#45 Hong Kong 1980

Last October, I attended my first annual convention organized by the Classical Mandolin Society of America. It was the 22nd or 23rd convention, held in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. I had to arrive late, as I had to finish my teaching in the morning. The drive was 11 hours long, and it took me through Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. It was nostalgic driving through Indiana, as I spent a good 5 years in Bloomington, IN. I was stopped by a female cop in IN, because my license plate light was out. She was super nice though, and even suggested me where to find a motel. I tried my best to finish the 11-hour drive, but a bad headache and a heavy rainstorm prevented me from completing the drive. I ended up spending the night only 40 minutes away from Bloomington, IL, finishing the drive early Thursday morning.

The convention was an eye opening experience: bought a few old CDs and mandolin scores, saw a few spetacular performances by virtuosos Sebastiaan de Grebber and Fabio Giudice, and played in the En Masse mandolin orchestra with 100+ mandolinists/guitarists packed on stage. Of course I met a lot of mandolin enthusiaists from all over the country. Quite a few of them know about and have purchased instruments from Rochester’s own Bernunzio Uptown Music (quite proud to tell them I frequent the store to talk to John and try out their instruments), and a few of the teenagers could really play!

It was at the sectional rehearsal of the second mandolins where I met Kay, from Arkansas, also attending the CMSA convention for the first time. Not having much experience playing in a big group (guitarists are our own conductors, never have to look at one…), we kind of struggle through the sectional rehearsals. We were assigned to sit in the back row of the orchestra, and it was easy to chat. It turned out Kay is a photographer, and went to Hong Kong in 1980. Being an 80s kid from Hong Kong, I was so curious of what she saw and thoguht of . She was interested in my status and life in the States, and how Hong Kong is like now. She told me she had taken many pictures in Hong Kong, which she was willing to send me when the convention was over. We exchanged emails, she sent me a selection of the pictures, and we have kept in touch ever since.

It’s been on my mind to share her snapshots of Hong Kong, and I thought the blog would be a good way to do so. The actual pictures look much better than what you see on the screen now. If you are in Rochacha, I will gladly show you the actual prints. I have selected my favorite shots from what Kay sent me, and she kindly wrote a preface and provided captions for the pictures. Below are her amazing pictures and descriptions. I have added remarks in parentheses to help explain a few things.

While living in Midland, Michigan I joined the local photo club and met a host of talented, skilled, photographers from whom I learned so much. One of those people was an Australian woman who befriended me and when her husband got a job in Hong Kong I was invited to visit them. I gratefully accepted the offer in 1980 and made the long flight from the midwest to Hong Kong, staying for two weeks. Almost every day I was in the streets or exploring other areas of the island without benefit of language, and pretty much free to photograph at will. These images are a few of the 1,600 images I took.    

Kay Danielson

I couldn’t resist this old gentleman and his cat napping.

Of course, the B&W didn’t show the wonderful mix of colors in the display jars.

(This is a Chinese medicine store, where one would see a Chinese doctor, buy herbal medicine and make herbal tea/soup. I had my fair share of these medicinal soup. They didn’t taste good.)

I had no idea what this boy was doing in his boat but the composition was pleasing and he did not object to being photographed.

The screen in the doorway provided some privacy from the street but the window signs indicated what was happening in the shop.

The sights, sounds and smells of the markets were unknown to me and most of the food entirely novel or unidentifiable.

The double deck buses were new to me and quite colorful.

(The double deck bus is actually hidden here – the transportation with the Sony ad is the tram – only to be found on Hong Kong Island. It is a slow but cheap way to get you across the Island. It is electric – you can kind of see the wires hanging in the air, and it has its own tracks. During traffic jam, it might actually run faster than other public transportations, except for the subway/MTR. I took the tram a lot as a student, and now I would take them when I visit home, just for old time’s sake.)

Hong Kong was so new to me, I found interest in recording much of everyday life in this teaming city, even the traffic and tall buildings. 

