Andras Schiff Piano Masterclass


Awarded a Knighthood for Services to Music by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in the 2014 Birthday Honours, Hungarian Sir Andras Schiff is a world-renowned and critically acclaimed pianist, conductor, pedagogue and lecturer. His Piano Masterclass, held on the afternoon of Day 3 of the Performer(‘) Present Symposium, drew a packed hall. It was indeed a privilege to be among the observers, and it must have been an unforgettable experience for the three students who played Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann.

Beethoven : Sonata No 28 in A major, Op 101

I. Etwas lebhaft, und mit der innigsten Empfindung: Allegretto, ma non troppo

II. Lebhaft, marschmasig: Vivace all marcia


Sir Schiff’s first comments about the Year 4 students’ playing was “Very good, Very very good” and felt that “the problem is the second movement is too beautiful”. So he decided to work on this movement first. He implored the student to think of this movement as a painting and asked her what a marsch is, before explaining that it’s military but had a different meaning in Beethoven’s time. On the need to concentrate on the sharpness of the small notes (for eg a semiquaver should not be played like one of a triplet of quavers), he likened it to parachuting from the air, and promptly proceeded to demonstrate how to sit down and breathe before playing. He emphasised on the need for the notes to sound, and they are not there just to make a noise.  The bass is the foundation but a balance must be found in the right hand, especially since the little finger is the weakest. The strength would come from the rhythm.

There is also humour (eg the trills) which is not normally associated with Beethoven. The tonality here is important. It is in F major, while the sonata is in A Major so the relationship must be explored. Also, the music then moves to B-flat Major, which is yet another relationship. Other details to be observed include the importance of phrasing (“Think of the cello”), articulation (especially the semiquavers), dynamics (“When Beethoven writes p, it’s not pp; even when it’s ff, sing it”) and tempo (“Beethoven didn’t write a new tempo”).

A phrase that was oft repeated was “Just playing what is on the page is not music“. Sir Schiff demonstrated by playing passages of beautiful cantabile  while articulating the notes. He also mentioned more than once, “Don’t worry about the metronome, because a human being is a breathing creature. If you need to take a breath and lose a hair of a second, so what?” He advocated playing short notes after a long one (eg a pair of semiquavers after a dotted crotchet) like a pendulum, comparing it to the nursery rhyme Are You Sleeping.

A new figure (eg in the left hand at b 70) is another concept of breathing. Within the big line, great care must be taken with the small articulation: it’s better that the phrasing of the two voices be independent. The three-bar thrill adds colour to the music, as do the bass (from b 84) which gives the impression of life from far away.

It is only at this point that Sir Schiff went back to the first movement. What is unusual here is that it is improvisatory (like Schumann later) and magical. The opening expresses dedication (“Empfindung” refers to an innermost feeling that is cosy and poetic) and is somewhat lively; it is a deepest feeling that is untranslatable. (“The closest is to imagine a poem.”)

Tempo, meter and rhythm are important here: what happens at the pause? What does 6/8 time mean? The rhythm of a quaver following a crotchet should be highlighted. Sir Schiff proceeded to demonstrate all these by playing the entire passage.

In the Development section, Sir Schiff reminded the student not to play slower at p passages and to note that small motifs are Beethoven’s technique of composition and that the art of the return to the Recapitulation is not shortening it. Hence the melody (from b 80) is endless and care must be taken on balancing the 9 notes between 2 hands, not playing loudly, but with most weight from the upper arms and shoulders for gravity until the epilogue which is the Coda (at b 90).


Schubert : Sonata in A Minor, D.537

I. Allegro ma non troppo

schubert-537After listening to this Year 2 student play, Sir Schiff’s first remark was “You should not forget to dance!” and he proceeded to demonstrate on the piano how the music should dance. This piece is like dream vs reality; the rhythmic figure is like “Am—sterdam”, and where there is dissonance, the pianist must feel the tension (eg chords in b. 3, 8 & 13). It was such a joy watching Sir Schiff playing (b.14-20) – his fingers were literally dancing on the keyboard! He went on to explain how the notes at b.20-26 should sound like the village bell (especially not slowing down at b.26) and how the repeated F’s (staccato quavers) in the bass (b.28-31) are like heartbeats, while the right hand flows. It is important to listen and not play on automatic pilot! (For eg, by taking a llittle time at places marked with accents.)

