Monday, February 23, 2009

Happy Meter

I’ve always had this theory that my level of happiness is directly related to the number of blogs I post and my happiness is finally improving! To put it lightly, the relationship in the last eight months has been extremely taxing on my mental health. I’m glad that is finally coming to an end but the road to recovery will be long and at times difficult. I’ve made some big mistakes and the thought of them brings back a lot of anger and resentment. Sometimes I feel like having the curse of Cassandra. I don’t like it when people misjudge my character but to live is to be misunderstood. In nature, everything erodes and heals in time. It’s even more apparent to me now that life is an ongoing process of letting go of the negatives in order to find personal contentment.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Good Vibrations

It’s been a cold but sunny weekend. I had thought about going to Barry Snyder’s piano concert at Kilbourn Hall but opted for the Sunday organ concert at the Memorial Art Gallery instead for a quick mood lifter. I’ve always loved the space and the sound here and it’s even better when I can get in for free with my old student ID. Sometimes I think the day I can no longer use my ESM ID for concerts is the day that I might consider finally moving out of here. I highly doubt if there is another city in the world with more accessibility to the arts than Rochester, NY! With strong support from George Eastman, who founded Eastman and was an avid fan of organ music (with his own pipes and resident organ boy), the school has one of the most reputable organ programs in the world. As part of the effort to expand Baroque instrument collection and the organ program, the Rochester Eastman Organ Initiative (REOI) in collaboration with the University purchased and installed the only Italian Baroque organ in North America inside the Art Gallery in 2005. Whenever I think of the instrument I picture towering cathedrals and religious ceremonies but this is different. The highly ornate Baroque organ is assembled in the airy Herdle Fountain Court under brightly painted dome ceiling with sky lights and surrounded by beautiful paintings throughout the ages. Music is better to be heard live and that is especially true with organ. Its enormity and loftiness inspires a rather indescribable feeling of awe. Even though the setting here is not religious and neither is the music performed, I still can’t help but to feel a sense of piety that had never existed before. It is said that many organs in churches and cathedrals have pipes that are long enough to produced inaudible sounds at low frequencies, or infrasound, to evoke a certain daunting sensation which some people attribute to the presence of God. I don’t know if that is the case here but it certainly possible to feel some vibrations like one would feel the bass listening to a jazz ensemble or rap music. Whatever it is, I’m picking up good vibrations.

The mini Organ concerts series is called "Going for Baroque." They are held every Sunday afternoon at the Memorial Art Gallery mostly by Eastman graduates at 1 and 3pm.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I’ve always been a gullible person especially when it comes to personal relationships. I actually turn my head when people say “look over there!” just to distract me. I’ve always believed in the best of people. Most of the times those chances were worth taking but there are also times when I have been hurt in the process. The law of finance goes something like high risk = high reward. When it comes to relationships I’ve never played it safe. With me it has always been all or nothing. But my greatest downfall is to have a soft heart and a gullible mind. When relationships got tough I never looked out for myself. Instead I cared for others and tried to help people to overcome their demons. I have the tendency to give people chance after chances only to allow myself to sink deeper into dejection and ultimately loose faith in men in general. Like those battered wives, I believed people when they said I love you. Now I’m ready to put those days behind me and ask the selfish question: “What’s in it for me?” If I don’t care for myself no one else will. Love is a verb not a noun. I’ve always offered the best I’ve got now I want to see what someone else can bring to the table. From now on I’ll be strong enough to not fall for simple words but to look harder for concrete actions from whoever I’ll be with a year from now. And when that's not the case I will have the courage to walk away.

Monday, February 16, 2009


It is inevitable that every party comes with an after-party-cleanup. I can’t say that I enjoy this but it was all worthwhile.

Eastman Guitarfest 2008 After Party!

