Thursday, December 30, 2010

A 5-piece band performance of "Hello World"

Earlier this summer, for the first time in awhile I had a chance to play with a band -- albeit just for one performance. The opportunity arose when an invitation went out to a music list I'm on at work, informing us about an upcoming diversity fair that had open performance slots available for musicians. So I signed up on the list, then contacted some other musicians on the list to see if they wanted to collaborate. We met a few times to rehearse, auditioned, then met for a few more practices before performing at the event.

There was some question as to whether my song, "Hello World," qualified for a "diversity" fair. The organizers were looking for more regional or world music, I think. But since the song was based on my daughter's red egg and ginger party, the organizers thought it could work. Here's a video clip of our performance back in June:

The band consisted of Erin Bell on vocals, Pauline Samson on sax, Rushabh Gandhi on bass, Ghan Patel on doumbek, and me on guitar. It was really fun playing with such talented musicians, from practicing with them, to arranging the song, and ultimately performing together. To hear the song take on a new life was also pretty gratifying. The experience definitely made me think further about whether I should focus more on playing in a band again rather than noodling away on my own. When you play in a group, you can complement each other with your various strengths and leverage the resources and talents of the collective group.

It turns out that while the band did meet a couple of times after our performance, before we could really get going again we got derailed. One person left the company, another went on sabbatical, I got pretty busy, and we just ran out of steam. I guess that's one of the challenges of playing in a band -- just being able to stick together and making the schedules work.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Introducing "Hello World", a new song about new beginnings

With my engineering roots, the phrase, "Hello World" is a very familiar expression of new beginnings.  But this song is not about successfully embarking on the mastering of a new programming language.  This song was inspired by my daughter's Red Egg and Ginger Party.  Roughly a month after her birth, my wife and I followed a Chinese tradition of inviting friends and family over to welcome her into the world -- effectively her "Hello World" moment -- and handing out red eggs for good luck.  The day of the party, the weather was gorgeous and my daughter was greeted with such smiles and warmth from people who were close to us, but strangers to her.  Still, she must have felt like she was familiar with them in some way.  After all, these were people whose voices she heard while in her mother's womb.  This song was inspired by what I imagined her thoughts might have been had she been able to verbalize them -- thoughts of wonder and excitement, needs and hope.

Still, when I sat down to write this song, I wanted to broaden the scope a bit more so that it referred to other "Hello World" situations.  In particular, I also envisioned a modern day troubadour, traveling the country for the first time, small town to small town, chatting with a coffee shop owner, bar tender or a small audience.  It's a romanticized image of the real touring independent singer-songwriters do, to be sure, but one I had much fun playing around with.

Ultimately, whether you're talking about a new baby or a new artist, there are common hopes and desires that I think we all share.

Monday, February 1, 2010

New Song: Henri Rousseau

This song, "Henri Rousseau," was inspired by my trip to Paris a few years ago.  Rousseau was a French painter that I learned about while visiting the Musee d'Orsay.   After browsing the work of renown Impressionists, like Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Cezanne, I recall turning the corner on the top floor of the museum and stumbling upon paintings by Rousseau -- who I had never heard of before.  Not only did his paintings stand out, but his story was quite engaging, as well.  In fact, any of you who maintain an artistic hobby -- or any hobby, for that matter -- on the side of a demanding day job, would probably find some inspiration in Rousseau's biography.  A self-taught painter, Rousseau was the son of a plumber and worked regular jobs for much of his life, until he finally started painting seriously at the age of 49.  In a previous blog post, I describe in greater detail what this song is about (to me).  Take a look at that post if you haven't seen it, yet.  And if you have, let me know if you guessed that it was Rousseau that I was writing about.

While I wrote the lyrics for this song a couple of years ago, I didn't write the music until last year.  Then, over this past Christmas break, I found a couple of hours to sit down in front of a video camera and record a few of the songs I'd been working on -- including this one.

These days, I don't have much time to set up mics, do a bunch of takes, or do much editing.  And I've given up on trying to do anything special with the lighting and backdrop, especially as my make-shift "home studio" has long been converted into my daughter's nursery.  But I've continued to write and I've decided that it's been no fun sitting on these songs, waiting to work on an album that may never happen.  So I'm going to start putting some more stuff out there, worrying less about the flaws and polish, and just doing what I can with the time that I have.  Not unlike what Monsieur Rousseau must have done, I imagine.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Daddy Daycare goes to see Tut

I started off 2010 with a full week of Daddy Daycare. My daughter and I took walks in the park, a trip to Half Moon Bay, and a visit to the de Young museum to see the King Tut exhibit.

The exhibit was a lofty $27.50 per adult, and, only after buying my ticket did the salesman tell me that strollers were not allowed in. This meant that I had to carry my daughter throughout the exhibit, which he moments prior encouraged us to take our time with and to view each artifact from many different angles in order to truly appreciate what we were seeing. So this was perhaps not the most family-friendly exhibit.

There were other disappointments about the exhibit, as well -- the biggest of which was the anticlimactic final room. The last halls are designed to reflect the four rooms that made up Tutankhamun's tomb. When you get to the final room, you expect to see the casket of Tut himself, or at least a healthy collection of artifacts from his chamber. Instead, you only get a smattering of items and a video projection of Tut's casket. Then, you realize that the images of the casket used in the marketing materials are actually ones of King Tut's ancestors, which you did see in an earlier room. And you also realize that if this was all that the museum was able to get, that the other items in his chamber must either have been really expensive, or simply under laser, lock and key in Egypt somewhere, not to be moved for any old traveling exhibit.

That said, part of the reason that the final room was anticlimactic was that the exhibit does a terrific job building up to the final room. Midway through the exhibit, I had long forgotten the stroller situation. The artifacts were in pristine condition, their arrangement logical and narrative, and the descriptions sufficiently detailed so that you really are drawn into a different time and place.

One of my favorites was a wooden hand-held board/box game that was not much larger than an iPhone or a Nexus One. But you could really imagine a young Tut playing with the intricate pieces to pass time, just as he would play a mobile game today. I do wish that the instructions for the game were included in the description, but they weren't. If I had more time, I might have studied the game a little while longer to see if I could guess at what the game mechanics were like.

I also was impressed by the coffinette for Tut's viscera. You may have seen this in other marketing promotions (and mistaken this for Tut's coffin). But the miniature coffin was partially so intriguing because of its small size and amazing detail. That was definitely worth a look from all angles. The wooden bust of Tut was interesting, as well. You wonder to what extent it reflected his real likeness. Finally, the sheer ritual of amassing such a collection to accompany someone into the after life was fairly thought-provoking as well -- I'm sure there's a song in there some where.  So, overall, I do think the exhibit was worth seeing and I would recommend it.

Now, will my daughter remember anything that she saw in the exhibit? While she did stay awake through the whole thing, she seemed to enjoy looking up at the tall ceilings and the lighting more than the ancient artifacts!