One of the cliches in piano playing is that the two hands are always together. It should not be so together because it’s not how the physiques are. One has to play transparently. Of coure, this will get the student in trouble with teachers, critics, jury and competitors but it doesn’t matter. (After all, Sir Schiff attracted attention in the spring of 2011 because of his oppostition to the alarming political developments in Hungary, and in view of the ensuing attackes on him from some Hungarian Nationalilsts decided not to perform again in his home country!)

The liebe (German for song) in b. 61-64 denotes love. Bar 65 is a violent wake-up: it is forceful, so it will not be played so together (“like karate chop“) because it’s not nice. Sir Schiff again demonstrated and referred to the recordings of Bela Bartok on how not to play two hand together. To be too precise (meaning, too German) is merely playing what’s on the paper. The gestures , such as exclamation and passages such as those in b.85-90 should be thought of like strokes of the bow on the viola – gently pulling it, with cantabile in the right hand (where the little finger has to sing) and articulating the staccato triplet of quavers in the left hand. From the most magical moment (an A minor chord in A-flat major) till b.105, Beethoven becomes a little generous. Sir Schiff demonstrated by playing the passage while explaining the differences between the styles of Vienna and Hanover : both speak German but there are differences in dialect and accent; one would call the other sloppy. It’s very subtle and not so proper.

There are also light moments during the class, such as when Sir Schiff (after demonstrating how to let the fingers fly over the keyboard in an arpeggic passage of demi-hemi-semiquavers) asked the student, “What’s so difficult about that?” This passage comes just before the Coda in b.175. As is typical of Schubert, the ending is very sad, with a lot of feeling.


Schumann : Fantassie, Op 17

I. Durchus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen

schumann-17As is often the case, the most challenging piece of the day is this piece that is so beautiful that it has to be kept together and can’t be let to go to pieces. The Year 4 student chosen to play this was definitely up to the challenge.

The tempo marking of fantastisch means ‘fantastically’. Though it is in Sonata Form, the middle section has a legend, and it has a Coda. It is in C Major, but the first time there’s a C Major chord in root position is on the last of the 15 pages! Pedalling is necessary here despite the rapidity in the bass because the left hand quavers should not be too clear throughout. Vorzutragen indicates it’s a colourful dream. When Schumann writes a little ritardando, it means a tempo next. The pianist has to be organised (“This is not a fantasy“). There shouldn’t be too much ritardando because it loses momentum. The pianist “has to raise her blood pressure” as the music soars: the acciacaturas must be sharper, and the double dotted quavers must be given emphasis with a short demisemiquaver that follows, like a “painter with a big brush”. There is no democracy here; some notes are more important than the others. The bass is important and must be shaped.

It was a sight to behold when Sir Schiff hummed, conducted, gestured and made comments like “Good”, “Move” during the student’s accomplished playing! His fingers glided over the keyboard ever so smoothly when he demonstrated passages that are sentimental or colourful.

Schumann is known to be crazy as he had a split personality, so his music is a mixture of lyricism, masculinity and feminity. Again, Sir Schiff played a long passage to show the dialogue taking place – carressing the keys with calmness before going back to the fiery passage. Then he expects the student to do the same, telling her that she “must play the gentler passage with feelings of I Love You, You Love Me”!

The tempo of Im lebbaften is lovely. Again, Sir Schiff played to demonstrate the syncopated passage. Watching him, I was lost in the moment. Schumann is telling us something in the section marked Im Legenden – it is something from the olden times, like a legend. (Eg “Once upon a time, there was a princess…”) We need to imagine a romantic time in the medieval ages where there were no smart phones etc. While playing this passage, Sir Schiff narrated: “Once upon a time, there was a king and he had three daughters…” and went on to explain how to change from an Ancient mood to a Bartok sound (by emphasising the octaves). He demonstrated and played on the piano a lot and it was such a joyful experience watching as he continued, “He’s telling the story and then the poet speaks; then comes a mysterious section and a battle scene; the princess had been abducted! And the young prince is coming to save her. But it ends in a tragedy… But courage returns,” and Sir Schiff played passionately again.

