Saturday, April 13, 2019

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Concert

As the first school term of 2019 ends so another year of Harry Potter begins. As for my son, it's Year 5 for Harry and things are getting darker.

I'm at the Sydney Opera House with listening to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra play the soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix while the movie is played on the big screen.

The charismatic Nicholas Buc conducts.

I've reviewed enough of these concerts now that it's difficult to write anything new. This is the first of Nicholas Hooper's two efforts in composing a Harry Potter score and I'm rather fond of the soundtrack.

There is a delicate touch to many of the compositions with plenty of tuned percussion from the xylophone family (I couldn't see from my row) and some strong string passages for the more dramatic moments. Very different from John Williams and Patrick Doyle's writing for the previous movies.

The only thing missing seemed to be the electric guitar in the Fireworks piece, though I need to confirm that in the movie as opposed to the soundtrack recording.

The live orchestra really enhanced my enjoyment of the soundtrack. It was lovely and clear against the visual backdrop and the Sydney Symphony did a fine job of performing what I suspect is some quite difficult music.

I'm looking forward to their next effort with Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in July.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


If I were a leaf
I'd be a thief
Stealing sunshine from air.

Some other plants
Would envy my grants
Others wouldn't care.

For when I pass
Down I dance
Carrying gifts from toil.

My days in the sun
Now I've won
Nutrients for the soil.

New leaves grow
They will know
From where their bounty came

From sun and air
The soil we share
Life is renewed again.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Ishinryu Summer Camp: 5 days of karate

I was too knackered to post about the other two days of the 25th Annual Summer Camp. We had our usual Monday session in the dojo last night, except it wasn't usual because the founder of Ishinryu, Sensei Ticky Donovan was there watching our mistakes.

I guess we couldn't have been too bad because he awarded Sensei Tony his 8th Dan, Sensei Alison her 6th and Sensei Leighton his 5th. All richly deserved in my humble opinion. Sensei Ticky is based in the UK/Thailand and his visits to Australia are increasingly rare. It's been maybe four years since the last time.

Anyway, that capped off five days straight of karate. Thursday and Monday in the dojo, Friday and the weekend at Wollongong.

I did almost every session, except for the competitions and the tai chi/yoga when I was helping with the kids' blocker competition scoring. Alex's team came second in that one after getting gold last year. He missed out on medals in the team kata competition, where an experienced teammate pulled out to join another team and another was felled by injury, leaving him with a single, younger, but enthusiastic teammate.

Alex didn't compete in the kumite. There weren't any others in his age group even if he did want to give it a go.

He did come second in the beach run! I'm just happy that he participated in the events and most of the lessons.

Us seniors tend not to compete. It's a pity as I wouldn't have minded doing kata if I wasn't so utterly exhausted. Not the kumite, not against the Fijians and the giant ex-rugby league player who trains at our dojo.

I feel like I learned a lot at the camp, though it can be difficult to quantify. Some of it is more "aha" moments than new concepts. In partnering with someone from another school I realised how line really affected the technique we were practising. I also watched the very fast hands of Sensei Ticky and Sensei Ryan and how their movements flowed. Not sure I can ever replicate that.

What was somewhat frustrating were the corrections on technique. Some Sensei Ticky has changed since he was last at the dojo, others were small things I have probably been doing wrong all this time. there is a lot to unlearn and it must be done because as we rise through the ranks we demonstrate to the younger students. We must know how to do it right to teach it right.

Apart from that Alex and I had a swim in the pool and played tennis between sessions. B came up on the Saturday and they played mini golf together.

Despite being exhausted at the end of each day I haven't slept well, especially as Alex had me getting up at 5.30 am and training my body for this bad habit of his. I was close to my limit when I drove back on Sunday night and then we had Monday...

A couple of days' rest now and then it begins again on Thursday.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Ishinryu Karate Summer Camp 2019 Day 1

We've only had one session and already I'm confused. Everything I learned about Pinan Yon has been changed by our master Sensei Ticky Donovan.

It's that time of year, the Summer Camp. This year it's a 25th anniversary special with Ishinryu's founder attending.

I'm not in the most receptive state for change. It's been a bugger of a week at work and the two weekly karate lessons were exhausting too, along with a changed Alex routine due to this weekend interruption to our normal programming.

Today was hard too. Washed clothes, vacuumed, ironed on badges for the new gi (they are already coming off), baked brownies, shopped for food to take and finally packed the car. I was slightly late to pick Alex up, but his teacher came out to tell me what a wonderful student he was, so attentive and ready to participate that it made it all worthwhile.

Then off in a packed car to the Wollongong Surf Leisure Resort by Towradgi Beach. No sooner had we carried in the bags of gear brought down from the dojo in our boot and we were put to work laying out the mats. We barely had time to drop off our own bags and change into our gis before we were back doing karate on those mats.

It was a nice dinner at the pub across the road, meeting a fellow karateka with the first name Rhythm, along with many of the usual suspects.

Our cabin is smaller than last year but better for our needs. An early start tomorrow, so time for bed. Q

Friday, February 08, 2019

SSO: 2019 Season Opening Gala

It's 2019 and time for another concert. Actually, I wasn't planning to attend any this month but the Sydney Symphony Orchestra offered a couple of free tickets to some 20th and 21st Century music so who was I to refuse, especially when David Robertson is conducting?

Richard Strauss's Thus Spake Zarathustra isn't quite 20th Century, but it was made famous by a rather famous movie called 2001: A Space Odyssey, so that counts. The only bit I'm familiar with is the Introduction: Sunrise.

For the rest of the piece it sort of felt like Zarathustra spake too much, but I'm not a huge classical music fan. Too much exposure as a child I should think. But it was certainly interesting from a tonal sense, watching the different elements of the orchestra, including the massive pipe organ looming high above the stage.