Having been preparing for the last two days the party is finally here! But not without going to the much anticipated sold-out LAGQ concert first at Kilbourn Hall. The common expression would label the music as good enough to die for. But I feel it’s more appropriate to express it as the music to die to. Personally I’d be pretty happy if those are the last notes I hear before I check out. I’ve also often thought about the music I would like people to play at my memorial service. I suppose at least one of them should be a tango. Maybe the vals “Desde El Alma” or Di Sarli’s “Organito de La Tarde”

The party was a great success. Everyone came: the studio, Nick, Paul and his wife and LAGQ. I rarely have parties but when I do it’s usually a good one. In fact there has only been one party before this one three years ago and people are still talking about the food! It was really nice to reconnect with the guitar crowd. Hopefully it will take less than three years before I have another guitar party! Nick and I are already talking about something big for the upcoming GFA this summer. Maybe a grand reunion for all the ESM guitar grads.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Preparing for the Party

My love for cooking has grown over the years. While I’m no expert in cooking Chinese food even though I’m Chinese, my Italian repertoire is always expanding, lasagna, osso bucco, penne vodka, white wine garlic cream sauce, pink sauce with tomatoes and onions. Just couple weeks ago I made Italian meatballs for the first time. I can’t wait to try again with few pointers from Mrs. Britton. I also make authentic Ukrainian potato salad and stuffed cabbage, various Thai and Indian curries and pan seared fish and meats. I cook what I feel. Having failed at any sort of musical improvisation I at least excel at that in the kitchen. I don’t use recipes except when I bake. Everything else I make it up as I go along with occasional inspiration from online recipes but never with the help of measuring spoons or beeping timers. Planning a party from scratch is labor intensive but the result is also exponentially more rewarding. I spent all day yesterday shopping for the ingredients and had to go back for a second trip today. It’s Valentines Day and everywhere was packed, the mall, the grocery store and even the liquor store…after all romance can come in a bottle. Wegman’s, especially the Pittsford one, is covered with flowers everywhere. I find the gigantic flowing balloon of two dauphins kissing in the meat section to be a bit obnoxious. It reminded me of the episode in Sex and the City where Miranda asked, “is it us or is Valentines Day on steroids this year?” To which Carried replied, “It’s always been like this. We just played for the other team.”
I thought about getting some flowers for the apartment but I decided to wait until tomorrow. Maybe they’ll all be on sale. For now just an empty vase.

So I dragged all the stuff back and continued with preparation for the Sunday party. The Indian beef curry is already on the stove. I browned drumsticks and marinated them with rosemary, honey and Dijon mustard. The other half of the drumsticks are drenched with Korean BBQ sauce ready to go into the oven tomorrow. Now I’m moving on to making the potato salad. And Creme Brulee!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Tonight I went to the East Coast premier of Sergio Assad’s new composition for guitar quartet and orchestra: “Interchange” with LAGQ and the RPO. The pre-concert chat with Christopher Seaman and William Kanengiser was very amusing. Musicians always have good stories to tell. The concert was great. How could it not be, these guys are like the Beatles in the classical guitar world. Seeing Scott Tennant playing solo years ago was the closest thing to a rock concert I’ve ever been to. Yeah, shocking isn’t it. I’ve never actually been to any kind of “concert” other than for classical music, Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Emanuel Ax and Lang Lang just to name a few.

Dr. G and I met up with the quartet during intermission. Performers are always starving after a concert since they rarely eat before so I suggested that we go to Bamba Bistro just down the street on Alexander. The food there is just above average but I figure the guys would really appreciate somewhere quite with a good atmosphere.
I called ahead for a reservation even though I knew we didn’t really needed one. Sometimes it’s nice to be expected and the little things do matter. The restaurant was an instant hit for everyone. When the cocktail arrived it was conversations as usual about TV shows and the Super Bowl half-time commercials. After all no one can escape from pop culture but only here can we describe characters as “Parkening-esque.” Catching these expressions and inside jokes make me feel connected, like I’m one of them, the guitar people.

