Thursday, August 22, 2013

Taking Dance-Musicianship to a WHOLE new level...Intercontinentally

This past month, I had the honor to collaborate on a dance film project filmed in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. This entry is about the process from beginning to end. The steps I took, the hurdles I had to take, and most importantly, forcing myself to ignore the voices in my head.
This opportunity came about when William Lu needed a pianist who was familiar with Schubert's works. William is a talented dancer and choreographer I've crossed paths with many times. We have worked at the same studios, and he has taken many classes I've played for. However, we've never directly worked together. He has since relocated to Rotterdam, The Netherlands and creating another dance journey in another continent. Of course I jumped at the chance, not really knowing what I was jumping into.

William was at his last mile of his dance film, and hit a snag when getting the licensing to use Alfred Brendel's Schubert Moments Musicaux Op. 94 would be drawn-out and costly. Attached to the message, was a link to his rough cut of this beautifully done dance film. I told him I would look over the music before I agreed to it. Though, I was pretty certain I was going to say "Yes."

Before I did say yes to him, there were a few factors I had to consider. Schubert's Moment Musicals are pretty standard in the piano repertoire. Unfortunately, the ones he asked for are the ones I have never played. Considering I have spent 4 years in my teens pounding out the 4 Impromptus Op. 90, I figured Moment Musicals wouldn't be too difficult for me to learn quickly, and crank out a few recordings by the end of the month.

Then there's the technical side. My husband, Dan, listen to Brendel's recording and already had technical concerns. The recording is done in a large room with a 12-foot Steinway. My recording will be done in my loft, on my 5'2" Yamaha C1. How am I going to make my munchkin sound like a 12-foot Steinway in a large room?

I took the leap of faith and said, "I'll do it!" William and I mainly corresponded via Facebook messaging. We had one telephone conversation. He was thrilled I had agreed to do it, and quite frankly, I was shocked he trusted me enough to do this recording for him. I was also excited that I finally get to work with him, with the two of us being on opposite sides of the world. William had requested that the length of my version would match Brendel's version. Also, if there was a way to tweak a few things to help with transitions from one section to the other.

Find the Music. I hopped onto to IMSLP and found the music right away in public domain. Problem is, these editions are so old that the details are sometimes not accurate compared to the newer, 20th century editions done by folks who have done extensive research on performance practice. I knew I had to lean on Brendel's interpretation to guide me along the way for dynamics, articulations, and tempo references.

Do a plunk-through. Was it easy to pick up? Yes.

Re-score the music to a larger print so I can...
a) Play it off the iPad to avoid page-turn interruptions and noises that could be picked up by the microphones.
b) Scribble my own notes, such as visual cues, dynamic changes, time markers from the film, and dynamic changes.

Really take the time to learn the music. As an accompanist, we learn the music so quickly that we do gloss over the small details and miss a lot of notes. I am very guilty of it. Here was my chance to really take the time to learn these pieces, get it right, and get it into my body.

Learn the movement in the film. This was a challenge I wasn't 100% prepared for. There is a huge difference between a Dance Video and a Dance Film. A Dance Video is normally shot from one perspective. It's used for educational purposes. Ex: Bolshoi's Don Quixote would be a Dance Video.  A Dance Film however, sometimes tells a story, sometimes it's abstract, and sometimes they are a compilation of One's ideas formed into images. Therefore, a Dance Film isn't all "Tombé pas de bourrée, glissade, saut de chat!" It's more intimate. It's close-ups of a hand, or a gesture, or a look, a quick frame of an eyeball, it's not JUST dance.

Tagging the score with movement and visual cues, and time markers. This was also a challenge because again, it was mostly gestures. My music was filled with words like, "Look. Look. Look. Walk on back. Sit. Arm. Look. New frame. Head on tummy. Finger walk. Cross the street. Look. Arm Circle." Finally towards the end there were a few "Lunge. Pirouette. Grand Battement."

Put it all together. Movement + Visual Cues + Time Markers + Music = WHAT THE HELL DID I GET MYSELF INTO?!

Once I thought I had the music down, I realized I had to look up at the film where I marked my music. Ex: By the time the dancers cross theirs legs on the couch, I need to be here in the music. When she walks on his back, I need to hit this chord at this time, at this very moment. If I miss that cue, I miss the next cue. I have no meter to work off of. Just Visual Cues. My first play-through with the film streaming was filled with, "Shit I missed it! Shit, I was too fast! Shit, I missed it again. Ohmahgahd! This is so hard!" My tempo was all over the place. My dynamics and nuances that I thought sounded so brilliant in my own head all went out the window! My original plan to imitate Brendel was immediately scrapped. This is not as easy as it looks.

