Category Archives: Just Thoughts

Fresh Off the Boat, Episode 3

So Tuesday’s episodes are a good sign that the show is starting to find its stride. I only have time to write a quick blog post on Episode 3. I’ll get to Ep: 4 later this week.

Episode 3 placed the Huang’s in the middle of white Nascar culture and did a good job of emphasizing the quirkiness of the FOtB experience. It was a decent episode to hopefully hook non-Asian viewers to the show. Caucasian’s could get a laugh at the white middle america stereotype, complete with gossip, backstabbing, and Stephen King. And the writers used the old “daydream interrupted by parents” device to increase universal comedic value. So, this episode helped alleviate my previous concerns about the series leaning too heavily on Asian American culture jokes.

What FOtB got right in Ep:3
1. Capri-Sun Waster
Caprisun1
Jessica yells at Eddie to stop wasting Capri-sun because it’s expensive. Oh how I loved Capri-sun growing up, but because it was so expensive I’d also make sure to suck the thing until the bag was flat as a pancake. Mom and Dad hated us leaving half-full juice boxes around, to do so was criminal.

2. Honey wins Jessica’s heart by eating her food.
tofu2
The best way to win over a Chinese person is to enjoy their food and try and speak their language. That’s if you are any non-Asian ethnicity. If you’re Asian, to be legit you have to cook food better than the best Chinese restaurant in town, using ingredients bought from Ralph’s.

3. Jessica cuts equally sized cake pieces for communism
cutcake
I have no idea why we cut food into equally sized pieces, but we do. The communism joke by the neighborhood ladies takes the cake though (yuk yuk), because it’s an in joke for Chinese viewers. See, the Huang’s are Taiwanese, and with the history between Taiwan and mainland China, Jessica certainly is not a communism supporter. That’s why she gives a death stare, and then covers it up by saying “I’m just cutting cake”. And every non-Chinese viewer would totally miss it. I never ever thought I’d watch a network television show that had an inside joke for Chinese viewers. This is landmark folks.

4. Visors
visor3
Notice how Jessica is the only person wearing a visor?  Neither did I, until just now.  And then I was like “Holy Crap all my aunts wore visors growing up! Uh, I wore visors growing up. Wait, no one else non-Asian did!”

5. Karaoke
karaoke
Yes, Asians love karaoke and it’s serious business, although I don’t know if most of them sing as well as Jessica does in the show. I Will Always Love You is like the perfect song for Chinese singers, because it has lots of long drawn out “oohs”. The longer the vowel, the more powerful the karaoke rush.

What FOtB got wrong in Ep:3
1. Jessica’s misses her friends in DC (cut to scene of them playing cards).
playing_cards
My guess is that this originally was supposed to be a bunch of Chinese women yelling over a mahjohng table, but that Network Execs were like “American’s don’t know what Mahjohng is. Make it poker!”

2. Honey likes Tofu.
tofu1
And not only that, she likes Stinky Tofu. That requires suspensions of disbelief on the level of a Michael Bay Transformer’s movie. Well, I guess it’s possible that Jessica made a different type of tofu for Honey to eat at their Stephen King movie watching party. Nah, I’m just rationalizing because the show is growing on me.

Fresh off the Boat S1:E1

I’m going to venture into something non musical for a bit here on this blog.  The fact is, for the first time in forever (ok, I did slip in a Frozen joke there), there is an Asian American show on TV.  And that’s such a rare occurence, it deserves a writeup .  So, without further ado, my thoughts below on the Fresh Off the Boat Pilot.

