The cost of performing and producing your own concert

Every conservatory student is faced with the daunting task of putting together a concert in which he or she performs or composes. When I had to prepare for my “final exam concert” in 2008, I had no idea what was involved, only that I had to do it.

There was no such thing as crowd funding back in those days. Or at least I had never heard of such a thing. The only cost I was worried about was the dinner after the concert. How was I to treat 40 musicians to an authentic Chinese banquet? I should also pay for drinks and snacks after the concert and before the “verdict” — a half-hour period of rejoice and uncertainty before the jury announces my grade. I should also buy gifts for the conductors and soloists and flowers for the orchestral musicians.

I decided I would ask for sponsorship — whatever that meant.

Invitation to Anne Ku's Culture Shock! Final Exam in Composition, June 2, 2008

Invitation to Anne Ku’s Culture Shock! Final Exam in Composition, June 2, 2008

I asked the university where I had been teaching as an adjunct lecturer. They helped me reduce the cost of printing the posters and programme notes. I asked the bicycle shop next door. The owner was surprisingly supportive. I asked the wine shop opposite. I asked the dental practice opposite the wine shop. That covered three of the four corners of my street.

The dentist said his practice was new. He didn’t have any cash to give. I negotiated free dental cleaning for the soloists and choir singers in my chamber opera. The wine shop gave me a big discount on expensive wines for the two conductors and a case of wine for the Chinese banquet.

How do I make sure the 200-seat concert hall gets filled? I could call and e-mail all my friends. I could put a poster up and hope people would notice. Someone introduced me to Facebook as a means to grow an audience.

These costs were least of my worries.

My real worry was finishing my opera in time, early enough to find musicians to play it. I had a mental block to finishing it. I had a row with one of my teachers. The other lived in Belgium. Fortunately, my first composition teacher, who had retired a few years before, came to my rescue. The late Henk Alkema lived on a house boat within a short cycle distance from my house. He not only offered to help me with my opera but insisted that I needed a conductor. And that he wanted to conduct it.

The story of how Henk helped me deserves a blog post in itself. I wish I had asked him how to recruit musicians for my opera. He told me the more violinists the better. I deliberately avoided writing a viola part because I knew there was a shortage of viola players at the conservatory. I went to the teachers and asked for names of their best students.

Would I have to pay them to play my music? I hadn’t budgeted for that. We were all students, after all. But why would my classmates want to volunteer their time to study, rehearse, and perform my music? Unless, they did it out of the goodness of their hearts, they got credit for doing so, they would feel left out if they didn’t, or I’d do the same for them. I simply didn’t know what motivated musicians to play music, and in this case, unknown music by an unknown composer.

As the project wore on, I got more ideas and more help. People volunteered. I recruited a stage manager. I recruited a front office manager – someone who graduated with a Masters in arts management – to handle the audience and programs. I invited my next door neighbor, an amazingly good amateur photographer, to take profile photos of the musicians before the concert. I even got interviewed in the university newspaper.

In hindsight, I daresay that it was the most empowering experience I have ever had. If you can produce your own concert from scratch, you can do anything.

The audience at Anne Ku's Final Exam Concert, June 2008

The audience at Anne Ku’s Final Exam Concert, June 2008. Photo credit: Fokke v.d. Meer


Posted in personal development, photos | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Empty your mind with yoga

Empty your mind.

That’s what meditation tells us to do. I have trouble emptying my mind. When I do yoga, that’s when I let my mind wander. It wanders off to distant places. It’s a playground of possibilities.

I should be emptying my mind when I do yoga. I try to focus on the pose. But my mind needs to go somewhere.

I have been practising yoga for a long time, off and on, until I finally gave up and gave in.

Outdoor yoga in Utrecht, Netherlands, June 2011

Outdoor yoga in Utrecht, Netherlands, June 2011

My late maternal grandfather was still doing yoga even before he died of lung cancer in his mid-seventies. My friend’s mom, a chain smoker and a yoga instructor in northern Germany, introduced me to a few poses while on holiday on a Danish island. My Swiss/Italian reflexologist friend brought me to her yoga class in London. I didn’t understand it at all. I did not sweat. I didn’t see the use of contortionist poses. What was yoga supposed to do for me?

