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So you wanna play trombone in a ska band?

June 29, 2011

I’ve been playing trombone for a ska band here in Singapore for about a year and a half now, and so I thought I’d share some guidelines for aspiring horn players out there who are looking for resources they can use to learn the songs they want to play.  I think you could insert any horn into the title here, but since trombone is my instrument, I’m going to lead off with that.

So, without further ado, I’d like to present to you:

 

A Horn Player’s Guide for Learning Ska Songs

 

1.  Register at horntabs.net

horntabs.net

One of the things that’s great about playing guitar is that there are so many resources available online.  Even if you can’t read any music, you can learn to read tabs.  This is possible because everybody plays guitar.  As a horn player, your options are much more limited.  Luckily there are some communities that are available to help you out with this, and, as far as I can tell, horntabs.net is the best.  You won’t be able to find every song you want there, but the biggest hits from the larger ska bands will be on there.

One of the really cool things about this site is that they have a sheet-music-generator which allows you to turn their text-file tabs into readable sheet music.  Of course it’s pretty basic, but it helps in a pinch.

 

2.  Find a program like Guitar Pro

Guitar Pro

Even if you can’t always find a tab for a song on horntabs.net, you can often find a beefier version of a guitar tab labeled as a Pro Tab or a Power Tab on most guitar tab sites (I recommend http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/).  When you open these files with a program like Guitar Pro you can often find MIDI tracks for the full range of instruments a song uses.  Not only can you separate out the different tracks (so you can just listen to the horn track, for example), they often have a sheet-music visual that you can use to learn the notes.

3.  Buy a keyboard

Roll Up Keyboard

This is only truly helpful if you actually know some rudimentary piano, but if all else fails you can always label the keys and it will be just as good for your purposes.  Most standard horns only range about 3 octaves (unless you’re ridiculously good) so you don’t even need one of the huge expensive keyboards (although they are pretty awesome…).  I was lucky enough to have an awesome girlfriend who bought me the roll-up keyboard that you see in the picture above.  Good for those of you who don’t have a lot of space to store one.

Anyway, the idea is that you can just listen to the song you’re trying to learn on repeat and try and figure out the notes on the keyboard first.  Just match pitch.  Everybody can do that much.  It takes a little bit more time, but if you have the patience it’s not actually that difficult.  The only downside to this is that sometimes it’s a little tough to distinguish between half-steps.  I find that it helps to have a second opinion around to help you out when the note is a bit more ambiguous.  It’s a good idea to write down the notes that you figure out in a notebook so that you don’t have to do this process over and over again.  On the upside, it’s much less noisy than my next tip…:

4.  Play along with the song

Where's my trombone?

This, of course, is about as basic as you get, but it’s how most people learn ska songs for their horn.  This can take quite a bit of time, but one of the benefits is that you are memorizing as you go.  Since you are going to have to learn measure-by-measure, you’re going to be doing A LOT of repetition.  It helps if you have a media player on your computer that allows you to adjust the start and stop times for a song so you can set it to only play about 10 seconds and then repeat.  If you have much of a music theory background this becomes easier because  you can establish what key a song is in pretty quickly.  Even if you don’t, however, you can pretty easily figure out what the notes are that you keep seeing over and over again.  Just as with a keyboard, write these notes down in a notebook so that you’ll be able to remember them later on.

Okay!  That’s about it!  I’ve found these methods very helpful in learning many of the songs that I play.  Hopefully you’ll be able to use them as well.

Why Slip-On dress shoes are always better

March 25, 2011

While I’m aware that this issue is not gender-bound, this post is mostly for the guys.

1.  Shoelaces have no aesthetic appeal

Let’s just cut right to the chase here:  Shoelaces are a purely functional creation.  They allow for more flexibility in the size of the shoe to allow for more comfort or tighter hold.  However, this is somewhat a moot point because the only reason somebody would need this flexibility is if they couldn’t find a properly-fitting shoe in the first place.  Unless you’re so apathetic in your shopping that you buy the first pair that fits, you should be able to find dress shoes that are both comfortable and fit snugly without the need for extra flexibility (unless, of course, you’re young enough that your feet are still growing–in which case it is perfectly acceptable so as to get the most out of your shoes).

