Tag Archives: orchestra

Not in the YouTube Symphony

Oh well…

I’m not a “winner” of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra.   Wifey keeps on telling me to get over it.

But I’ve watched my video a few more times, and those of the “winners”.   And I’ve come to the conclusion – I’m just a boring player to watch.

And I need to change this.

I’m sure there are a multitude of opinions, but music is primarily a form of communication – a performing art.   Playing the notes, articulation, phrasing..  that’s all one side of the coin.  But on the other side, is the visual aspect.

On an audio CD, you don’t get this – and so I know I’ve been sometimes surprised to go and watch an artist in person and be disappointed.  Or sometimes the reverse – sometimes seeing the performance, the emotion and movement in an artist, leaves such an impression that just listening to their audio recording afterwards is quite a different experience.

I think I need to work on the visual, performing aspect of my playing.   So it “looks” like I’m playing what I’m feeling.  For an audience member, this will then reinforce their aural sense with the visual sense – therefore heightening their overall musical experience.  Surely?

Any thoughts?

I’m a finalist of the YouTube Symphony! Vote for me!

I can’t believe it!

After receiving the email about being a potential finalist, and some musings that it doesn’t necessarily mean that I could be an actual finalist, I got the email from YouTube saying that I really am a finalist in the YouTube Symphony 2011 competition!


What does this mean?   It means I’ve progressed to the voting round.  It seems they’ve whittled down the field to 80.  If they are choosing 8 desks of 1st and 2nd violins, that’s 32 to get through.   Although the fine print says that the number of votes doesn’t totally govern who gets through, it sure would be nice to get at least a few votes!!

So, if you have a spare minute, just log onto the YouTube Symphony website (http://www.youtube.com/symphony), click on Vote then Orchestral Auditions, click on the Violin section (bottom left next to the conductor) and then scroll to find my video (Jason Chong), click on it then click Vote!

What do you get?   I can’t offer you much unfortunately, but maybe a shout out on my blog!

Potential finalist of the YouTube Symphony Orchestra!

For the last few days, I’ve been checking my iPhone constantly for new messages from YouTube.  Yep, it was the time range when entrants to the YTSO 2011 competition would find out if they got chosen to progress to the next round.

So I was extremely excited when my iPhone pinged me on Saturday morning with an email from YouTube.

I have been chosen as a potential finalist or potential alternate! 

I can’t believe it!!   Wifey thinks I’m mad, that I’m suffering some mid life crisis.  Must be like how I’m the oldest (nearly twice the age) of entrants in the Fremantle Eisteddfod.  I wonder if I’m the oldest entrant in YTSO 2011?   Surely not at 35!

For me, I’m secretly glad that being a non-professional musician means I don’t have a “reputation” that I need to uphold and prevent me from doing random things like this 🙂

But I’ve been playing back my recording for the last week and am actually embarrassed that my intonation is a little shaky, especially in the Mozart – the first piece in my video!   Luckily, intonation is not the only criteria used for judging and I hope musicality and interpretation are just important.

Anyways, I think I now have to wait until around the 10th December when official public voting starts, and then see what happens.   If I do get through, then it’s a week over in Sydney to hang out with other musos from around the world, and hopefully some top notch professional musos too!

*Fingers crossed*

Playing for the WA Ballet Gala

A few weeks ago, I lived the second life of a musician playing in a pit.   The “pit” refers to the area typically below the stage where the orchestra sits when playing for an opera or ballet.  

What happens first is that the orchestra gets together to “note bash”.   Learn the notes, rehearse playing together, identify and practise problem areas, especially those that require co-ordination between different sections.    It’s also a time to find out what the conductor wants and the style and tempos they want us to play.  

The next stage is the dress rehearsals with the dancers.   By now, the orchestra can play the music and the focus is on co-ordination with the dancers, staging, lighting, logistics of program order, etc.  With ballet, we have to be flexible as a lot of timing depends on the dancers, the steps they are doing and the choreography.  For example, some sections had to be played slower because it was physically impossible for the dancers to spin, twirl, etc that fast!

And then it’s the start of the actual shows.  This time round, and I think it’s pretty normal, the best audience responses were on the opening and closing nights.  In between shows, applause was good, but not as boisterous or spontaneous.   Luckily the season wasn’t too long this time, only 5 shows – but still, I love the excitement and buzz of the closing night performance.  It’s finally all over.

For me, it was a great chance to pick up my violin again and play with others in a professional environment.  I think the orchestra did really well.

The strangest part of the whole experience however was that we, as musicians, never actually saw the dancers doing the dances.  I find this most strange.  I believe that the way we (musicians) would have played would be very different if we knew what was happening on stage.   How different?  Not really in tempos as we rely on the conductor to set these, but just general interpretation, emotion, feeling and appreciation for what’s happening – the “bigger picture”.   My wifey went to one performance and gave me the lowdown on the dances – and I was surprised that the choreography for one of the pieces matched various parts, as well as the overall Sonata Form of the whole movement in general.   I’m not sure how this would work logistically though – would we get all the musos to watch the performance to pre-recorded audio?   What do other companies do?

