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Archive for February, 2013

the sound of grief

Have you ever been so sad that the spaces between words seem too long to endure?

Because in the spaces, you hear music calling out to you, you see a figure in your peripheral vision standing against a shelf full of knick knacks, or against the sliding door leading out to the balcony full of flowers, with his eyes shut against the world. The music washes over both of you. You put down that very last note. He returns to the world back with you and smiles.

You remember walking out into sunlight or darkness, feeling all the stress off your shoulders, stepping out of a small reprieve from oppressive real life. You remember all the things said and more of the things unsaid in looks, in smiles, in sounds of the neighbouring grand piano echoing your phrases, in the touch of a depressed key and the orange light from an oversized lamp.

But now there is only me listening to the music, the tears in Beethoven’s Opus 110, the rainbow at the end of Chopin’s Barcarolle, contemplating life with Bach’s recitatives.

It’ll all go on. It always does. But in the spaces, I am trapped in my grief, in our collective grief because I am so very sorry for our loss, and I feel unable to go on though I must.

Life is just less without you. There are no words for it. Only the spaces.

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the part where you fall in love

the part where you fall in love

When I walked out of Court this afternoon after a hearing and rushing out to a client lunch, I received a text message telling me that my piano teacher had passed away this morning. I spent the remainder of the day alternating between trying not to cry and remembering the music.

In memoriam, I am reproducing a couple of entries from my old blog:

27 October 2003:

I went for studio practice at my piano teacher’s place Sunday morning. I was happily hammering away on the 2nd and 3rd movement of the Bach Italian Concerto, enjoying every bit of it on the hard touch Bösendorfer I’ve been lusting after ever since I started piano with my teacher, when he suddenly started telling me about the results of his other (younger) students in the recent exams, for which I haven’t gotten my results for.

He paused, looked straight at me, and said, “I don’t think you’ll make it. You have the quality, but you just didn’t have the time.” Well, I don’t think I’m going to make it either, I said. “But, you know, exams are not that important at all. What’s important is your personal development and growth as a pianist.” He paced for a while and continued, “So if you’re not going to take it again next year, it’s alright. Don’t waste the money. You’re doing fine.”

That, I think, was a defining moment in my strange relationship with my piano teacher.

I started lessons with him back in 1999. I was recommended by my primary piano teacher, the one that I started piano with. He was a child prodigy, sent off to Hamburg when he was 13 and then later on invited back to play with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. He is a rather temperamental man and the only reason why he’s still in this country is because he came back to care for his childless primary piano teacher, whom he has placed in a nursing home near his studio.

No one thought I’d last more than six months with him, given how volatile I am. But I’m still here because by pure luck, he decided that he liked me enough to put up with me. Till this day, I still remember making that trip to his studio to audition for a spot in his classes. I played a Chopin Nocturne. I was extremely nervous and my fingers were frozen stiff. He stopped me after two bars and told me I played the most beautiful cantabile. Then he told me to come to class in two weeks and to prepare the Barcarolle.

From then till now, he has made many exceptions for me, for which I am really thankful for. He taught me at a lower fee than everyone else after I dragged myself, half dead, into studio one morning after working a 3am night at a restaurant. One Saturday, I was in a lousy mood due to a bad argument with my then boyfriend and was playing the Barcarolle to him when he just suddenly stopped me and said, “You need to be in love. You need to learn to love.” When I got off class that day, I had found the strength to deal with all my relationship problems again.

Over the last year, I’ve lost a lot of faith in my performing standards, in my musicality. I was having an artistic crisis. Piano was just not doing it for me anymore; it was not fun anymore, yet I couldn’t stop because it is the only thing that I can truly say I’m good at. I think he lost a lot of faith in me too, leading to the both of us being increasingly dissatisfied with the other week after week. So I was pressured into taking this horrid $804 Royal Schools exam which is the last cert I could get here. I think he was trying to get rid of me, to push me to complete it so he wouldn’t have to teach me anymore. As a sign of closure, he decided that I should play the Barcarolle for the exam.

Before I could take the exam, all hell broke loose. I was as usual massacring the Schubert sonata which I didn’t particularly enjoy playing and he was as usual shouting at me, except that this time, I burst into tears and told him that I couldn’t do it, that I was too tired and too pressed and not artistic enough. He didn’t speak to me or saw me again until after the exam. I went on a self imposed break from school playing five hours a day and doing lots of soul searching.

