Saturday, March 04, 2006

Nocturnal High

Nocturnal High

"Used to say, I like me now and again"
- Gazebo (an all-time karaoke favourite)

I spent my evening today listening to Chopin's Nocturnes. I've been enjoying these wonderful pieces ever since I was a teenager and they still bring as much joy and beauty to me as the first time I listened to them.

The Nocturne genre was first invented by the Irish composer John Field but it was brought to the heights of perfection by Chopin. Unlike the more formal classical forms of Sonata or Piano Concerto, the Nocturne is a short and quiet mood piece, like a tonal poem--hence its name, a "night song".

Throughout Chopin's short lifetime of 39 years, he composed about 20 of these pieces, the most widely known one, I believe is Nocturne in E-Flat, Op. 9, No. 2. Most piano students would be familiar with this piece as it is relatively short and "easy" to play. My personal favourite is the B Flat Minor Opus 9 No. 1, composed by Chopin when he was 22 years old.

Chopin, whose works are almost entirely composed for the pianoforte. represents the true spirit of the Romantic Era. Who could produce pieces more luscious in mood and feeling than this poet of the piano? His Nocturnes are so ornately touching, so full of heart-wrenching melancholy, listening to them makes me feel like a love-sick schoolboy all over again.

Whenever I feel I'm getting too caught up again in my cold and analytical mode of thinking, all I need to do is to doubleclick on my Chopin MP3 collection, and allow myself to be washed away by the sheer lushness of the music. It is kind of reassuring to know that I am still capable of feeling "romantic".

A critic once wrote: "Chopin s nocturnes...plunge us into reveries more delicious than the visions of an opium eater." I couldn't agree more. With music like Chopin's Nocturnes, who needs drugs?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Childhood's Beginning

Childhood's Beginning

I remember my early childhood very well; the friends I had, the songs we sang in school, the games we played...

Thinking back, I'm grateful that I had the chance to grow up in a small town at a time when the distractions of satellite TV, computer games and Internet were non-existent. It was a much simpler and quieter world. We spent most of our time outdoors; the countryside became our playground--the dense belukars that fringed our school and neighbourhood, the ubiquitous rubber trees that stood guard along the roadsides, savage tropical rivers that swelled to a thick ominous brown whenever it rained, and deep dark nights filled with the noises of insects and nocturnal birds.

And the songs we sang in kindergarten and school: I loved singing those folk songs that our music teacher, Mr Chin made us learn: songs like Ikan Kekek, Chan Mali Chan, Geylang Sipaku Geylang, Suriram, Lenggang Mak Limah and Burung Ketilang. We would sing with great gusto to the raw accompaniment of his accordion. There were English songs too: the ones that I distinctly remember are Planting Rice (Planting rice is never fun. Bend from morn til the set of sun. Cannot stand and can not sit. Cannot rest for a little bit!), When the Saints Go Marching In and Kookaburra. I wonder if they still teach these songs in primary school.

I had lots of great friends in school and around my neighbourhood: Sandy, Andre and Wendy, who lived next door were a couple of years older than me and they taught me how to play all the popular board games -- Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo and Spy Ring. Those board games filled many happy afternoons of our school holidays. Thinking back, they were the best influence on me; they were all voracious readers, introducing me to books by Alistair Maclean and got me hooked on them as well. Later Sandy and I would share a passion for the Bond novels of Ian Fleming.

In school, my close friends were Fauzi, Adrian, Tet Hing and Rajasurian. I could recall many happy afternoons playing soccer together. Adrian was very knowledgeable about the English league, and was crazy about Arsenal. He had a wonderful collection of Shoot magazine, which we all devoured together.

I don't know how it happened but over the years, we lost contact with one another. Some moved to other schools, some dropped out. Little by little we all got ourselves drowned in the worldly cares of adulthood.

But still I'll always remember those halcyon days of childhood. They are an important part of my kernel. When you have such a wonderful foundation of memories anchored within, no matter how stressed you are or how miserable life may seem at times, you will always be able to see things in its proper perspective.

You remind yourself that you were once a happy child, and no matter what happens, no one can take that away from you. And you realise that it's not so much that the world out there has changed, for one can always find wonder and enchantment anywhere; just that the lustre in your eyes has dulled, your curiosity has waned and you have lost that inner magic, that ability to see the world with the all-embracing innocence of a child.

And all you need to do is to grow up from your adulthood, and learn to see the world as a child again.