23 June 2009

It's good to be recognised

awardMy parents used to tell me when I was a child that modesty is a virtue and we should not show excessive pride and self-satisfaction in our achievements.

However, I, as a little boy, just didn't understand, if modesty is a virtue, why people displayed their award certificates, banners or medals in their offices and drawing rooms and even had 'winner of certain stuff' printed on their business card.

I suppose, although modesty is a virtue, it is quite appropriate to let others know that our efforts has met with success. It is also important to remind others that we are formally recognised for something we have achieved and reliable in the field of a particular profession so that they may seek help from us when necessary.

I have taught at National Taiwan University for three terms since Spring 2008. Adjunct assistant professor as I am, I spend a lot of time in course planning, updating course content and offering students instructive guidance. Sometimes Fanne even complains that I spend far more time with students than with her.

However, hard work pays off. The course I offered in Autumn 2008, 'Musical Cultures Around the Globe', is selected as 'distinguished general education course, autumn 2008'. I received an award certificate from the university president yesterday and then gave a presentation on my course design and teaching approaches.

I've never received any award in public since I left primary school, nor have I ever dreamed that I would received an award after I become a 'teacher'. Although mum would probably say that I should be modest about this, I just want to say that modesty is a virtue but it's good to be recognised.

22 June 2009

Por una cabeza—original by Carlos Gardel

(Carlos Gardel singing 'Por una cabeza' in Tango Bar)

Here comes the original version recorded by Carlos Gardel in 1935 for his last film Tango Bar. Read the words below (English translation quoted from Planet Tango) while listening to the historical recordings and you'll have a better idea what this song is about.

Por una cabeza de un noble potrillo
que justo en la raya afloja al llegar
y que al regresar parece decir:
no olvidés, hermano,
vos sabés, no hay que jugar...

Por una cabeza, metejón de un día,
de aquella coqueta y risueña mujer
que al jurar sonriendo,
el amor que está mintiendo
quema en una hoguera todo mi querer.

Por una cabeza
todas las locuras
su boca que besa
borra la tristeza,
calma la amargura.

Por una cabeza
si ella me olvida
qué importa perderme,
mil veces la vida
para qué vivir...

Cuántos desengaños, por una cabeza,
yo jugué mil veces no vuelvo a insistir
pero si un mirar me hiere al pasar,
su boca de fuego, otra vez, quiero besar.

Basta de carreras, se acabo la timba,
un final reñido yo no vuelvo a ver,
pero si algún pingo llega a ser fija el domingo,
yo me juego entero, qué le voy a hacer.

Losing by a head of a noble horse
who slackens just down the stretch
and when it comes back it seems to say:
don't forget brother,
You know, you shouldn't bet.

Losing by a head, instant violent love
of that flirtatious and cheerful woman
who, swearing with a smile
a love she's lying about,
burns in a blaze all my love.

Losing by a head
there was all that madness;
her mouth in a kiss
wipes out the sadness,
it soothes the bitterness.

Losing by a head
if she forgets me,
no matter to lose
my life a thousand times;
what to live for?

Many deceptions, loosing by a head...
I swore a thousand times not to insist again
but if a look sways me on passing by
her lips of fire, I want to kiss once more.

Enough of race tracks, no more gambling,
a photo-finish I'm not watching again,
but if a pony looks like a sure thing on Sunday,
I'll bet everything again, what can I do?

21 June 2009

Por una cabeza—the song version

(My first attempt to sing Carlos Gardel's all-time classic 'Por una cabeza' with two students from the Graduate Institute of Musicology, NTU, Madan on the piano and Jingting playing the harmonica.)

'Por una cabeza' and 'La cumparsita' are probably the two most famous and recognisable tango pieces of all time. While the latter was just a song written by the Uruguayan musician Gerardo Matos Rodríguez in 1917, the former was originally a song recorded for the 1935 film Tango Bar with its music by Carlos Gardel and lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera.

Most people came to know 'La cumparsita' through numerous small ensemble or larger orchestral rearrangements on various occasions and 'Por una cabeza' particularly from film scenes such as those from Scent of a Woman and True Lies. Wherever we encounter these two pieces, they are usually, if not always, rendered by instruments and seldom performed with their original lyrics.