In the end, I’m happy to say that I found the magic again. And I guess when he saw me hammering away on his beautiful and proud Bösendorfer, he realized that as well.

He doesn’t say very much to me, but I have felt and can feel that he genuinely cares for my well being, not just how virtuosic or musical I am, how well I play, how much I score with the exam board. I see it in his eyes when I execute a brilliante chromatic passage perfectly, when post concert he introduces me to his acquaintances as “my student, the lawyer”, when he gives me the flowers he gets backstage because I said they were pretty.

I don’t think I can ever tell him how thankful I am. I needed him then because studio was a stabilising force in my life. I still need him now because I have yet to learn enough to make him proud.

12 November 2005:

I brought my parents to the Yellow River Extravaganza yesterday evening to watch my piano teacher play the Yellow River Concerto with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. Coincidentally, NC was singing at the same concert with his choir too.

Every time I see my piano teacher on stage, I feel it with him. Up there in the light, that out of the world feeling when he hits that very last note, that short silence filled rapture before the applause…it all belongs to him like he was borne larger than life. The hours at the piano, his periodic complaints of pains in his hands to me at studio on Saturday mornings, the very late nights he jokes about how his studio is morphing into a piano bar all fades to that unrelenting spotlight, the amazing intensity and delicacy coming through from the music.

He called me on Thursday morning and excitedly told me that he would be trailing with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra to Europe with the Yellow River Concerto. He told me that they were in talks about next year and everything looks lovely. He told me that they are paying him better fees and it’s wonderful that this has arrived and he is just riding with it to see where it all goes.

I felt greatly excited and pleased for him, a pure and unadulterated joy that swept over me while I was sitting in the audience in the dark, bringing on the tears. It made me feel so damned lucky just to be there witnessing it, hearing it, feeling it.

I knocked on his dressing room door in the mad rush before the performance. He peeked out at me with a bright smile and made arrangements for me to be there to hear him even though it was a sold out concert and there where no more tickets, even though he was due on stage in less than an hour. He winked at me and said Don’t worry; we will squeeze something for you. Worst case you stay backstage with me and hear me from here.

Halfway through the third movement, NC texted me about how fantastic my piano teacher was doing. I looked up at my piano teacher, seated at the concert grand, coaxing the most beautiful tone from it, and I replied:

Every time I see him I feel like one of my greatest achievements in life is to have met him.

*

My warmest and heartiest congratulations on a fantastic performance.

And with that, my thanks for allowing me to be here, for Saturday mornings, for sharing, for touching my life in such a profound manner…for everything that you have done for me.

Next year will be most fantastic.

It can’t be any way else for you.

Rest well now. I will always remember your smile and that wonderful cantabile.

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Conversation between The Buddha and I sometime last week in the presence of Champagne Truffle, after some protracted discussion about a point of law

He: I know the meaning of bona vacantia.

She: Which is a really problematic concept in relation to personal property law. Have you ever wondered when you crap, what gives the State the right to dispose and destroy it? Is crapping an act of abandonment? Or what about the guy who took the coins out of fountains and lived for many years on it? Is he guilty of theft? Can he be guilty of theft? Against who?

[Champagne Truffle looks like he’s thinking hard. The Buddha stares at me blankly.]

He: I just told you that I know the meaning of bona vacantia to show you that I am clever.

She: You mean you didn’t want to have an intellectual discourse with me on the problems relating to the concept, which incidentally is something I am interested in?

He: No. I only wanted you to know that I am clever.

She: Oh well. That means I just wasted some intellectual effort there. At least you can now go forth and consider the problems with bona vacantia when you crap every morning.

*

From Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov:

Odd times to be a child in. An odd country, an odd life which he had no desire to make sense of. To endure, full stop, that was all he wanted.

I can’t remember the last time I felt so connected with a protagonist. I feel so much for Viktor Alekseyevich, maybe because in some way, I am reminded a little of myself. Outlandish things happen to him and he just sighs, makes tea, and gets to work on them.

*

There are presentation slides to be made, emails to answer, and a new secretary to train. Mustn’t tarry. Must carry on.

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study of a mother disciplining her son

study of a mother disciplining her son

My aunt once told me how she dreaded gifts from a certain member of the family because they usually resulted in strife among her three children either because all of them got different things which resulted in all kinds of inequalities ensuing, or all of them get craft sets which result in all kinds of messy cleaning up after the event.

Said person usually shrug and say “I don’t care. I’m just giving the gift and it looks like fun.” So in the end, I took over the gift buying and adopted the books for everyone policy so Christmastime became less of a random horror selection for my aunt [if only she knew the insidious contents of the books I hand out to her young adults!].