I think I speak for most Asian Americans, when I say that we have been waiting for an Asian American sitcom for a long time. One that does our culture justice and tells our story. We know we are underrepresented in Hollywood media, and I think we’ve done our best to bury it in our subconscious and move on. But now, here we are. A family comedy about a Taiwanese American moving from DC to white suburbia. On ABC (how appropriate). Didn’t see this coming at all, figured the closest we’d get was something on YouTube. So it’s cool.Unfortunately, after watching the first episode, I’m not sure if it has staying power. Sure there were parts I laughed and grinned, but it didn’t draw me in like a good comedy should. A lot of the jokes took a tad too much setup time. And even then, atlhough some of them were funny, they were funny to American-Born-Chinese-mid-thirties me, not generic-American-watching-TV me. As much as I love relating to the show, I’m afraid that’s a problem. The show won’t succeed if its relating to Asian Americans. It will have to relate to a much broader audience.Take Big Bang Theory. The show is about Caltech Nerds, but it’s somehow relatable to the average TV viewer. The comedic timing is great, the cast is quirky, but it is somehow relevant.

 

The things FOTB S1:E1 got Right:
1. Lunchables
lunchables2

I never ate lunchables crowd, what with my dairy allergies/lactose intolerance (another thing they nailed), but I can say that Lunchables and Pop Tarts were manna from heaven. They allure they had to a Asian kid growing up was insane, most likely because all our white friends had them and we couldn’t ever get some.
2. Car Rides.
fresh-boat
Specifically the kid asleep in the back surrounded by pillows. FOTB also nailed it with “The Sign.” The cut from Eddie listening to hip hop to Ace of Base’s Swedish Pop had me cracking up. Yes, I remember listening to that song with my family in a car, and yes I remember singing terribly. Kudos for that
3. How Americans react to smelling Chinese food.
yuck
Yeah, that’s pretty accurate, and I can understand why. It’s the mix of garlic, tofu, and bamboo that usually does it. All completely foreign smells to a Caucasian nose.

 

Things FOTB S1:E1 got wrong:
1. Accents
Specifically Louis and Jessica. Louis is played by Randall Park who is Korean American. His English is too perfect for a FOTB Taiwanese man. The inflections and tonal shifts of a Chinese man speaking English as a second language aren’t represented. On the other hand, Constance Wu’s accent swings a bit too much to other side. I can tell she’s Asian American, emulating English spoken with a Taiwanese. It’s a too forced and doesn’t sound right. Luckily, American audiences won’t be able to tell a difference.

2. Kissing in public.
mom_dad

I have a hard time imagining a first generation Taiwanese mom and dad, with their three boys standing around them, kissing on a children’s playground. In the 90’s, that just didn’t happen, ever. Seriously artistic license must have been taken there :).

3.Constance Wu’s Mom look.
constance_wu
Look, I know mid thirties Chinese woman are hot. I am married to one. But they are never that well-coiffed with three kids. I know there’s that running joke in the showabout the humidity and her hair, but she just looked a little too put together for it to be a realistic portrayal of a Taiwanese mom running a household and adjusting to a new home. Maybe if it was a few years down the road and she was settled in.

Anyway, I hope Fresh Off the Boat succeeds. Perhaps the show will need a few more episodes before it really starts to hit its stride. After all, even though there’s a lot of comedic material growing up Asian in white America, but only can do a few episodes of that schtick before it gets kind of old. What will really make or break the show is how relatable the characters are to America.

Traditions of our Fathers

So for the past year or so I’ve been the unofficial branch pianist.  Unofficial because I have another calling, and I’m the default pianist in the branch.  Not the only one, but the most convenient one for the branch because I just show up and play.  They just called a new pianist last week, and I am a little sad to no longer be playing prelude and postlude music.  That’s usually where I experiment and try add some twists to the hymns.

Occasionally, I’ll try and spice up the hymns a little bit during the congregational singing portions of sacrament meeting.  Called to Serve is a fun one, that hymn is meant to be a rousing call to service and should be played as such.  But generally, I try and stay true to the reverence of the hymn.  Every so often I’m tempted to bust out, but I try to be a good little pianist.

However, a couple of weeks ago, we were singing O My Father, and the song ended up being this internal tug of war emotionally and musically between what’s right and what’s wrung*.  I was happily playing the hymn in 3/4 time.  Tri-pl-et, Quarter Quarter, tri-pl-et, quarter quarter, tri-pl-et, quarter quarter.  You get the picture.