I have found the original historical score, with lyrics, of 'Por una cabeza' on the fantastic TodoTango for about ten years since the site launched, but never had the opportunity to sing it to some instrumental accompaniment. Last week I presented the song at the welcome reception of the Graduate Institute of Musicology, NTU.

It was my first-ever attempt to show the original song version of this all-time classic. I found it so difficult to interpret the song in the way Carlos Gardel did, singing behind the beat, to allow an expressive quickening or slacking without altering the overall pace. This style can also be heard in many recordings of famous crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, who mastered the art of the rubato to phrase a melodic line while telling a lyrical story.

I don't think I've got the talent to sing like Nat King Cole. However, we should try more times in the future and see how we can hold the voice and instruments together in the way we hear in Gardel's historical recordings. After all, a lot of tango pieces are actually songs which should be crooned out rather than just played on the instruments.

08 June 2009

I was wrong and Haägen-Dazs is never Scandinavian

rum raisinSince I met Häagen-Dazs, the ice cream, more than 20 years ago, I have held a firm belief, without conscious reasoning and supportive evidence, that it is imported from Denmark. Not until yesterday did I learn that it has actually no connection with any Scandinavian country, nor is the brand name of any Scandinavian origin.

Having not dined out for quite a while, Fanne and I invited Dad to Korean BBQ at the food court in Shin Kong Mitsukoshi (新光三越), Xinyi New Life Square (信義新天地) near Taipei 101. As it almost hit 33 °C yesterday, I proposed to have some ice cream for pudding on our way back home to finish this hot day. We then walked to the next building in the complex and gave ourselves a treat at Häagen-Dazs.

When I was busy shovelling down the classic rum raisin, Dad posed a question to us: 'Where is Häagen-Dazs from?' Because my belief of Häagen-Dazs's Danish origin was just a preconception, I could not offer my father a definite answer.

After consulting its Official Site, I realised that Häagen-Dazs is a brand of ice cream created by a Polish couple, Reuben and Rose Mattus, in The Bronx, New York in 1961, and the brand name is simply formed of two made-up words which give a Scandinavian impression.

These two invented words really piqued my curiosity and therefore I dieceded to look for some theory for product naming.

In a long forgotten textbook on advertising management, which I haven't read since I received MBA in 1999, I found 'foreign branding', an advertising/marketing strategy in which foreign or foreign-sounding names are given to a product or service to influence consumer perceptions and attitudes by evoking connotations of foreignness and its implied cachet or superiority.

That's it. It reminds me of Elvis Castillo's classic 'She'. Things may not be what they may seem inside their shells. Häagen-Dazs is not derived from any Scandinavian word, I was simply beguiled by the Polish couple who created the brand, as well as, of course, the product's super-premium quality.

01 June 2009

Those days of mixed tapes

mixed tape
I don't usually 'quote' photos or videos from friends' websites, but after reading Inez's latest post, I just cannot help 'copying and pasting' these images of a fancy USB-flash-drive-cassette on my weblog.

In 'The Mixed Tape Grows Up', Inez mentions an amusing conversation about mixed tape, in which several music lovers shared memories of mixed tapes and the efforts involved in putting a proper tape together. Although selecting songs for a CD compilation or an iTunes playlist is no easy task, she believes
when it comes to the blood, sweat, and tears involved in using music to pour out your soul to the object of your affections, the digital versions pale in comparison.
Likewise, although I have two iPods, which Fanne bought for me in 2005 and 2008, and today I use iTunes playlists and other digital audio editors, I do cherish those good old days when I used a dual-deck tape recorder, or simply connected two tape recorders, to make a mixed tape.

There wasn't a record player at home when I was a child and therefore I never had fun with stacks of LPs and 45s. However, when CDs and a CD stereo system were still a luxury in the early 1990s, I usually went to a classmate's place to make my own mixed tapes. It did take me a lot of time to plan, to make the most of a cassette tape, to jot down on a piece of paper possibilities in terms of tracks and to note tape counters.

So, the creative USB-flash-drive-cassette really drags me back to scenes of bygone days.