A Man Called Ove

A couple of months ago, a friend recommended the book, A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. I had not been able to get my hands on it and thought it must be a really good book, so popular that it was always on loan at all the libraries I visited. Then, last week, I saw it squeezed tight between two larger books on a shelf. I pulled it out, not without some difficulty, and somewhat to my disappointment, found that the font was miniscule. I considered putting it back, but decided otherwise.

This book is translated from the Swedish. I usually do not like reading translated works as there is always something (which I can’t describe) missing. I’ve experienced this many times, reading English books translated into Chinese or vice versa. Since A Man Called Ove came highly recommended, I decided to read it (though I did not enjoy Backman’s Britt-Marie Was Here, which I read last month).

To my chagrin, I found that each chapter in the book is an individually crafted short story, so the book is basically a series of interlinked short stories and not one lengthy novel of the kind I prefer. Still, I must say some of them are humorous and comic while others are warm and tender. There is also a certain charm amidst the wry descriptions and heartwarming tale.

Because my friend had sent me an excerpt (a typed copy of Chapter 1), and I loved what I read, I had high expectations of the book. Hence I felt quite let-down after all. Two things I didn’t enjoy in the book are the cat (a stray that would have died if not for Ove’s neighbours) and a chap called Jimmy (an overweight neighbour). Some parts are repetitive and not quite as funny as they should have been; but maybe I’m just as curmudgeonly as Ove?


Original Compositions by YSTCM Students

Within a fortnight, I witnessed seven talented students from the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music (YSTCM) performing their original compositions on various instruments.

Yesterday, I was at the Asian Civilisations Museum for a lunchtime concert:

A project for the students who did this module of Jazz with Dr Tony Makarome was to compose jazz music for a live performance. Of the six, two are Piano majors, one doing a new major in Music Collaboration, one a Communications major and one a Business major. One performer (the flautist) is from an earlier batch but now taking a secondary jazz module and requested to be part of the concert. I was very impressed by the students’ compositions and performance.

Lau’s “Colonial Blues” is reminiscent of colonial golf clubs, Victor’s “Javanese Batik” is pleasant, rhythmic and intricate (and got me tapping my feet), Chiew’s “Shades of Srivijaya” is in a Bossa Nova style that suits the beach/resort atmosphere, Cui’s “Accidental Independence” is jovial and inspiring, Ong’s “East India Company” is in a swinging style with wonderful chords and chord progression , and Mok’s “Raffles’ Dream” is romantic, dreamy and smoky.

The performance also includes standards like Romberg & Hammerstein’s “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise”, Churchill & Morey’s “Someday My Prince will Come”, Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and Roger & Hart’s “Have You Met Miss Jones?” (not listed in the programme).

Two Sundays ago, I attended a piano recital by Mervyn Lee ( a Piano Major at YSTCM). The only time I spoke to Mervyn was more than half his lifetime ago, when he was about 9 years old, when I happened to sit next to him at the YSTCM for an evening performance and he was there with his teacher (Dr Thomas Hecht). I was already in awe when he performed as a soloist with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra the following year as he had written his own cadenza for the concerto that he was playing.

That Mervyn is a talented and outstanding performer is without question (having won several competitions); I was most eager to listen to his “In Flux” (for which he also won an award).

The programme for the day:

The Haydn piece is way more difficult than any of his sonatas, with zany virtuosity; the only thing I can say about the Beethoven is that there’s difficulty and then there’s difficulty; the passage work for the LH and the RH in mostly octaves in the Liszt etude is particularly difficult; the Massiaen is rhythmic, animated and hints of Jazz; and the final Liszt piece is a really formidable piece, executed with remarkable aplomb and mastery.

I look forward to more such performances by young local talents.

Crazy Rich Trilogy

More than two months after library@harbourfront opened its doors, I finally made my first visit. To my delight, I found a much sought-after book at the Singapore Collection: Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians. I devoured it in two days.

The next day, I visited my usual haunts (two public libraries that I frequent in my neighborhood) and got hold of the other two books in the Crazy Rich Trilogy: namely, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

All three books are mesmerising. They are truly well-written, satirical and delectable. Crazy Rich Asians the movie was a good adaptation but the book is definitely better, with all the details. The final scene in the book would probably serve as the opening scene in the Trilogy’s second installment on celluloid (I’m hoping there’s one).