But let’s look at an example and judge for aesthetics:

Now, these are perfectly acceptable looking shoes when you talk about the basics.  There is a little shine to them, but not too much, they’re not overly-flashy, and they should be OK to go with most black pants.  Then there are the laces.  Now aside from the fact that the laces are brown on black, how ridiculously goofy do they look?    The big loops and the loose-hanging strands.  Imagine these shoes without the laces and they instantly become classier and more fashionable.

2.  Shoelaces can reduce a shoe’s lifespan

While this shouldn’t be a problem with well-made shoes, sometimes you’re in a pinch financially and you just need to buy a cheaper dress shoe.  No complaints there, we’ve all been in that situation.  However, when you have a cheaper shoe, the friction of the laces being pulled against their eyelets (as they’re apparently called) can often wear down those holes so that they become too big and, as a result, less functional.

3.  Shoelaces are annoying to tie

While you may not be as lazy as me (which, to be fair, is a pretty tough accomplishment), I’m sure that at some point, while tying your shoes, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “Man, this is stupid.”  I’m also sure that many of you, having figured out just how stupid it is, decided just to forgo tying your shoes altogether and just tried to “slip them on.”  Unfortunately, you probably also realized how quickly this can ruin the backs of your shoes.  While this may not be a huge problem with sneakers, it can look pretty bad on dress shoes.  This is a huge issue in Asia, because you’re constantly taking your shoes on and off when entering somebody’s apartment/house or (sometimes) office.  I’ve seen some pretty beat-up looking shoes around here because nobody wants to take the time to tie and untie their shoes, but sometimes you need to wear something just a bit more formal than flip-flops.

4.  Being able to slip off your shoes at work is awesome

Now, of course, there are a few caveats to this point.  If you have people who work closely around you, if you have unusually stinky feet, if you wear mismatching/ugly/worn-out socks–DO NOT DO THIS!  Reactions will range from outright horror to becoming a social outcast and the butt of many jokes.  However, let’s assume that you have at least a private cubicle and that your feet are of average stinkyness.  If that’s the case, then after a long day of standing (as a teacher, this is very applicable), it can feel great to “let loose the dogs” for a little bit.

To be fair, if you’ve done your research and you’ve found a really comfortable pair of shoes, this may not even be necessary–but even the most comfortable dress shoes can make your feet desire a bit of freedom every now and then.  As a result, it’s much more convenient to have slip-on shoes rather than ones that require to to tie and untie them every time you want to get up and run to the copier.

5.  Shoelaces come untied

I’m sure that this piece of art has a profound meaning behind it, but I’m going to use it to point out that people look ridiculous when they’re tying their shoes–even moreso when it’s in an office setting.  It’s belittling and puts you in an awkward position around people whose respect you’d like to garner.  Maybe it’s not a huge issue, and people will probably forget about it quickly, but it’s one of those small things that adds up in the long-run.  While dress shoes have short laces in order to minimize the occurrence of this embarrassment, it still happens often enough (and since the shoelaces are shorter, it becomes more difficult to double-knot them [let’s not even get started on how ridiculous the double-knot looks]).

 

So, on the con side: while wearing dress shoes that you have to tie, your shoes lose aesthetic class in favor of an unnecessary function, you run the risk of your shoes wearing out more quickly, you have to tie and untie them every time you put them on or take them off, it’s less practical to remove your shoes when you want to let your feet breathe, and they can come untied leading to embarrassing situations.  On the plus side, you can… break up the color with some horizontal lines?  You don’t want to draw that much attention to your dress shoes.  Leave the flash for more casual-wear.

