Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Chorus

Haven't written here for over a year. Blog is no longer "in" these days. Guess I write more for myself than others.

Have been sick for 3 days. Actually, started feeling sick before the performances on 22 and 23. Many people were sick during the rehearsals during that week and I was sitting very close to someone who's really sick. Took a lot of vitamin C and tried hard not to fall sick. Guess the virus is really bad this time. A few choristers couldn't join the performance. One even was in hospital.

Always enjoyed singing with this group. They are more efficient than other groups. Also, the chorusmaster gives very clear and exact instructions. My vocal always said it's because of my finance training that I like things to be clear and exact.

Learned so much in these few years with this group. Most people like to say artists are very emotional. Yet, I will say, world class musicians, especially conductors, are very discipline and with exceptional EQ. They are always punctual and diplomatic. Even a small potato like me enjoys working with them so much.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Arctic Nature Guide (Jan 21, 2014)

Attend a lecture by one of the expedition team member. He's the instructor for snowshoeing and the one making the snow slide. He used to do only summer sports. He thought if something went wrong in summer, he could just wait and got rescued. If something went wrong in winter, there would be consequences. He then won a photo competition and the prize was a trip to Spitzerbergen, hiking in the snow for 6 days. It's the first time he had winter sport. The tour guide liked him so much that he was invited back to do the tour again as a guide. He then wanted to learn more and attended a school in Norway to be an Arctic Nature Guide, learning to walk on glaciers, rescuing someone falling off a slope, …. After that, he started to be a freelance Arctic Nature Guide. He took photos and made films on the side and won 2 film competition. He loves tents and has tent sponsors. He joked that he can get any tent he wants but he doesn't have an apartment. He's turning 30 tomorrow. This is the kind of guy we won't meet in HK.

Passengers on Ship (Jan 21, 2014)

We came to know a bit more about 6 fellow passengers and none of them is a banker. We first chatted with an old passenger who was born in 1933 and used to be a dance teacher. His travel partner for this trip is his student from 1979. He's a lawyer and has a debt collecting company. We met 2 women from U.S., one from California and one from Alaska. The one from California is in retailing and she said in around 2.5 years, the companies she setup always got bought out. The one from Alaska used to be doing marketing for Bank of Alaska for 9 years. She then decided to quit and is now doing marketing in tourism, which she said it's much more fun and interesting. We also met a mother and daughter. The mother is a columnist for Telegraph writing about cruises. She knows well different cruises and the ships. Can tell immediately the size of a ship, where it is, how many passengers it hold, how's the food, what's interest about a particular cruise, …. Her daughter is a diving instructor. It's good to know there's a world out there where people are not just bankers or property agents.

I Survived the Drake Passage (Jan 20, 2014)

Woke up by the swaying and bumping of the ship in the middle of the night. The door of the washroom, which is fixed even when opened, was slammed close. There was also banging sounds which we thought was the clothe hangers banging on the door of the closet. Later, we thought it was the bottle of Cava rolling in the refrigerator. In the end, we found out it's the door of the safe banging on the door of the closet. Anyway, I slept through the night with all these noises.

In the morning, my husband said he needed the salty plums as he felt sea sick. I thought he was kidding and said if he had sea sick, he had it middle of the night already. We then went for breakfast. Heard people talking about all the sounds in the room and things rolling down the floor. Also, some people didn't come out for breakfast. My husband had only 2 oranges and said he felt full. I started to realize he really had sea sick. I didn't have any and that's why I thought he was joking.

The weather said the wave height was 5 meter last night. When we passed the Drake Passage on our way to Antarctica, the wave height was only 1.5 meter. Read in books saying the wave height in Drake Passage can go as high as 5 to 6 meter and I know we had experienced it.

My husband went back to sleep and we skipped lunch. By around 3 pm, we went to lecture and he's better. However, after a few minutes, he said he's really sick again and felt cold. So, he went back to the room to lay down again. He even missed the bridge tour.

During dinner, we sat next to a mother and daughter. They both talked about having sea sick and laying down was the best way to deal with it but it didn't really help. What surprised me was that, the mother was a columnist of Telegraph writing about cruises around the world. She goes on 14 cruises every year. Her daughter is a diving instructor and she has been on cruises since six. I wonder why they still have sea sick.

I noticed around 30% of the passengers didn't come for dinner and many left immediately after eating. Usually, most people just hanged around chatted a bit after meal.

