“The Medium is the Message”

“The medium is the message” is a quote coined by Marshal McLuhan. It is asserting that various types of media can bring different perspectives and attitude on the same topic. Focusing on this idea, the Grade 10 English class held a small event called the Media Fair last week. Each student decided on a topic they were interested in and researched five text types relating to the topic. The analysis of the attitude and perspective of the text types were made into a poster. The Media Fair was a gallery walk where students walked around classrooms to see posters created by others and ask questions if necessary. During the time I was there, I stopped by three students and discussed different topics. Some of the questions I asked them were:

  • Why did you choose your topic?
  • What text type is the most effective in conveying perspective or attitude?
  • Does the perspective or attitude expressed in text types differ from your initial thought on the topic?
  • Has your opinion been swayed or influenced through research?

Their answers were also very intriguing and unique as they gave me a brief idea of how certain text types could quite easily affect and change one’s thoughts on a topic. Below, I gave a description of their posters.

Duncan:
Duncan had McDonald’s as his topic. He found two commercials, poster, movie, and an article that all showed somewhat different attitudes. I thought his choice of text types were interesting and asked him why he chose two commercials instead of another text type. I was very surprised to know that the choice of two commercials were made on purpose to emphasize the contrast between the different approaches taken by the directors. The poster was almost like an infographic, where the majority of the information was based on numeric data and statistics. While the first three media presented a positive, pro-McDonald’s attitude, the movie and article both reflected skeptical views on McDonald’s and the safety of their foods. The movie was a well-known documentary called Supersize Me, where a man had an experiment with his body by ordering McDonald’s every meal for a number of days. Lastly, the article from the Huffington Post claimed that their contribution to obesity problems in the US is significant and cannot be ignored.

Pascal:
Poster by PascalPascal’s topic was a very serious one: racial profiling. His choice of media was two videos, a meme, a song, and a political cartoon. Gladly, all text types were critical of the topic, but in different ways. One of his videos, a scene from Southpark, and the meme were satire, creating a sense of irony. The other video was a social experiment testing how the police reacts to a quarrel between Americans and another between Muslims. I was extremely shocked when I saw that the police reacted to the one between Muslims and arrested them, but did nothing to stop the fight between the Americans. Pascal and I agreed that this video was the most effective text type out of the five, because it was created based on a real-life experiment and directly showed how racial profiling was an ongoing issue around the world. It sent out a very strong message to the viewers to protest against any forms of racial discrimination.

Hemanth:

Finally, Hemanth’s topic was the Wilson tennis brand. He analyzed a poster, a commercial, a review column page, a Tweet, and a news article. It seemed as though he primarily focused on the use of celebrity endorsement in a variety of media. In fact, four of his five text types involved a professional tennis player taking part in the advertizement. The poster and commercial, first of all, each featured Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori; both of them are widely known as best tennis players in the world. The news article included names of improving tennis players such as Grigor Dimitrov to make claims that the use of a certain racket affected his performance positively on the court. Twitter presented a new and unique way of conveying perspective and attitude: hashtags. Hemanth chose a Tweet posted by Wilson that celebrated Nishikori’s title at the Barcelona Open. However, the Tweet also consisted of a hashtag, #BurnTheBaseline, which was the slogan used for their newest release of tennis rackets. A similar effect as celebrity endorsement can be attained through this particular use of hashtags. The repetitive use of celebrity endorsement has influenced Hemanth’s impression on the Wilson brand from being a small-scale company to a world-leading enterprise in the tennis equipment marketplace.

In conclusion, I thought this event was very successful, as I was able to observe how others responded to attitudes or perspectives presented in a variety of text types. At the same time, I was fascinated by the diverse range of topics students chose. I would definitely like to see similar events being held again in the future.

Shinobue

For the last two weeks, I have been exploring a Japanese instrument called shinobue. Shinobue is a flute-like instrument often found in hayashi and nagauta ensembles, playing crucial roles in theatre music of noh and kabuki. This piece of bamboo produces a very high-pitched sound compared to other traditional Japanese instruments and is, therefore, appropriate for the festival music of Japan.