 

Listening Backward

January 17, 2011

 

Music’s always been a pretty big part of my life.  Throughout much of my life, however, I can recall utilizing it as a social divider as much as a source of entertainment and enjoyment.  As early as my preschool years, I remember playing my “Dinosaur Songs” cassette tape at full volume when the tyrannosaurus rex song came on (while my parents were having a meeting in the living room).  I thought the song was awesome, and I wanted them to know how cool I was because I was listening to it.  (To be fair, the song is pretty hardcore.  You can listen to it here).  Later, in elementary school, my older sister and her highschool friends were in a Phantom of the Opera themed marching band.  Yes, I didn’t realize how dorky it was at the time, and I absolutely blasted the theme song when she brought her friends over.  She didn’t really appreciate that, but I thought it made it quite clear that I fit in.  As I transitioned into middle school, I can remember two separate incidents: once, I let a schoolmate of mine (a hardcore boy band fan) listen to an Against All Authority song that I had on a mix CD, and was quite pleased with myself after witnessing her reaction.  The other time I’m less proud about and involves my short-lived fascination with Limp Bizkit–and that’s embarrassing enough, so we’ll just forget about that one.

Anyway, my point is that I have a long history of trying to prove something through the music that I listened to.  Yes, it’s a terrible way to define yourself, and I’m not proud of it, but I have to admit that–while growing up–a significant portion of my image came from distancing myself from people who I thought couldn’t appreciate music the way I could.

While it’s not surprising that my late elementary and early middle school years were focused on finding the fastest, hardest, most countercultural music I could, this elitism broke new ground when file-sharing hit the internet in the late 90s.  All the sudden I had access to as much music as my 56k modem would allow, rather than the tiny amount that I could afford on my pittance of an allowance.

 

Ah yes, LimeWire... because Napster wasn't Mac compatible

Quickly, I finished downloading the discographies of some of my favorite bands: The Beatles, They Might Be Giants, Rancid, NOFX, Bad Religion, Anti-Flag, Weezer, Braid and The Get Up Kids.  I realized that, for once, I could be ahead of the curve.  For once, my music collection wasn’t limited.  For once, I could know everything about something that was so important to me.  Since I had recently moved on from punk rock to the burgeoning late-90s indie/emo scene, I already had a head start (this wave of emo was still pretty new and underground).  It was enough of a headstart that by the time the emo scene exploded with Dashboard Confessional and Taking Back Sunday I had already mastered my game.  However, as soon as this scene became overly fashionable, I had to move on.  I no longer saw myself as one of the whiny 16 year-olds (despite the fact that I was only 17), and I needed something that represented my more “mature” appreciation of music.

Again, I needed to redefine myself based upon what I listened to.

This led to a new surge of mp3s making their way through my modem: The New Pornographers, The Shins, Pavement, Superchunk, Modest Mouse, Cap’n Jazz… they all found homes on my computer (well, my Dad’s computer, to be fair).  Indie Rock is possibly the most elitist genre there possibly could be (because of its need to be perpetually underground), and I was trapped there for the next 4 years as I delved further and further into obscurity.

Okay, it never got this bad--but I'm amused that this is the first image result for "lost hipster"

After my college years, I realized pretty quickly that the indie music scene had become such a farce that I could no longer identify with it.  It was at this point that I finally figured out why I was never satisfied.  It wasn’t the music that I loved, it was the image that the music gave me.  Yeah, of course that was always obvious, but obvious things aren’t always as clear when you’re reluctant to view things from an outside perspective.

Let me rephrase my earlier statement: I did love the music.  I’ve always loved the music.  Music will always be very important to me and it will always be a huge part of my life.  However, my sincere appreciation had gotten so tangled up in the idea of music and the image that it brought with it that I couldn’t extricate one from the other.  My problem was that I was so afraid of being categorized that I always had to find a new, less obvious category to put myself in.  Unfortunately, it’s still a category, and there will always be a category.  At least now there’s less of myself invested in something so fragile.

 

This is where I get to my main point:

 

There’s a certain element of mass-consumption that scene-chasers (or leaders, I guess) are required to partake in.  It’s a very stressful experience, but what’s more unsettling is that all the rampant consumption hampers the more basic enjoyment of music.  If you always want to be on the cutting edge, you’re not able to rest or you’ll fall behind.  You’ll become outdated and you’ll lose your “cred”.