In a live performance, the dancers and I rely on each other and every performance is slightly different. In a film recording situation, I only have the film to guide me through the music, but it has to be the same and perfect every time. It's impossible!

Humor me: Turn on a random movie on Netflix, mute it, now play music over it and hit all the nuances when you see someone smile, someone cry, or someone in deep thought. It's HARD.

Then I thought to myself, am I making this harder than it is? I went to bed thinking, perhaps I should sing the music and record a click-track so when I record it, the timing will be JUST right. I woke up the following morning completely determined that this was the way to go about it.

(For those of you who do not know what a click-track is, it's a metronome done over film so you hit the music at the right points at the right time.)

That afternoon, I went-a-clicking. It was too hard. I couldn't do it. I was over complicating EVERYTHING!!!! That's when I realized my "solutions" to saving time was actually wasting time. I was trying to find short cuts when I should just practice while streaming the film.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Here is my set up...

Because my MacBook Pro was being used to record the actual music, I used my old white MacBook "Dino" for streaming.

I divided the sections and placed time markers in the music, so I was rehearsing about 16 measures at a time. Again, WHILE streaming the film. This way, it's easier to go back if I missed the "crossing of the legs" or the second chord when she's taking her second step on his back. After "perfecting" each section, I put it all together. Then I rehearsed it over and over and over and over again, annoying my neighbors and hearing their windows slam along the way.


There were lots of "what-ifs" going into the recording. When I was in grad school, my piano professor told me about a piece she had done with her chamber group in a music performance setting. Years later, her brother had done the same piece in a dance setting. She was completely perturbed by the performance because it sounded completely different because it had to work with the choreography. I feared that this would be one of those cases because this Schubert collection was so well-known. If this was being viewed by the world, how would the rest of the music community respond to my performance? On top of that, my teachers use to tear me apart about my technique, my "disregard" for accuracy, or the fact that when I play a chord, the notes don't always all go down at the same time. Shit. Even with this piece, I played the first chord repeatedly because I STILL can't make all the notes go down at the same time. Guess what? You'll hear it in the recording. The mics pick up EVERYTHING. Finally I realized, this is what every performer goes through. The Voices. Well, I gave those voices The Finger and proceeded forward.

At the end of week one, it was go-time for the first piece of music. The tuner came to do some fine tuning, and actually spent some extra time on it to make sure my munchkin was ready for a recording session. Dan turned our living room and loft into a make-shift recording studio. The loft was covered in ugly blankets we don't even let our guests use to isolate the sound. (I'm not allowed to post those pictures. Sorry) We also had mic chords draped over the banister, connecting it all to the mixer down below in our living room. We put our dogs in their kennels and pushed them into Dan's office. They normally sleep in the loft.

Film cued. Music cued. Ready. Set. Rolling. Record.

This is what happens when you don't have a fancy recording studio and have a make-shift recording studio in your home:

-My Dino-White-MacBook's fan started to spin because I had been rehearsing with it all day. Dino was tired. The mics picked up the noise. We had to put Dino to "sleep" for  5 minutes before we tried to record again.
-My dogs started to talk in Dan's office. My boxer sounds like Chewbacca when he talks. "Let me out! Why am in in here? This sucks! I can hear you outside. You didn't even leave the house. So why I am in here? Let me out!" Yes. I can understand Dog. My neurotic rescued-Pekingese was scratching her kennel because that's what she does.
-My creepy next door neighbor decided to rev up his hog in his garage, and the exhaust crept into my house. It smelled like Disneyland's Autopia. ::cough cough::
-My creepy next door neighbor has like, 10 bird feeders in his yard and birds decided to congregate DURING my recording session.
-My neighbor behind me has cages and cages of bunnies and hamsters and they were making all sorts of cage noises.
-My neighbor behind me also has a little yipper-dog that wouldn't shut up.
-A plane flew by.

Then there was my own performance. If I was a little late on a visual cue, I had to start all over again. If I hit all the visual cues and hit a wrong note close to the end, I had to start all over again. If I had a perfect take and my boxer started speaking Wookian, I had to start all over again.

(Sidebar: Despite all the noise interruptions, I have to give a shout-out to AirTurn because that pedal didn't make a noise during the recording session. Kudos!!!!)

The first recording session took 6 hours with many noise interruptions and mistakes and missed cues. However, we were able to pull three good takes that I deemed passable to send to William for approval.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

The second chunk of music was a lot easier than the first chunk. It was an excerpt of No. 6 in the collection so I didn't have to re-score the whole piece. It took less time to learn, and less time to record. The challenge in the second recording session was having to remember how the mics and mix were set up the first time. Then it had to be mixed down to sound like the other recording so there was some form of continuity. But at the end, I was again, able to send off four takes for approval.

