I recall that I was interested in mathematics from a relatively early age, probably from primary school. I was never a particularly talented mathematician — that is, I was certainly not a Wunderkind who won Olympiads, nor did I accelerate through school — but I always did well in maths, and most importantly, I have always had great curiosity and interest in the subject. More than likely my good marks were the result of my curiosity and passion, not the other way round. Oh alright, stereotypical Asian parenting also plays a role, I’ll happily admit. You may have read news articles or psychological studies about the phenomenon of math anxiety. I was rather skeptical about this when I first heard of it, but it seems to be a real psychological condition! You can read this rather dramatic article about this so-called phobia of numbers. Needless to say, this was not a problem for me. I enjoy maths, and I generally do well in maths, which only serves to increase my interest and confidence. When I don’t do well, there is still the enjoyment of a good challenge, of having grappled with a difficult problem or concept, even as I fall miserably short of the desired solution. Incidentally, if you ask a musician why they devote so much of their daily routine to practice and rehearsal, usually the response is along these lines: I enjoy it; music inspires me and I hope to inspire others; it is rewarding and fulfilling; this is my passion, and so on. In both cases, music or mathematics holds intrinsic interest for certain individuals, and they are motivated to master the skills or understand the concepts in their area of interest, and perhaps go as far as to extend current knowledge by exploring and developing new techniques and ideas. In short, I would like to propose that creativity is essential in mathematics. Obviously this is not the same kind of creativity necessary for artistic development, but nevertheless some form of it is needed. Now this is not a theorem which can be proved rigorously, but I hope you will allow me to conjecture a little!
A Brief Commentary on “My Favourite Things”: Valse-Caprice for 2 pianos
For the past few years now, I have been writing short piano “showpieces” around Christmas time, and posting them to my YouTube channel. It started out in a rather silly fashion with the Capriccio festivo for 2 pianos, which is clearly a joke piece more than anything (although to my defence, it does have interesting manipulations of themes and textural ideas). In subsequent years, I wrote piano fugues mainly as challenging composition exercises to develop my craft. These pieces have been received well. However my skill as a composer has certainly increased since the festive Capriccio of 2010, and so this year’s offering is of a much higher quality. In particular, I hope that it can serve well as a concert item or an encore, without sacrificing too much of the humour and sense of fun, which is always a priority in my “novelty” works.
I didn’t have any good ideas for a piece based on Christmas carols this year, but coincidentally the year 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music film. Hence I focused my attention on the tune My Favourite Things and produced this Valse-Caprice for 2 pianos. Due to the more ambitious nature of the work, it has caused me more trouble than the fugues of previous years, and features more daring ideas and harmonies. However, I have also borrowed some humour from the earlier Capriccio festivo. In this new piece, you will also find some sneaky quotations of great classical composers (can you name them? and which works do I quote?), unexpected modulations, and of course, true to my training, contrapuntal shenanigans.
I must make it clear that I don’t play the piano at all, so why write so many works for the keyboard? Earlier this year, I finished my Three Concert Pieces for solo piano, a serious work to challenge the most advanced students and professional pianists. Obviously, I enjoy writing for the piano very much. Even if I don’t play it, I have now developed over the years a decent sense of what sounds good on the instrument — and what a tremendous instrument, when used properly! In fact, it is the piano’s ability to evoke the many colours of the orchestra that makes it both an exciting solo instrument as well as an ideal “sound laboratory” for any composer. I have tried to include some orchestral effects in my Valse too.
That’s all from me at this point, the rest is up to the listener. I hope you enjoy this piece!
I have decided to record some of my thoughts on composition on this blog. In the good ol’ days, these things were usually penned down into a notebook or included in letters to friends and colleagues, but now we have the Internet!
Finals of the Kendall National Violin Competition
For this first notebook entry, I would like to say a few words about my recent trip to Kendall, NSW, where I attended the finals of the Kendall National Violin Competition (hereafter KNVC). Despite its setting in a quiet rural town, the KNVC is nevertheless one of the most prestigious in Australia, and attracts the best young violinists from around the country.