 

...but my guess is you can find it here.

A few years back I decided this is not the way I wanted to live my life:  always in pursuit, even at the top of your game.  I decided to stop looking for new music (fortunately the lack of promoters sending me free CDs made this much easier), and to focus on finding what I had been missing out on.  Really, if your appreciation of music comes only from your encyclopedic knowledge of obscure bands from the last 20 years, you’re missing a HUGE amount of quality content.

I realized that I’m painfully uneducated in the basics of Rock & Roll.  So my new mission has been one that neglects finding whatever the new underground image is; one that rejects the premise that music is a commodity; one that–instead of focusing on myself and what it can do for me–focuses on the music and what appreciation I can glean as it is.

So I’ve gone back to the basics and I’m filling in a long backlog that I’ve avoided while scene-chasing.  Hopefully, listening backward will prove to be less pretentious than listening forward.

Obligation

January 5, 2011

We turn because we have to, not because we want to.

So, I don’t consider myself much of a poet.  I’ve taken a few classes and I’ve written a number in my time, but it’s not a medium that I’m always that comfortable working in.  However, one thing that I’ve always liked about poetry is that it’s kind of sneaky.  Since poetry often needs to get its message across in fewer words than prose, the imagery has to be packed into little bundles that convey a larger meaning than the sum of its words.  Sometimes the words aren’t even obviously related to the poet’s intentions, but the overall effect that they have upon the reader is more important than functional description.

While I was in Manila over the holidays, I was struck by sudden inspiration in a fairly morbid location:  a cemetery.  My girlfriend and I (along with her mother) had gone to visit some of her deceased relatives.  While we were there I felt overwhelmed by this very specific image of a boy sitting through a funeral with an embarrassingly bored look on his face.  I kept trying to figure out why I couldn’t shake this visual from my mind, and, after some time, I decided that I really needed to try and find a way to convey this feeling to other people.  Poetry seems such a natural venue for emotion transference that the words just started flowing into my head.  As we got back into the car to drive home, I felt incredibly claustrophobic because I really needed to get these words down, and I had no paper to work with.  As soon as we arrived, I rushed in and started typing up this poem.

Now, I’m not super happy with how it turned out (although, nobody ever is really satisfied with something they’ve created), and I may decide to make some changes in the future–but I thought I’d share it with you, because it seemed so visceral at the time.

Anyway, here it is…

Obligation is the death of sincerity.

It is the boy standing at the side of his grandmother’s grave

His face a gaunt visage of boredom

The emotion is true and honest.  Yet his indecency is scolded.

What warrants more the lash?

A deluded mirror of expectations or an earnest failure of empathy?

 

It is the obliteration of the self

The socialite who has sacrificed her most precious of commodities—

Time.

For nobody can have her time unless she relinquishes it herself.

Even in isolation or the last gasps of life, that is hers alone.

Yet she submits this gem as an offering to the monstrous god of propriety.

The iron deity we worship with manufactured necessity.

As the gears turn and the steam-whistles bellow, we drown out the chanting:

“Well, dear… we’ve been avoiding them for so long.  We really should show up this time.”

 

It is the obfuscation of meaning

The rituals and ceremonies that require a lifetime to complete.

The tests we take to go to the schools we like so we can study the course we want in order to get the job we desire so we can make the money we need to impress to people we admire and have the love we crave to fill the voids we carry so we can validate our ability to procreate and bring forth more people that we can force to…

Obligate.

 

But where is the purpose?  The reason?  The explanation?

Where are the big answers?

In the end we still feel like the boy at the foot of that coffin,

Not yet old enough to be tasked with the responsibility

To carry that weight.

In the end, we still follow that socialite’s example

And let those interlocking metal teeth grasp the sleeves of our shirts

Pulling us closer and closer to the furnace that will mould us into ice cube trays of ambition,

Some of us a bit shorter, taller, flatter, rounder, but

In the end all of us fill the same basic shape.