The film is now in its final stages. I am excited to see what the end product will be like. It was an amazing experience to be able to do this intercontinentally. Ideally, I would've loved it if I was able to fly to Europe to do this recording and have William just tell me when to speed up and slow down. But at the same time, I have never done an actual performance with my own piano before. How many times have I said to my piano teachers, "It sounded better when I did this at home!"

I am very thankful that I got to do this project. It was a learning experience for me. But most importantly, I am thankful William trusted me with his baby.

I cannot wait to share the film with you all.

Becca Wong

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mr. One-Note Wonder

Profanity used. You were warned. 

Confession: I am almost certain that I chose to be a musician in the Dance World as oppose to the Music World is because I am the worst when it comes to accuracy at the piano. Let's face it, 90% of dancers aren't going to know that you missed a note unless it's obvious. When it is obvious, you get the "look" from the whole ballet class. I know I'm the worse with accuracy because I've been told so, by all my piano teachers who's ever taught me. These mistakes aren't fatal mistakes, but seriously, ONE F*CKING NOTE. ONE. To be fair, the pieces I studied as a piano student are the standards in Piano Music Literature. Therefore, these are pieces my teachers have heard a million times and they know when a wrong note is struck. I can also recall having arguments with my teachers about the one stupid note and completely neglect the fact that I put my heart and soul into it. But in the Dance World? No one knows that I missed a note. But they do acknowledge the fact that I have somehow inspired them. When that happens, my job is done.

I think enough time has passed that I can actually write about Mr. One-Note Wonder.

It was four years ago before I had my iPad named Boyfriend. I was still lugging a huge ass binder around. Mind you, this was my updated super thick binder I had spent countless hours on. At that point, a few people had commented on how I am able to carry this monstrosity around from one job to the next. Some people even took the time to flip through my music to appreciate the organization and time that went into my binder. So perhaps I let that whole "I spent so much time on it" get to my head.Wait, no. Not "perhaps." I DID let it get to my head. It was my blood and sweat.

So here's what happened.

It was a Tuesday morning adult class. I came strolling in, and I set my bag down next to the piano like I always do. A few ladies greeted me with a few smiles and "hello's". I pulled my huge ass binder out and set it on the piano. With a few minutes to spare, I pulled out my phone to see what my Facebook friends were up to. Nothing interesting. Someone went to Starbucks. Someone ate toast. Someone's kid barfed all over the house. Ew. Then I looked up to see a guy approaching me. There was no greeting. No, "Hello, how are you?" No smile. He approached me with an agenda.

Him: Can I see your Chopin Waltz in c# minor?
Me: Um...sure! 
[Opened my binder to the waltz and stepped aside as he sat down at the piano]
Him: [Scans through my music with his finger and stops at the top of the second page] You got this note wrong. Why?
Me: Wha..Um...Uh...Daa...Aai...Uh...Human Error?! 
Him: Well, then fix it.  [Walks away]

ASSHOLE!!!!!! And a few other choice-words.

I sat there dumbfounded about what just happened. All those moments of me arguing with my old piano teachers came rushing back. IT'S ONE F*CKING NOTE, DAMMIT!

Here's the thing, I'm totally cool with people pointing out my mistakes. I make them ALL THE TIME. It even happened during a grad school audition, and I humbly apologized, fixed the mistake, and I still got accepted. But it was the way Mr. One-Note Wonder approached me. He came over with a Plan of Attack. He pointed out my mistake as if to put me in my place. Then. He. Walked. Away. WTF?!

It SHOULD HAVE happened like this.

Him: Hello! How are you doing today?
Me: Fine. What's up?
Him: Can I see your Chopin Waltz in c# minor? It's been really bothering me. But in this passage, it's should be this note. And I've been hearing this note instead.
Me: Oh BALLS! Thanks for letting me know! I really appreciate it. Dammit Becca Wong!  

Then I would've made 30 circles with a red pen around that spot, and on my spare time, play that measure over and over again until it's in my muscle memory.

See? How hard was that?

Here's another thing. If only I were a tall and large male pianist with sausage fingers, this would not have happened. This only happened because I'm a short, Asian female, and I look a lot younger than I really am. Damn you, Asian Skin!

It's true.

I remembered taking class with a well-seasoned colleague playing for the class. This guy is fabulous. He's been doing it for as long as I've been alive. All the teachers love him, and use his CDs when he's not available to play for class. He's also a very tall and large man. I remembered him playing a Chopin Waltz in Eb Major during Ronds de Jambe one day, and I was so distracted at the fact that the only recognizable thing was the melody. It was like hearing an old man tell a story. The outlines of the main points are still there. The details however, were an interesting variation of the original. Once I got over the initial shock of "Those aren't the notes!!", I was able to carry on. The music served a purpose. I was Ronds de Jambe-ing. And I thought to myself, Mr. One-Note Wonder wouldn't DARE walk up to this tall and large Eastern European man and tell him he's playing his Chopin Waltz all wrong. There would be lots of words exchanged, and a dramatic exit.