Later, I decided to give it another chance. I noticed that yoga teachers possessed the kind of bodies I wished for myself — slender, fat-free, and toned. Their faces showed the health of their bodies. They moved like cats. Maybe that’s the result of practising yoga.

In 2002, I joined a local health club in London that offered yoga and other classes. I cycled to the club every day to take fitness classes and swim in the over-chlorinated indoor pool. I was introduced to different kinds of yoga – the simplest kind, the kind that made you sweat profusely, and those that made you hold your position until you wanted to collapse.

When I moved to the Netherlands, I actively sought out places where yoga was taught. It took a year or two before I found a club that was convenient. I learned my Dutch that way. The classes at the sports club on the other side of the canal where I lived were always full. The yoga mats were as densely packed as the country’s reputation of being the densest in Europe.

To fulfill a dream I’ve had, I brought a Hatha yoga teacher from the Himalayas to conduct a class in my house. On centrally-heated oak parquet floors we did what-I-called “authentic yoga.” A year later, we did it in our back garden with even more people. The friends and neighbors who participated also brought vegetarian dishes to contribute to the shared meal afterwards. The experience manifested the true meaning of yoga: union.

Now in Maui, yoga is a regular thing for me. I still practise it indoors though I long to do yoga on the beach or in the park. The single experience of doing yoga on the campus lawn last year left a vivid impression.

My front garden in Wailuku has two levels of lawn with a view of the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps one day, I will organize a yoga session out here.

In the last pose, the corpse pose, we are told to lie on our backs with our eyes closed for five minutes before we conclude with “namaste.” That’s our last chance to empty our minds.

By then, my mind is bored with the playground of possibilities. I feel a calmness. I resign to emptiness.

Posted in energy, personal development, self | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Travel to step outside one’s comfort zone

After a simple vegetarian lunch near my father’s condo in Taichung, Taiwan, I walked to the corner optometry shop to pick up the glasses I had ordered when I arrived two days ago. The optometrist advised me to replace the pitch-black lenses of the year-old Maui Jim sunglasses and not to leave them in the sun or inside a car to prevent deterioration. I was grateful to have those sunglasses on standby when I had accidentally dropped my made-in-Italy Gucci prescription sunglasses in San Francisco nearly a year go.

Satisfied with the replacement lenses, I paid and got ready to head into the noonday sun.

Just then, I caught the overworked optometrist staring at me with admiration. She hesitatingly whispered, ”I wish I could travel.”

“You can,” I said immediately.

She smiled and shook her head. ”No, I don’t have the money.”

Then it occurred to me that I had taken travel for granted. To travel, one must have the inclination, the time, the means (money), and the health. To travel independently as I have done, one must be able to communicate in the native language and be fearless about getting lost and approaching strangers.

Earlier, my eighty-three year-old father asked me how many countries I visited. In responding, I could only think of countries I did not visit. In my own mind, there’s a pecking order. A visit doesn’t count as much as a lengthy stay for work or study.

Before coming on this week-long trip, I wondered why I had become content not traveling as wildly as I used to. After all, I once commuted out of London Heathrow Airport, preferring to shop at duty free and living in spotless, clutter-free hotel rooms to my own home.

Nowadays, I question the interruption of travel. Why would I get on a plane and endure the logistical hassles of queuing for luggage inspection, visa clearance, and other third-party approvals, when every day on Maui is a day in paradise? With high speed internet, I could easily FaceTime or Skype my friends in other time zones. Have I become too comfortable?

Now that I am away from “home” I remember why I travel. Because I can. As long as I can still travel, I will travel.

When I am far away, I remember all those things I forgot that I missed.

Speaking Chinese everyday. Eating authentic Chinese food every meal. Hearing my father speak in Shanghainese dialect. Hearing my maternal relatives speak in Hakka dialect. 

When I travel, I not only cross time zones but also, it seems, time itself. I am a daughter again. I am a teenager again. We revisit the past as if it is still yesterday. My father recounts the same stories with detail: lament for his best friend who returned to Shanghai because he was homesick only to suffer in the Cultural Revolution, his second-best friend who helped get him a university teaching position in Taipei, and his all-expense-paid trip to mainland USA on his East-West Center Fellowship in the late sixties.