I look forward to the sequels as I would like to see how they are going to be adapted for the big screen and how much the Singapore actors and actresses (in particular Pierre Png and Fiona Xie) are going to shine.

I am also curious if pianist Lang Lang and singers like Cyndi Lauper would have cameos in the film adaptation of China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, and how Hollywood is going to get Rich People Problems rated PG instead of M18 or R21.

Two Concerts

How often does one get to enjoy two fabulous free concerts within 48 hours in the Art District? Well, I did!

On Wednesday, I got to watch the Singapore Symphony Orchestra perform at the Victoria Concert Hall:

The programme was an exciting one; the pieces chosen were extremely colourfully orchestrated in different styles. The Ravel piece (Mother Goose) featured children’s fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb and Beauty and the Beast; the music is exotic, especially from the harp and contrabassoon.

The Adagio in G minor and two movements (Morning Mood and In the Hall of the Mountain King) of Peer Gynt (Grieg) are familiar tunes, often heard in movies, television and even advertisements. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol is a Russian piece with Spanish influence which showcased many individual instruments as soloists; most notably, the flute, clarinet, oboe, violin and harp.

Today, I attended a Piano performance at the Asian Civilisations Museum. Seven pianists played pieces by Scarlatti (Sonata in D Major, K.96 & Sonata in D minor, K.141), Schubert (Sonata No.13 in A Major, 1st movement), Muczynski (Toccata Op. 15), Beethoven (Sonata in E Major, Op. 109), Schumann (Bunte Blatter, Op. 99, Movements I & II) and Chopin (Etude n F minor, Op.25 No.2 and Sonata in B minor, Op.58 1st movement). I was most impressed with the Chopin Sonata. I expect the performance of the complete sonata at his Senior Recital next month would be even better. I wonder if he would also play it at the Piano Extravaganza in June.

Let It Be Me: The Hits of Everly Brothers with Peter Chua

The moment I stepped into the Esplanade Recital Studio, I was startled to see no piano! Uh-oh, that means there will not be a pianist (in particular, one known as Mr Octopus) today, though there’s a small keyboard at one corner.

The moment Peter Chua appeared, he declared that he’d been waiting for fifty years for this show! I think he was referring to the Everly Brothers, because his last performance at the same venue was less than a year ago. (Creedance Clearwater Revival) I noted that his bandsmen were all different. The first song on the list was Birddog. Then came 17 other songs, including Hopelessly Devoted To You, Crying In The Rain, Walk Right Back, When Will I Be Loved and Wake Up Little Susie.

Two songs which brought nostalgia were All I Have To Do Is Dream and Try A Little Kindness; the first reminded me of an ex-student leader and choir member (now a top financial consultant who once dabbled with singing professionally) who won a school talentime with this song, and the latter reminded me of my time in another school which decided to use this song for the Courtesy Campaign month because I had taught this in my music class.

One pleasant surprise at the show was Peter Chua’s youngest son, Anthony. They sang Let It Be Me and Bye Bye Love together. I was really impressed by Anthony; definitely more so than his older brother (also named Peter) who sang a Glen Campbell number with his father a dozen years ago.

Peter Chua’s parting words were that he’d bring his daughter to sing in next year’s show; even making it a family affair. Well, I’m definitely looking forward to it! But, first, I’m waiting for the next show to commence…

When I left the library@esplanade, I saw many people streaming towards the Recital Studio. It was only 2.15 pm yet there was a long queue. In 15 mins, the venue was already 80% filled. No wonder another show is added at 7.30pm.

Not only was the audience more enthusiastic (albeit missing voluntary dancers), the band and singers were too! Almost the entire set list was duplicated, but they all sounded better. Perhaps it’s because I was in a better seat, perhaps the vocal cords were more open; the banter was definitely more lively, corresponding with their gait. I was even more impressed by Anthony this time; he definitely has the potential to turn professional. The only thing I missed was a real piano, even if it’s not the usual Steinway at the venue. The keyboard player could have better showcased his dexterity. (He reminded me of a pianist nicknamed Sexy Fingers.)