As this was my first time learning any kind of wind instruments (not limited to Japanese instruments), it took a while for me to figure out the mechanics of how sound was produced. I had to somehow hit a stream of air from my mouth to the edge of the utaguchi (mouth hole), instead of blowing directly into the hole. It took quite a bit of practice to finally be able to produce a single note on the shinobue, with no fingers covering the finger holes. After that point on, everything started to go rather smoothly, though I struggle, even as of now, to consistently produce notes of a lower pitch. During the process of learning, I found the technique of tonguing especially interesting. Although this is a common technique used to insert pauses between repeated notes when playing Western wind instruments, I was surprised to know that the same technique was also applied to Japanese instruments. As I mentioned earlier, since the experience of playing a wind instrument was completely new to me, tonguing was, at the same time, something new to me as well.

Overall, this experience has given me a new understanding of the sound of Japanese music. For a number of years, I have learned to only play the koto. The sound of the koto is what would be reproduced inside my head when asked about Japanese music. However, over the past two weeks, as I have learned to play the shinobue, I have also gained new sounds and tonality of this particular genre of music. I feel as though I now have a wider range of ways and methods to genuinely enjoy Japanese music.

The Food that Makes Billions

The documentary, The Food that Makes Billions, was based on the competitive dynamics between two of the world-leading companies in the bottled water marketplace: Danone’s Evian and Nestle’s Pure Life. It looked at their marketing philosophy and advertizing strategies that played huge roles in creating great demand for something that could easily be obtained from the tap for free. These strategies resulted in millions of bottled water being distributed around the entire world. Overall, it effectively depicted how a simple commodity could become product in great need.

Dance Lesson – Evaluation

My plan was fairly effective in a way that it helped create a concrete structure of the lesson. For example, time management was not an issue for me during the lesson, because I knew briefly how much time I could spend on each activity. I believe having a plan assisted me substantially, especially from an organizational point of view.

My strongest teaching component was time management without a doubt. As mentioned earlier, since my planning was fairly effective, I was able to keep track of the time and make sure every activity would fit in the whole lesson. On the other hand, my weakest teaching component was my inability to be flexible during the lesson. Although having having a plan is useful, it can also be a distraction from the lesson in reality. The plan is successful only when everything goes as planned, and you can never expect that to happen. Since I was inflexible, the lesson seemed stagnant and the students were starting to lose focus. Therefore the biggest challenge I faced primarily was to maintain the students’ focus during the lesson. Something I can change or do differently is to always have a backup option in case of some sort of emergency. That way, I can be flexible enough to implement changes during the lesson, while having a consistent structure.

The happiest part of the lesson was seeing a variety of dance moves created by the students during the final performance. When I instructed the students to have a 20-second dance creation at the end of their assigned dance, I was initially worried because I thought it would be something impossible to accomplish under the time constraint we were in. However, everyone did come up with something; they were also often times very creative and well thought out. I was very delighted to see each and every one of the dances.

At the end of the day, although not everything went according to plan, that was something I already expected before the start of the lesson. As I mentioned earlier, I must learn to always have a backup option in case of something going wrong. That will help me have a more consistent and stable lesson. Eventually, there might be a time where everything goes as planned.

Homura – Performance Reflection

The Homura team had an opportunity to perform the piece at the Tokyo Geijyutsu Gekijyou on Friday.

I still can’t tell how the performance was from an objective perspective, but from a subjective point of view, I can definitely say that our hard work from the rehearsals had paid off. At the same time, however, there could be more done to improve the sound of the piece collectively. In various sections, since we could barely hear each other, we were unconsciously out of sync. Next time we have a dress rehearsal (rehearsal on actual stage), we should consider that aspect of our performance as well. Individually, I think my sound lacked sharpness this piece needed. Spending more time working on this would have made a huge difference in my performance. Overall, the performance was decent, however nowhere near convincing. We have to make adjustments accordingly and must show improvement on our next two performances.

