A rolling stone gathers no moss but eventually will meet others

I can count the number of friends who visited me during  my five-and-a-half years on Maui. The first to visit was a couple who flew from California and stayed for a long weekend in my first apartment while attending a wedding in Wailea. I invited my long-time friend from Denver for Christmas, and she stayed in my cottage while we house sat my colleague’s home nearby in Wailuku. My friend from Taipei and another from Honolulu also visited and stayed with me. The last visit culminated in a concert in an autoshop.

Now that I’m back in Utrecht, it’s clear why not more friends could visit though they wanted to. Airfares were not cheap but that’s not the only reason. Flying time was long. From Europe, you fly across two oceans and a continent, crossing 12 time zones. This means two to three days of your journey is spent traveling to Maui and back, not to mention jetlag. My invitation to paradise was not an easy one to accept.

New kitchen through old stained glass door – Utrecht


There are other ways to see old friends besides the invitation and planned travel to a destination. 

I managed to “catch” two of my conservatory classmates on Facebook — that they were in Hawaii. I lured one of them to spend a day on Maui, visiting my home, having lunch at a golf course, visiting the beaches. On another occasion, I drove to Lahaina to have lunch with the other former classmate who was cruising the world with his piano duo partner. Our table was literally next to the ocean.

This manner of “catching” my friends’ whereabouts on Facebook was how I managed to enjoy a tasty dinner with my cellist friend from Missouri in Boston’s Chinatown. It’s also how I’m going to see my German friend from Shanghai in his hometown Braunschweig.  I hope I’ll see my friend from Baltimore who is hard to track down as she blazes through Europe with her entourage: London, Utrecht, Paris, Malta, ….

Meanwhile, some of my friends have “caught” on that I’m in Europe. 

“Will you be here when I return from Vegas?” 

“When are you in London? I’ll be attending a wedding in Tuscany.”

“We’ll be on holiday in Mallorca. Let’s meet after we’re back.”

All rooms upstairs have roof windows, giving plenty of natural light and privacy – Utrecht

Before Maui, my life in Utrecht and London sizzled with visitors. 

The five years I lived with Robert in the monument house were filled with what-seemed-like constant renovations, shopping for food and home-improvement material, cleaning, cooking, and entertaining. We lived and worked here. We gave piano and guitar lessons. We practiced. We rehearsed. We recorded. We hosted house concerts.

Our friends visited from afar. Students, scholars, commuters, and other independent travelers stayed with us, supporting our quest to restore the monument house to its original splendor and get our duo off the ground. 

We called it “reverse travel” because all the work with the house and our performance schedule kept us in the Netherlands. Instead we “travelled” the world through their cultures. 

Initially, in the monument house, we had three bedrooms and the attic to accommodate ourselves, housemates, and guests. The upstairs had its own kitchenette. After the garden house was finished, we lived horizontally instead of vertically. Not having to share the bathroom and toilet was a bonus.

When we eventually could travel, we thought we could rent out the entire monument house and keep the garden house for ourselves when we returned. It made sense, but we did not foresee a change in regulations.

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The monument house: piano room

I didn’t get to say goodbye to my Steinway A, for I didn’t know when I would return to see it.

Born in New York in 1908 – 1909, this 188 cm long instrument made its way to Rotterdam. After a long search for a grand piano, I found it in Bilthoven, near Utrecht — a black coffin untouched in the Dutch widow’s home.  

Through the recommendation of piano technicians in London, I e-mailed Andre, a Dutch piano technician to inspect it and give me an appraisal. After returning to Taiwan, I received his invitation to visit his atelier north of Amsterdam to understand how he was going to replace all the strings, give it a thorough French polish, and make it like a new instrument. 

To welcome the Steinway to my home in Bussum, I invited pianists and friends to the Steinway to Heaven welcome party. My pianist friends from Amsterdam, Helsinki, and Muenster came to  try it out. 

Two years later,  it got moved together with the rest of the furniture to the monument house in Utrecht.

I daresay we had a short time together, for I only played it from June 2004 to October 2010 and again from May to August 2011.

Many other pianists have played and given concerts here, the last being Brendan Kinsella’s solo concert on July 2, 2011. I had a few student recitals here. The last recording was made in July 2011.

In summer 2012, I nearly moved it to my friend’s home in the Hague. Bart already had a grand piano and an upright and a room full of sheet music. But he was willing to make space for a third piano, for he, like me loved to sightread music and play with other pianists and instrumentalists.

At the very last minute, I decided to move it to a shop in Zeist to sell it on consignment. Little did I know it would stay there for the next three years. In the mean time I tried to sell it myself through my blog

The shop owner went bankrupt this year. Thankfully the piano is somewhere in Germany with its new owner who prefers to remain anonymous.