Other than my first eighteen years, our lives intersected in discrete periods of time: the summers I returned to visit, the occasional family reunion, travel to mainland China and Paris, and now my solo visits during Spring Break. For health reasons, my father stopped traveling a few years ago.

Travel has taken on a new meaning for me. It’s not about going places where I’ve not been before but visiting those I care about, wherever they are.

So I should say to the optometrist, “if you really want to travel, you can.” But most people are too comfortable where they are.

Posted in personal development, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Earth Day Jam Piano Workshop

Free one-hour workshop to celebrate “Earth Day” on Maui

Curious what it’s like to play the piano?

How about playing the piano with others? It’s as though you’re in a rock band, ensemble, or orchestra. Really!

Most pianists never get to experience what it’s like to play with other pianists, let alone other musicians. When you play with other musicians, it’s even better than singing in a choir. You’re surrounded by live stereo music that you produce.

Today’s digital pianos are equipped with a variety of sounds: grand piano, electric piano, church organ, jazz piano, harpsichord, string, voice (choir), vibraphone, and more. You can create your own symphonic orchestra through keyboards.

Even if you’ve never touched a musical instrument before, you will quickly learn how to play the piano like a rhythm instrument. The piano belongs to the percussion family after all. You will also learn, within ONE hour, how to play all eighty-eight keys on the piano.

Really it’s possible. It’s been done before.

Earth Day Jam April 22, 2014 at UH Maui College

Earth Day Jam April 22, 2014 at UH Maui College

For more information, reply on the COMMENT box below and mention if you would prefer a private response.

  • Tuesday April 22nd, 2014
  • Doors open: 1:40 PM
  • Time: 2 to 3 PM

University of Hawaii Maui College
Kupa’a Building, Room 104
Kahului, Hawaii 96732

More INFO about the piano ensemble approach to group piano class

Posted in personal development, sheet music | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Piano ensemble approach

I am developing an approach to teaching adult group piano by conducting the group as an ensemble.

It occurred to me that most pianists never get a chance to play with other musicians. At most they may play duet or accompany a singer but to play music the way string quartets or bigger ensembles, such as rock bands or orchestras, that is extremely rare.


Pentascale, oil painting by Mauro Castillo

Pentascale, oil painting by Mauro Castillo

For one thing, if a group needs a pianist, it needs only one. There’s no room for two or more.

Another is that the way someone learns to play the piano is one on one such as through individual, private lessons.

Nowadays, with digital pianos that have buttons for strings, jazz organ, harpsichord, guitar, choir, etc., it’s possible to simulate a bigger ensemble with just pianists.

Adult beginners learn much more quickly than children. But they can easily get bored or time-challenged by other responsibilities and “drop out.” To prevent dropping out, there has to be some social accountability such as in a group situation. In a group, they learn to listen, play in time, and participate in a way they can’t in individual lessons. Group dynamics makes piano playing fun and enjoyable. There are other advantages to playing in a group.

Finally, it’s cheaper to take group classes than individual lessons.

As a Hawaii state resident, it’s just $212 to take 16 weeks of piano classes either 2.5 hours each or twice a week for 1.25 hours at college — compared to $100 per hour for individual lessons at market rates. [Read my post about the comparison.]

I’m arranging music for different levels of pianists to play together. By doing so, I can have different levels in one class.

EARTH DAY JAM — free one-hour workshop at UH Maui College on Tuesday April 22nd.

Posted in personal development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Writer’s block

6,000 words.

Six thousand words.

That’s what I have to produce this weekend. I keep putting it off.

First I had to do filing. Pay my bills. Clear my desk.

Next, I decided to install Sibelius, a process that took four CDs and two hours. While that was going on, I sat outside and did a “free write” to warm up.

I wrote the story of Maui EVA – why electric vehicles make sense on Maui — the big picture of why I spent the last two years dedicated to this cause. Just when I got into the rhythm of writing, using a very nice black pen, sipping my Italian espresso coffee outdoors, I heard a click.