My husband asked if I had the slightest sign of sea sick such as having no appetite, wanting to vomit, feeling dizzy, … and I said no. Right before the trip, things were hectic as I needed to have a last minute change of air ticket and packed for extra 2 weeks stay in Canada. So, the only thing I prepared for dealing with sea sick was the salty plums. My husband finished the whole pack. I did get any medicine nor the sea sick pads.

I bought a T shirt saying "I survived the Drake Passage" on the 2nd day after passing the Drake Passage for the 1st time. Now, I experienced the real power of Drake Passage and I can really say "I survived the Drake Passage". Yet, I know, this was not the worst one ever. Heard there were really bad ones which the restaurant couldn't serve meals but delivered sandwiches to rooms.

Port Lockroy (Jan 19, 2014)

Port Lockroy was the last landing for the Antarctica Trip. Weather was just perfect. Port Lockroy was established by the British as they thought the Germans would land on Antarctica. That never happened and they eventually closed down the station. Later, the site was turned into a museum. The museum is really interesting as it shows how life was like in Antarctica decades ago. There's also a souvenir shop for raising funds for the protection of the Antarctica. Though we all know goods are made in China but still we willing buy them for the support of the trust. I bought 3 penguins for myself, my brother and a friend who loves penguins. Also, bought a few pins and charms. Btw, they now take credit cards. There's a Penguin Post Office on the island and I sent out 3 postcards: to myself, my brother and a very good friend. It takes around 3 months for the postcards to arrive.

(Click here for photos)

Slide on the Snow (Jan 18, 2014)

We walked up the hill at Neko Island. It's never easy walking on snow with rubber boots. Yet, we made it to the top. On our way down, there's a place we could slide down the slope instead of walking down. So, I thought, it's always scary walking down slippery snow and icy slope, it probably wouldn't be scarier sliding down. As far as I could see, the slope was just about 45 degree. So, I sat down and slide. After a while, I got faster and faster and I started to lower the speed using my elbow as I thought it's dangerous using my hands and wrists. Then, I saw a guy standing on the side and he's the one making the slide on the slope. He's the snow shoeing instructor. I couldn't see anything in front of me and this instructor told me it's going to be really steep ahead. He asked if I was scary and I said very scary. Yet, I've passed the point of no return. I kept sliding and the slope was over 70 degree and I was speeding down. Nothing I could do! After a while of wild slide, I decelerated and the slope was too flat to slide anymore. I then wished I could slide I bit more instead of walking.

The snow was soft and every step, my foot sank into the snow which came to above my knee. It was such a slow walk back to the original path. Started walking slowing down the hill for the rest of the path back to the shore.

If I knew beforehand it's going to be such a wild slide of over 70 degree, I would definitely not go for it. Yet, I am so glad I did it. Put the bottle of Cava into the refrigerator so that I can celebrate which I did today. I really like the the question: "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" My answer is: "Two hours ago."

(Click here for photos)

Swimming (Jan 17, 2014)

Today's landing was at Cuverville Island. There's a chance to swim in the ocean. Unfortunately, at zero degree and snowing, I dared not trying. However, there were a few people dipping into the water, though not actually swimming. Already, it's very brave taking off all clothes at such weather.

Missing the swimming, I immediate headed for the outdoor jacuzzi after back on the ship. Still, it's cold getting outside in swimming suit. Yet, it's much better as the jacuzzi was really warm.

(Click here for photos of the cruise ship MS Fram)

Alaska (Jan 17, 2014)

The 2 ladies sitting next to us during breakfast are from U.S. - California and Alaska. I said after this trip, I now strong encourage young people to take career break and travel when they can. This trip is quite physically demanding and it's better to do it when one can still enjoy it. She said she absolutely agreed. She found it strange when she looked at a resume with no break but work all through the years. The other lady also thought so and it's not a good idea to stay in the same job and the same company for a long time.

I asked the lady from Alaska what's the difference in scenery between Alaska and Antarctica. She said there are trees and plants in Alaska but it's totally bare in Antarctica. As regard to the glacier, there's not much different.

She used to work in a bank for 9 years but then changed to tourism. The lady from California is in retailing. She said the average time she had for her companies is 2.5 years. Then, they got bought out.

Hope Bay - Esperanza (Jan 16, 2014)

The 3rd landing is on a Argentine base on Hope Bay. There was an accident on this base the day before. Something flammable blew up and killed 1 person. Initially we thought we might need to skip this landing but eventually people on the station said it's okay. The base keeps some of the very old constructions built by 3 Swedish South Polar Expedition when they arrived in 1901. There's also a museum, a church and a school in the base. The school has 9 students from age 3 to 19.