All that was left in the monument house is the piano bench which I can’t take with me to Boston.

The piano room with Czech oak parquet floor

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Planning travel: Maui to Boston, Utrecht to London

Nearly six years after flying to Maui and getting a job there, I booked a one-way ticket to Boston and started planning my exit from paradise.

Miraculously my ten boxes of “media mail” sent via the US Post Office arrived the same day (five weeks early) as myself. The dollar per two pound ratio was equivalent to that of Virgin America’s $25 per checked-in luggage with maximum 50 pounds and 62 linear dimensions per checked item. They were the only airlines allowing passengers to check-in up to 10 baggage items. They offered the lowest fees and most generous allowance. Is there an equivalent “airline” from Europe to the US?

The garden house behind the monument house in Utrecht

Barely three days after I and a thousand pounds of my “stuff” landed in Boston, I flew to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. It felt like winter. Although I had put on every layer possible, I was still cold. The next day, I got drenched in the rain while cycling on a rented bicycle.

Thus I find myself, five years after my last summer in continental Europe, living (or rather, camping) in the monument house next to the canal. Except for the fickle weather, I sometimes feel as though I had never left. I cycle everywhere in Utrecht, I hop on the train to Amsterdam, I walk to the shops for groceries, and I rendezvous with old friends. I work out at the sports club on the other side of the canal. 

The only thing missing is my grand piano. Not true. A lot more is missing. Furniture. Books. Clothes. Utensils. 

Everything is missing except two adjustable piano benches and my lavender bicycle.

After spending an entire month shedding my stuff in Maui, I am desperate to hold onto what little remains.

My next task is to plan travel to Germany and England. It shouldn’t be difficult, but I am resisting the urge to travel after constant movement for the past month: Kahului – Boston – Amsterdam – Vienna – Naples – Rome – Amsterdam – Utrecht

Eight years ago I wrote a four-part blog about traveling between Utrecht and London. I don’t think the options have changed but it should be much easier to book online or via a mobile app. You can fly, drive, take the coach, take the train, or take the ferry. Between Maui and everywhere else, however, you can only fly.

Organizing my sheet music took up much time in my papaya fig cottage on Maui

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What you’re also learning when you take a piano class

Rough draft for a future article or blog post

  • Time management
  • Multi-tasking
  • Planning
  • Listening
  • Public speaking
  • Presenting
  • Overcoming stage fright
  • Timing, rhythm
  • Body coordination
  • Focus
  • Concentration
  • Real time crisis management
  • Problem solving
  • Interpretation
  • Individual self expression
  • Accompanying
  • Improvising
  • Collaboration
  • New vocabulary
  • Italian
  • Motivation
  • Music theory
  • Pattern recognition
  • Sight reading
  • Audience engagement
  • Self management and regulation
  • Stress management
  • Discipline
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Most commonly used chords for ʻukulele

The common chord progression assignment I gave to my beginning music theory class caused an uproar. It was the secret formula that explained the Pareto Rule of Pop Music: 80% of pop music used only 20% of the chords.

“You mean, I only need to know a handful of chords and I can play what I want?” one student cried.

This revelation also gives confidence to the beginning ʻukulele player. No longer do you have to memorize chord charts. Just master the most common chords and you’re good to go.

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Chord shape thinking from guitar to ukulele

In my forthcoming paper on teaching yourself to play the ʻukulele, I venture into similarities between guitar and ʻukulele chords. If you already play the guitar, thinking in intervals and chord shapes will give you a head start to playing the ʻukulele. Continue reading

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How to remember music intervals and why

Anyone who wants to sing a song by reading music notes will need to be able to identify the intervals (i.e. distance between notes) and how they should sound. Unless you have perfect, a.k.a. absolute, pitch, you will need to reference the sound of the second note from the first pitch (sound of the first note).

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More than teaching piano

I specialize in teaching adults how to play piano. More and more adults are learning to play the piano as a way to relax, exercise their mind and body coordination, and play songs they like. Adults learn quickly, but they are also self-critical.

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Happy Thai Girl on Thai Cooking Made Easy

When June, my friend from high school, announced on Facebook that she had published her cook book “Happy Thai Girl” I suddenly remembered all those Sundays in Okinawa when I woke her up to cook for me.

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9/11 piano concert on Maui

In my quest to give concerts for every occasion and purpose, I have long wanted to pay a musical tribute to September 11, 2001. It was a day that changed my life, for I was in Manhattan for a morning staff meeting that got sidetracked by the fall of the twin towers. I documented my journey in consecutive Bon Journal entries and referred and acknowledged in subsequent years.

How does one select the music for 9/11? Continue reading

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