As this piece was dedicated to Franz Liszt, a lot of Liszt harmony was used. Apparently Sir Schiff loves this piece very much and he played a section with the student on a second piano until he decided to move over to her piano to show her how to play “simpler”! In another section, he explained to the student “don’t play the bar line” by demonstrating. Towards the end of the Adagio section, he explained why it “Cannot be too slow, otherwise you cannot sing it” and played till the end of the piece. There was a very long applause for Sir Schiff. I hope he would return to conduct more piano masterclasses at the Yong Siew Toh COnservatory of Music.

Glen Campbell : I’ll Be Me


I was immediately attracted to this 2014 DVD when I spotted it a distance away from the library shelves because Glen Campbell is one of my all-time fvourites. I of course did not want to miss this film. The legendary Glen Campbell, who has sold 15 million records worldwide, was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s deisease. He set out on an unprecedented tour across America in 2011. It was supposed to be for five weeks, but it went for 151 spectacular sold out shows over a triumphant year and a half. This film documents the amazing journey that Glen and his family navigates the wildly umpredictable nature of the progressive disease using love, laughter and music as their medicine of choice.

The film opens with an interview between Glen and his doctor at the Mayo Clinic where he was asked to recall four words (apple, Mr Johnson, charity, tunnel), which he couldn’t because “I don’t care for such things”. The camera moves on to interview his wife and daughter Ashley and his publicist, Bobby Gale. At The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, he sang with three of his children but it would be hard to do a tour.

The first stop on The Tour was at Club Nokia with his family including his sons who said they want to celebrate their father’s life “while he’s still around, and enjoying it together is actually very nice”. There are also interviews with musicians like Jimmy Webb (Glen’s longtime collaborator), Vince Gill, Brad Paisley and the Edge (from U2).

On the road, the couple in charge of transportation and security, Clancy and Jill Fraser, with their son Aaron (the chief morale officer) are like Glen’s tour family. Plagued by Alzheimer’s, Glen obssesses over every little thing, but acknowledges that “I have cried, and I have laughed”. During a performance, he forgot the lyrics to Gentle On My Mind and the band helped him to re-start. But he could still play a mean guitar while performing the song Try A Little Kindness. There were no lapse in his rendition of Whichita Lineman or Duelling Banjo, a duet with Ashley (on banjo). Those who witnessed the performance were touched; Larry Gatlin, a musician, said, ” I saw it last night. I laughed. And I cried.” Other comments from fans include, “He amazed me”, “Incredible” and ” This man is just so strong and happy and big. It’s heart-breaking, knowing that he’s going to shrink.” For Glen, however, every second was a challenge to him but he understands that “it’s just something in your system”. He became disoriented in the middle of the night, for eg peeing in the corner of the bedroom or in the trash can. However, he had a good time on stage. He was bright, alert, and interacted and communicated well and surprised everyone how able he was to perform. That was because he was doing the stuff he loved to do. Working seemed to stimulate his mind and he seemed to enjoy it, especially when he got the adrenaline from the audience.

“Musicians like Glen – it’s magical,” declared Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. For Keith Urba, Glen’s music is “memories”. He said of By The Time I Get To Phoenix – “His crying voice just totally affected me”. Musicians like Brad Paisley grew up listening to Glen, and Willie Nelson thought musicians think Glen is extraordinary, diversely talented and humbling.

When told that he would be given the Grammy Award for Life Time Achievement, Glen’s reaction was, “What for? Life time? I haven’t done that.” But for Blake Shelton, “It’s a big deal to sing for him and with him”. When Glen sang Rhinstone Cowboy, I teared. Paul McCartney went back stage just to tell Glen that “I love you”.

Glen was entering the stage where his memory was getting worse yet he was still able to pull it off and entertain the public because he really loved singing. He said, “With Alzheimer’s, that’s probably one of the worst things for people to have. It will be an incredible lesson if we can get people to understand people who have Alzheimer’s.”

Glen has inspired people with Alzheimer’s. The more the public is aware, the better and healthier the people will be. When his daughter Ashley talked about her realization that someday her dad would look at her and she means absolutely nothing to him, I teared again.