It’s difficult to see the LAGQ without remembering the USC audition seven years ago when I played for Scott Tennant, James Smith, Brian Head and William Kanengiser in a crammed office with everyone sitting literally two feet from me. It was quite an intimidating and also exciting experience. I rarely brag but having been accepted on the spot that day was by far one of the proudest moments of my life. I remember it all like yesterday, the crazy traffic in the morning from the Valley to LA with blaring Beethoven symphony #6 coming out of the car speakers. I rushed into the music building 5 minutes before the audition and tuned up my guitar in the hall way. James Smith asked if I needed a practice room to warm up; I said no. I was too young and inexperienced to be scared. I played the first movement of the Berkeley Sonatina, Weiss Passacaglia and Bach’s Fugue in g with 5 & 6th strings tuned down to G and D. The piece was a monster. I go through the ending only with encouragement from Scott. Afterwards he said no undergraduate students have ever auditioned with that piece before. Ironically, impossible tasks can be conquered when you are too clueless to know any better. They told me to pack up and wait in the hallway. The professors were kind enough to arrange my audition way ahead of the general audition date because of a schedule conflict on my part. I waited in the hallway while staring at the newspaper clippings on the wall. I had no idea what I was waiting for. I thought it was customary for the professors to make admission decisions after they hear all the students play. To my surprise, they popped out of the office two minutes later and told me I was in. For a moment I was in total shock with no words, no expressions like one of those winners on Sweepstake. I didn’t understand what they were saying. One of them had to explain to me that I will be receiving an official acceptance letter in the mail with scholarship and financial aid information. I know it’s a bit cliché but it was definitely a dream-come-true moment. Later I went to the bookstore and purchased a Trojan sweatshirt. I never wore it and never went back to USC again.
Instead I stayed here for Eastman and became a part of the family. I love it here but who knows what would have happened had I went. Life is not hard for the decisions we make but the ones we didn’t. We will never know what is on the other side of the door.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Blast from the Past

This week is the annual Guitarfest at the Eastman School of Music. Years in the past I’ve always been very much involved but I’ve fallen out of the guitar circle since graduation two years ago, partially from traveling and partially from not playing. It was not only great to see old classmates but also some fresh new faces at Nick’s concert tonight. After chatting up with Justin for couple minutes I thought why not have a guitar party to reconnect with the gang?! And just like that I sent out the invitation for Sunday evening after the final LAGQ concert.
Ok I didn’t realize just exactly how disconnected I was from the guitar community until I opened my address book and found only three contacts for local guitar friends including my professor! God, I used to be the one to put together the guitar contact list!
Most people I ran into at the concert didn’t even know I was in town and that included Justin who literally lives across the street from me! Now I’ve got to bribe for friendships with food, how typical. I always tell people, food and sex always works. It only takes one and I’m not offering sex.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Chinese Holiday

Today is the day to mark the end of Chinese New Year celebration. Traditionally people would make and serve glutinous rice balls with sweet fillings for dessert. Nowadays we purchase the frozen ones from the supermarket, still delicious. I invited Shawn and his girlfriend Melody over for dinner. Since it was a last minute idea I wiped up couple simple dishes: beef stir-fry with hot peppers and celery, baked tofu with Chinese leek and sautéed pork with Kimchi. Although I make a little bit of everything Chinese food is definitely not my forte and I’m certainly in no position to fool any Chinese people. Still, the meal was enjoyable. Shawn and I both volunteer at Myland so we shared a lot of the sample frustrations and complaints. Melody is currently studying for her CPA exams. She seems very nice and even tempered. I had a pleasant shopping trip with her few days ago to T.J.Maxx and Marshall’s. It's nice to finally have friends to speak Chinese with, besides I’ve always like to entertain small dinner gatherings and Hopefully I'll be able to do more in the near future.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Zvi and Meatballs

I love going to concerts at Eastman especially on Sundays. It always makes me feel better about an otherwise unproductive day. I spent this Sunday afternoon with Zvi Zeitlin on the violin and Barry Snyder on the piano at Kilbourn Hall. Having heard quite few anecdotes about Zvi over the years I’ve finally made to his annual concerts. God, I love musicians and their eccentricities. The two masters played wonderfully together, breezing through Brahms violin sonata I, II and III like a walk in the park. I enjoyed the music more and more as time went on. It always takes a while for my ears to adjust to the acoustics in the hall and to pick up the subtle phrases and dynamic changes. The process is like having a piece of chocolate, firm and tasteless at first but never lacks sweetness when it gradually melts and leaves a even more pleasant after taste when it’s gone. The more I listen to the more sensitive I become and closer I feel to the musicians. It’s a process I will never be tired of. I also liked the latter sonatas much better than the first one.