I know that in the swing dance world, dance bands (from back in the Harlem days in the Renaissance and Savoy Ballrooms) actually worked off the dancers and the dancers off the musicians in a self perpetuating energy cycle.    This makes current classical ballet performances very lacking in comparison!   Maybe the number of musicians needing co-ordination is a factor here – we rely on our conductor to be the conduit.

Here’s a photo of my view of the theatre:

Notice the nets?   This made me smile – I’m guessing that they are there to catch the dancers in case they stray too far forward and accidentally fall into the pit!  Now that would be something to remember!    But maybe something not to laugh at – a quick Google shows several times when this has happened before…

2007 – Ballet dancer injured in Atlanta Ballet production of The Nutcracker – http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/11/arts/dance/11arts-OSHAINVESTIG_BRF.html, http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-holiday-guide/holiday-events/after-nutcracker-fall-dancer-240391.html
1998 – Ballet dancer died in Dutch National Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet – http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/ballet-dancer-died-trying-to-save-director-in-orchestra-pit-fall-1.234032
More info here of the WA Ballet Gala show here:  http://www.waballet.com.au/whats_on.php?id=57

The story behind my YouTube Symphony audition

I haven’t been giving my blog much love lately.    Real life has just gotten in the way with trips to Sydney and Singapore and an orchestral gig.  Blog posts to come up soon!

One thing I have squeezed in is to continue working on the YouTube Symphony Orchestra (YTSO) violin audition.  Unfortunately with travelling around and having 2 kids to worry about too, I didn’t have much time to learn or record my audition 😦  I had to fit in some of recordings just before I sent the kids to school on two mornings in the past week!  Yep, you’ll see Miss 9 run out of her bedroom to get breakfast!

The audition seems a bit fairer this time around.   You now need to prepare 5 pieces and it’s a more typical Symphony Orchestra audition choice – a solo Bach, a Mozart concerto and a range of orchestra excerpts.

Here’s what I chose!

Bach Partita in D – Allemande

I’ve played this before.  Actually, I think most violinists would have played this – it’s something you “have” to learn when you learn to play the violin.   For me, it was good to go back and polish this up again.

My interpretation has definitely changed since when I played it back in my teens.  Back then, I loved the heavy, grand versions of the Bach.  I used to use Itzhak Perlman’s BBC video as my yardstick.  But my current mood is for a more delicate, minimalist approach and bringing out all the intricacies of the various voices all intertwined.  I would have loved to have recorded this with absolutely no vibrato, but the style of your playing depends on the acoustics and my lounge room doesn’t have much reverb, so I had to use a little vibrato.

Bach is actually hard to play well.   Bach was a genius in trying to use a single instrument to play multiple voices.  Here there’s no double stops, yet there’s usually two voices throughout.  It’s also hard because there’s a lot of semiquavers, but you don’t want it to sound like a study.  There has to be some movement and phrasing, yet trying to keep time.   I hope I did it justice!

Mozart Violin Concerto in A – 1st Movement

I had trouble deciding between the two Mozart concertos.  I actually hadn’t learnt either of these concertos.  I’ve only learnt and played the 3rd concerto many years ago.   But I know wifey has been bugging me to learn one of these instead of the “great” violin concertos that I’ve been messing around with lately.

I chose the A major, mainly because I saw Renaud Capucon conduct a masterclass on this recently and was totally mesmerised by his playing of the introduction – read more here.

Mozart is deceptive.  People think these concertos are “easy”.  Easy – maybe easy to learn the notes, but to play it expressively like an operatic dialogue – no.   I remember the comments in a couple of my AMEB exams in my teens were all about trying to make my playing more operatic.  No, not like an aria!  But like multiple people having a conversation, and having some meaning or direction to the conversation.  After all, music is communication right?

So fast forward to today, I think I have a better understanding of what the music is trying to achieve, but whether I brought this out in my playing is a different matter altogether!   I know my intonation is not bang in the center here – and that’s really because of lack of consistent practice.

Strauss Don Juan excerpt

Argh!!  This is a hardy – from a technical point of view.   Fast runs and arpeggios.  But also so passionate!

The first thing I did was to listen to a recording of it.  There’s so many other parts in the orchestra during this passage, that it’s hard to play alone.   But at least I got a grasp of the tempo and what the music was trying to achieve.

I find it hard to play passages like this solo too because when you’re playing in a section of 5-8 desks of violins, and the whole symphonic orchestra around you, you get this feeling that is hard to replicate alone.   Also, you can probably get away with a few inaccuracies since the section swallows you up whole!

The trouble with this excerpt is that the difficult passages just keep on coming!  Especially when you think you’re out of danger near the end, but then all those quiet triplet passages hit you.  Aargh!

Beethoven Symphony No. 9 excerpt

I’ve played a few Beethoven Symphonies, but interestingly not the No. 9 yet!   I wasn’t familiar with this passage, so I had to find a recording and listen to this part to get the context.

I found this another hard thing to play solo.   With a whole section, you can change your playing to match the others around you, and to produce the common blanket of sound as one.  But individually, if I played like that, it would probably sound very plain indeed.   Also, in a concert hall with more reverb, one can get away with playing less but still sounding more.