Alzheimer’s affect people differently: memory loss, emotive skills, conversation and behaviour. It is very upsetting for his wife to see Glen an invalid and degenerating. (Here, there is a video footage showing Glen in a wheelchair.)

The family reunion with his brother (Gerald), sisters (Jane, Sandy and Barbara) and older daughters  (Kelli and Debby) in Arkansas is just beautiful.

In Oct 2012, Glen performed at the Carneige Hall in New York; then he went to Chicago to do a dinner show when he found it hard to do anything. Every day was a challenge for his wife who had to fight depression as she was intensely sad to see someone she loved struggle. She was his safety blanket and he wanted her around all the time. He became paranoid; thinking that people were stealing his golf clubs. It hurt for her to see him so frustrated.

The frequency of shows increased till Nov 2012 as she wanted to protect what Glen wanted. He didn’t know it was going to be his last show. Everybody was afraid everything was going to fall apart. Nov 30 was a different day: stressful – that night was really hard. The audience was completely with him even though he had many lapses. It’s something Glen wanted to do and his family thought it was healthy for him. The fans had been so supportive and they loved him and didn’t care if he messed up so the family decided to do the shows for as long as they could. Like his son said, all they could do was to cherish every moment; his daughter said she would never forget it as it was the best time of her life.

Two months later, Glen co-wrote a new song. He understood music though his memory and soul and spirit were deteriorating. He joined members of the Wrecking Crew (Joe Osborne, Hal Blaine, Don Randi) to record the song I’m Not Gonna Miss You, which was nominated by the Academy Awards as the Best Original Song. (The Working Crew was considered the most successful group of studio musicians in music history.) Glen knew “I’ve been a lot better. It doesn’t bother me”.

Other than the numereous interviews, there are plenty of video footage of Glen’s family life and past performances, and the songs featured include his many collaborations with Jimmy Webb, like MacArthur Park, Wichita Lineman, by The Time I Get To Phoenix and The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, those written by Glen himself including A Better Place, and other hits such as I Remember You, Valley Of The Son, Hold On Hope, Any Trouble, It’s Your Amazing Grace, In My Arms, Lovesick Blues, Nothing But The Whole Wide World, Gentle On My Mind, Columbus Stockade Blues, Freeborn Man, Southern Nights, Finally Found, Remembering and Home Again, and his guitar solo of Classical Gas.

I wish this film was shown in a cinema here as it would been a better experience. It definitely deserves its two Grammy Awards!

Beethoven’s Sonata Op 110 : A Personal Testament of Spirituality and Adversity Overcome


I was extremely excited to learn of this lecture-recital by Dr Azariah Tan [part of the Symposium Presentations on the third day of the Performers(‘) Present Festival ongoing at the Yong Siew Toh Consevatory of Music (YSTCM)].



I’ve watched Azariah grow and mature since his undergraduate days at YSTCM. He graduated recently with a Doctor in Musical Arts in Piano Performance from the University of Michigan, after obtaining two Master of Music degrees in Piano Performance and Chamber Music there, and a First Class Honours from YSTCM and the NUSS Medal for Outstanding Achievement in 2011. Among his many accolades are winning local and International piano competitions and being awarded full-scholarships from the University of Michigan, the National Arts Council of Singapore and the Yamaha Music Foundation of Japan.

I have great admiration for Azariah, who was born with bilatereal neuro-sensory hearing loss. (There was a full-page article in the Sunday Times last week, where Wong Kim Hoh interviewed him about this, and how it has changed his life.) Azariah hears only 15% of what people hear. His is a high frequency loss and he is unable to hear anything ohter than a few bass notes. It is a real challenge for him to play music. Yet his playing is so exquisite, touching and inspiring. He can bring out the subtleties and harsh textures (and even good pedalling) in his playing and he humbly credits Prof Albert Tiu (his teacher at YSTCM) for helping him to overcome his challenges.


