#7 How it all started – 2

I played in the school orchesra for 4 years since 8 years old. The first piece I played was the second violin part of the famous Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart. Along with my choir experience, it showed me how musical parts are being put together to form a whole piece.

Orchestra was really fun, because rehearsals were on Saturday afternoons, and we would play table tennis before/after reherasals and during rehearsal breaks. Primary school back then was split into AM and PM schools, and the two schools would have classes on alternating Saturday mornings. Going to orchestras would allow students between the two schools to mingle. Somehow I didn’t exchange names with the PM kids. We would just play ping pong and hang out every week and never bothered to formally meet each other.

There was a piece I learned from orchestra that I really liked, but the repertoire kept changing, and I ended up forgetting the name of the piece and the composer. I remember the melody very well, and would hum the tune for years before (re)learning its name. It wasn’t until I got to Eastman that I learned it was the second movement of Serenade for Strings by Tchaikovsky. No wonder I never remembered it. “Serenade” and “Tchaikovsky” were very difficult words to spell/remember.

Thinking back, this could be the reason of why I am so obssessed with waltzes. (I can think of two other reasons – the waltz cd, and the video game Antarctic Adventure, but this is worth another post altogether.)

(To be continued in How it all started – 3.)

#6 The Nimble Fingers of Jean Pierre Jumez. Spanish Romance

(listening to Paul O’Dette’s live stream as I was writing this)

This obviously belongs to the category of funny album covers, and many have posted about this before. But I did find out quite a lot of fun facts through this album.

1. According to Jumez’s website, “ABC records may have had the rights to distribute the artist’s music, but a New York court ruled that the artist suffered a damage from this very “tasteful” cover. Jean-Pierre Jumez was awarded $ 140,000 in 1975.”

2. Jumez is still putting out new recordings today…! You can find the Fifteen Shades of Guitar on Youtube.

3. He also published a book, detailing his performances around the world. The first few chapters are free to read, and of course, free chapters stopped right where I wanted to read the most – his travels to Hong Kong.

4. Westminster Gold, the label that realeased this record has tons of hilarious record covers. Juliam Bream also has a record on this label (this will be a separate post)

5. The first track of the album is called “Jeux Interdits (anon. arr. Yepes/Jumez)” – which was Spanish Romance with added variations by Jumez. Apparently, as one of the most popular classical guitar tunes, the authorship of the piece led to much controversy

#5 How it all started – 1

My mom told me I asked for piano lessons when I was 5. I faintly remember, I asked my mom for piano lessons on my birthday (…?), but lessons didn’t last long, because I didn’t practice.

I was in the school choir between 6 to 10 years old – an experience I am grateful for, because it taught me how to sing harmonies – extremely useful for all the bands I play with. The only song I remember from choir is All Things Bright and Beautiful by John Rutter. I still hum this song from time to time.

I also remember a humiliating experience from a choir practice: in the middle of rehearsal, the teacher was working with one of the sections, and the rest of us were supposed to sit quietly and wait. I was so into the music, and didn’t realize I was whispering my part along. Suddenly, the girl who say next to me glared at me with disdain. My ears turned red, but I couldn’t go anywhere. Looking back, I didn’t know why I felt so embarrassed – was I singing too loud? I sang out of tune? Because I didn’t keep quiet? I guess it was strange I forgot others were around me. What’s worse was I had to sit next to her for the rest of the semester.

My brother signed up for violin lessons when he was 6 (he is one year younger than me). I don’t know how it started, but I remember taking the violin over (not by force), happily playing what he just practiced on. I didn’t know how to read music then, and I was picking up the tunes by ear. Naturally I also signed up violin lessons. I played violin until I came to the States for college at the age of 19.

Much later in life, I have learned that the critical period for acquiring perfect pitch was 6 years old. My brother has perfect pitch, but I don’t, even though we started roughly at the same time – he was 6 and I was 7!

In Elementary training for musicians, Hindemith wrote about his exercises for training perfect pitch:

“… This experiment may at first fail frequently enough, but after eighty or a hundred attempts a fairly firm and reproducible impression of A must be established. If not, the question may be raised whether there is any musical gift at all in a mind that cannot learn to remember and compare pitches…”

Sorry Maestro.

(To be continued on How it all started 2.)

#4 Fluke

fluke2[ flook ]


  1. an accidental advantage; stroke of good luck: He got the job by a fluke.
  2. an accident or chance happening.
  3. an accidentally successful stroke, as in billiards.
  4. what my friends from my teenage years might call me.