Maui EVA project kicks off at the Grand Wailea, November 1, 2011

Maui EVA project kicks off at the Grand Wailea, November 1, 2011

Sibelius 7 finished installing. I went back online to activate this music notation software. Normally I would start using the software, but I knew I had to write the story.

Instead of plunging into the 6,000 words, I plunged into another writing activity — a four-page reading log (double spaced, font 12) capturing the four main concepts in chapter four of “Interpersonal Conflict,” the textbook of the cross-listed psychology and communications online course I’m taking this semester.

By the time I finished all assignments due next Thursday, it’s nearly time to do my laps in the outdoor public pool nearby. Should I skip it as punishment for killing time and not writing those six thousand words?

No. Swimming gives me clarity of thought. As I already have the entire story in my head, I  just need to type it up and get into it.

I have also finished all other admin and e-mails that could possibly get in the way of my writing. There should be no more distractions except for the reward of attending a free concert tomorrow with my mother.

It’s always like this. I resist and resist. I do everything to get rid of what might get in the way of the flow of writing. And then I plunge into writing, unstoppable but regretting that I didn’t start earlier.

Looking outside, I fidget. The grass needs mowing. I can’t afford to do that now. I shall take a dip. When I return, I will have no more excuses.

Posted in writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Letting go and moving on

Sunset in Lahaina with a view of Lanai island in January 2013

Sunset in Lahaina with a view of Lanai island in January 2013

One of my friends recently made the final move to uproot. He writes, “Now that the deed is done I feel a bit weird. I know I made the right decision but I can’t help feeling a sense of loss for everything I have left behind. Did you experience the same when you flew to Maui and spent the first night there in your apartment? If so, how did you deal with it?

The international lifestyle of moving from country to country sounds exciting at first but I realize there is a price to pay: a cycle of letting go and leaving things behind and getting accustomed to the new. I don’t think many people are able to deal with this, no matter how appealing the lifestyle might seem or how much of an improvement the new country might be. Letting go of anything, no matter how good or bad, is hard.

As a more seasoned world traveller do you have any words of wisdom for me? What is your standard recipe to build a new life after moving to a new place? What do you do in the first 12 weeks after moving?

Nine years ago, just after moving to the Netherlands, I published a collection of invited articles on uprooting, linked from here.

The short answer is “Letting go is hard, but you get used to it.”

The long answer is this:

There are three levels of letting go. The first is to end your study or job. The other two don’t have to end: relationships can continue though not face to face; material attachments can remain.

When I leave and move to another part of the world, I never expect that I will never return. I usually leave behind something that requires some kind of responsibility. It’s a way of not completely letting go. When I left Okinawa, I kept my bedroom intact until my family moved house and the room had to be emptied. When I left Singapore, I kept my rented apartment, fully furnished, as a sublet to someone else, until it got sold and I had to dispose or ship my belongings, i.e. ultimately let it go. When I left London, I kept my home. When I left Utrecht, I tried to keep everything but failed. My Steinway is still on consignment, safe but not played or sold.  Whatever is left of my books and sheet music is in storage.

I have no standard recipe to advise, except to keep looking forward. Try to get settled as fast as you can. Learn the language. Get involved in the local communities that you feel comfortable and familiar with, e.g. Rotary Club, ballroom dancing, orchestra, choir, church, physical fitness clubs, etc. Take classes. Volunteer. Participate. Do not allow yourself to look back and wallow in regret.

It’s important to manage your expectations. My family warned me about Maui long before I decided to move here. They told me not to expect the same level of culture vulture indulgence I was used to (multitude of concerts and festivals; variety of cuisines and restaurants; short hops to other countries at a whim). “It’s hard to get a job that pays you enough to live on,” they said. “You will probably need two or three to make ends meet.”

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, Skype, Facetime, LinkedIn, and other online devices, I can follow my friends and contacts and share my activities and developments. The world has become a smaller place for me. I need not let go of relationships.

Posted in feedback, personal development, self, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Invitation to Piano Recital

Mauro Castillo with new work - oil painting for the Piano Recital against new Baldwin grand piano from Pūlama Lāna‘i

Mauro Castillo with new artwork against new Baldwin grand piano from Pūlama Lāna‘i

Kahului, HI, December 16, 2013 for immediate release.