Azariah started the lecture by saying that he chose Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op 110 because Beethoven composed it when he became deaf and this sonata has a special appeal to him because he is also deaf. This really set the tone for the lecture-recital because not everyone in the near-full Recital Studio is aware of this fact. The three aspects of this work (structural, spiritual and emotional) are addressed through questions like

  • How is Beethoven’s use of thematic unity involved?
  • How did Beethoven’s deafness affect him and his musical composition?
  • How is this sonata spiritual, and how does it portray adversity overcome?


Thematic Unity

  • The main theme is a Hexachord (Ascending 6th) and the significance of the note F is that it gives a feeling of yearning and yet witholding, before finally breaking out in triumph (adversity overcome)
  • The note F-flat is a dissonance, a symbol of pain and struggle and then victory over struggle.

Beethoven’s Disability

  • Letters and accounts reveal that Beethoven’s deafness was progressive, which led to social withdrawal and the end of public performance; he had tinnitus, high frequency loss and reduced clarity of sound.
  • The effect of deafness besides depression was auditory seclusion and social isolation. Yet the reduced outside musical contact contributed to the originality of Beethoven’s composition because he had an awakened sense of spirituality and a different perception of sound. His compositiion became more intense, with wider chord spacing (use of extreme registers, perhaps due to having to put his ear closer to the piano, resulting in larger distance between hands), writing getting thicker over time, harsh texture and evoking physically embracing cosmos, increased vibrations, rumbling ff chords in the extreme bass and repeated, tolling G chords from pp to ff.

Beethoven’s Spirituality

  • With the hardships of inner solitude came the reference to divinity and allusion to diety. In particular, the 1st Movement is like a German Religious Cantata, with the opening melodies that give a feeling of elevation, reaching upwards/heavenwards. There is depiction of the physical conflict (a struggle), the suffering through the use of dissonance (F-flat). The hardships, inner solitude, and Beethoven’s vast humanity brought about a deeper search for the spiritual.
  • The second movement  op-110-2 is humourous and rough; here, Beethoven depicts the earthly, crude side of imperfect man in contrast to the lofty spiritual plane.
  • In the third movement, op-110-3Beethoven adds a second arioso and fugue and then a chorale finale. The falling 4th cadence in the arioso is very expressive, tearful and lamenting losing strength, symbolising deep religious sorrow. The fugue is a chorale fugue, not instrumental, and it can be sung. The broken rhythm depicts sobbing and the cresc to dim dynamics depict the inability to sustain inner strength. This movement represents death, weakness, suffering and pain.
  • If the Arioso dolente theme is a question about Christ’s death, what do the tolling G Major chords of the fugue mean? These chords raise spiritual questions: Christ’s resurrection, heartbeats, bell tolling and God’s opening up a way – the light getting brighter and brighter.
  • Beethoven also greatly expanded the metaphoric powers of musical ascents and descents – the descent into despair and out of it.
  • The second Fugue represents a progressive returning health, strength, deliverance and life, leading to a triumphant climax, victory over adversity.


Beethoven himself said: “Indeed, a hard lot has fallen upon me! But I resign myself to the will of destiny, and only ask God constantly to grant through His divine will that, so long as I must still suffer death in life here, I am protected from penury. This will give me the strenght to bear my lot, however hard and grevious, with resignation to the will of the Almighty.”




This sonata is a personal testament, borne out of a lifetime of suffering. With great suffering came great depth of expression and a narrative arc that leads to a transcendental spiritual transformation.

Much of the above notes were taken during the lecture. This lecture has taken us on a journey Beethoven experienced personally and his response to it as a human being. Whatever our cultural background, we as human beings find ourselves compelled to respond to his present.




After the presentation, Azariah performed the Sonata. I was mesmerised.

I thoroughly enjoyed the session and thought Azariah did a fantastic job. His lecture was very well researched and prepared. (He must have spent a lot of time on it, what with the 49 PowerPoint slides!) Unfortunately, the organisers restricted him to 40 minutes (including the performance which took about 20 mins). They should have given him at least one-and-a-half hours!

I hope Azariah would return to YSTCM soon (he has to return to the University of Michigan shortly as he is a teaching assistant there) to conduct masterclasses for the undergrads. He is such an inspiration to all!

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back


This is the second Jack Reacher movie, based on the thriller novels of Lee Child. I didn’t watch the first one, but watched this one out of curiosity about reports that Tom Cruise, at 53 years old, performs his own stunts.