(Click here for photos)

Dance Teacher (Jan 16, 2014)

Over 80% of our fellow passengers are over 60. We sat next to 2 guys at dinner and one of them walks really slow. He asked me which year I was born and he told me he was born in 1933. The usual topics we chatted over dinner were jobs, hobbies, country of residence, … My husband told them I am a professional pianist and ballerina. I immediately corrected saying I am a professional pianist but only an amateur ballerina. What surprised us was that this old gentleman told us he was a dance teacher. He taught 20 different kinds of dances. All for social purpose and without any lift and drop. The guy comes with him is his student from 1979.

We asked if he still dances now and he told us his story. He had pancreatic cancer a few years back and had an operation. Only 3 to 10% of people made it for the operation and he's among them. Then, he had a serious accident and hurt his shoulder. He needed to put in a Titanium should which doesn't work very well. He can't hold up his arm and hence can't dance anymore. He used to have a company called Dance Lover which he gave it to a friend.

Glacier Hiking (Jan 16, 2014)

The 2nd landing is on Brown Bluff. When ashore, the expedition team told us we could hike up the glacier and it would take about 40 mins. At first, we were walking on the side of a slope. The expedition team already digger out a path for us to follow. Yet, it's still very slippery. I slipped and slid down a few feet. Surprisingly, it's not painful at all.

We walked up the hill and in the middle, the group stopped and there's a expedition team there. Someone asked if it's the end and she answered it's the beginning. We were there to wait for another group to come down first so that we could follow the guide up. The path was even more slippery and fortunately we had our hiking sticks with the appropriate bottom. We walked all the way closed to the top. The guide said that's as far as we could walk that was safe.

Even without the scarf, I was so warm with all these walking. My inner t shirt was all wet. My husband said it's amazing that my hands were so warm when outdoor in Antarctica while I am always freezing cold when indoor in HK.

After this landing, I saw people buying hiking sticks at the shop on the ship. No one told us hiking sticks are such a necessity in this trip. We bring along thinking maybe just in case they are useful. In the future, if we ever go to adventure trips again, we will definitely bring along hiking sticks.

(Click here for photos)

Half Moon Island (Jan 15, 2014)

Had the 1st landing at Half Moon Island after 2 days stuck in a ship. Weather is 0 degree and snowing. So, I put on my scarf, down jacket, wind resistant pants, plastic dance pants as my water resistant pants, gloves, Elmo hat, rubber rain boots and sun glasses.

The trip from the ship on the rubber Polar Cirkel boat was around 5 mins. Getting on and out the boat was okay but did need to get into the water a bit. The seats of the boat were wet from the splashing of the water. It proved that my plastic dance pants are well water proof. My husband used a pair of rain pants borrow from a friend. Unfortunately, his inner pants were all wet on the outside. Never thought rain pants are actually not water proof.

The life jacket is quite heavy and needs a bit of technique to put on. As it's the very first landing, we didn't bring the SLR camera but only the light ones so that we didn't need to use a backpack. We brought along the hiking sticks and that were very useful.

We walked slight uphill and then down to a beach. On the way, we saw not only penguins but also a seal, which was sleeping. The biologist of the expedition team told us it's just sleeping and it's alive. The walking was quite difficult as the snows were soft and deep. So, our feet sank into the snow, sometimes up to over our knees. Each step, we needed to pull our legs up and walked again, which was very energy consuming. I actually felt hot after walking for a while, especially around the neck where I worn a scarf. I decided not to wear a scarf in the following landings.

Saw thousands of penguins standing on the beach for the very first time in life! That's amazing! Also, they smell.

(Click here for photos)

Stretching (Jan 15, 2014)

Did some stretching and helped my husband with stretching this morning as we will be landing Half Moon Island this afternoon. There are 7 groups for the Polar Cirkel Boat and we are in the last group. For landing, we need to get in and out of the Polar Cirkel Boat. We've brought our walking sticks along in case we need them.

Drake Passage (Jan 14, 2014)

It is well know that the Drake Passage is very rough. It's the place where the warmer North water meets the colder water from the South. As the warmer water moves up and the colder water sinks down, it creates the current and hence it's rough sailing through this passage.