A large portion of the orchestra disappeared for Nigel Westlake's Oboe Concerto Spirit of the Wild, written for the SSO's Diane Doherty.

Doherty's virtuoso oboe performance was amazing, but I really enjoyed the accompanying orchestral melodies. Westlake has composed for a number of films and I could quite imagine some cinematic scenes for his music. What I couldn't really see was the Tasmanian wilderness that inspired the score - My own experiences would have lead to very different music. Still, this was the highlight of the night in my opinion.

The orchestra returned for the final piece of the night, Percy Grainger's The Warriors. In fact, it expanded with three pianos on stage, a celesta, two harps and a number of other instruments including a heckelphone, which sounds like an audience rather than an instrument.

The conductor had to enter from the right as there wasn't any room through the normal entrance.

I thought all that sound made the piece rather muddy. It lacked a strong melody and again, it wasn't really my thing. But it was visually spectacular and picking out individual sections made the experience quite interesting. Some of the brass also decamped during the piece and you could hear them play outside the concert hall, which was a curious development.

David Robertson, the Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the SSO, was mesmerising to watch, his conducting a performance in itself. If that baton was a wand the spells he would create would definitely be those of a grand musical wizard.

I'm glad I had the opportunity to attend the opening Gala and am looking forward to a year full of music.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Farewell 2018

The year began with fireworks and a rumbling sky and it promises to end that way as well. No surprise really.

Looking through my non-travel highlights for 2018 and it seems they are mainly concerts or karate. The first concert of the year was Star Wars with the SSO in Sydney, the last The Empire Strikes Back with the MSO in Melbourne, just this month.

As for karate, by the end of the year both Alex and I had graded to third kyu blue belts and we both won medals in the club tournament, though my was more due to a lack of competitors.

Alex was also awarded the MVP trophy for tee-ball at school. It's the first year he's done interschool sports, first soccer, then tee-ball. I'm very proud of him, even more so for his amazing academic achievements.

We hosted another Japanese student, Satoe, through the school. She was great, another big sister to Alex.

Both B and I worked hard in our jobs. It's been a stressful year for her, learning the ropes of her new role. But she's got through it.

I was very pleased to release version one of a new WordPress theme framework that promises to make developing new themes much easier for us. We "finished" it just before Christmas, so we'll see how it goes in the new year.

The other two haven't last until midnight and even the dog would rather be in bed. The neighbours have been letting off their own fireworks, but I'll stay up to watch the city midnight show from our driveway.

Hope your year has been good and all the best for the new one.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Empire Strikes Back in concert with the MSO

A long time ago in a city far, far away a young boy went to his very first movie at the cinema, an epic of duelling starships, aliens and a mysterious power called "The Force".

The year was 1980, the movie, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the city, Melbourne and the young boy was me aged six.

My best friend Dishan and his father picked me up from home and together we drove into the city for a night time viewing of the second Star Wars movie. I recall loving it, but being rather confused at some points. Why was (force ghost) Obi-Wan Kenobi good at the beginning and evil (hologram Emperor) later on? What should I call the dog walker vehicles (AT-ATs)? And... Well, I can't remember because it was such a long time ago.

Afterwards I used the small amount of pocket money given to me by my parents to buy a Kit-Kat.

And so began my long love affair with Star Wars and its music.

I saw the Empire Strikes Back at least twice more in Melbourne, saw Star Wars on video and then at the cinema, queued up for Return of the Jedi. Even though we then moved away from Melbourne I managed to return to view Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens at cinemas there.

In my mind the movies, the music and Melbourne are inextricably linked. When I hear Yoda's Theme I am always taken back to the elegant southern city of my birth, recalling the yearning to return from my many years of exile elsewhere in Australia.

So despite watching The Empire Strikes Back in Concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra back in July I knew I had to go down to Melbourne to see it there as well.

When it comes to performing film music I have always sensed a resistance and lack of respect from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, whereas the opposite is true from the Melbourne Symphony and that was another incentive to head south.

Prior to the Sunday matinee concert the three members of The Art of the Score, comprising the conductor Nicholas Buc, Andrew Pogson of the MSO and Dr Dan Golding, held a highly informative pre-concert talk. I admit that, despite my passion for film music, I rarely analyse it, so I learned a lot from the talk and will be downloading their podcasts in future!

The Dad Joke level humour was also much appreciated and it was great to have a chance to talk to the team.

Meanwhile, in the lobby there were Stormtroopers and Imperial Officers, along with a jazz band doing a fine rendition of the cantina music from the first Star Wars movie.

The performance was held in The Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre's Plenary, a huge venue that I'd previously sat in for a couple of Doctor Who concerts. Unlike in Sydney, this time I was seated in a premium row close to the stage with a perfect view of both the movie and the orchestra. The acoustics sounded fine to me with great definition of the individual instruments.

Seated next to me was Dr Golding of The Art of the Score, a nice surprise. I'll apologise for any incoherence in my conversation, coming off an overnight trip on a train.

Armed with the knowledge from the talk I had fun identifying elements within the score, keeping a closer eye on the orchestra than on the film itself. One surprise was how often the piccolo features in the score, from that very first rendition of the Imperial March soon after the opening credits (which I never realised until it was pointed out) onwards.

I don't know what to say about the performance itself except to say that it was as close to perfection as you can get, an incredible feat considering that the music is performed in real time. Studio recordings are done over days and weeks with the best performances edited together.

I left the concert feeling like the effort and expense of getting there was fully justified. It may be 38 years since I first saw the film, but today I was a young boy feeling the thrill of seeing and hearing one of the best movies and scores of all time all over again.

Onwards to Return of the Jedi!

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