Reacher discovers that the military police officer who has taken his old job, Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) has been arrested for spying, and goes all out to clear her name and find the truth behind the killings of former soldiers.

Besides the action and thrills, the best part of the movie is the effective use of music to build up tension and suspense, to add to the intensity and urgency, and increase the adrenaline throughout. It is particularly effective when the music is abruptly stopped and there’s complete silence (no dialogue, no noise in the background). The musicians (members of the orchestra and the vocalist) did a wonderful job! My favourite piece of music is J. S. Bach’s German Organ Mass.



Inferno is the third in a series of films based on Dan Brown’s novels. (The other two being The Da Vinci Code in 2006 and Angels & Demons in 2009.) I didn’t really enjoy the first two, but still wanted to watch the latest simply because of Tom Hanks (as Professor Robert Langdon).

In the new film, Prof Langdon wakes up with a head injury in a hospital in Florence and no memory of how he got there and what happened in the last few days. He has to team up with a doctor (Felicity Jones) to solve a series of Dante-inspired clues t0 stop a deadly virus that would wipe out half of the Earth’s population.

Other than Tom Hanks, what make this movie worth watching are the music (by Hans Zimmer) and the locations (including, in Italy: Bobilo Gardens, Hall of 500, Palazzo Vecchio & Bapistry of San Giovanni; the Halo 9982 -a train- to Venice; in Venice, the Waterways; in Istanbul, Turkey: Old Book Bazaar, Hagia, Sophia & Henrico Dundolo’s tomb in the Sunken Palace). Of course, the stunts, the prosthetics and sculptures add to the special and visual effects.

A Teacher’s Memoirs


This 2015 book, written to commemorate Hwa Chong Junior College (HCJC)’s 40th anniversary, is by Ang-Lee Lai Kuin who joined the college as one of its pioneer teachers in Feb 1974 where she stayed for 34 years until her retirement in Dec 2007. This book is a record of her personal journey in the college. These memoirs not only record her teaching and additional appointments at HCJC, but also contain precious snippets of the first 34 years of HCJC’s history.

The memories, banter, anecdotes and wisdom in the book is as much a personification of Ang’s toil and investment in countless young lives as it is a representation of a distinguished institution.

I am not an alumnus of the college but I got to know about this book through a friend whose young relative is now studying in Hwa Chong Institution (HCI), which was formed when HCJC and The Chinese High School (CHS) were merged as HCI. The merger was a painful reality for teachers and students from both schools. My son (formerly from CHS) and his friends felt but accepted the loss of their unique identity; it was heart-wrenching, even though they had graduated several years before the merger.

Among the many graduates of HCJC are doctors, lawyers, architects, successful entrepreneurs, army chiefs and government leaders such as

  • Tan Chade-Meng, Singapore’s first Nobel Peace Prize nominee,
  • Dr Benedict Tan, Asian Games Gold medalist in sailing (laser class) in Japan in 1994 and Singapore Olympic Council (SNOC) Sportsman of the Year for 3 years, and a former Non-Constituency Member of Parliament,
  • Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth,
  • Baey’s wife Lim Hai Yan, strong proponent of the local theatre and arts scene,
  • Dr Liang Wern Fook, songwriter and university lecturer who was the 1981 College Students’ Council President and who wrote Sing A Song For Hwa Chong which would become the college’s alternate anthem,
  • Lee Huay Leng who is currently the youngest and first female Editor of Singapore Press Holding’s newspaper Lianhe Wanbao.

I was surprised to find out that Rohaya, the pioneer student who designed the college’s uniform, was my secondary schoolmate! (We were both from the same cohort and in Science stream in Raffles Girls’ School)!

Magician : The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles


A 2014 documentary by Academy Award winner Chuck Workman, Magician : The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles looks at the remarkable genius, the enigma of his career as a Hollywood star, a Hollywood director and a crucially important independent filmmaker.

This documentary features scenes from almost every existing Welles film from Hearts of Age (made in a day when he was only 18) to rarely seen clips from his final unfinished works like The Other Side of the Dream, The Deep and Don Quixote, as well as his TV and commercial work.