The ship started at 6 pm. By midnight, the ship was swaying side to side. I didn't sleep well and woke up several times with all these movement but fortunately, I didn't have sea sick.

The next morning, we were told that the height of the waves was average 1.5m. I've heard that it can get to 5 to 6m sometimes. So, we actually didn't have a rough sailing. No need to use the salty plum I've brought along. That's the only thing I've prepared. I didn't get the medicine or the pads or the wrist band.

Checking out at 2 AM (Jan 13, 2014)

The chartered flight to Ushuaia was at 5:15 am but we needed to be at the airport by 3 am. So, we needed to check out at 2 am. No surprised to us as it's already the 3rd time we need to check out in the middle of the night. (The 1st time was in Egypt and the 2nd time in Mongolia.)

The flight to Ushuaia was about 4 hours. We've joined a tour to visit the National Park. Ushuaia is the Southern most place on earth and it's called “End of the Earth”. The place is beautiful, just like the Rockies in Canada. The tour guide is very professional and speaks Spanish, English and German.

A New HK Friend in Buenos Aires (Jan 10, 2014)

Last December, a FB friend asked if anyone knew of a good place to stay in Buenos Aires as she would be there January 3 to 21. I did some research booked this apartment. So, I just passed the information to her with the disclaimer that I've no idea if it's really good as I've never been there.

It turns out that this FB friend has been to Buenos Aires 7 times and knows the place really well. She arranged someone to pick us up from the airport and helped us to convert US$ into Argentinean Peso at a very favorable rate.

We met for lunch the next day after arrival and went sight seeing. She speaks fluent Spanish and it's such a great pleasure to be around with her. I mentioned my husband likes steaks and Argentina is famous for steaks. She even booked for us a place which the locals highly recommended.

Had an extremely pleasant 1st day stay in Buenos Aires! Feel really blessed! When I told my friends about how I met with this FB friend, one said she's an angel sent by God to watch over me.

(Click here for photos)

A Record 42 Hours (Jan 9, 2014)

We left home at 12 noon on January 9 (HK time) and arrived our apartment in Buenos Aires 6 pm on January 11 (HK time), which was 42 hours. There was 15 hour flight from HK to Toronto and 12 hour flight from Toronto to Santiago (Chile) and then 2 hour from Santiago to Buenos Aires.

Our last record was only 24 hours which we flew from HK to Singapore and then Singapore to Turkey. Don't remember the exact flying time but then, it was our record and we were totally exhausted when we arrived our hotel.

As I rented a service apartment, instead of hotel, there's cooking facilities in the apartment. So, I bought instant noodles just incase we didn't want to go out on the day we arrived. There was cooking facilities but there's no utensils. We were just too tired to ask for some cooking utensils. We knew breakfast started at 7. So, we slept at 8 pm (local time) and skipped dinner.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Overstretched

In these few years, I've joined a number of choirs. I never thought I needed to check the financial of a choir. Some choirs require a subscription so the choir can cover the cost of rehearsal venue, the conductor and the pianist. Some don't need a subscription as they can cover their cost through sales of tickets in concerts.

Recently, I joined a choir which requires a subscription. The amount is reasonable by market standard. Starting from the very first rehearsal, the chairman kept asking us to sell tickets for a series of 4 concerts organized by the choir. Then, I kept receiving e mails saying that if they couldn't sell the tickets, they would loss a lot of money, HK$250,000. There were also e mails asking us to help to find sponsors. I really find that very annoying. It's none of my business as I already paid my subscription.

The 4 concerts didn't sell well and they loss HK$250,000, which they hope to make it up in the upcoming concert, which I will be singing. They said the cost of this concert is $350,000. Again, they keep pushing us for ticket sales.

This concert's program is 2.5 hours, which is long compared with the usual 1.5 hours to 2 hours. The concert is held in Cultural Centre Concert Hall. They don't have an orchestra and they hire expensive professionals from outside for the concert. They have soloists from overseas, which is much more expensive than having local vocalists.

Probably because of financial issue, we have only 1 full rehearsal with the soloists. (From my experience with HK Phil, they always have 3 full rehearsals with orchestra and soloists. Even with other choirs, there were at least 2 full rehearsals.) Last night's rehearsal with orchestra, we didn't have players for all parts. We missed the tympani, the trombone, the horn, the oboe, ... which made the accompaniment very fragmented.

Another problem is the long program. For a 3 hours rehearsal session with 20 min break, we actually have only 2 hours 40 mins. To rehearse for a 2.5 hour program, we can only run through it once and no time for working on anything.