(from dictionary.com)

They don’t actually call me “fluke”, but rather, they would call me fluke in Cantonese. So if you want to speak Cantonese, sometimes you just need to break up an English word into separate syllables. For example, fluke would become… “fu look”. The meaning remains, but now it’s Cantonese.

Let me digress: a lot of terms and slangs in Cantonese came from Hong Kong people making an effort speaking an English word. My favorite of these terms is “屙拔甩”. “屙” means defecate, and “拔甩” is blood. So “屙拔甩” is used to describe… a very bad situation.

Anyhow, fluke was my nickname until I came to U.S. for college. It just seemed silly introducing myself to others as “fluke” in college. But I enjoy having a name associated with my childhood/teenage year. Only my dearest friends from home call me fluke now.

But why? What does fluke have to do with me? I actually had no idea about why I was called fluke for at least 10 years. It wasn’t until my early (or mid?) 20s that my dear friend Roger Chung reminded me, he was the one who dubbed my nickname. When I was in primary school, I played a lot of table tennis, and apparently I would always win by making “edge shots”. You could just stand there and be frustrated and helpless.

#3 Double Bass and Guitar, David Russell and Dennis Milne

What made David Russell decide to record a guitar/double bass album as his debut in 1978? Why not a solo album?

More info on the album here.

It was my first year in Rochester, and I had a chance to see David Russell up close – he was one of the guests of the guitar festival at Eastman. The other guest was Pepe Romero! Pretty big deal for m, as I had just began my classical guitar studies. I didn’t get to play in any of the master classes, but there are things I learned from those classes that I would still tell my students today. David Russell taught two classes and a total of 8 students. He was tireless and personable. I guess he still is. I would love to meet him in person one day.

#2 Ken, Kenny, Kenji, Kenneth, Kendall, Kennedy, Kentucky, Kenjamin


“What’s your name?”


“What? Come on, tell me your real name.”

Although the story of how I acquired my English name seemed a bit forced, I have come to liking my name gradually, and today I am still called Ken. It’s simple, crisp, and easy to remember (or easy to forget).

A few of my American friends would insist on calling me by my Chinese name. I can’t speak for everyone, but I do prefer you to call me Ken. This is not out of convenience, or worry that you would butcher the Cantonese pronunciation. Many people from Hong Kong have both a Chinese and an English name, and it’s common to address each other by our English names. People call me by my Chinese name are either my parents, relatives, or those who don’t know me well. I also like having separate identities: me in US (Ken) vs. me in Hong Kong (???).

It took me a few years to realize Ken is short for Kenneth. One of my best friends’ name is Kenneth, and when I visited him in the UK one summer, people were just saying hi to me left and right. “Hi Ken!” “What’s up Ken?” How can I be so popular in a place I have never been to?

Once in a while, people would call me Kenneth, and it still takes me a second to respond. Professor Weinert always calls me Kenny. My friend Bernardo would call me Kenjamin. Just to mess with people, I have imagined introducing myself like James Bond: “The name is Ken. Kentucky Luk.”

#1 – Ken, or Gibson?

It’s extremely common for people from Hong Kong to have a Chinese and an English name, but I didn’t have an English name till 17. I just happened to have not picked an English name when I was young. I knew my dad always liked the name “Henry”, but it didn’t click for me (once we had a puppy for a short time, and my dad tried to name him Henry too. That’s a different story). My uncle suggested I should be called “Ian”, because it almost sounded like my Chinese name. Anyhow, none of these names were used. Classes were taught in English, and my teachers would just call my Chinese name, or the transliteration of my Chinese name.

I did many exams throughout my life, and my first big public exam was the The Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE). I did 9 subjects: Chinese, English, Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, History, and Religious Studies. The exam was notorious for being difficult, and as preparation, we studied a lot of past papers. English was especially tough, and like many, I went to English remedial classes.

And it was all fine until I got to the first English remedial class.

After the first class, three students (including myself) were asked to stayed behind. Turned out that our teacher said we all needed an English name to be in an English class. She lined us up, to ask what would our names be. She wouldn’t let us go unless we came up with an English name on the spot. I was at the end of the line. I don’t remember what the first guy said, but I recall the teacher told the second guy that he could choose between “Ken or Gibson”. Second guy told the teacher a name of his own choice and happily left.

“So, Ken or Gibson?”

My mind was blank. What does “Ken” mean? I didn’t know. I did know Gibson was a guitar brand (I turned out to be playing a fender for many years and still have not gotten a Gibson), and it seemed weird to have a guitar brand as my name.


(As time went by, Ken turned out to be the better choice. I have met a few Kens over the years. I have never met a Gibson in my life.)