The universe will remove us from some colossal freezer and twist the plastic.

Some of us—the lucky ones—will shatter and we will scatter into the sink

While the remaining saps will be dropped one by one

Into the largest rum and coke you’ve ever seen

And will be left there, cooling the libations that our miserly host

Is obliged to serve its guests.

Anway, I think I might cut the fourth stanza.  I’m not sure it quite fits the rest of the poem.  Regardless, this is what came to me at the time.  If you have any constructive criticism, please let me know–maybe I can make into something worthwhile with a bit more tinkering.

“Why are you listening to Dusty Springfield?”

December 6, 2010

Why wouldn't I?

My girlfriend asked me this as she entered my apartment the other day.  It’s probably a fair question, to be honest.  I’m a white American male born in the 80s who grew up on punk rock.  Of course, as a music collector, it makes perfect sense–she had an incredible impact on pop music throughout the 60s and 70s–but based on demographics, shouldn’t I just stick to The Decline and leave Dusty to R&B and Soul fans?

But of course all of that is superficial nonsense that has no place in a real discussion of music.  Dusty Springfield and I go way back.  Although I didn’t know who she was, I actually grew up listening to her.  My parents–in-between bouts of NPR and Phantom sing-a-longs–would often leave the radio on the local oldies station in NKY (“WGRR, Oldies 103.5”).  Generally speaking, Dusty’s era was the tail-end of what was considered “oldies” at that time, but she definitely had some notables that would be mainstays on any similar station:

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this period had a pretty big impact on me, musically.  However it wasn’t until I started watching Tarantino films in high school that Dusty came back to grab me.  Of course, anybody who’s seen Pulp Fiction (and if you haven’t by now–shame on you) will recognize what I’m talking about.  The movie has an outstanding soundtrack that features one of Dusty’s most famous songs:

Now, as I’ve gotten older and I’ve become less concerned with genres, scenes, and images, it’s become easier for me to understand a bit more objectively why that song stuck with me so much:  Actually, it’s the same reason I give for why We Three Kings of Orient Are is my favorite Christmas song: I have a strong affinity for music with transitions.  I don’t only mean transitions in the sense of different movements, but also in building from something simple into something very dramatic.  Dusty has an amazing voice not only because she can sing loud, soulful belts that you can feel throughout your body, but also because she’s dynamic; she can just as easily evoke shivers with her soft, husky tones.  This range is displayed prominently throughout this song as it builds from a quiet, throaty narration to a raucous, soul-laden chorus.

Let’s not forget that Dusty Springfield also had an amazing support team behind her (sometimes including notables such as Burt Bacharach) who wrote very compelling musical transitions into the songs.  Here is one my favorite Dusty Springfield songs that showcases exactly what I’m talking about:

The transition from verse to chorus–from sadness to exaltation–is so fantastically moving that it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.  This is one of those songs that’s a procrastinator’s demise because it has that momentum that consistently forces itself into your head throughout the day.  Even in songs that were not originally written for her, she does a remarkable job merging her dynamic voice with the build of the song:

So, of course, the real response to the original question is: “Why wouldn’t I?”  Despite the surface inconsistencies, there’s a real connection that I have with the movements, builds, and transitions I find in her music.  I don’t think I’m unique in that respect.  Even if she’s not a household name anymore, she’s an artist that can easily strike a chord that reverberates across generations.

The DOs and DON’Ts of Video Game movie making (Fighter Edition)

November 23, 2010

"Survival is no game"

Out of morbid curiosity, I decided to watch the Tekken movie.  I had seen a preview at the theater at some point in the last 4 or 5 months, but hadn’t heard a peep since.  My guess is that (after seeing the final product) everybody who had supported the endeavor tried to let it die quietly without having their names drawn through the muck.  Having only recently managed to shake most of the newest Street Fighter movie from my memory, I knew this could be a very self-destructive task.