I really think this choir is financially overstretching itself too much. Not every performance needs to be in Cultural Centre Concert Hall. Probably a small venue will be cheaper. No need for overseas soloists. There are many up to standard soloists in HK. The program needs not be 2.5 hours if there's not enough money for adequate rehearsals.

People are so stressed over ticket sales. I felt like I was in an insurance company. Every week, they announced the top ticket selling choristers and even asked the top one to share the technique of ticket selling.

I paid to have a good time singing. I am not to be pushed to sell tickets for free and I am not there to hear about all the financial problems.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Maestro

(Photo source: HK Phil)
In the final rehearsal, there's at one place I thought the Sopranos entered half a bar too early. They should start singing after the sound of the 2nd bell ring but they sang right after the 1st ring. However, the maestro didn't say anything but proceeded as normal. Then, I though he might mention in his comments after the rehearsal. When we finished the piece, the maestro said it's all done so well that he had nothing more to rehearse. The chorus master didn't say anything either. So, I though maybe I was wrong.

On performance night, when the bell rang for the 1st time, the maestro put up his left hand indicating sopranos not to sing but wait. He remembered they entered too early in the final rehearsal but he didn't say a word. Probably he knew he could handle this problem easily himself.

This is what I admire the maestro most. He's so experienced that he won't jump at such error. A lot of local conductors just scream at any error and make the atmosphere very tense. The maestro didn't even mention it but quietly handled the problem himself.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Impressive

What people admire most a person of age 83 is not his fame, his wealth, his talent, .... but his ability to stand 2 hours. When we talked about the maestro, everyone said they wish they could stand 2 hours when they are 83.

We had final rehearsal tonight. The maestro tried to stand through the whole rehearsal. As usual, he appeared on stage sharp at 7:00 pm. At the later part of the 4th movement, which is conducted by the other conductor, he walked down the conductor platform and sat down on it. I just love that scene so much. Since I can't take a picture during a rehearsal, I  try hard to remember the image.

Before, we were all very nervous about working with him, afraid we couldn't meet his high standard. Then, I thought, he probably has so much experience with all kinds of orchestras and choruses that he knows what to expect and how to handle it. I was right. He adjusted his conducting during these 3 tutti rehearsal to get the best result.

My vocal teacher said it would be very good experience working with such world class musician. I asked if any of them are 沽名釣譽, he said probably not. Artists are very critical of fellow artists. If someone is not good enough, people will voice out. He's right. The maestro is really impressive - absolutely punctual, unassuming, adjust when necessary, .... and most of all, able to stand 2 hours at age 83.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tutti Rehearsal

Had first tutti rehearsal with the maestro. Feels great singing with 2 orchestras - 1 full orchestra and 1 chamber orchestra; 3 choirs - HK Phil Chorus, HK Children's Choir and Learners Choir; and 3 soloists - Soprano, Tenor and Baritone. The atmosphere just makes one feels so high.

The maestro is already 83. For the past season, he did 102 concerts in 78 cities with 40 different programs. Went to his concert last Saturday and he could stand through the 2 hours.

He arrived 15 mins before rehearsal time and just checked around the setting. Sharp at 7 pm, the rehearsal started. After one hour, he asked the concert master, who's in his 20s, if he felt tired. The official break time is 8:30 and the maestro finished the 1st session at 8:25. He finished the 2nd session at 9:20, 10 mins before the scheduled 9:30 and of course everyone were so happy.

Real love the 3 soloists. Their singing was really solid and projection was great. Had been singing choral works with orchestra and soloists a few time this year and the soloists had been quite disappointing. Tonight's 3 soloists are just so different. Feels so satisfying listening to them.

2 more rehearsals tomorrow and Wednesday. Performance on Thursday, Nov 7. Look forward to it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Getting Nervous

Last night, chorus master said he's going to meet with the maestro today and he's nervous. So are we!

The conductor for the War Requiem has conducted all the top orchestras in the world and had just done War Requiem with the London Symphony Orchestra before coming to Hong Kong. Just wonder how he would compare us to his last performance of the same piece.

Tonight will be the last chorus rehearsal. From Sunday onwards, it will be tutti rehearsals: 6 hours on Sunday and 3 hours every night until performance on Thursday. Already start to miss all these chorus rehearsals which started on Oct 1. Look forward to the tutti rehearsals with the maestro and the performance on Nov 7.