After the concert I headed to Pittsford for dinner at the Brittons, pasta and meatballs, Mrs. Britton’s best and my favorite. Liz is home from Arizona for the weekend to take care of all the wedding arrangement. There was a lot of excitement at the house even for me, a non believer. She showed me everything from pictures of the dress to the cake and the invitation and the stunning pictures of a remote Sandals beach resort in Jamaica for the honeymoon. Liz looked exactly the same as she was in high school except she soon will be married to her high school boyfriend and live in their house together with their three cats. When girls were playing with Barbies I was too busy being a tomboy, leaving scars on my knees. When girls were dreaming up their big days I joked about having a drive-through wedding. “It’s a drive-in wedding” Liz corrected me. Now girls my age are getting engaged yet I can’t picture myself being in their position. Mary just got engaged and said that it’s the happiest she has ever been. I’m glad, jealous and a bit curious. What it’s like to have someone else to make my day? So far, I’ve only had the experience of going out of my way to make myself happy. I guess the key is that I’m happy. Maybe someday some handsome prince on a white horse will swept me off my feet, until then, I’ll just have to be happy on my own.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Parachutes and Kisses

It’s nice to be alone again. Having leaped from one serious relationship to the next since 18 I could easily be mistaken for one of those super dependent types but I would like to think I’m least now. Sometimes solitude is a luxury. I like quiet times. I like the freedom. I like not to be bothered and not having to worry about bothering others. I’m too considerate and that always bothered me. I put other people’s needs before mine. It was a hindrance that always bothered me as well. Well, no more bothers, at least for a while.

I ventured out to Wegman’s this afternoon to pick up the minimum amount of groceries for myself. I’ve always liked to shop on my own. I enjoy spending time deal hunting for things I don’t need and can’t afford not to buy. Yes, I have problems and it’s especially difficult now with retailers everywhere slashing prices to attract much needed shoppers. You know the economy is not doing well when even Wegman’s is having sales.

I like books even though I don’t really read all that much nowadays. Maybe it’s a hobby I can finally afford the time to pick up again. I stopped in Barns and Nobles with nothing particular in mind. It has been a long time since I came here on my own without feeling guilty that I should be somewhere else instead. Certain people I’ve dated had a way of making me feel guilty for spending any time away from them regardless of the circumstances. I never liked that and it always caused a lot of resentment. I felt trapped like a prisoner. Maybe it was solely my problem to date people like that in the first place. It’s difficult to explain but to be in Barns and Nobles with no purpose, no guilt and no time schedule is a luxury I didn’t have for a while.
It took me a while to re-orientate myself to a place I used to be so familiar with. I loved to browse through the used book section and listen to CDs on the second floor only to jot down the titles and later find them at the public library. Lucky for me, the public library always had a stock full of classical music CDs. I used to love to go to the used bookstore next to Aladdin’s on Monroe Ave. Maybe that’ll be my next trip.
I leisurely made my way towards the used book section and proceeded to run my finger tips across the spines of the books. Nothing really jumped at me until when I finally arrived at the first edition shelf and there it was, directly in front of me: Parachutes & Kisses by Erica Jong, the author of Fear of Flying. I read that one in high school and as we all know, I have no fear of leaping into the thin air head first. Maybe after enough trails and errors I should go for a parachute for a change.

The inscription in red ink inside the books reads, “For Linda, May you never lack of parachutes and kisses. 24 January 1985.”

“She knows that her life is a journey towards self-reliance. She knows that she has always lived with her heart on her sleeve. She knows she has paid the price for that, but also reaped the rewards. When one follows the path with heart, one often bleeds. (But what is the alternative – a cauterized core?)” – Parachutes & Kisses, Erica Jong

Friday, February 6, 2009

Note to Rose

Dear Rose,

Thank you for making the Christmas trip possible for us. We have traveled to many beautiful places together and the experiences we have shared have greatly affected the way I perceive things. Time and time again we have proven that everything is possible if we set our minds to it. I hope the pictures will not only remind you of all the wonderful memories we’ve had but also inspire you to continue the pursuit of happiness – wherever it may lead you. I have also compiled a CD of guitar music written for various regions of Spain as a sound track for your upcoming trip.

Love, Liren