May 2004


The live concert from Leipzig’s Market Square was part of “24 Hours Bach”, a 24-hour TV/multimedia event on 28 July 2000, the 250th anniversary of J. S. Bach’s death. We first watched the DVD at my parents’ in 2003. It was love at first sight, or rather, sound. The DVD was a pirate and it broke up many times and almost spoiled the music. So I bought one here and made a much better copy for my mom. The DVD, and the CD I burned with the best pieces, have been our favorites. The CD sounds especially great in a car.

Why do I love it? It’s the quintessence of music–not classical music that Bach epitomizes, or jazz that Jacques Loussier Trio (and other bands) represents, or fusion/crossover, or the whatever-you-call-it sound that Bobby McFerrin produces, it’s pure music, which is nothing but pure expression of human emotions.

The few orchestral pieces played to their original scores are obviously the least interesting ones, especially the double violin concerto in D minor played lifelessly by Gil Shaham/Adele Anthony couple, with which I’m very familiar since I played its piano part in Tsinghua several times.

Then there’s the appropriately named Quintessence Saxophone Quintet, a German band who performed two funky pieces. Five saxophones sound really loud together!

The German Brass played a few adapted pieces. Though still in classical forms, the sound and virtuosity are truly amazing, especially the lead trumpter.

Much more interesting are the pieces by the American Turtle Island String Quartet. A potpourri of most musical styles you can imagine, the sound is provokingly intriguing.

And then there’s the Jacques Loussier Trio, who’s been jazzifying classical music for more than 40 years. I bought their first Bachazz CD released in 1959 and a later one adapting Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and they sound very tame and timid compared to the way they played here. I like their jazz more than most other jazz styles, because I can follow the melody and harmony and rhythm much more easily, and Bach’s mathematical forms and counterpoints turn out to be perfect for improvisation because of their simple underlying structure.

What can I say about Bobby McFerrin? I bought two of his CDs later but they lack so much the intensity and variety and playfulness he does here. If an evil alien wants to collect some human specimen to analyze what a human can do (without any tool), it would definitely want to find McFerrin for the vocal part of the collection.

Finally the highlight of the DVD is Deconstructing Johann by the King’s Singers. I wrote about a concert I went to back in 1998. I posted a question for the lyrics in the forum on their website, and someone replied:

J. S. Bach had a little problem.
J. S. Bach was in a fix.
J.S. Bach couldn’t find an answer.
What to do?

“I’ve written most of a rather fabulous work. Toccata… it’s in d minor… but now I’m feeling a bit of a jerk.
I can’t think of what should come after it.”

Now said his wife, who was resting up after her thirty third child….

“Johann my dear, you should just go to bed. Something always comes up.”

“Don’t be a twit. It’s a real crisis and I’m working to a deadline.
What can I fit? What’d fit after that great Toccata?
Maybe it needs to be something faster?
I haven’t got a clue, and in a week the piece is due.
I’m in a panic and I’m stuck like glue.”

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist Johann. ‘Notes are only notes’ you always said.
There’s only twelve so use your head.
How many arrangements of twelve notes can there possibly be?”

That’s a problem I don’t want to deal with.
How many permutations of C and D and E and F and G is a thing that I’ve never heard of.
You can leave that to Arnold Schoenberg.
He is the person to do that twelve-tone thing.
NO!
It isn’t the answer… I haven’t the foggiest… What am I gonna do?
I’m all in a panic… Aaah! NO! What can I do?
I’ve finished my Toccata but I have no fugue.

(Cell phone ringing: 65646362…)

Aaah…. And now I’ve got a fugue!


UPDATE: J and some friends went to a Bobby McFerrin concert in NJPAC while I was in China. She said it’s less interesting than what he did here, and he also tried the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria gig to a much lesser effect since the audience can’t compare with the Leipzig crowd. How beautifully the whole square sang as one, and more amazingly expanding to at least 3 parts at the end!