Since that little incident occurred, I started to watch Mr. One-Note Wonder more carefully during class. I wanted to see how good or bad of a dancer he was, since he was so quick to fix my one-note. I also made sure not to play that waltz in front of him ever again because I don't need him fixing my one-note. When he dances, he's always a beat behind. BEHIND. Musicality much? Ironic, no?

My point of the story?

In both Dance and Music worlds, we strive for perfection. One little mistake, and we go pound our heads on the pavement. We have one off-day, and we go crying in a bathroom stall.  At least I use to.  Now I just take it to Facebook and broadcast my mishaps. But for the sake of artistry, can we simply let go of one little mistake and remember why we are here in the first place?

I'm here to make music. I'm here to dance. I'm here to move you, the audience. I'm also here to be inspired by the beautiful people around me.

Yes, perfection is important, but we have to give ourselves a little bit of slack. One of the teachers I play for said it best. For one, his approach is a little backwards. I love him for it. He teaches his students how to move first, before fixing the little things like, "Point your foot, engage your back, turn out, turn out, balance, hold it, hold it, HOLD IT!!! Higher, higher, no higher..." No, he tells his students, "Just dance! Just! Move!"

Then he said something I will always remember: Feed the Spirit first. Then feed the body.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Being the YES Girl

Kids, never take the opportunities you have for granted.


Because you never know where those opportunities will lead you.

Without further ado, here comes a massive Name-Drop session. This is not to boast about my accomplishments. Well, maybe just a little. A little. But mostly because you can accomplish beyond what you ever dreamed your life would be.

Back in 1998, when I still lived in Fresno with my parents, I was flipping through the 7 watchable TV channels we received from our rabbit-ear antenna. I stopped at Channel 18, our local PBS station because there was something beautiful happening before my very eyes. I didn't know what I was watching at the time, but it was gorgeous and I couldn't keep my eyes off of it. I immediately pushed "record" on my VCR (Yes kids, before DVR, we had VCRs) and it recorded over whatever I already had on that VHS. Because it was THAT beautiful. It was three men, on a darken stage, accompanied by a Piano Waltz, and there was a rose. I think I must've watched this program a hundred times. I remember thinking, "That world is untouchable." In high school, we were shown a lot of dance videos by our dance and colorguard instructors of ballet and modern to educate us and inspire us. They were performances of Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, and New York City Ballet. It was great to have these videos because these companies NEVER come into town. So this world to me, was untouchable. 

Fast-forward to 2002 when I was asked by Riverside Community College's Dance Program to play for their dance classes, that lead me to move out of the Inland Empire into Orange County. There, one teacher introduced me to another, and another, and never once, did I say "No" because I just wanted to work in dance. It eventually lead me to play for a random spur-of-the-moment Master Class with Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner. At the time, I thought to myself, "I know they are kind of a big deal even though their names aren't familiar to me." When I told a friend who I played for the previous day, she just about dropped to the floor and said, "You know who they are? They are the ones who did 'Leaves Are Fading.' Have you seen it?" She then stuck in the DVD of Variety and Virtuosity: American Ballet Theatre Now, and I realized, "I have this! I recorded it on PBS and I must've watched it about 100 times." Then it hit me. Holy Sh*t! I just played for someone from that program I recorded in Fresno back in 1998. A few years after that conversation with my friend, I got a call asking me to play for Vladimir Malakhov. One of the three men in that "dance with the rose" that I know so well now as "Remanso." Who would've thought?!

I figured it out. Here I was, knowing I didn't have the virtuosity in dance to ever take class taught by these amazing people, I found a loophole to work WITH them AS a musician.

As I reflect on this last school year, I got to play for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the fourth year in a row. I know I am one of the lucky ones, but I also got here because I was in the right place, at the right time, and I said "Yes" to every opportunity as long as I was available. 

Sometimes it's very frustrating to me when I see dance students lay around because they "don't feel good" or complain about how certain teachers are mean to them, they have NO IDEA how lucky they are to have the opportunities they have. I see it. I came from a little town that only puts on Nutcracker at Christmas, and that was it. 

So kids, never take your opportunities for granted.

Because you might be able to touch that "untouchable" world.

Vladimir Malakhov (American Ballet Theater, Staatsballetl Berlin)
Sascha Radetsky (ABT, Center Stage (2000)) and Gennadi Saveliev (ABT, YAGP Founder)
Edward Villella (New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet Founder)
On Stage with Trey McIntyre Project
Matthew Rushing (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)
Company Class with Alvin Ailey

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Airturn vs. PageFlip Cicada - Update!!