An additional treat was the very enthusiastic requests for an encore. The audience was clearly delighted at getting three (all Elvis Presley numbers); except for Blue Suede Shoes sung like the original, Peter Chua came up with his own lyrics for the other two (one in the Teochew dialect that I’m not fluent in, but I think loosely translates to mean Day By Day, sung to the tune of My Teddy Bear, and the other with humorous lyrics about “No More” to the tune of La Paloma).

The patron seated next to me was surprised that I’d attended both the morning and afternoon shows today, and that I’d been a fan since 1976 (the year Peter Chua took part in his first Talentime. He also took part in 1978 and 1980, hence gaining the monika Mr Talentime).

I eagerly anticipate the next Peter Chua concert, hopefully within the year!

The Fighter



Co-produced by Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter is a 2010 movie based on a true story of struggling boxer Micky Ward (Wahlberg) trying to live up to his older brother, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Against all odds, the two brothers come together to train for a historic title bout that has the power to reunite their fractured family and give them pride. Their explosive relationship threatens to take them both down, but the bond of blood may be their only chance for redemption.

I’m not into boxing, or most other sports, so I did not bother going to the cinema to watch this. However, I did enjoy the story and the acting which is very convincing, even from the supporting cast (including Amy Adams, Melissa Leo and the real Micky Ward).

There are several footage of the actual fights between Eklund and the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard (eg in Massachusetts in 1978 and 1993), which lend credibility to the story. The music – from Bee Gees’ I Started a Joke to the numerous percussive tracks by Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and original soundtracks – add to the intended mood and atmosphere. The fights are well choreographed (though I must admit I fast-forwarded some of them because I’m not into boxing), especially those between Ward and his opponents at various venues. The trainers and stunt doubles did a great job, so did the people in charge of the special and visual effects to make the scenes authentic.

This is a story of a family that has been through a lot. It is rather powerful and dramatic – the love between two brothers, the adversity they face, overcoming odds and redemption.

The Reality Street: Book of Sonnets



This anthology of linguistically innovative sonnets written by British poets and edited by Jeff Hilson (a senior lecturer in Creative Writing in Roehampton University, London) is one of the books available for loan at the Leaky Pot Poetry Workshop recently.

It is not just another modern sonnet anthology. It delves more thoroughly into the myriad ways poets have stretched, deconstructed and re-composed the venerable form: free verse sonnets, prose sonnets, offbeat takes on the sonnet tradition and even visual and concrete sonnets.

Some points for me to remember:

  • The sonnet has become a focal point for some of the issues surrounding the so-called poetic wars.
  • As a form the sonnet is fiercely guarded; to disturb the sonnet form (14 lines, octave & sestet, rhyming couplets, volta etc) is to endanger the foundations of the wider poetic tradition.
  • Some sonnets are objects of fear and wonder.
  • Milton “cultivates” the Italian sonnet.
  • Wordsworth gives the form “organic life”.
  • Gerald Manley Hopkins gives more to a consideration of content.
  • Sonnets written by women poets are engaged in lyric ideology, beauty and pleasure. For example, Bernadette Mayer’s sonnets come in all shapes and sizes and refuse to be bound by conventional forms, except for her repeated use of the couplet.
  • The different linguistically innovative sonnet especially in other cultures such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Fro example, Peter Minter and Michael Farrell (Australians) use the sonnet to extend and consolidate, practise innovating with inherited form.
  • A radical defamiliarisation of the form, to “make it new” in poems by E E Cummings and Louis Zukofsky.
  • Syntax becomes increasingly disjunctive, disturbed by punctuation (hyphen-dashes, question and exclamation marks, italics, parenthesis, ellipses, colons, semi-colons and so on).
  • Effect is the opening up of a traditionally closed form. Content is led not by the traditional lyric subject but by letting language go.
  • Form is a heightening of poetic artifice but which the lyric subject is not natural or given by a performance.
  • Popularity of the sonnet sequence like those written in free verse and prose sonnets.
  • Sonnets are beautiful, as things “irritating annoying stimulating”.