Bach surely would have been proud of his second home town people, but the town is in really bad shape when we visited it in winter 2004. It’s the worst day of our trip to Germany and Austria, rainy and windy and cold in a dilapidated town. We stood at the Market Square and there’s no music to be heard, even though the Bach Museum is just around the corner.

It’s the last day of the Tribeca Film Festival, and I bought tickets to the 11:45pm So Complicated for 7 short films, and the 3pm Green Hat by 刘奋斗, the screeplay of 爱情麻辣烫. It’s our first time to a film festival, and it’s sure worth the money ($10 each ticket)!
So Complicated is part of the family program at the festival, and all the shorts are about growing joys and pains of teenagers. At the end 6 directors that were there had a Q&A session. Here’s a recount of each film.

1. Young Artie Feldman, Director: Erik Moe, U.S.A. 6 min

This is the best of all shorts. It’s the story of a boy named Artie Feldman who is an extremely talented agent for fastfood workers. He finds jobs for his “clients” at all kinds of fastfood places selling burgers and tacos alike, and bargain for their salary and benefits. Ridiculous as it sounds, the film really make you believe it’s real and in no time Artie will be a super star agent. The director wasn’t there, otherwise I would ask him if it’s based on a real life story, maybe even his own.

The film is very fast-paced (great editing). Artie talks all the time, with a dorky assistant managing his schedule and patching in calls at his home. At the beginning he’s negotiating with a burger shop manager for the salary of a client. He asks for $8.25 an hour, but the manager only agreed to pay about $6. Artie didn’t get what he wants, but wait and see. Then we see Artie making and breaking a few other deals, and hit a low point when a guy doesn’t want him to be his agent, throwing the tagline “I’m not in show biz, I’m in food biz”. Finally we see the burger shop manager again, shocked by some photos taken by Artie’s assistant showing him kissing someone not his wife, and had to give in to Artie’s deal of $8.25/hour plus benefits.

Hilarious, great tempo, great storyline. A wonderful treat.

2. Terra, Director: Aristomenis Tsirbas, U.S.A. 7 min

This is the only CG film. The story is that an alien girl named Terra builds her own telescope disregarding the rule on the alien planet. Her father tries to stop her as well as some law enforcement, but Terra is determined to use her telescope to see an object coming towards her planet, which turns out to be a gunship with a USA flag with hundreds of stars. The film ends there, but we all know what’s gonna happen to Terra’s planet.

The CG is ok, with nice alien landscape and facial expression. The storyline is kind of stereotypical, but the imperial USA ship is a good punchline. The director said it’s a tiny part of a feature CG film that he’s been brewing for years, and 9/11 changed his thoughts (I think that’s just a polite way of saying if he showed it after 9/11 he’d be booed like a traitor).

3. Little Losers, Director: Rena Ferrick, U.S.A. 17 min

A stereotypical but delicate film about one day of a lonely smalltown girl’s life. She delivers paper, hides her elder sister’s boyfriend, babysits, looks for the little boy all around, befriending a boy just moved in. The pace is slow, the children actors sometimes not very natural, but the storytelling is smooth. Nice little film.

4. Gretchen & the Night Danger, Director: Steve Collins, U.S.A. 26 min

The longest, boring sometimes. Too much use of Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata, although deliberatedly. Gretchen looks like 30 instead of a teenager. She can’t stand her biker boyfriend treating her like trash, but she just can’t break up with him, and had to lie to her caring but careless mother all the time. In the end she learns to choreograph, and created a surprisingly wonderful dance showing her paradoxical relationship with her boyfriend.

Sometimes the shot is out of focus without a good reason. The lighting doesn’t look nice. Good story, still.

5. The Climactic Death of Dark Ninja, Director: Peter Craig, U.S.A. 12 min

A funny scene about a bunch of teenage boys making the “climatic” scene of a ninja movie with nothing going right, something the director did himself, as he confessed. The camera moves smoothly, but the actors seem a bit fake.

6. I Was a Mathlete Until I Met Margo Marris, Director: Joe Denk, U.S.A., 18 min

A stereotypical high school scene, where the funky Margo Marris moves in town and the boy falls for her. Almost the whole story is told by offscreen voice, leaving little room for the camera and dialogue.

