Category Archives: Stash
South Korea, The Earth Stringband’s final frontier. After a grueling day of travel from Timor Leste, we finally arrived at South Korea’s Incheon airport at 6 am in the morning yesterday greeted by our friendly assistant regional program officer, Yoon. We arrived to the Westin hotel in Seoul that morning and all went our separate paths until the afternoon.
So far in this trip, the majority of the cultural exchange has been taking place on our workdays when we get to meet people at the educational workshops and concerts while the rest days have been more mellow and reserved for alone time. The embassy here has made a huge effort however to schedule some really cool cultural activities on our days off, the first of which was visiting a very inspiring and special musician, Jang Sa-Ik. Jang Sa-Ik is a highly popular South Korean singer. His music combines elements of popular music, jazz, and Korean traditional music. His music has been described as “hot and spicy, like garlic.”
We all took a trip to Jang’s house which was built into the mountains in a beautiful part of Seoul. We were greeted by a very smiley, warm and welcoming Mr. Jang who ushered us into his house beaming with joy and delight. He showed us up to his amazing balcony spot on the top floor where one could see beautiful mountains all around and distant remains of ancient palace walls. It was immediately apparent that nature is a very big part of Mr. Jang’s being. The way his house blended into the city scenery was uplifting.
Mr. Jang’s home is the first house aside from ambassador residences that the Earth Stringband has been able to spend time in since we started touring. Even though we love to tour, The Earth Stringband loves the smell and feel of a nice cozy home.
With the help of Maria translating for us, Mr. Jang talked to us about his music and his philosophies. He showed us his collection of Gongs and gave everybody in the band a nice piece of percussion to bang on for a while. We had an awesome jam, some of which was captured in the video below. I was exposed to the awesomeness of a gong jam a few years ago by our good friends Chris Turner and Rachel Maloney so the vague notion of jamming on gongs again perked me up from my semi-jetlag state after the flight from the night before.
Midway through the jam I had a realization of how dissonance and “out” music occurs so much in nature and in the most rootsy un-intellectual of ways (when talking about something sounding “out” I’m just referring to something being out of the normal way we hear things tonally. Studying at music school, the notion of playing “out” music often gets very intellectualized and sounds and feels more like math than real music in many circumstances). In the same way you hear dissonances and crazy harmony coming out of gospel music when the spirit is coming through the church, I could feel the spirit coming from Mr. Jang as the gongs were swirling with his voice.
Mr. Jang then sat us down for some tea and talked to us about how he lets nature inspire him and how being in his home and being able to look at the sky and breathe the good Seoul air keeps him going everyday and keeps his music and art flowing at all times. He is a very busy man and it was such an honor to have tea with him and hear his stories and perspectives on life. I can’t thank the embassy here enough for scheduling this awesome interaction for us, especially considering how busy Mr. Jang’s schedule is.
In a change of pace, after Mr. Jang’s house, the embassy van jetted us off to the Korea Heritage Fashion Show incorporating traditional Korean fashion into modern interpretations of fashion. The embassy managed to get us VIP seats and we were seated in the front rows at one of the biggest imperial palaces in Seoul for this amazing display of fashion. Needless to say, we were all extremely under-dressed in our plaid shirts and jeans, but nobody seemed to mind too much. I’ve never been to a fashion show so this was a serious trip for me.
All the models with their uber-hip clothing from a future dimension would stoically walk down the walkway in perfect lines. It was amazing watching those guys and girls keep a straight face for that long with clothes that fit them perfectly well. The music went amazingly well with the show and included both a band with traditional and modern instruments and a pre-recorded soundtrack that blended with the live musicians’ repertoire seamlessly.
Day 2 in Seoul was the Earth Stringband’s shopping day. We ate amazing vegetarian temple food in the downtown area for lunch and then went around the different markets shopping for souvenirs and appreciating the smells and tastes of Seoul. The city has so much character and so many cool little things that represent that character. The food is rich and all the colors you see are full and vibrant. Shiny things are really shiny, and tasty things are rich and yummy! We ended the day with one of my fathers’ physicist friends, Inkyu, from the University of Seoul taking us out to a traditional meal of hot Korean BBQ and kimchi and squid pancakes after. Hot Korean BBQ (different than traditional Korean BBQ) is everything it’s hyped up to be. We met the woman at the restaurant who allegedly created the incredible sauce popular in the district that the ribs are seasoned with. She was outside grilling those ribs up just right for everybody.
All the little side dishes were delicious and without a doubt were the best pork ribs I’ve had in my life. Tomorrow we go to Jeonju to play at the closing ceremony of the folk festival there and we resume our musical work. Thanks to the embassy and our friends here in South Korea, the first 2 days here have been incredible and a true cultural immersion for the Earth Stringband. I can’t wait to see more music, meet delightful people, and eat delicious food. Aansanghaseyo!
Today was a fun final day of work here in Phnom Penh. It’s been a huge success, especially considering that the embassy coordinated all our workshops and concerts within about one week’s notice.
We played our final workshop this morning at the Angkor Music school for a class of about 40 students and some of their parents. The majority were violin students, and also included one bass student for Sam.
Andy led the class through some chopping and a beautiful symphonic version of “bile them cabbage down.” I must admit that I was particularly tired this morning and I want to thank Michelle from the embassy here bringing some extra coffee in to the school.
Even though it took some time to wake up, the good dose of cute kids, coffee, and singing “BILE THEM CABBAGE DOWN BOYS, MAKE THEM BISCUITS BROWN BOYS” forty times at the top of my lungs definitely got the nerves reacting again.
The third floor of the Angkor Music School (under construction) had the most ridiculous echo ever, check it out:
Ay ay ay! Andy and Sam took a plane today to Siem reap, the former capital of Cambodia. Only a few miles north of Siem Reap is the epic Temple complex known as Angkor Wat built for the King of Cambodia in the 12th century (!). I can’t wait to see some awesome pictures when they get back tomorrow and I’m sure they’ll have a whole set of wild stories.
After they took off, Eric and I went on a tuk tuk ride around the city playing music for a webcast program called the “tuk tuk sessions.” It combines scenes from the colorful streets of cambodia with music and the cozy vibe of a tuk tuk. We’ll post the video as soon as it’s released! Thanks to Dustin for helping us out and filming and of course Michelle from the Embassy for holding our instrument cases on the Tuk Tuk.
Stay tuned for some awesome new videos and pictures of the day off tomorrow. We have a night off in Singapore on Monday and will then be moving onto East Timor the day after for a grueling schedule of awesome concerts and workshops. It’s wild to think this trip is about half-way through! Until next time
Hello from Chang Rai, Thailand! The Earth Stringband woke up today with a hunger for some picking and singing. The rest day yesterday was awesome fun and very much needed but we’re all glad to get back to work and share and learn some music with the Thai.
We started with a workshop at the Mah Fah Luang University in Chang Rai and were introduced to both students from the school and members of the Chang Rai youth orchestra. Most of the students sported violins, and were also flanked by a few upright bass players and guitar players. We picked a tune for them and then sat and listened to one of their traditional Thai melodies. We also heard a rendition of a popular Coldplay tune as played by the local guitar duo in the workshop.
The Earth Stringband then split into a few groups and focused on teaching one tune, Seneca Falls Square Dance. Even though we love teaching together, it’s cool to see each of the guys’ personality come through in the teaching. Andy led his vioin orchestra through the melody phrase by phrase and implemented some fiddle-chopping techniques while Sam was in the room next door honing the bass flatpicking techniques he himself has been mastering over the years. Eric was hanging out with everybody, picking with the bass guys and jamming with the violins.
He came into my room later on to help out with some of the vocal improvisation my group was working on. I learned that we also had piano, saxophone and drumset players present on top of just guitar players so the melody in my group was taught through voice. After learning to sing the whole melody, we delved into melodic conversations, switching off everybody’s version of the A part of the Seneca Falls Square Dance.
One of the guitar players’ Steve Vai influence was apparent as he improvised his own little twangs into the Seneca Falls melody. We also encouraged each person to imitate their specific instrument as they sang the variations. There’s always a little place for distortion and whammy bars in fiddle tunes.
We returned to the hotel after a nice lunch at the local hospital. We thought this might be the best place for Sam to try exotic fish which he’s mostly been avoiding due to allergic-reaction-potential. We thought there’d probably be no better place to have your throat close up than the local Thai hospital(health tourism is huge here!). Sam still avoided the seafood however, probably for the better.
After the lunch and a short break we geared up for sound check. The concert tonight ended up being a huge success. Between all the publicity help we got from the Mah Fah Luang university, the city of Chang Rai, and the US embassy we were able to practically fill up a whole 1400 seat hall. Tonight was also my personal foray into the thai language arena.
We totally appreciate the translators who have helped us at all the gigs, but there’s no greater feeling than uttering a few seemingly meaningless syllables and hearing the crowd react with a radical passion. The music tonight also felt really inspired between the band members. We’ve decided to use microphones and put them all really close together to match the same kind of vibe we have when we’re playing together in our rooms back home in Brighton.
Even though we can’t crank the volume like we can with pickups on the instruments, I felt that the intimacy of the stage setting allowed for a nice connection between us and the big audience.
The show was followed by a warm meet-and-greet. We got to talk to people of all ages and everybody was so gracious and welcoming.
Learning so much about the language and being able to share all this music in Thailand was a great reminder of the good times that are yet to come. I think we’re all starting to gain a true appreciation for the workshop environment and seeing how between music and select phrases in the local language you can communicate an infinite amount of information. Tomorrow we play at the ambassador’s residence in Bangkok and then we’re off to Cambodia! Til next time…
Beautiful song played by a long neck woman near Chang Rai
Our third full day in Vientiane! Stash here enjoying a break before we go out to dinner with Mike Pryor, our Deputy Public Affairs Officer over at the US embassy. Today was an activity filled day with many lessons learned by all in the Earth StringBand. The day started with a workshop at Laos’ school of Music and Dance, the first official workshop the Earth StringBand has done. Being the first workshop, there was a definite nervous vibe in the air since we’d never taught to an audience that didn’t speak English, but the good stringband energy was channeled through the thick humidity and we were all sweating through our shirts before kicking off our first tune.
Since we were at the school of Music and Dance we were lucky enough to play with some very talented musicians. The instrumentation included gongs, xylophones, little ringy cymbals, and a cool drum played by a dude with cool hair; I think a Mohawk would suit this guy well. Instead of describing the music I’ll let the music speak for itself (Check video below!). There’s no doubt Lao music is an earthy concoction for the ages. We taught these guys the Earth StringBand’s version of Cotton-Eyed Joe. The lao music men learned the melody within minutes and were literally slamming it up to speed with that funky Laotian backbeat like it was their business.
The workshop soon moved to an awesome dance session. After Eric showed a few students how to do a basic shuffle step for fiddle tunes, one of the directors at the school got up and showed us how to dance a traditional Lao dance to the melody of Cotton Eyed Joe. With Eric posing as my female counterpart, they lead us through a dance that resembled a good old American square dance. At that point my pants had acquired very large sweat stains. I didn’t even realize one could sweat through one’s legs so much.
Finally, we invited the musician students to come and play with us at our concert tomorrow at the Vientiane Cultural Center. We all met later in the day at the Cultural center to rehearse our pieces and learned a beautiful Laotian folk song taught by the same students who learned Cotton-Eyed Joe earlier in the day. Wow, what an incredible tune! It’s one of those very triumphant melodies that makes you want to weep and laugh as you cross some sort of finish line, maybe after experiencing a tragedy. To top it all off, a woman by the name of saria brought 4 little girls to dance a traditional Lao dance to the song which radiated cuteness vibes across the whole 1500- seat hall.
Despite some small technical difficulties and Andy’s foray into fuse-replacement tactics on the mixing board, I think it’s safe to say today was an awesome unique workshop, and a true eye-opening experience both musically and personally. Check out the videos of our rehearsal and look out for some concert footage tomorrow. dang dang!
The Earth StringBand is intact and ready to go! Our faithful guide, Monak, missed her airplane to Boston this morning due to the rain but we’ll be meeting her in Minneapolis before our flight to Tokyo. We’re all looking forward to the 15 hours of flying! Dang Dang!
Today marks the first day of consuming Malaria medicine. This is a sure sign that in under 48 hours, The Earth StringBand will officially be off for Southeast Asia!
We’re almost 100% ready with all our equipment and generally having our things come together. We cannot wait to land on the other side of the world and spread the good stringband word!