Twenty students from Anne Ku’s piano classes will be giving a recital on Wednesday December 18th from 6 pm at UH Maui College. Doors open at 5:45 pm with refreshments and other goodies during the intermission. The first hour will be solo performances including contemporary and beloved classics, popular favorites, and Beatles songs. Following the half-hour intermission, there will be an ensemble workshop in which members of the audience are welcome to join the pianists on the 18 electric pianos and two grand pianos in works such as Pachelbel’s Canon, arranged in C, to correspond with Vitamin C’s Graduation Song, John Lennon’s Imagine, Christmas songs, and improvisations. Some of the students will bring their ukeleles and guitars to free up the pianos for use.

To celebrate end of the semester, artist Mauro Castillo, who will be performing “Lean On Me” has finished an oil painting, as yet untitled, for viewing at the recital.

Wednesday December 18, 2013
Piano Class Recital
 5:45 PM Doors open
6 PM Solo performances 
 7:30 PM Ensemble workshop
UH Maui College
Kupa’a 104

On Friday Dec 13, 2013, the University of Hawaii Community Colleges announced that UH Maui College was awarded a grant from the Part-time Student Initiatives Award for the proposal “Piano Ensemble for Part Timers,” a project that piano instructor Anne Ku will implement through the purchase of additional electric pianos with headsets and adaptors to be placed in four locations on campus and time to arrange music for piano ensemble, in which pianists of different levels can play at the same time. The grant also includes “taster” workshops to allow non-students to experience one hour of playing together on different pianos.


Posted in sheet music | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leasing a plug-in electric vehicle

This blog post may be the draft of a forthcoming article for the “EV in Paradise” column on Maui Weekly. I’ve been mulling over writing a piece on deciding whether to buy or lease an electric vehicle. Current financing options on leasing a new plug-in electric vehicle passes the federal tax credit of $7,500 to the lessee, good for those whose income is not high enough to otherwise take advantage of such tax incentives.

At an EV industry strategy conference at the Honua Kai Resort, I heard the mention of an incredible offer of a $3,000 cash bonus for the purchase or lease of a Nissan LEAF with the quick charge port. JUMPsmart Maui has since advertised it in the Maui Weekly paper.

Combine this with Nissan’s Vehicle Purchase Plan (VPP) for employees of all accredited colleges and universities, for which my employer UH Maui College is one, this has got to make it affordable for the following types of situations:

  • a replacement for a (primary) gas car that needs maintenance, the cost of which would exceed monthly payments for a lease
  • a second car to lower the mileage and gasoline usage of the first car and depreciation
  • a new load to reduce accumulated credits from Net Energy Metering customers (i.e. those with roof solar)
  • a second car for short commutes to prevent idling and starting of the primary gas car
  • a vehicle for those who have none and to wean one off depending on carpool, walking, running, and the public transportation system
  • rationale to get the savings now before the offer ends (end December 2013)
  • any of the above combined with free charging at the work place and elsewhere
  • a second car for the flexibility of transportation when off-island guests visit

The Nissan VPP for UH employees gives two benefits. One: no hassle or haggle with the auto dealer licensed to sell Nissan LEAFs. In other words, this is the best deal you can get. Two: an upfront cash savings of $1 to 1.2K on downpayment, everything else being the same. Had I leased a 2013 LEAF in April 2013, I would have paid $1,999 upfront. If I were to do it now, I’d pay about $800 and drive away with a new LEAF, everything else being the same (i.e. monthly installments, lease-end value).

Two wage earners who share one car, one of who works for an accredited university or college, would find this attractive. However, for a single person who owns a car that’s already paid for, he or she may need to think twice, to cover the costs of

  • insurance: comprehensive for leasing a new car — range from $700 for 6 months to a year
  • electricity: max $10 per day to charge a Nissan LEAF from completely empty to full once a day at current residential rates
  • long commutes with few opportunities to stop to charge or stop and park long enough to charge

The decision to lease a plug-in electric vehicle (PHEV or EV) should not rest only on pure economics. There are the added factors mentioned by many EV owners:

  • it’s fun to drive
  • you join a new club – other like-minded individuals speaking a new lingo; you will meet them whenever you stop to park and charge at a public charging station or attend a Maui EVA or JUMPsmart Mauii meeting
  • it’s a practical car
  • you learn about a new technology – it’s a paradigm shift in how you drive and charge
  • it’s good for the planet
  • it helps to meet the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative: 10,000 EVs by 2015 and there’s just over 2,000 registered in the state now.