7. Great Lengths, Director: Dara Resnik, U.S.A., 20 min

Another stereotypical story about a boy converting to Jewish for the Jewish girl he loves. He finally bails out at circumcision, but she comes back to him for his efforts anyway. The director says it’s based on her and her boyfriend’s real life experience. The film is nicely made, though.

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We went to Lily’s for a quick lunch, took a walk to the riverside, watched some kids play a baseball game (it’s fun! We should do it sometime), then headed back for the Green Hat. It’s a very strange movie, sometimes brillant, sometimes way too slow, sometimes nonsensical. It’s like 爱情麻辣烫 in a very twisted way. It started out with a short clip from a cul-revol documentary showing Chairman Mao and millions of Red Guards at Tianan Men, everybody wearing a green hat. What followed is two stories about love and betrayal.

After the movie, we couldn’t resist the fine weather so we decided to take a walk to the storied Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a long nice walk from Tribeca to the middle of the bridge. I need to learn more about the history and myth of the bridge, otherwise it’s just a plain old looking structure.

Afterwards we went to Sweet and Tart in Chinatown to cap off the afternoon. A great trip would never be complete without great food. Wonderful afternoon, wonderful City.

We got up at 9am, I went to pick up Jay for the golf range, and Cindy and her classmate came to pick up J for a one-day sale of Armani Exchange at Secaucus outlet. We thought they’d be finished in no time, so we bought one jumbo bucket (150 balls) for everybody as usual.

It turns out that the AX sale was anything but usual. They got there about 10:30am (Cindy was terribly late) to find hundreds of people waiting in line. Only 80 people (50 at earlier time) were let into the warehouse at one time and given 20 minutes to shop. The clothes are all winter stuff, some with minor defects, but the price is incredible: most items $10, some $5. They ended up standing in line for 2.5 hours.

So Jay and I spend 4 hours hitting 300 balls each (strange I didn’t have body aches afterwards). We started out on the second floor, and I was still hitting terrible. I put on the impact tape I bought last week, and for 7-iron I was hitting all over the club head, but for 6-iron I was mostly on sweet spot, yet the balls went everywhere.

I almost finished one bucket, and went downstairs to play driver. Worse. The worst thing is that there’s a left-handed guy on my right (so we’re playing head to head) playing a big titanium driver, and boy he hits hard and far! The sound is deafening, his ball flying out of the range almost every time, while my balls never go higher than 10 feet from the ground. It was embarrassing and humiliating. I switched to the Perfect Club, same result. Only after he’s gone after his 75 balls I realized that again it’s my grip that’s causing the problem: my left hand turns too much (showing 3-4 knuckles), so at impact the club is hitting really down on the ball.

At about the same time Fan Qi noticed a problem of mine: my shoulders aren’t straight (parallel to target line) at address, instead my right shoulder is tilted front, and that could be the reason that I frequently pull and hook. I tried to correct it and I think it helped. So in the end I was hitting quite consistently with the irons, and for the driver as well, except a few times when the ball flies really high, maybe because my left hand turned too little.

After golf we went to the Korean market on Rt 1 again for lunch. After lunch we got groceries, like last week, and went home to take a good nap. Got up almost 7pm, went to Sports Authority to restring the tennis racquet (yeah tennis season is here!), then to Jay’s to make water dumpling with some of Cindy’s high school classmates. Then we karaoked using the new Malata machine brought back by Donkey. Then we took 娄兰 home to Exchange Place (I finally distinguished her from 刘罗兰).

A long good day of golf, nap, dinner, and singing. Just like a usual weekend day.

We went to Edgewater golf range twice this weekend. Jay bought two sets of Prince Ladies Power Ring clubs, so we couldn’t wait to try it out. J likes it, esp. the hybrid i4 and i5. The graphite shaft, among other things, reduced the vibration and shock a LOT.

Sun Jianfeng went to play on Sunday. It’s his second time. I didn’t have as much enthusiasm teaching him as for Guo Linfeng and Donkey, because I myself was really lost. He only hit like 20 balls, but he’s getting a bit better at the end.

As for me, well, it’s mostly old problems but all came together. I used 3-iron on Saturday and 4-iron on Sunday, and the balls were hit all over the place. Now I think I know my problems, and hopefully I can correct them by practicing in our building.

  • Grip: left hand should only shows 2 knuckles (index and middle fingers), which means the wrist is rather straight instead of rotated to the right. The thumb should tilt to the right, however, and tuck wholly under the right hand.
  • Take away: I think I’ve been stretching my right arm during takeaway, so the club head goes rather straight (parallel to target line) at the beginning. I remember learning this from the first golf instruction I read on the web. The problem it creates is that the downswing trajectory is different from the upswing, because during downswing my arms are at ease, just following the natural path which is a smooth curve. The result is that at contact the club is more extended (away from my body) than at address, so I usually hit the ball by the club heel, or even the shaft. I noticed this from the ball marks on the shaft, and confirmed it using the sticker.
  • Swing plane: it was too steep for long irons, so I tend to hit down on the ground. J noticed that but somehow I felt I was hitting the top of the ball instead. The impact tape showed that I was wrong.
  • Downswing: I tend to forget the hip kick at the beginning of the downswing. Plus I tend to forget the right hand push. These two make me hit hook all the time.

J, me, and Donkey saw MOMIX’s Opus Cactus at NJPAC Virginia Theatre 2:30pm-4:30pm. Cool show, but not as interesting as I expected, or should I say, not always interesting. Here’re some notes on the acrobat + ballet + modern dance programme.

Part I
1. Sonoran: But Not Asleep
Great opener. A star-studded background. A sling bed. A blonde in a trance.

2. Desert Storm
The best episode. Totally dark stage. 6-7 fluorescent expandable tumbleweed-like stuff swirling and jumping and moving around in the sound of desert storm. At first I thought they’re hang on wires, but later I noticed they’re actually held by dancers. The “balls” somestimes move irradically, sometimes in sync, and at one time 6 form a body and chases the other one. Very original, very intriguing.

3. Cactus Wren / Morning Star
Dancers in cactus-like stance. So-so.

4. Pole dance
Three male dancers each holding a long pole. So-so.

5. Desert Blooms
Three dancers swirling in large colorful skirt. Beautiful.

6. Ostrich of the Imagination
A female on top of a male in the form of an ostrich. Striking posture, but they can’t do much in that awkard position.

7. Prickly Pair
Dual dancers doing 双簧 like stuff. So-so.

8. Black Mesa
Dancers bent down holding their feet with hands and jump sideway on a backlit stage, quite mystic.

9. Sidewinder
People holding colorful long flexible pole across their bodies. The music is deafening loud.

10. Gila Dance
Four dances holding on to each other in a row to form a big green worm. Like 6, there’s not much movement they can make.

11. Tracking the Earth
People crouching on skate board sliding through the stage, very dymanic. Good contrast to the previous slowly moving worm.

12. Caravan
A female standing on a male lying down on a skate board moving slowly. A continuation of 11. The music is way too loud at this point, so it’s good that intermission follows.

PART II
13. Dream Catcher
The second half is much shorter and less interesting in general. This one is very good, though, becausae of the brillant prop used: it’s a large metal structure with interleaving bars and arcs. The dancers push it around the stage, dance around and within it.

14. Menitation
The word seems to mean the same thing as meditation. A few men standing upside down with spot light only showing their heads, their mouths moving fast as if producing the fast abracadabra. It’s understandbly short (about 1 minute), quite memorable.

15. Sundance
Some girls touting large round fan. Kind of cliche.

16. Big Pole Dance
Worse than the Pole Dance in the first half. Two men lifting a large pole and a girl doing stuff on the pole.

17. Totem
A dancer proping a long pole up, and another one doing stuff on the pole on top.

18. Fire Walker
Just like a tribal fire dance.

19. First Contact
A large puppet skeleton on the back ground. Very unimpressive ending.