I saw these examples of everyday life in Hong Kong as something new to my experience and well worth the piece of film it took to record it. 

(If you can zoom into the picture, at front center is a yonug Chow Yun Fat on one of the covers.)

Riding to the top of the island on the Peak Tram. It was a strange feeling being hauled to the top at such a great angle but the ticket taker was obviously used to it.

The shape of this tree made me think it looked similar to the wonderful Chinese characters I saw everywhere and had absolutely no idea what any of them meant.  

I was told this doll maker created the Betty Boop doll but I found his face to be far more interesting. 

The woman made paper models for funerals. The grieving friends and family would offer these for the journey to the afterlife.

#42 Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten – #7 Her students – Walter and John Lindsey Leckie, Frank Mott Harrison, Edith Tulloch

(picture: last known portait of Madame Pratten with Dr. Walter Leckie)

(continue from Reminscences of Madame Sidney Pratten #6)

Apart from Ernest Shand, I tried looking up as much as I could about other students of Madame Pratten. I have mentioned about Dr. Walter Leckie and Dr. John Lindsay Leckie, whom I have learned much from the recent publication Dr Walter Leckie & Don Francisco Tárrega: The unlikely tale of an English Gentleman and a Spanish Guitarist by Brian Whitehouse. Madame Pratten had dedicated pieces to both of them: Sadness, Lost Love, A Lament – all available on IMSLP, were dedicated to Dr. John Lindsay Leckie. For Dr. Walter Leckie, Madame Pratten had composed the Hungarian March (tuned in E major), Progressive Preludes and Pieces for Guitar, and Dance of the Witches – Fantasia Grotesque from her Songs without Words and Sketches (p. 28, Whitehouse).

After studying with Madame Pratten, Dr. Walter Leckie went on to study with Tarrega, and Whitehouse’s book suggested that it might be through Madame Pratten that Leckie and Tarrega met. The book also mentioned the mutual respect between Madame Pratten and Tarrega: they exchanged presents, and Tarrega “always kept with thrilled gratitude, the gold bracelet worn by Mistress Pratten that she placed on his wrist, in a moment of emotion after hearing him, as enduring proof of her deep admiration.” (p.42, Whitehouse). This nicely echoed what Frank Mott Harrison wrote of:

p.56, Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten

Another student of Madame Pratten was Frank Mott Harrison, the author of Reminscences of Madame Sidney Pratten. A google search prompted a few guitar publications of his:

The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 34, No. 604 (Jun. 1, 1893), p.363

Harrison also published his edition of the Sor Guitar Method:

A few things from Harrison’s biography of Sor were eye catching…

  1. “It was during the Napoleonic invasion that Ferdinand Sor fled from Spain to see refuge in Englad, and in 1809 he established himself in London as virtuoso and teacher.”

=> 1809 seems too early? Brian Jeffery’s biography of Sor said Sor arrived London in 1815. Stewart Willian Button’s thesis (p.23) pointed out this discrepanncy, but who is right?

2. “The eminent guitar maker LACOTE, of Paris, also made a great many instruments under Sor’s supervision, some of which have a second sounding board.”

=> Double top 19th century guitar? Here is a Lacote with double soundboard, a rear sound hole, and an adjustable neck. And this reminded me of a family of Gelas double top instruments at Bernunzio at the moment

3. “He was also a consummate master of vocal art, and his manuscript of a clever and exhaustive treatise upon singing – written apparently for a favourite pupil – is now in the possession of Madame Sidney Pratten. It is written in French, and has probably never be printed.”

=> Sor attended the Santa Maria de Montserrat as a choir boy. In addition, “Sor’s emphasis was on song accompani­ment and it is a significant fact that whilst in England he published more music for voice and piano than for any other medium.” Why was the vocal treatise published?