As the narrator said at the beginning: A magician is just an actor, but Orson Welles’s life was magical.

1915 – 1942 : The Boy Wonder

Orson’s family background was complex; his parents broke up when he was 7 years old and he followed his mum to Chicago. Her partner, Simon Calow was forced to be his guardian when his mum died when he was 9 years old. As a kid, he moved around everywhere. He was overweight and could not play any atheletics. He was a very unusual boy who had absolutely no empathetic skills. He was a musical prodigy, like Mozart, playing the piano at 4. He only wanted to do theatre and was good in drag. He was a cartoonist, actor and poet at 10.  He could talk about China, Shakespeare and the Bible at 11. He was a director of Shakespeare (Twelfth Night) at 14, a painter at 16, and a star of stage and radio at 20.

Welles became fascinated by the camera, and also had romance with some of the most beautiful women in the world. When he was 19, he married 18-year-old Virginia Nicholson. The marriage lasted 5 years. Then he met and married Rita Hayworth. Wife no 3 was an Italian countess called Paola Mori. He was not a family man and had his head entirely in his work; his wives and daughters were an encumberance for him. He brought theatricality; he united performance, script, music, the lights and the sounds. He was the most talked about theatrical director in America.

He went to Hollywood and became a worldwide celebrity with Citizen Kane when he was 25. He had the courage and audacity to do things his way, and he grasped the medium with brilliance and enthusiasm. He had the confidence of the ignorant but produced the best cinematography, editing, lighting, performance, directing and screen-writing.

1942 – 1949 : The Outsider

Welles’ career continued to change as he made film after film, and he acted in other projects often to earn money in order to keep making his own films. He was sent to South America because it was a patriotic duty to shoot Carnival at Rio. He won a few battles, but lost others. He was a brilliant man but was jobless for years until he acted and assist-directed in Jane Eyre. His Around The World In 80 Days (with Cole Porter) was a financial disaster, but he was with Porter longer than any other man in his life. (Welles was notoriously flirtatious with both sexes.)

1949 – 1957 : The Gypsy

Orson Welles was doing something unique to his imagination; it didn’t matter if they were successful. He was investigated by the FBI over and over again, so he stayed in Europe. His film, Heavenly Creatures, was more anarchistic and clear. It took him 4 years to make Othello but only three-and-a-half weeks to produce Moby Dick for the stage.

1958 – 1966 : The Road Back

 1966 – 1985 : The Master

Welles has become a sort of patron saint for filmmakers. The Immortals is his last completed film. Citizen Kane is probable the best picture ever made. As with all men, death came to Welles at age 70. “That’s why we enjoy life – because we know it’s got to end.” The newspaper headlines hailed him as Giant of Cinema, Maker of Myths.

After watching this film, I gained a better insight into Orson Welles. I will certainly borrow Citizen Kane and The Immortal, which I’ve spotted on the library shelves many times before. I also like the music used in the documentary, in particular  a specially arranged piece called Simply Satie and Erik Satie’s Danse De Travers III, and Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio In G Minor. Other notable music include Burt Bacharach’s Casino Royale Theme and Billy Strayhorn’s Take the A Train.



The Tenant Downstairs


Billed as Taiwan’s most controversial movie of the year, and being nominated for the Best Supporting Actress and Best Visual Effects at the 53rd Golden Horse Awards, I had high hopes for this psychological thriller. That it is based on a novel by acclaimed writer Giddens Ko (whose Apple Of My Eye I thoroughly enjoyed) adds to the lure.

Hong Kong star Simon Yam is the landlord; he is the ultimate voyeur, peeking into everything the tenants do: slapstick, violence, torture, gore and softcore (including incest), some of which are just digusting. There is plenty here that is shocking, but much of these don’t make sense to me.

One character in the movie has many large suitcases in the room which she never opens; this reminds me of a Japanese arthouse movie I watched many years ato. It also makes me recall what a trainer said at a recent story-telling workshop: good writers steal ideas and make them their own.

The only thing I like about the movie is the use of classical music, mostly played by the Boston Chamber Orchestra. The three most memorable ones are by Shostakovich, Beethoven (Symphony No 9 “Chorale”, last movement) and Brahms (the famous lullaby). Whether it was solitary drum beats, solo piano, violin, oboe or any other instrument or a tremolo passage by an entire section, they really add a lot of tensiion and mystery to the scenes.