Let’s be clear, I don’t expect much from a movie based upon a video game series.  In fact, I expect them to be pretty bad.  However, I am consistently surprised by exactly how bad they can get.  Even as a kid, when I loved the original live action Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat movies, I knew they were pretty bad.  Maybe it’s nostalgia kicking in, but I honestly feel like these last two abominations failed to even achieve the campy badness that made those movies great.  As a result, I decided that it is my duty to tell directors and producers everywhere what they’re doing wrong and, occasionally, what they’re doing right.

The DOs and DON’Ts of making a Fighter movie

1.  Do have an awesome theme song.

Every boy (and probably most girls) born between 1980 and 1990 should be able to recall the amazingness that was the Mortal Kombat theme song.  I’m pretty sure I listened to it on a daily basis when I was in 5th or 6th grade–if there’s anything that gets you pumped up for a day full of sentence diagrams, it’s this song.

2.  Don’t get your ethnicities wrong.

Not ChineseChinese

 

 

 

Which one of these looks more Chinese to you?

 

 

 

 

One thing that every “artist” has to come to terms with is that they always have an audience.  This does not change if you’re directing a crappy movie based on a video game.  In fact, it becomes more difficult.  Nerds are the hardest group of people to please ever. They will nitpick every single little detail, so you could at least get the more glaringly obvious ones right.  I know you need to have a big name actor or actress to star in your movie, but if the main character is supposed to be a mainland Chinese actress, and you decide to get a half-Chinese American actress, you’re going to catch a lot of flack.  Oh, and guess what… M. Bison is a Russian terrorist, not an Irish slumlord.

3.  Do have a relatively unknown pop superstar in the movie.

There's never enough KylieWho?

Yes, yes, I’m quite aware that Kylie Minogue is far from unknown, but once again you have to take into consideration your audience.  In 1994, did most male youths know who Kylie Minogue was?  Maybe in Australia.  As for Taboo, does anybody know who he is?  (My girlfriend does… that’s the only reason I knew he was in the movie).  Regardless, I think it adds a little more campy humor, which in these movies is often a better idea than trying to make it realistic.

4.  Don’t create unnecessary characters.

Who was that Interpol guy in the new Street Fighter movie?  Did you know that there was already an Interpol agent in the movie?  Maybe the main character. Yes, if the director/producer/whatever had done any research at all (even merely opening up the wikipedia page in their internet browser), they would know that Chun Li is already working for Interpol! (and is not some fancy shmancy pianist).  Oh, and what about the hyper-sexualized badass chica cop?  You really can’t find one other hyper-sexualized female fighter in the whole series?  Come on, that’s a genre defining stereotype!  You don’t need to make one up.

5.  Do include some of the characters’ signature moves.

In every fighting game ever created, the main differences between characters are the special moves they can do.  Often times it’s the only reason you play as a certain character.  Sure, there are some fighters that are a bit more sophisticated, but the characters will still be somewhat defined by a few signature moves.  These should always be included in a fighter movie.  Despite how terrible (read: Awesome) the Mortal Kombat movie was, it was awash with everybody using their special moves (see above for Scorpion’s spear and Johnny Cage’s shadow kick).  Liu Kang even gets a bit of a fireball at the very end while fighting Shang Tsung.  Oh, and don’t forget the flash kicks and hadoukens you get in this amazing performance during the final scenes of the Street Fighter movie).

6.  Don’t adjust the story to try and make a “gritty reboot.”  Look: nobody’s taking these movies seriously.  You’re not creating a work of art.  Pander to the geeks and give them what they want: an action movie that features ethnically-accurate portrayals of their favorite characters using the special moves that make them unique.  Don’t try to create some ridiculous story to make it seem more realistic.  Nobody wants this to be realistic.  The characters already have their own stories that are plenty ridiculous to begin with.  If you don’t follow the backgrounds and goals of the characters, you’re just upsetting the only people want to watch your movie: the video game nerds!  Chun Li doesn’t need to be a classically trained pianist, M. Bison doesn’t need to be a slumlord, Jin Kazama doesn’t need to be a “contraband technology” smuggler, and Heihachi Mishima should never be a sympathetic character.

7.  Do use characters we care about, not the ones that nobody plays.  This is mostly directed at the Tekken movie (but what was up with throwing Gen into the most recent Street Fighter movie?  Weird choice…).  Nobody cares about Christie, Raven, Miguel, or Sergei Dragunov.  Okay, some people might care about Christie, but that’s just because they want more hyper-sexualized women in the movie (trust me, there’s already enough).  Why they decided on these characters instead of Paul, King, Hwoarang, or Xiaoyu, I’ll never understand.

8.  Don’t make a movie without doing your research.  Yes, yes, we all know that people in Street Fighter shoot fireballs.  Without ever having played the game, you might even know that these are called hadoukens.  Chun Li doesn’t use them.  Yet you spend about 30 minutes in the movie trying to explain how she learned to shoot hadoukens (which she then uses to finish off the weeny guy they’re trying to pass off as M. Bison):

The only signature move of hers that they did use was her spinning bird kick–the reason why so many adolescent boys played as her in the game–and they still managed to make it look retarded.

 

Anyway, I’m sure I could think of some more, but these are the guidelines that immediately come to mind.  I’m going to leave you with what is supposedly a video proposal (not necessarily a trailer, per se, but just an idea of what might possibly happen) of a new Mortal Kombat movie.  We’ll see if they fall into the traps that the last couple fighter movies have, or if they’ll redeem the genre and make it entertaining once again.

Old Chinese songs I love

November 9, 2010

So my girlfriend and I have been taking Mandarin lessons for a little over a year now.  We’re both still pretty terrible at it (read: still lower than a kindergarten level), but we’re happy to be progressing at our own turtle’s pace.  We have a fantastic tutor who’s an older Singaporean man but who was trained in Beijing.  One of the best parts of our lessons is that we get to learn a whole bunch of old Chinese songs from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.  While these are only somewhat helpful in learning the language, they are awesome for impressing our older colleagues (impromptu sing-alongs in the office have happened on more than one occasion).

Here are some of our favorites:

“Yueliang Daibiao wo de Xin” (The Moon Represents my Heart) is one of my favorite Chinese songs.  Technically it’s Taiwanese, but it’s pretty much a standard song that you have to learn if you speak Mandarin, regardless of where you live.  Teresa Teng has a beautiful voice and I’ve never heard anybody sing it quite like her.  Although, I do have to say that the lyrics always remind me of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet (you know, “Swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon that monthly changes in a circle d’orb–lest your love prove likewise variable”) which makes the song a bit less romantic.

“Gei wo yi ge Wen” (Give me a Kiss) is an older big-band Chinese song by Chang Loo that is modeled after Patsy Cline’s “Seven Lonely Days”.  It’s pretty ridiculously catchy and has a bit more of a swing style that I think is actually an improvement over Patsy Cline’s version (please don’t crucify me, folk purists).  I like how it uses the phrase “ke yi bu ke yi” (can or cannot) repeatedly throughout the song because it’s a very common Mandarin phrase and having a good way to remember it is useful.

“Ni Zhen Mei Li” (You are Truly Beautiful) is another song by Chang Loo that has that great old-timey lounge feel that you don’t usually associate with mid 20th century China.  I might like it more because it broadens my perspective of international pop music.

“Daban Cheng di Guniang” (The Girl of Daban Cheng) is a song I mostly love for this video, which my teacher uses during the lesson.  It’s a song partly about watermelons, partly about beautiful girls, and all about ridiculousness.  Also, I had never heard any Uyghur music before, and this was a nice window into some of their folk music as well as into a Chinese ethnic group that doesn’t get a lot of exposure in popular culture.  I like that many of my Mandarin lessons are often supplemented by cultural–and usually humorous–anecdotes (like how “pao niu” is not a good translation for “hanging out”, despite what some teachers might claim).  Unfortunately, the Uyghur Chinese songs tend to be quite fast, and I have trouble singing them even when I have the lyrics in front of me.

Those are the songs that stick out in my mind the most, but I’ll leave you with another Uyghur song called “Almihan” that we just started learning.