.

Not a soldier or politician.

Not a general on a horse or a king on a throne.

Instead, the figure of a somewhat common man, sitting in a chair.

Playing his cello.

Around the pedestal on which the statue sits, there are bouquets of flowers.

If you count, you will always find twenty-two flowers in each bunch.

The cellist is a national hero.

If you ask to hear the story of this statue, you will be told of a time of civil war in this city. Demagogues lit bonfires of hatred between citizens who belonged to different religions and ethnic groups. Everyone became an enemy of someone else. None was exempt or safe. Men, women, children, babies, grandparents — old and young — strong and weak — partisan and innocent — all, all were victims in the end. Many were maimed. Many were killed. Those who did not die lived like animals in the ruins of the city.

Except one man. A musician. A cellist. He came to a certain street corner every day. Dressed in formal black evening clothes, sitting in a fire-charred chair, he played his cello. Knowing he might be shot or beaten, still he played. Day after day he came. To play the most beautiful music he knew.

Day after day after day. For twenty-two days.

His music was stronger than hate. His courage, stronger than fear.

And in time other musicians were captured by his spirit, and they took their places in the street beside him. These acts of courage were contagious. Anyone who could play an instrument or sing found a place at a street intersection somewhere in the city and made music.

In time the fighting stopped.

The music and the city and the people lived on.

A nice fable. A lovely story. Something adults might make up to inspire children. A tale of the kind found in tourist guidebooks explaining and embellishing the myths behind civic statuary. A place to have your picture taken.

Is there any truth in such a parable other than the implied acknowledgement of the sentimentality of mythmaking? The real world does not work this way. We all know that. Cellists seldom become civic heroes — music doesn’t affect wars.

Vedran Smailovic does not agree.

In The New York Times Magazine, July 1992, his photograph appeared.

Middle-aged, longish hair, great bushy mustache. He is dressed in formal evening clothes. Sitting in a cafe chair in the middle of a street. In front of a bakery where mortar fire struck a breadline in late May, killing twenty-two people. He is playing his cello. As a member of the Sarajevo Opera Orchestra, there is little he can do about hate and war — it has been going on in Sarajevo for centuries. Even so, every day for twenty-two days he has braved sniper and artillery fire to play Albinoni’s profoundly moving Adagio in G Minor.

I wonder if he chose this piece of music knowing it was constructed from a manuscript fragment found in the ruins of Dresden after the Second World War? The music survived the firebombing. Perhaps that is why he played it there in the scarred street in Sarajevo, where people died waiting in line for bread. Something must triumph over horror.

Is this man crazy? Maybe. Is his gesture futile? Yes, in a conventional sense, yes, of course. But what can a cellist do? What madness to go out alone in the streets and address the world with a wooden box and a hair-strung bow. What can a cellist do?

All he knows how to do. Speaking softly with his cello, one note at a time, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, calling out the rats that infest the human spirit.

Vedran Smailovic is a real person.

What he did is true.

Neither the breadline nor the mortar shell nor the music is fiction.

For all the fairy tales, these acts do take place in the world in which we live.

Sometimes history knocks at the most ordinary door to see if anyone is at home. Sometimes someone is.

Most everyone in Sarajevo knows now what a cellist can do — for the place where Vedran played has become an informal shrine, a place of honor. Croats, Serbs, Muslims, Christians alike — they all know his name and face.

They place flowers where he played. Commemorating the hope that must never die — that someday, somehow, the best of humanity shall overcome the worst, not through unexpected miracles but through the expected acts of the many. Sarajevo is not the only place where Vedran Smailovic is known. An artist in Seattle, Washington, saw his picture and read his story. Her name is Beliz Brother. Real person — real name. What could an artist do?

She organized twenty-two cellists to play in twenty-two public places in Seattle for twenty-two days, and on the final day, all twenty-two played together in one place in front of a store window displaying burnt-out bread pans, twenty-two loaves of bread, and twenty-two roses.

People came. Newspaper reporters and television cameras were there. The story and the pictures were fed into the news networks of the world. And passed back to Vedran Smailovic that he might know his music had been heard and passed on. Others have begun to play in many cities. In Washington, D.C., twenty-two cellists played the day our new president was sworn into office. Who knows who might hear? Who knows what might happen?

Millions of people saw Vedran’s story in The New York Times. Millions have seen and heard the continuing story picked up by the media.

Now you, too, know.

Tell it to someone. This is urgent news. Keep it alive in the world.

As for the end of the story, who among us shall insist the rest of the story cannot come true? Who shall say the monument in the park in Sarajevo will never come to pass? The cynic who lives in a dark hole in my most secret mind says one cellist cannot stop a war, and music can ultimately be only a dirge played over the unimaginable.

But somewhere in my soul I know otherwise.

Listen.

Never, ever, regret or apologize for believing that when one man or one woman decides to risk addressing the world with truth, the world may stop what it is doing and hear.

There is too much evidence to the contrary.

When we cease believing this, the music will surely stop.

The myth of the impossible dream is more powerful than all the facts of history. In my imagination, I lay flowers at the statue memorializing Vedran Smailovic — a monument that has not yet been built, but may be.

Meanwhile, a cellist plays in the streets of Sarajevo.