So I decided to make my own tone nice here in my dead-ish lounge room by use of vibrato..  maybe too excessive?

Mendelssohn Symphony excerpt

Final excerpt!   This would be great to play in an orchestra!   The challenge here is the triplets – trying to keep them going without any other orchestral part to bounce off or to keep in sync with!

Here’s the final product!   I hope I at least get to the 2nd round this time.






YouTube Symphony Orchestra 2011


Youtube has announced the second YouTube Symphony Orchestra project.

I tried and failed miserably in the 2009 attempt.  Actually, it’s a bit of a coincidence because I was just watching my old video again a few days ago.  Hmm…  my Paganini was played most boringly…  I think I got all caught up with the technical aspect of it 😦

This time around, it’s unfortunately not at Carnegie Hall, but the Sydney Opera House.  Not so exotic for me being an Australian, but the experience should still be amazing.

Sneak peek here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LA2kcgOvwlA

and more info here:  http://www.youtube.com/user/symphony

And so the WAYO cycle continues

This Saturday, Miss 10 has her first audition to join a WAYMA orchestra.  Her cello playing has improved in leaps and bounds in the last 2 years, but so far, she’s really only been playing by herself. 

Playing in an orchestra or ensemble is such a different and enlightening experience that I really cherish from my youth.  Just mixing with other like minded kids, meeting new people, working towards that concert, going on fun tours/camps…   although there were obviously times when I thought orchestra was drab, boring, why did I have wake up to go orchestra every Saturday morning, why am I doing this instead of some sport…

I think Miss 10 has reached a stage where she needs exposure to other people who play the cello, playing in time and in tune with each other, and really, the joy of playing with other people making a bloody big sound!  There’s nothing like everyone playing some symphonic fortissimo passage together…

I hope she goes OK with her audition!  (and also the many other hundred kids auditioning tomorrow!)

Orchestra recording session experience

Recording session

I recently participated in an orchestral recording session.  I’ve done a couple before with WASO and the ABC, but this time still struck me as a very unusual experience.  

So after signing in, I walk into the studio.  It’s basically a really large room with very high ceilings, dimly lit and set up for a full symphony orchestra.  But one major difference is the recording equipment.  There are microphones mounted from stands everywhere.  There are headphones and headphone volume controls on every stand.  There are wires running everywhere on the ground.  There are wires from the lights on the stands.  There are extra people everywhere for sound, etc.   Yep, it’s a major spaghetti and I’m glad I’m not in charge of the sound engineering!

As you may have seen on DVD extras, the conductor has a large video monitor in front of him with the movie footage being played, and probably a video link to the sound control room.

So I find my desk, introduce myself to my desk partner, get out the violin, tune up, turn off my iPhone, put on the single sided headphone.

And then it’s go.


I think every take is recorded.  Even the very first one before we’ve even rehearsed.  The pressure is on.  From doing recordings at home, I know how sensitive the mics are – they will be picking up EVERYTHING – every wrong note, every mis-timing, every paper rustle.

Orchestral playing is an unusual job.  It’s a lonely individual pursuit where you have to perform well yourself. You don’t really talk to the people you’re working with at all when rehearsing/performing.  Yet, you have to play with the others in your section like a single entity.  

In a recording session, that’s even harder as you’re wearing a headphone playing a click track – basically a metronome so that the orchestra and the conductor stays exactly in time with the movie.  And so the conflict – do you play with the click, with the section, with the rest of the orchestra or the conductor?  Ideally, all of the above!

After it was all over, I look back and can categorise the two things you do most at a recording session are: 

1) Sit in absolute silence (when other sections are recording, or if you’ve got rests)

2) Repeatedly play the same part over and over until it’s as perfect as time permits

It almost feels like being used and not very individualistic – either play exactly the same as everyone else in your section, or sit in silence.   I find it ironic that there is a lack of artistic individuality in this artistic pursuit!

Quite different to an office environment where…  I sit in front of a computer in silence for hours at a time 🙂   But at least I can get up and move about, am doing my own set of tasks that are different to everyone else, bounce ideas off others, draw upon references when needed, have meetings where we talk and collaborate, innovate…

And so it all finished, I packed up, caught up with some old friends, waited for my lift..  and now I can’t wait for the next phone call…

YouTube Symphony Orchestra

Well, it’s nearly time for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra concert! 

I’ve noticed a bit of news coverage over the last day or two about it in Australia.   Like this one on the Sydney Morning Hearld website – http://www.smh.com.au/news/technology/web/video-in-symphony/2009/04/14/1239474911896.html.

I did have to re-upload my final Tan Dun video a month or two ago to be potentially used in the video mashup.  I hope my video makes the cut!   That will mean that the video of myself playing the Tan Dun symphony may appear for a split second at Carnegie Hall! 

But.. oh.. I wish I had maybe chosen a different audition piece, like the Brahms Symphony.   It might have increased my chances of getting through (looking at the proportion of finalists who played that as their audition piece).    My lesson learnt – don’t choose the audition piece until you’ve heard and had a play through each one!   Oh well, maybe there’ll be a next time…