The Girl On The Train


I’ve been wanting to watch this movie since its opening day because of Emily Blunt. I’ve been a fan since I sat up and took notice of her about ten years ago in her role as  Meryl Streep’s no-nonsense and efficient senior assistant in The Devil Wears Prada.

The Girl On The Train is based on Paula Hawkin’s best-selling novel of the same name. Blunt plays  Rachel Watson, the protagonist who is a troubled alcoholic and takes the train every day and watches compulsively the couple who lives a few doors away from her ex-husband.

The story is layered and interesting. It is a psychological thriller. Rachel is a flawed character investigating the disappearance of her ex-husband’s nanny. The story examines the dark side of married life and domesticity as well as how some people are exploited by their partners, eg being emotionally abused and keeping quiet about it.

Rachel has an overactive imagination, likes to draw, loves art and also loves the bottle. She first turned to drinking heavily when she couldn’t get pregnant, even with IVF. It absolutely just broke her heart and she got really upset; now, Rachel is just really afraid of herself. She spies and obssesses, but a lot of the time she’s drunk and passes out and doesn’t remember what she’s done, has a skewed reality of what has gone on and no accountability for what she did. Rachel ends up ill-treated and unwanted. Did she bring this to herself? Should she have stayed away?

The movie sheds light on women doing flawed, unlikeable things every day and being human beings. Women being taken advantage of in the beginning is quite common in domestic life. But the gloomy narrative has uplifting moments, like when women who are sort of pitted against one another and made to feel incomplete by the situation they’re in, unite. Also, when she sits in a differnt car on the train, Rachel can look ahead and she thinks that’s possible because she’s not the girl she used to be.

By the end of the movie, I felt as though I had completed a 1000-piece jig-saw puzzle!

Quotable Wisdom


Edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi, this book is a collection of notable quotes by Mother Teresa, a remarkable woman who touched many lives around the world. Here are some of her inspiring words on:


Love is not patronising and charity isn’t about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same – with charity you give love, so don’t just give money but reach out your hand instead.


There are many people who can do big things, but there are very few people who do the small things.

The Poor and Poverty

The poor give us much more than we give them. They’re such strong people, living day to day with no food. And they never curse, never complain. We don’t have to give them pity or sympathy. Wwe have so much to learn from them.

Family Life

Try to put in the hearts of your children a love for home. Make them long to be with their families. So much sin could be avoided if our people really love their homes.

Peace In The world

Every act of love is a work of peace, no matter how small.


Each of us is merely a small institution; all of us, after accomplishing our mission, will disappear.


Joy is very infectious. We will never know just how much good a simple smile can do.

Suffering and Death

There is much suffering in the world – physical, material, mental – the suffering of some can be blamed on the greed of others. The material and physical suffering is suffering from hunger, from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases. But the greatest sufering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. It is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.

Sin and Forgiveness

Never stop to do anything secretly. Hiding is the beginning of lying, lie in action.

Forgive and ask to be forgiven; excuse rather than accuse.


I take that a person who is attached to riches, who lives with the worry of riches, is actually very poor. If this person puts his money at the service of others, then he is rich, very rich.


I cannot force anyone to accept my religion – just as no man, no law and no government can legally demand that anyone reject a religion that promises them peace, joy and love.

We never base our assistance on the religious beliefs of the needy but on the need itself. We are not concerned with the religious beliefs of those we help. We only focus on how urgent the need is.


Every woman can be equal to man if we have brains and if we have money. But no man can become equal to woman in love and in ability to show service.

There are also quotations by others about Mother Teresa, such as:

  • Hers was a ministry of action, of passion, and compassion. She led by serving and showed us the stunning power of simple humility. Her unconquerable faith touched the lives of millions of people in India, … in the United States, and all over the world. (Bill Clinton, 42nd US President)
  • She is the United nations. She is peace in the world. (Javier Perezde Cuellar, former UN Secretary-General)
  • Her example reminded us of the inherent goodness found in the quiet corners of the human heart. (Al Gore, former US Vice president)