88… What comes to mind when you see the number 88? For those of you who are Chinese, maybe you start thinking it’s your lucky day; for the others maybe something more along the lines of your grandfather’s age. For a small number though, a black, massive, shiny object comes to mind — the piano.
Unknown to most, 88 actually represents the number of keys on the piano (36 black and 52 white). It is also name of the piano concert to be held this Friday. It could not have been a better choice as the concert name, as it shows how people who believe they know all about piano may actually be surprised by it — and many surprises at the concert will there be. Did you know that each and every piece of score written for the piano has its own unique story behind the making of it? It isn’t just black and white. This year, VJC’s piano ensemble will bring to us a plethora of pieces from all over the world, England, America, France, Russia, you name it, and along with them, some insights into the history of each piece. The piece “Sonata for Two Pianos in D major” was supposedly composed by Mozart for his student who was in love with him, the melodious and soothing rhythm reflecting the student’s love for him (what every girl dreams of right?) Another piece, “16 Waltzes Op. 39”, was inspired by a dance. The late Romantic German composer Johannes Brahms had gone to Vienna, Austria and had just sat down to drink a cup of coffee when a waltz broke out, providing him with not only entertainment, but also material for his very next masterpiece.
But the most interesting piece you will hear at the concert, is one that is based on the sound of bones clacking together, that’s right, human bones. The piece, “Fossils”, is actually part of a music collection called “The Carnival of the Animals”, composed by Saint-Saëns. Each piece in the collection represent one animals or animals, ranging from an elephant, to a kangaroo, to a lion. But I guess the composer turned a little morbid while writing about animals and decided to add a little kick to the album by inserting one slightly eerie and disturbing piece. To make things even more interesting, he added in a little humour to the piece by making allusions to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, French nursery rhymes and French songs to the piece. The piece also calls for the heavy use of the xylophone to evoke the images of skeletons playing card games and bones clacking to the beat. How the piano ensemble is going to replicate this without the use of the xylophone remains a mystery to all of us, but no matter how they go about doing so, it will definitely be a performance that leaves a mark on you.
Most of the pieces played will be in the form of a duet, with the exception of a guest performance which will showcase an odd number of pianists playing together — two on one piano and one on the other. While the idea of having someone complement your playing seems great and all, it is actually the part which brings the most frustration to our piano members.
“It’s hard to find time to practice when you are in different classes and your schedules clash.” complained Azure Shang (16S36), who had a hard time coordinating her practise times with her partner. She was not alone in facing this challenge, Genevieve Ong (16S45) also echoed her sentiments, stating that “It was rather hard to find a common time to practice with my partner because we were both very busy with our own commitments.” You might wonder why is there a need to practise together, though? Just master your part 100%, put the two parts together and you get 200%, no? Actually, synchronisation is especially important when playing a duet; a pair which has not practised together at all will be at odds with each other, making it seem as if two pieces were being mashed together instead of them producing one piece of music. Their challenges were further compounded by the fact that they could not meet up with their partners during the weekends as the school’s link gates are closed and the piano room lies just beyond that gate, forever out of their reach. Stephen Tan, the vice president of Piano Ensemble, even went as far as to practise with his partner over Skype, for their schedules were just too mismatched.
That’s dedication all right.
So what gives them the motivation to keep going? How do they not tire of practising? The answer lies in YOU, Victorians. “You feel good because people pay to come, which means they are interested in piano and it’s nice to see people appreciate the music.” That is ultimately what keeps Genevieve going. Just the thought of seeing an audience ready to witness the sweat and effort put into concert preparation pushes these piano members into giving their best. Nothing would be a greater reward for them than seeing the Performance Theatre filled.
Chloe Tan, 16S63