In an 2002 issue of Soundboard (Vol. 36 Issue 4, p.50), Richard Long presented Le Ruisseau, an original composition of Harrison. Long wrote: “His [Harrison] musical compositions, while not brilliant, reveal a poetic soul, some occasionally interesting harmonies and modulations, a good knowledge of the upper figerboard, and not a few similarities to his more famous contemporary, Ernest Shand.” Harrison didn’t seem to be performing much, and his writings of Madame Pratten launched his teaching career – he was teaching at the Trinty College London in 1897. Together with his brother, Richard Harrison (who studied with Neapolitan mandolin virtuoso Ferdinando de Cristofaro), they owned a music shop. Richard Harrison wrote a successful mandolin method (where do I find it?!?!), and there is a full page ad with numerous wonderful quotes on the last page of Frank’s edition of Sor’s Method:

Frank Mott Harrison was also an expert on John Bunyan, who wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress. Okay. I must admit, I had to look up who Bunyan was, and watched a short documentary to learn about him.

Another student mentioned in Reminscences of Madame Sidney Pratten was Edith Tulloch. Frank Mott Harrison mentioned he missed a 1892 recital that Madame Pratten performed at, her “last important recital”. Madame Pratten sent Harrison a letter, describing the concert:

p.38, Reminscences of Madame Sidney Pratten

Edith Tulloch apparently came from a huge family with 8 sisters, each received a different artistic training. Although Edith was listed as a student of Madame Pratten, she seemed to have grew to be a soprano, while her sister Ada, also a student of Madame Pratten, performed as a guitarist. Here is a recurring ad in 1893, in The Musical Times, about the Misses Tulloch:

The Musical TImes, October 1, 1893

And a reivew:

From Musical News, Volume 9, p.312, October 19, 2893.

Another review

A review from The Era, November 11, 1893

(Continue to Reminiscences of Madame Sidney Pratten #8)

#29 Pasquale Taraffo

In the process of figuring out who was the “Paganin of the guitar“, I came across the Italian guitarist Pasquale Taraffo (1887-1937). I am always skeptical of what were the criteria for a guitarist to be called the Paganini of the guitar. Apart from his virtuosity, Taraffo shared at least two more things with Paganini – both of them were scorpios born in the city of Genoa (Paganini was born on 10/27, and Taraffo on 11/14).

There is a section dedicated Taraffo on harpguitars.net, with many pictures of Taraffo and his 14-string harp guitar. On Youtube, there is a video of Taraffo playing his own composition, Stefania. There is also a fascinating documentary that illustrates the life and techniques of Taraffo.

The pictures/images show Taraffo rested his harp guitar on a pedestal as he played. This reminded me of Aguado’s tripodison, which is “a device intended to maintain the guitar in a fixed position for easy playing, and for increasing its volume as far as possible” (From Aguado’s New Guitar Method, p.6). In the Secrets of Taraffo, Greg Minor mentioned the pedestal allows the back of the guitar to resonate freely, which is the same reason Aguado advocated the use the tripodison. Minor also mentioned the hollow pedestal might act as a resonator.

Aguado with his guitar on the tripodison.

Taraffo’s pedestal does look a lot “safer” to use – once placed on the pedestal, the harp guitar is secured and can stand without any support. I always wonder if the guitar would stand on Aguado’s tripodison on its own – the angle looks pretty steep…? At least, Aguado’s tripodison can be easily transported – “these three legs and the entire device when taken apart can be folded up and put in the same case as the guitar” (Aguado, New Guitar Method, p.7, footnote 4).

And speaking of instrument support, I can’t help to mention what I saw from a new score I bought – a support for the mandolin:

These pictures were taken from the newly published Miguel Llobet – Works, volume 15, with works arranged and composed for Lira Orfeo, a pluck string ensemble in Barcelona between 1898-1907, with Francisco Tárrega as the honorary president, and Miguel Llobet the de facto president, arranger, and conductor. More on this in a later post.

The combination of a harp guitar on a hollow pedestal also reminded me of the harpolyre: an instrument from the 19th century, with 21-string instrument and 3 necks.