Chord Substitution – Four Piano Blues by Aaron Copland

1. How did the piece change in general?
Since the piece I chose was already a jazz piece, not much had changed by applying chord substitution, which is a technique mainly used by jazz musicians to add variety to ordinary progression of chords. I believe the arrangement I made gave an opposite effect to what it actually was supposed to give. The piece now sounds more classical by the way the chords are ordered and organized.
2. Choose two or three specific points in the piece and describe the chords you used (changed to) and how they affected the sound.
9~10th measure: Starting from a Bb chord, the bass staff consists of an ascending sequence of chords. Unlike normal (classical) chord progression, the harmony never resolves into a tonic, which creates tension as a result. The audience is inclined to question what would come next.
17th measure: There is an a chord with a B in the treble staff, creating a sense of discord and dissonance. Again, just like the first example, the discordance builds tension, forcing the audience to wait until the next measure to resolve into a regular chord.
3. Describe the chord substitution process and how you might find it valuable for use in the future.
The process of applying chord substitution was completely new to me and was very confusing at first. The selection of piece also made the whole process challenging, considering the piece was originally jazz. However, after experimenting with various jazz chord progressions and countless amount of trials and errors, I feel as though this valuable experience has helped me deepen my understanding of jazz in general. It definitely has expanded my repertoire of musical expression as well, because it gives me a wider variety of options than to just have a strong background in classical music.

Homura – Areas of Focus

I am currently working on a koto ensemble piece called Homura by Sawai Tadao. Below, I have listed down my three areas of focus of this piece.

  • Section 18: trills and oshis on multiple strings (video explanation available below)
  • Page 12~17: accompaniment to a solo by the 17-string koto – patience and ability to listen to others is required; too much action in the accompaniment would ruin the bass koto solo.
  • Page 24~25: ending – very challenging to make a smooth transition from the climax to a rather sudden and quiet ending (the nadir).

Koto Concert – Reflection

On December 10th, Wednesday, the grade 10 koto class had an opportunity to perform Gojyusoukyoku at Kanagawa Kenmin Hall. Overall the performance was not bad, definitely above satisfactory. However, there were also sections where we could have done better.

The first thing I noticed was the instability of tempo. This sometimes led to the melody being played a fraction of a second later than the harmony. Another thing we have to continuously keep working on is to be able to listen to our own sounds. This does not only help stabilize the tempo, but also improves the overall balance. During the performance, there were moments where the melody was nowhere to be found; this is because the accompanying harmony was played too loud. That would probably be the biggest task we face the next time we perform a piece together. We have to share the music together.

Overall, I thought our performance was decent. Comparing it to the last couple of rehearsals, I am quite amazed at how well we were able to bounce back from a sequence of poor and unconvincing performances. I am sure we learned something very crucial throughout the process of learning, developing, and performing the piece. I hope we can repeat the same for future performances, but of better quality.

Composing a Theme and Variations – Documentation of Process

For the past couple of weeks, I have been working on composing a theme and variations. Although it was only meant to be an assignment for school, I really enjoyed doing this project and started experimenting what I could do using Noteflight. Here is the actual piece below:

The theme was adapted from a piece from one of my solfege textbooks, but soon I realized the passage was actually taken from the second movement of Chopin’s first piano concerto in E minor; in that respect, I would like to apologize for taking his work. When sketching or outlining the variations, I already had a brief idea of the characteristics of each variation. For example, I was almost certain, before I even started composing, that the first variation would be rather lively. On the other hand, the last one would be calm and very similar to the theme; it had to lead to some sort of a coda because the piece would sound unsettled if it ended on an A (the theme is in F major). The first and second variations were where I applied pizzicatos to respective parts. In comparison to the first variation, the second is bright but is also calm and conservative at the same time (pesante on the score means heavy). The third variation is the most energetic out of all; not only is the tempo fast, but the rhythm is also fine and sharp. In a sense, the first two variations help raise the intensity going into the third variation. The fourth variation, as mentioned before, is very similar to the theme; in fact, the only thing I changed was to raise the entire theme by an octave. By doing that, the variation would sound more soft, calm, and quiet; it would imply that the piece is approaching the end. The coda is only there to help the piece have a smoother ending than simply ending on an A.

Overall, I think I did a decent job on this particular assignment, and moreover, I had fun exploring various techniques of composing variations based on a theme. If I find the opportunity, I would definitely compose another theme and variations and share it to all of you. Please look forward to listening to the piece.