When I became a parent, I realised even more acutely how a really bad gift could really screw up your routine. So whenever I want to buy a toy for a small child now, I usually ask the Mummy whether it’d be okay. Or at least buy something which says on the package that it is meant for a child in that age range which does not require any parental assistance or messy cleanups.

So what do you do when you receive inappropriate presents for your child?

My usual response would be “Oh, that’s nice!” then put it out of reach for a couple of years. I’ve been quite successful so far [also most people are quite considerate]. I just recently took out a hairdressing doll with lots of small parts which someone gave my daughter on her first Christmas for my daughter after 3 years of keeping it away until it became age-appropriate.

What happens when that option is taken away from you and the gift is presented to your child in your absence in spite of your express instructions not to do so?

You end up having to deal with a fractious child with a broken toy [due to the fragility of said item] whom you have to discipline during dinner time [including and not limited to threatening / bribing him not to whine and then taking him out to the corridor for time out after failing to stop the whining]. Rinse and repeat every time said child catches a glimpse of broken toy until it gets packed away / thrown away.

Telling me that “We are just the gift-givers and we are not responsible for the discipline and behaviour of someone else’s kid” does not help one bit. Giving me dirty looks and sighs over an interrupted dinner is also completely uncalled for because if you were to follow my express instructions, dinner would not have been interrupted in the first place.

It’s a bit like giving a kid a loaded gun and saying that “we are just the gift-givers and we are not responsible for the carnage that ensues.”

That’s just completely irresponsible and inconsiderate.

*

Now that my toes have healed sufficiently that I can sprint 3km again, I really need to continue on my quest of learning how to stand on my head.

So that I can tell people “Can you stand on your head? You can’t? I can. So shut up because I’m one up on you.”

Or I could stand on my head in the middle of rubbish conversations. I used to stick my head in my book bag back in school to stop rubbish conversations. I’m sure standing on my head is a much cooler and much better conversation killer than sticking my head into my bag.

But then again, I wear a lot of skirts and dresses in general. I shall have to remind myself to do so only when I’m wearing pants otherwise it would be most unglam.

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Last night, for the first time in my life, I called for a locksmith.

The 20-year-old lock of my 20-year-old front gate had seized shut. Try as we might, neither The Other Half’s key nor my key could turn the lock.

So if you thought that you had a bad day yesterday, imagine standing on the corridor at 10pm waiting for a locksmith with a child who needed to go to the bathroom badly.

Oh well. At least I got a new lock from the whole fiasco last night. Now I just need to do something about the creaky hinge of my front door which duly announces to the whole planet when I arrive and leave home everyday.

*

In the spirit of the season, happy happy year of the snake from us 🙂

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One side effect of attending school is that Lion has become more assertive these days, leading to far more standoffs with him.

I suppose having to deal with so many children together for the first time in his life has brought to his realisation the concepts of ownership and personal space.

*

I found out last night that Lion and Peanut have learnt to band together against parental oppression. After getting chided off for making too much noise in the common corridors, they held hands in a show of solidarity and stomped their way to the car together in a joint display of their collective unhappiness.

I had to do everything to stop myself from laughing out loud.

*

I have been unwell for the last month or so. Not unwell enough to pack up and lay in bed all day, unfortunately, but this nagging cough refusing to be exorcised.

This morning, I walked to the train alone in the sudden blast of sun only to reach the train station with full blown hay fever. Evening has now rolled around with its heavy rains and overcast skies. I am teary-eyed and red-nosed. But the cough has gone into temporary hiding. Maybe my body can only handle one ailment at a time while my brain tries its darnedest to unwrap a two-week-old legal knot I have been meditating in most of my waking moments at work.

Spring is in the air. Time to stock up on the anti-histamines.

*

I walked into a shop yesterday evening and bought the pinkest bag I have ever seen in my life, handing over my credit card without asking about the price only to read it off an sms sent to me by the bank.

I am both aghast and delighted by the pink-ness, and that is in fact actually possible.

Strange how having a young daughter who wants to be a princess, in spite of you carefully taking pains to avoid the whole princess thing, can warp your perception of a hitherto intentionally pink-less life.

Same effect with having a flunkey at work I guess, and worrying over where to find more work to feed everyone this early in the year, a problem that had only recently manifested in my world.

*

I am tired beyond belief and in more ways than the conventional.

Can you tell?

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