Right now on Maui, you can park and charge for free at the following locations:

  • Level 2 and Fast Charger at the County Building in Wailuku (need to get a keyfob for the latter)
  • JUMPsmart Maui’s Hitachi Fast Chargers at 5 locations on Maui if you qualify and join as a EV Volunteer
  • Better Place Charging Stations if you have a fob
  • Elleair Golf Course in Kihei, Ritz Carlton in Kapalua, Airport Beach, Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort, Maui Ocean Club
  • Jim Falk Motors Maui – if you are a customer or would-be customer
  • UH Maui College Auto Shop if you are staff or student – during opening hours
  • Whaler’s Village – award-winning Volta Industries is installing a level 2 charging station paid by advertisements and free to the public

As I write, more stations are being planned and installed. Maui Electric Company (MECO) will have a fast charger on its site. After the solar carport is installed at UH Maui College, as many as 43 EVs can be charging simultaneously.

Photo shoot of EV in Paradise, February 2013

Photo shoot of EV in Paradise, February 2013


Posted in energy, photos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Halloween Treat: In the Hall of the Mountain King

When I first visited Maui in October 1999, I got caught off-guard by an unexpected knock at the door.

Kids in a variety of costumes eagerly chanted in treble unison, “Trick or treat!?!”

In a panic, I called my sister who was changing in the bathroom.

I was unprepared for Halloween. Living in London at the time, I had not participated in this annual event since I was a trick-or-treater back on Okinawa. Later I learned that Halloween is one of the most celebrated occasions in Hawaii.

When my sister didn’t respond, I improvised.

I played a sweet little tune on the Hamilton upright piano hoping to placate or appease. Instead, it caused a frown on their faces.

The bathroom door suddenly flung open.

“That’s not the way to do it!” my sister exclaimed and shoved me aside.

She dove into the opening passage of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with a fervor. I was impressed, but clearly the trick-or-treaters were not.

From then on, I decided that I really must hide on 31st October, for I don’t believe in giving out candies and a musical treat clearly isn’t well-accepted here.

Nonetheless, my piano students may appreciate a little treat from Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. “In the Hall of the Mountain King” starts in the low register of the piano and stays low. It’s staccato throughout and for the most part, predictably repetitive.

"In the Hall of the Mountain King" original score for piano from Grieg, Dover Edition

“In the Hall of the Mountain King” original score for piano from Grieg, Dover Edition

For most beginners, it’s hard to read the bass clef, let alone two bass clefs. For pianists in general, it’s hard to read ledger (or leger) lines. It’s much easier to read the ottava lines:

  • 15mb for 2 octaves below what’s written (and appears below the staff)
  • 8vb for one octave below what’s written (and appears below the staff)
  • 8va for one octave above what’s written (and appears above the staff)
  • 15ma for one octave above what’s written (and appears above the staff)

As I tell my piano class: when you see a new piece of music, don’t jump into it.

1) First analyze the piece. Look for repetition, patterns that you see over and over again. This will help familiarize yourself with the piece and thereby reduce your anxiety.

2) Get your starting hand position right. Don’t move your hands until you have to. Put finger markings in. This is more important than writing the letter names of the notes.

In Grieg’s piece, you can see that the left hand is a series of perfect fifth interval movements, equidistant and very predictable.  I would start by getting the left hand correct. Practice that first and then move onto the right hand. Practice very slowly. Don’t expect to get to the metronome markings — it’s way too fast!

"In the Hall of the Mountain King" arranged for easier reading

“In the Hall of the Mountain King” arranged for easier reading by Anne Ku

Download the 3-page PDF of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” for easy reading by pianists.

Posted in sheet music | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment