Sunday, August 25, 2013

In Memory of Grandma Chang Zu-Ing (1928-2013)

I remember my Wai Puo (grandma) as the quintessential matriarch, with her influence extending across four generations.  Intelligent, persuasive, remarkably resourceful, compassionate, and selfless, she is as much respected as loved, trusted as obeyed.
When my eldest daughter was born, my mother informed me, "Wai Puo says you should should speak to her in Chinese and play Chinese CD's for her as early as possible so she develops familiarity with the language.”  While both my own mom and eldest sister also encouraged me to do this, the extra guidance from my Grandma -- what "Wai Puo says" -- made a huge difference.  When my Wai Puo says something, we pay attention.
Wai Puo’s words have always carried a special weight, especially when she played the role of storyteller.  She would close her nearly-closed, tired eyes, sit back in her chair, and then bring the past back to life in a vivid, methodical manner.  Whether recounting her refugee journey, my mother’s gallant survival as a newborn, or life in a new rural village in Taiwan, Wai Puo spun a time warp around those of us fortunate enough to attend and shed a tear over her memories.
What I remember most fondly about my Wai Puo is the pleasure she derived from nourishing her family.  In my extended family, cooking is generally considered a chore -- a necessity to be done efficiently.  But with Wai Puo, it was different.  In my twenties, a frequent highlight of my trips to Taiwan was the chance to sit in my Wai Puo’s dining room and eat her cuisine, continuously spinning the Lazy Susan to bring more food my way.  I would marvel how much I could eat and still want more.  I always found baffling that Wai Puo would concoct a delectable feast for her family, but not sit down and eat with us.  She would sit next to us, but away from the dinner table, resting.  It brought her tremendous joy to watch us eat, she would say.  I would not understand how she could do that until I had a family of my own.  Now, when I wrap potstickers or wontons with my family, or encourage a dinner guest to go ahead and eat without me, I think of my Wai Puo.
I miss Wai Puo, but take comfort in knowing she is with Wai Gong (grandpa) and that her influence and what she means to her family will live on for generations to come.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Our Day: a song about Weddings and Heaven

I recorded this song for my wife in celebration of the five-year anniversary of our wedding, one of the happiest days of my life.  On that day, my bride was stunning, the weather was beautiful, and we had such a wonderful time with family and friends.  All of the planning and waiting for Our Day was done and all we had left to do was to enjoy it.  And that we did.

One of our only disappointments was that we had to miss our grandparents, especially my wife's late grandmother (her Puo) and my late grandfather (my Yie).  That summer, we did a little bit of traveling to visit with relatives that did not make it to our wedding.  On these travels, we also took some time to pay our respects to our late grandparents.  It was around then that I wrote this song.  I knew fairly early on that I wanted to write a song about our wedding, but it took me a little while to realize that I wanted to create something that would complement our memories.

I believe that in spirit, my wife's Puo and my Yie (and Nai Nai) were there at our wedding. But how so?  Were they merely with us in memory, residing within our thoughts and hearts?  Were they floating around right next to us, looking on in earnest?  That didn't seem like much fun for them, to be watching so closely but not really participating.  It stands to my reason that if heaven is truly an idyllic place, that our late grandparents must have been having at least as much fun at our wedding as we were -- if not even more.

So I envision a ceremony and celebration of our wedding going on in heaven, in parallel to our wedding in Napa. It's as if the church we were married in had an extension to heaven, and the winery we had our reception at, spilled into the sky. While some details of our wedding are replicated, like the calla lilies and music selection, what takes place in heaven is much more miraculous.

For example, I imagine that the church in heaven is even more magnificent than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, with marble pews throughout. When we march to Handel's Hornpipe, it's Handel himself that plays the organ. Saying grace before dinner is none other than my patron saint, Saint Lawrence. And the guests are thousands of our ancestors, all hosted by our proud grandparents. Since the guests are primarily Chinese, the reception is a spectacular Chinese banquet, with bird's nest soup, Peking Duck, and the works. And while our ceremony and festivities proceed here, everything moves along at a grand scale up above.  At the end of the evening, as we say goodbye to our guests and drive off, I imagine my wife's Puo is holding on to her beloved dog, Choi Choi, and waving farewell to us.

So here is my song, "Our Day," which commemorates my wedding day, with a slant towards what I imagine must have been going on in heaven at the same time.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Hatchback Sphinx: my own Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

If you were to anthropomorphize a car that you've owned for more than a decade, you'd probably be able to relate to the sentimentality I've been feeling about my first car, which I've been recently contemplating giving up. For many reasons, cars are easy to attach human qualities to, whether it be headlights that look like eyes, grills that look like mouths, wheels that look like hands and feet, or the trust in and dependence on our personal vehicles that take us to where we need to go and protect us from the elements. You see it in the movies all the time -- from Herbie to Knight Rider, Disney's Cars to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang -- automobiles can elicit affection. And over the years, my spruce green, 2009 Mercury Cougar has spent enough quality time with me that it's now hard to give it up. Functionally, the car still gets pretty good gas mileage, the rear seats fold down (I've used it to move six times), and it has a manual transmission that's fun to drive. Beyond that, I have a lot of memories associated with that car.

On the other hand, my car has given me a healthy dose of trouble over the years, and it's increasingly hard to justify the repair costs. Furthermore, throughout the life of my vehicle no one else ever really seemed to liked it -- even my insurance agent is now telling me to get rid of it.

Therein lies my dilemma. And so I decided to write a song about it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A new take on an old song: Glares and Yells

I wrote this song a number of years ago for my first album, When So Late Becomes So Early.  While I liked the original arrangement, the vocals were a bit washed out and people had a hard time hearing the lyrics.  Also, I think the tempo was too slow.  So I thought I'd do an all acoustic version with just the guitar, a more sprightly tempo (20% faster), and better vocals.

I wrote this song for people I care deeply about, going through a difficult time.  More broadly speaking, the song is for anyone who is struggling with a deeply rooted relationship strained over the years by differences in personality and communication style.  The lyrics are below the video.

"Glares and Yells"
by Lawrence Chang

My eyes resemble yours
you gave me sensitive ears
but we don't see eye to eye
and you can't hear all I hear.

And I know you want what's best for me
and I, what's best for you.
But there's so much pain and misunderstanding
that's so hard to undo.

Words spoken out of love,
heard they're something else.
But we wouldn't be here without love,
fighting with glares and yells.

I listen to you, I really do.
But I listen to my heart as well.
Some times it's clear I'm as scared as you
when I ponder what these dreams foretell.

But I never dreamed in any nightmare
how far apart we'd grow.
Now the air is so tense between us
there's not a handshake or bye when I go.

Words spoken out of love,
heard they're something else.
But we wouldn't be here without love,
fighting with glares and yells.

Is there a way besides tragedy
to bridge this gap between us?
Is there a cure besides wanton time
to thaw our hearts with trust?

So that we choose better words.
So that we hear hidden love --
that we speak,
when we speak,
if we speak...
and forgive.

Words spoken out of love,
heard they're something else.
But we wouldn't be here without love,
fighting with glares and yells.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Concert recap: BNL

It'd been a long while since I'd been to a live concert. Almost long enough that I'd forgotten how a well-crafted show can hold your attention for almost as long as a good play or movie. And certainly long enough that I'd forgotten how it feels to be sitting through the concert and then suddenly hear something so delightful that you and two-and-a-half thousand people get up and start dancing. I understand that BNL is known to put on a particularly good show, so it was fortuitous to have a chance to see them live last year. And disappoint they did not.

I went in to the show remembering that they sang "Pinch Me", one of my favorites, and the song that goes, "It's been, one week since you looked at me.... yah dah dah dee dah dah dee dah yah dah." So it was a pleasant surprise when they brought out "If I had a million dollars", "You run away," and other songs that I knew, but didn't realize that BNL sang.  When you hear a song that you haven't even thought of for a decade, but that you heard every day on the radio for an entire summer ten years ago, it's amazing how the mind not only brings back the melody and lyrics, but also other thoughts and feelings that were associated with that song back in the day.  That's something that's just so powerful about music.

I left the show better understanding the appeal of the band and why they developed such a following over the years.  They alternated between acoustic and electric songs, with each member of the band playing different instruments and singing different harmonies for a variety of arrangements that kept the show fairly dynamic. From barbershop acapella to improvised rap to banjo-driven folk, the band sprinkled novelty numbers around their mainstream hits.  I left the Mountain Winery humming and singing their music for the next few days.

No matter how much the world has changed in the way we consume media these days, it's hard to imagine anything that can truly replicate the impact that a successful live show can have for a band.  And there's nothing else that inspires a musician to dust off his instrument like attending a live show.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wake-Up Kiss: a new song about lazy mornings

The morning is one of my favorite times of the day. I wrote this song when I was traveling to Paris a few years ago, inspired by leisurely mornings in the City of Lights. Although I was in France, the first word in the chorus actually has a Chinese translation I should point out: "Zao an" means "good morning" in Mandarin. Why use Chinese here? Well, my Chinese is not great by any means, but there are certain Chinese phrases that I really got used to saying at home while growing up. And "zao an" was one of them. Also in the chorus, I would have liked to have been able to use the French word, "mademoiselle" (one of the few that I remember from high school French class), but it just didn't work. So combine my limited Chinese with my even more limited French, and this is what you get, "zao an madame."

With regards to the music, I wrote the chords on guitar, first. Then, I wrote the melody with Finale. When I do that, the melody can often be difficult to sing, because I don't pay as much attention as I should to my own singing range when I compose. I had to actually download the MP3 to my phone and learn how to sing the song that way -- and I still don't have it quite right. But I had a day off last week and so I figured I'd give it a go to see if I could get a reasonable take down.

So I went driving around in the afternoon during my daughter's nap and looked for a different spot than last time. Although it was a beautiful day and there were some really scenic possibilities I found, I couldn't quite get far enough away from the road to avoid all of the road noise. So apologies for the sound of cars rumbling by. This was the best take I could get down:

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A New Uke for the New Year

Just before Christmas, we took a family vacation to Maui. As is always the case when I visit Hawaii, I got ukulele tunes and all sorts of Hawaiian music stuck in my head, which is such an integral part of the whole experience and part of what makes the islands so relaxing.

As we were leaving, my wife thought it would be fun to buy my daughter a toy ukulele as a souvenir. And I agreed. So we picked one up from downtown Lahaina on our way to the airport.  While my daughter loves her little pink uke, at some point I expressed some mild disappointment that the instrument didn't really hold it's tuning very well. So it wasn't really playable as a real instrument.  My wife heard this and rectified the situation by surprising me with a ukulele of my own on Christmas morning!

She did a good job finding a solid instrument at a reasonable price. Apparently, the local music store was running low on inventory before the holidays, saying that ukulele's have been pretty popular this season. I wonder how much of the recent surge in popularity has been due to this song?

I love my solid-wood, Kala concert ukulele. I've been playing with it over my Christmas vacation and will hopefully be able to record something soon that I can post. As there are only four strings on a ukulele, the chord formations are fairly easy to learn for a guitarist. What takes the most getting used to is how to hold such a small instrument.

Happy new year!