The above is the cover of The Lost Music of Fernando Sor, which contains Sor’s output for the harpolyre (6 Petites pièces progressives, a funeral march, and Trois Pieces) transcribed for guitar by John Doan. The harpolyre was an invention by Jean François Salomon in 1829, in an attempt to create a loud guitar. In addition to having a bigger body and extra strings for sympathetic vibration, there are also two metal rods connecting the instrument to an amplifier podium…!

Apart from Sor, François de Fossa wrote music for the instrument (6 Divertissements for harpolyre op.21), and Carcassi was supposed to have composed music for it too. The Harmonicon from December 1829 gave a detailed description of the construction of the harpolyre). Sadly, Salomon ran out of funds in 1831, died in the same year, and the harpolyre was forgotten. (See Salomon’s entry in François-Joseph Fétis’sBiographie universelle des musiciens here.)

For more information on the harpolyre, check out The Lost Music of Fernando Sor – Complete Works for Harpolyre Transcribed for Guitar, theharpguitars.net, and earlyromanticguitar.com.

Back to Taraffo… What fascinates me the most about Taraffo was his tremolo techniques, which were all explained in the documentary on Youtube. Apart from the standard p-a-m-i tremolo, he would use the

1) “ring finger as a plecture”

2) “quardruplet tremolo with chords”

3) “sextuplet tremolo with chords”

Another cool technique Taraffo used was the “rasgueado on two or more strings”. Unlike the rasgueado used in the flamenco tradition, where the player would strum multiple strings with the back of their nails, Taraffo would maintain the normal plucking motion, but pluck through the top two or three strings at the same time:

This last rasqueado technique allows for a very controlled and less aggressive strumming sound compared to the flamenco rasqueado. Taraffo’s Stefania is the first guitar piece I know that utilized this technique, even though I have seen this technique being discussed by my friend Daniel Nistico – he saw it from a 19th century source – it is one of the 150 exercises presented by Ferdinand Pelzer (father of Madame Sidney Pratten) in 1836:

three dots = a finger, two dots = m, one dot = i. this exericse does not involve the a finger.

Check out this video of Daniel going through this exercise, and his site for an introduction of the 150 exercises by Pelzer.

Wikipedia included the known repertoire of Taraffo, which contained (only) two classical guitar pieces – Capricho Arabe by Francisco Tarrega, and Fantasia Capriccio by José Viñas. His repertoire also included many original compositions (I can’t wait to go check out the CD from Sibley Music Library) and arrangements from operas. I will end with a video recommend to me by my friend Orphée Russell – Taraffo’s arrangement of Cavalleria Rusticana, transcribed by Christian Saggese, from Taraffo’s recording.

#23 A brief chat with Hector about the mandolin


(K was led to see B in his study room. K was reminded that B might just kick him right out. They knocked on the door, and greeted B courteously. Disturbed from his work, B stood up and walked toward the table for water and snacks.)

B: Let’s get started. I don’t have a lot of time.

K: Certainly. So… I know the guitar is your main instrument. You gave, lessons, composed solos (variations on Mozart’s La ci darem la mano), and songs. What do you think of its relative in the pluck string family, the mandolin?

B: The mandolin has almost fallen into disuse at present; and this is a pity, for its quality of tone – thin and nasal though it be – has something piquant and original about it which might occasionally be made of effective use.

K: You seem to know a lot about the mandolin?

B: There are several kinds of mandolins; the best known has four double strings; that is to say, four times two strings in unison, and tuned in fifths, like the violin. It is written for on the G clef: –

(B took a small bite of his snack, and continued)

B: The E strings are of catguy; the A strings, of steel; the D strings, of copper; and the G strings, of cargut covered with silver wire. The compass of the mandolin is about three octaves: –

It is an instrument more for melody than for harmony; though its strings, being put in vibration with a quill or plectrum, which the player holds in the left hand, may certainly allow chords of four notes to be heard, such as these –

which are obtained by passing the quill rapidly over the four double notes; but the effect of these groups of simultaneous notes is rather poor, and the mandolin has its real character and effect only in such melodious accompaniments as the one written by Mozart in the second act of Don Giovanni: –

K: I cannot agree more. Just like his simple yet delightful setting of Komm, liebe Zither komm.