First of all: I am not getting paid for this review nor my previous one.

I've been subscribing to one of the blogs I found that has a pretty good break down between these two pedals. I subscribe to it because I want to see what other people have to say about the pedals. That was where I initially voiced my personal experience with the PageFlip Cicada before I got my hands on an Airturn pedal.

To read that post, go here:
AirTurn vs. PageFlip Cicada - A Bluetooth Battle Showdown

(My comment is under "Rebecca." Just keep scrolling til you see it. Essentially, it's the same as my previous Post.)

George over at PageFlip Cicada is pretty quiet in the blogosphere, at least from my experience in trying to find comments by the makers of their product. I'm always curious to hear what they have to say, and have them clarify whatever the blogger has left out in their review. Hugh over at AirTurn on the other hand, is like me and Facebook. He's on top of it, and you always hear him drop a note to bloggers. Which I believe it's important to do because it shows that he takes a lot of pride in his product. Internet presence is important these days, People!

So, to actually hear George chime in on the blog-comments I subscribe to, I was pretty surprise and want to hear what he has to say:

"The newer versions of the Cicada (since July 2012) no longer require you to enter a passcode. Furthermore, these same versions allow you to expose the iPad’s virtual keyboard by simply pressing the button next to the current mode (the button next to the flashing light). Each time you press it, you expose/hide the virtual keyboard. Therefore, those arguments against the Cicada no longer apply. Also, we have NEVER had the plastic of the pedal break. Don’t let the lightness fool you. It is very durable. The Cicada has been in use by prize-winning musicians in prestigious venues around the world. It’s a great device, and you can’t beat the price difference."

There you have it!

To which Hugh responded:

"Hi George – interesting comment about the durability of the Cicada, given some of the contradictory experiences of other users:
Have you been able to address the noise issue yet with your newest version? Musicians on American Idol cannot afford to have any extra noise while turning pages on the TV set – that may be one reason why they are using AirTurn pedals:
Philip Phillips performs American Idol finals with AirTurn pianist
All the very best,

(Thanks for the shout-out) 
George's Respond: 

Your concerns about noise are unfounded. It certainly has not had an impact
on the Grammy award winning composers and performers who use the PageFlip Cicada. It did not have am impact with the world class musicians who have used the Cicada on the stages of Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, O2 in London, and many other venues around the world. In just the last few months, traveling bands with the Temptations, Cliff Richard, as well as Broadway musicians have been enjoying their PageFlip Cicada pedals. A DVD was made by one of the PageFlip users at the Sydney Opera House last month and noise was never an issue, otherwise they would not have used it.
I enjoy reading the comments we regularly receive from satisfied customers who value the benefits they derive from hands-free reading using their PageFlip Cicada pedals.

Some of our users have commented that they find it comfortable to actually rest their foot on the pedal, with the Repeat switch on the Off position. In that case, their foot never has to search for the pedal while they are concentrating on the music and they can simply release and press the pedal again to turn the next page. It’s a simple action that makes no noise whatsoever.

As for the issue of durability, some people have commented on the lightweight plastic, as if it is a concern that it would crack or break. There has never been one incident of plastic breaking. If any defect is found, we are quick to repair it. As Becky pointed out, we worked with her to attempt to resolve her issue. Her situation is odd because it involved her iPad losing Bluetooth connectivity. The flashing Bluetooth icon on her iPad is not a problem with a Bluetooth device not working, it is a problem with her iPad being able to maintain the pairing. Afterall, whether our pedal is on or off should not cause a Bluetooth icon on her iPad from turning off. She even alluded to some other problem her iPad had. I was so surprised by her experience that I used her returned pedal as my own personal pedal. The result: I have never had an issue with that pedal on my iPad2.

There are some mistaken ideas about the pedal’s impact on page-turning speed. As you and I know, the pedal simply emits a key press signal (just like a keyboard). Any delays in page turning are purely due to sluggish response of the software. This may be due to suboptimal programming, poor use of memory, wasteful storage of the sheet music in the pdf file, or an excessive number of apps running in the background that degrade performance. It simply is not due to slow emission of a keypress from the pedal, as this behavior is as instant as a keyboard.

You may not be aware of this but I’ve been contacted by a number of your
former users who have traded their Airturn pedals for PageFlip Cicadas. Several issues with their Airturn pedals were cited, including problems with Bluetooth pairing, cryptic use of buttons and lights to change profiles, incompatibility with Windows XP, and problems dealing with the rechargeable battery. Airturn, like any company, has clearly had to deal with people returning units due to defects or poor satisfaction. After all, where do you think the refurbished units come from that are available on Airturn’s website?

On the subject of batteries, some people on this blog have commented that they think using a rechargeable battery is somehow better. When designing the PageFlip Cicada we of course had a choice of using a rechargeable battery
but specifically opted not to. Instead, we went with a more reliable solution by using universally available AA batteries. The rationale was simple: we wanted to avoid having the hassles of constant recharging. In addition, what do you do when your rechargeable battery runs out in the middle of a show? You don’t have time to recharge it. However, you can always pop in two fresh batteries that you can carry as a backup. Furthermore, how do you monitor the charging level of rechargeable batteries? This fear causes people to distress about the state of their batteries and requires them to recharge excessively. I hear that Airturn users charge their units weekly. This is simply a matter that the user should not have to be concerned with. We designed the PageFlip Cicada to consume very little power. Therefore, it is not uncommon for one set of batteries to last about a year of heavy usage. When the batteries run low, the pedal lights emit a triple flash. Why would you subject yourself to weekly recharging rather than batteries that can last approximately a year? Any worries about endlessly replacing alkaline batteries are totally unfounded. No PageFlip Cicada user ever claimed that their batteries ran out of juice in anything closely resembling the recharging period for the Airturn pedal!

There are people on both sides of the fence regarding their like/dislike of the pedal motion. Many users like the added travel distance of the Cicada rather than the imperceptible gap of the Airturn. It’s a matter of preference. However, it should be noted that we do support two 1/8″ mono outlets in which you can plug a pedal of your choice.

The bottom line is that the Cicada and Airturn pedals meet the needs of their respective user bases and offer hands-free page turning solutions. Check out a recent survey I co-authored about page turning solutions (including mechanical options). You can download it from

PageFlip is attentive to the needs and feedback of its users. We plan to announce some exciting new developements soon. I will post to this blog to share the details. In the meantime, PageFlip is glad to offer coupons to interested folks who want to try us out. Please contact me at and I would be happy to get you set up."


So what do I have in response to these comments?

For the record: NEVER CALL ME BECKY!

My husband, who works in the Production and Tech world said it best:

"You know, I've mixed for famous musicians who use shit-gear. Just because you are an amazing musician, doesn't mean you know your gear. Manufacturers are always throwing free gear at artists to get them endorse it."

Bottom-line, I still choose Airturn over PageFlip Cicada simply based on what happened to me in performance. Even though I have a 1st-Gen iPad, and forScore crashed on me during the production of Millie, I never lost the Bluetooth connection. Now, I understand that price may be a factor in making that decision. I have been asked by colleagues about my experience of the two pedals, and some chose the Airturn, some chose PageFlip, and some decided to stick to old-school paper because paper doesn't "disconnect." They are both great devices. I did enjoy using PageFlip the one year I had it if it wasn't for it failing on me.

Word of advice, if you do decide on the PageFlip, keep your box to travel in.

Here is a great video from Chris Burke who prefers the PageFlip over Airturn:

(Take note: Every time he picks up the PageFlip, it clacks.)

On that note: I'm off to LA to play for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Music Center.

Happy Playing!

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Aftermath of Getting Stiffed

Disclaimer: My intentions are never to drag someone's name through the mud. Therefore, no names are mentioned other than mine. 

That's right, People! I got stiffed this weekend. I am left asking, "What now? What did I do wrong? How can anybody do what they did and still be able to sleep at night?" I tell myself, there is nothing that can be done, other than to wash my hands of it and continue onward.  BUT, I'M STILL FUMING!!!!!!!

So. Here's what happened.

Two weeks ago, an acquaintance contacted me (via Facebook) to help her rehearse a few songs for a show that happened yesterday. Because of my busy schedule, I gave her the option to record rehearsal tracks for her. When I threw that option out there, I never heard from her again until three days before her big show. Three days, People! She messaged me and said she totally blinked, she was desperate because she didn't know some of the songs, and didn't read one lick of music. To help a friend of a friend out, I agreed to record tracks for her. Because she was a friend of a friend's, I charged her a huge discounted rate. That being 50%. My first MISTAKE.

A Friday night mind you..I could've been lounging with Husband to wind down the week, catching up on shows we saved on Hulu. But no, I spent a good 6 hours, (4.5 chargeable hours) in front of my Roland, MacBookPro, and wearing these GAWD awfully heavy headphones, and I went-a-plunkin'. Not to mention, I had the worse case of sinus-somethin'-or-other-induced headache. I sent off 5 10-second tracks to her around midnight with the final total. Even at 4.5 hours, I still knocked it down to $100. My second MISTAKE.

Here is my policy for my tracking services:

1) I charge by the hour.
2) I send off sample clips of what I've completed, and once I have received a payment via PayPal, I send off the full tracks.

I immediately got a response saying that she was not expecting to pay $100, but was only expecting to pay $25 and a "little bit of a rush charge." My heart dropped. Here's the kicker, she was expecting me to push record on my iPhone and plunk out a bunch of songs in under and hour and send it off to her with a crap-ton of wrong notes. I don't do that. I'm a professional. I make PROFESSIONAL rehearsal tracks. I was tired, I was sick, and I wanted to cry. Just so I can go to bed a little quicker, I said to her if $25 is all she can afford, $25 it is. I then canceled my PayPal invoice of $100, and resent a $25 invoice. My third and fourth MISTAKE.

After not seeing a reply from her, 1AM was rolling around, I just said, "Eff it. She's pissed off. I'll just send her my effing tracks so I can get on to bed. I spent too much time tracking these songs to not go to use." Tracks. Sent. My fifth MISTAKE. 

Since the final tracks were sent, I never heard from her again. I figured it was because she was too pissed off to talk to me. I didn't sleep well that night. I woke up feeling sick to my stomach. It was probably a combination of my sinus-somethin'-or-other-induced headache, or the reality of losing $100. I was hoping between sending the tracks off last night to the following morning, that I would get a Paypal receipt saying that a payment has been made. NOTHING. No Facebook message, no emails, NOTHING.

Around the afternoon, my STUPID-SELF decided to be the bigger person, after weighing in on the fact that I was not straight up about how long it would take to record those tracks. I sent a final email to her saying to please have the tracks ON ME due to the fact that I neglected to tell her EXACTLY what my services and charges were. It was MY MISTAKE to assume that she knew the definition of what a rehearsal track is. My sixth and FINAL MISTAKE.

Sunday rolled around. I was still licking my wounds. I told our mutual friends what happened, and all they could really do was repeatedly say "Sorry" to me. (Side bar: No one should ever have to apologize for someone else's asinine behavior!) I distracted myself by having friends come over, cooking a nice meal for them, and we had an awesome marathon of American Horror Story. It was fun. But like Charlie Brown, I had this rain-cloud over my head. At this point, all I wanted was a, "Thank you!"

Today, as I went to work, I remembered Said Person telling me that she is really good friends with my Boss Lady. I have nothing to lose. I went to Boss Lady's office, and asked how good of friends she was with Said Person.

Boss Lady: Who?
Me: Said Person
Boss Lady: I don't know who that is.
Me: Well, according to her, you two are great friends. She said you even powdered her boobs once. She use to work here.
Boss Lady: I don't know who that is.
Me: I was really hoping you two were actually great friends so you can hound her for stiffing me.

Then she proceeded to holler at Other Two Bosses in the office next door and told them to come in.

Boss Lady: Do you know Said Person?
Other Two Bosses: Oh yes! Not with good reviews though. Why?
Me: She stiffed me.
En Masse: I'm so sorry!!!!

They proceeded to recall why she no longer worked there, and it was best that everybody parted their own ways. They also said that any GOOD PERSON would at least try and pay the $25, even though I comped her on the whole thing.

Here's another kicker. When I asked Other Two Bosses to define what a rehearsal track means, this is what they said.

1) A performance quality track. Piano Only
2) $25+ per song
3) Two tracks normally provided per song. One with melody. One with accompaniment only.

When I told them she thought I would just push record on my iPhone and plunk out 5 songs back to back in an hour, and send off a huge track with a bunch of wrong notes, they all said, "NO PROFESSIONAL IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD SEND OFF A TRACK A MORON CAN DO THEMSELVES."

There was some consolation to all this. The Theater world is very small. The Bosses are very well connected, and are "in the loop" of all future castings happening in Southern California. They also told me that Said Person's name will be dropped at future castings if she were to show up. Ouch.

Moral of the story:
1) Never bypass business policies when someone "in need" contacts me.
2) Treat my business like A BUSINESS.
3) 50% upfront. Always. And Forever.

Lesson. Learned.

Til' Next time, Y'alls.

P.S. I am trying to recover the loss. So if you are in need of the follow tracks (Piano Only), please contact me at

Phantom of the Opera
Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again
Light at the End of the Tunnel
Unexpected Song

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Let Me Get Something Straight!

Dear Dancers,

Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I love the people I work with, and I love the copious amount of valuable information I have absorbed from them. In fact, I can confidently say that along with my fellow Dance Musicians, we have put in more dance hours than most dance students.  Therefore, there are things that need to be aired. Things that I really shouldn't see, and things that shouldn't happen in a dance class. I'll start with the more serious matters first.

1) The Musician Does Not Exist

This is probably the biggest issue I have with students, because it affects me directly. First of all, I am a human being. I am not a part of a wall. I am not a robot. I am not an iPod. I am not a machine. I am a real-life person playing music for your dance class. Most schools that have a dance program do not have the resources to pay for a live musician. So you are very lucky to be able to attend a school that utilizes REAL people playing music for you.  Please don't take us for granted. We deserve some respect.