Unfortunately, the rest of the congregation was singing the song as if the whole thing was 6/8.  I went through one complete verse of the hymn before I succumbed to rhythmic peer pressure and ended up playing the poor song at full lilt.  The whole time, I kept thinking “This is all wrung, dang it! Should I force 3/4? I should force 3/4.  Come on people, read the music.”  But finally, I was just too tired of fighting against years, nay, centuries, of tradition.  Ok, only one century, but still!

*Wrung: When something is sung completely wrong.  Example: W. Hung sings “Mary had a little ram, little ram, little ram.”

What I’m working on

So about a month ago, a good friend of mine sent me an interesting text, “Can you call me, I have a music question.”  Turns out he had a request for rates for a 30 spot.

We’ve gone through a different versions.  In the future, I’m going to be more of a stickler for a final (or close to final) video cut.  Most of the time, the producers request different “hits” at specific spots within the commercial.  Without a final version of what you’re scoring, it’s a bit more difficult to determine where the right instrument hits should be, or even the musical direction that should be taken.

My first version I sent out is drastically different from the last version.  And that’s to be expected.  But where things really came together was once I had the final cut, complete with animatic effects.  That version of the video gave me a better understanding of what the producer and director were shooting for.  The commercial itself reflects a mood change or two, but it was only with the effects that I knew how dark or light I needed to score each section.

Scoring films, on the other hand, is a bit different.  I think an early copy of the film is important in other to sketch out ideas and come up with general themes.  The earlier, the better.  But realistically, in that industry, you’re probably always going to running up to deadlines and madly racing to get things finished in time.

I’ll see if I can get permission to upload a copy of the music in a later post.

Quick update

Just a quick update on what’s going on musically.

I’ve had a few calls in the recent weeks requesting permission to be added to my studio.  I’m open to teaching any age and skill level, as long as it’s a good fit between the student and the teacher.  However, at this rate, I might not have any personal time to do writing.

I finished up a short film in December.  The director wanted a little more music, so I wrote a piano piece or two for him.  I also got to play the role of music director, as there were a couple of places in the film that necessitated a classical piece based on the actresses actions.  Chopin ended up winning out.

I also have some other potential projects lined up, including producing a demo CD and some more media composition.  Definitely keeping busy.

The latest thing I’m working on is an Asian Knight Riderish theme.  It’s cheesy, but sometimes that’s what you feel like writing.  I’ll upload it when it’s finished.

-J

Favorite Classical Works

So, I spent my Sunday evening trying to catalogue some of my most favorite classical pieces for a random post request I found on the internet. Doing so brought back memories of four semesters of music history. I have fond and not so fond memories of trying to memorize scores and pieces late into the night. So much fun when a piece is 30 minutes long and the professor can ask you to identify any section of the piece using a score or mp3. Once you get into 20th century music, it’s hard to tell between the different pieces because they are not nearly as melodic. I think our teachers were trying to force us to like Schoenberg. Well it didn’t work, but I do have an appreciation for his twelve-tone practices. Oh, the horrors of studying Hexachordal inversional combinatorialism.

Anyway, here are some of my favorites that I’ve collected over the years (either from my classes, or just listening in general). It was fun trying to pull melodies and movement names from the recesses of my mind. Youtube and iTunes were a big help.

Classical Period
Mozart – Symphony No. 41 in C Major K 551 (All movements. Known as the “Jupiter” symphony)
Mozart – Piano Concerto in D Major K107 (especially like the 1st movement, Allegro)
Mozart – Symphony No. 40 in G minor K550 (Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, one of his most famous)
Mozart – Piano Concerto in E-flat Major K. 271 (all movements)
Beethoven – Symphony No.3 (Known as “Eroica”. All movements are fabulous, this might be my favorite Beethoven Symphony)
Beethoven – Symphony No. 6 in F Major (known as the “Pastoral” symphony)
Beethoven – Sonata No. 8 Pathetique (all movements. Movement no.2 is one of the most beautiful melodies ever composed, in my opinion)

Romantic Period
Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto in E Minor op. 64 (all movements!)
Brahms – Symphony #3 (especially Movement 3, it’s one of my favorites)
Chopin – Nocturne in C Minor op. 48 no.1
Chopin – Nocturne in E flat Major Op.9 No.2 (one of Chopin’s most famous pieces. I remember hearing it in The Incredible Machine software game)
Chopin – Prelude in E minor Op. 28 No 4.
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 6 in B Minor op.74 Pathetique (all movements)
Dvorak – Symphony No.9 (known as “From the New World” You might be familiar with the 4th movement)
Mahler – Symphony No. 2 (known as the “Resurrection” symphony. The movements are quite transcendental in nature.)

Impressionist Period
Debussy – Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (one of my favorite pieces)
Debussy – Claire de Lune (famous piece. Played at the end of Ocean’s Eleven)

20th Century
Gershwin – Piano Prelude No. 1 (nice and short but so awesome. Even though Gershwin is more of a Jazz composer, who cares, it deserves to be on this list)
Stravinsky – Petrushka (all movements, although I’m partial to movement 1)
Stravinsky – Rite of Spring (all movements, although most people know it for it’s dissonance in the Sacrifice movement)
Copland – Appalchian Spring (One of his most famous works, a ballet score)

Hope you guys enjoy. What are some of your favorite pieces?

Copying yourself

So, during the last few days, I’ve been sketching out a couple of different melodies/chord progressions. And it was during one of these sessions that I went back to the prechorus chord progression from “Just Saying”, and just totally ripped it off. Not that there’s anything wrong with reusing your own chord progression…I just thought it was funny.

What’s cool is that this chord progression goes from fitting in perfectly within a new age piano piece, to a fifties pop-rock tune. I’ll have to get some guitarists to help me flesh the thing out. I also need to think up some lyrics (I’m not a lyricist, so coming up with words are like pulling teeth for me).

By the way, I’ll be traveling on business for the next couple days, so I won’t have a chance to upload anything until I get back.

Scoring

Just wanted to give an update.  I’m scoring a short film for a friend, he’s currently getting his masters in film.  This project ended up being much intriguing than I thought.  I don’t usually write music for a drama. Action, ballad, love scenes were what I did in college.  Drama, probably not so much.

Anyway, because I’ve been working on composing, my Memorial day song is still stuck in limbo.   I’ve done two or three rewrites of the rhyming schemes, so I should be pretty close to recording some scratch vocals.  I’m debating whether I’m willing to put my voice online again…we’ll see.

Stuck

So, yes, despite the lack of music updates, I have been working on some music.  I have random working names for songs in the queue (think Blue Harvest and Return of the Jedi).  The current one is Memorial Day, and whenever I listen to it, I get all excited at the potential there.  But there’s something missing; it’s lacking gloss.  Or, as my former professor Ron Simpson used to say, “golden bricks.”

Part of that is that the lyrics/melody is in flux.  But there’s also something that’s lacking, and I don’t know what (ooh, that rhymed).  It’s helped a bit that I’ve added a bass part, and am retracking the drums to tighten things up.  But it’s weird that I’m just stuck (weird, that rhymed again too).

I really do need some time to just sit, write, and think.

Quick lyrics

I’m trying to come up with type of lyrics for the song in my last post, and I’m kind of stuck. I have a few ideas, but it doesn’t flow yet. Words have never flowed for me, at least not like music. Every once in a while, I’ll get a flash of inspiration and then I have a complete song idea that comes out in 30 minutes or less. But most of the time it’s like pulling teeth.

Usually, I start with a basic idea or feeling that I’m trying to write about. Then I figure out the story or details that will help convey that concept. I guess it’s kind of a macro to micro way of writing. I think with this idea (the belated valentine’s idea) I’m going need to the subconcious work through the song idea or lyric rhyming patterns.