Here is a list of things that I personally have experienced that proves that my presence doesn't make one bit of difference to them.

a) The piano is furniture
When I find the dancer's schtuff ALL OVER the piano, and piano bench, and every available space around the piano. One time, I actually picked up a student's "spread" and moved it across the room. She was so mad at me that still to this day, refuses to walk up to the piano and thank me like the rest of the class.

Oh, and yesterday, someone actually stuck GUM on the side of the piano. 

b) Attitude (Behavior, not the position)
My job as a Dance Musician is to communicate with the teacher to get a tempo, meter, and appropriate music for you. I write EVERYTHING down in class in case we repeat the same thing in the next class. I know exactly what I played. Not every Dance Musician does this. I do. I have gotten smartass remarks from a student when I was trying to talk to the teacher as she was trying to figure out how to count a certain phrase. I had a student in front of me telling me I'm wrong. You know, I might be wrong, but I might also be right. It's not your place to tell me that. It's also not your place to tell me I'm going too fast or too slow. Please tell the teacher, and have the teacher tell me. That's how it works. So I don't want you snapping your fingers in front of me. It's annoying. And RUDE.

I've also gotten countless eyerolls, the "What a bitch!" under-the-breath whispers when I nicely ask people NOT to stand in front of me. This has happened in almost all the schools I have played for. There has only be ONE time where I didn't mind the look-of-death from a dance student. The only reason why she got away with it, was because she was 8, and she was so darn adorable. But for the rest of you, you're an adult.  Act like it!

c) Sh*t Dancers Say
Are dancers not aware that I am there and I can hear them?

"I hate it when so-and-so plays for our classes because so-and-so plays the same thing over and over again. Sooo boring!"
"This teacher is soooo mean to me! She can be such a bitch sometimes!" 
"She keeps telling me I need to pull my spatulas together. I can't find my SPATULAS!!" 
And my favorite:
"OMG! I totally didn't do my Doodie-Duty this morning. I feel soooo bloated!" 

d) The Ballet Wall
Please Read On...

2)  The Ballet Wall

I guess this is no longer a secret. I have a collection of photos I have taken since 2010 of dancers forming a wall in front of me. This all started when I got tired of saying, "Excuse me!" or "Please don't stand in front of me." or "Mooooooove it!" with no result. I just threw my hands up in the air and said to myself, "That's it! I'm done being nice! I'm taking a picture of the wall, and posting it on Facebook."  If my dance friends see the pictures, they tell their fellow dancers what I do when I play for their classes, and behold, the wall is gone. Most of the time.

Some of the awesome teachers I work with actually tell their students, "A picture of your behind ends up on Facebook when you form a wall in front of Becca!" The wall quickly parts like the Red Sea. Most of the time.

3) Boys with no dance-belts

For non-dance people, you might be asking: What is a dance-belt? It's a jock-strap for dance. A sports bra for men. It essentially keeps your huevos in a basket. 'Nough said.

Luckily, this hasn't been much of an issue for me anymore since I no longer play at community colleges where you get random members of the community taking classes. I had one old man who sported a tight unitard with no dance-belt, who would come up to the piano, and throw his leg onto the piano to stretch. His ::cough:: would be right in my face. Gross. After asking him nicely to please do not use the piano as a barre because it's a musical instrument. Mr. Old-Unitard would repeatedly swing his ::cough:: in my face, I finally yelled at him one day and I don't feel bad about it.

Then a couple of years ago while working at an university, I can only assume this poor kid forgot to do his laundry or he ran out of dance clothes on a Friday. He waltzed into class with no dance-belt, and wearing bright yellow tights. That year, it happened too many times with too many male students, at that specific school.
Okay people, you need to understand this. I am sitting. I'm at ::cough:: level. Please be mindful of this, and show up with support.

I can only imagine that dancing without a dance-belt probably feels a little bit like doing Shawn-T's Insanity without Lululemon's Tatatamer, in fact...without ANY bra.

Finally, this whole entry was brought on today because I heard the b-word being passed from one person to the next when I kindly ask them not to stand in front of me. I can only take that for so long. These are little things that the teacher don't always see because he/she is busy TEACHING. Please have some consideration and show a little appreciation for your Dance Musician. She really loves her job, and takes it very seriously. In fact, she looks forward to going to work everyday, and seeing all you beautiful dancers doing beautiful work. Please be nice, and take 5 seconds out of your busy dance schedule and thank the musician playing for your class. Not just me. But for ALL my fellow colleagues. We all take pride in what we do, and sometimes we simply want to be acknowledged. And please boys, put your huevos in a basket.

Becca Wong