(B sat down, took another snack before continuing the conversation.)

B: The mandolin is at present so neglected, that, in theatres where Don Giovanni is played, there is always a difficulty in performing this serenade piece. Although a few days’ study would enable a guitar-player, or even an ordinary violin-player, to acquire sufficient knowledge of the mandolin for the purpose, so little respect is entertained for the intentions of the great masters, whenever it is a question of breaking through old habits, that almost everywhere, even at the Opera (the last place in the world where such liberties should be taken), they venture to play the mandolin part of Don Giovanni on violins pizzacati, or on guitars. The timbre of these instruments has not the keen delicacy of that for which they are substituted; and Mozart knew quite well what he was about in choosing the mandolin for accompanying the amorous lay of his hero.

(B kept rambling on, but slowly lost focus of his speech. K did not dare to interrupt, and B suddenly collapsed on his table. K quickly called for help, and to K’s relief, he was told that this was quite a routine.)

(The above dialogue was edited from here)

#13 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings – a mandolin orchestra from Rochester?

Amongst the instructional vinyls/booklets from the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the Mandolin Instruction: Old Time, Country & Fiddle Tunes by Michael Holmes is worth a separate post, because it contains a picture of a mandolin group from Rochester in 1927!

I was told by Mr. John Bernunzio – owner of Bernunzio Uptown Music, that the mandolin was popular in Rochester back in the day, but a google search of “Rochester Mandolin Orchestra” does not yield much. On his blog, John showed a picture of a mandolin orchestra from Rochester ca. 1920 . I tried comparing personnel in John’s picture with the one above… I am not at all good at recognizing faces, and I don’t think they are the same group. What do you think?

The group name “Arabella F. Krug and Orchestra” is also interesting. Why were they not the “Rochester Mandolin Orchestra”? It’s easy to name a group after the town/city one resides in, and I understand it usually comes with good intention: to build something for the community. But, I have heard stories of people resenting groups named after a city/town – do the groups really represent everyone in town?

Anyhow, the Folkways vinyl booklet also contain a lot of pictures of other musical/mandolin groups and advertisements between 1890 to 1927. Pictures of musical groups include:

  • South’s greatest “Old-time string band” from “Old Virginny”
  • Bellson Plectral Orchestra, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Killgore’s Orchestra, Grand Rapids, Michgan
  • M.E. Sunday School String Orchestra, Galena, Kansas
  • The Lavery Gibson Club, Detriot, Michigan
  • Terrace Garden Quartet, Chicago, Illinois
  • Rybka’s Orchestra, Portland, Oregon
  • Silk City Plectral Sextet, Paterson, New Jersey
  • Gibson Mandolin Club, Hagerstown, Maryland
  • Floreine Mandolin Club, St. Louis, Missouri
  • The Cadenza Mandolin Orchestra, Spokane, Washington
  • The Monroe Brothers and Byron Parker (The Old Hired Hand)
  • Hoyt Ming & the Pepsteppers

John mentioned about taking mandolin lessons from Veda Santos, and kindly lent me a few mandolin method books from Don Santos (Veda’s husband). Naturally, I had to look them up. Not much could be found about Veda other than a few blog posts from John, but a few interesting things came along by looking up Don Santos: a) he published method books for many instruments – plectrum guitar, tenor banjo, mandolin, Hawaiian guitar, and accordion (by William Turnboo) (could there be more?); b) a front cover picture on the Crescendo magazine from 1925 that praised him as a sought after teacher and performer; c) reports from the Music Trade Review on the annual Santos contest for banjos, guitars and mandolin bands in Rochester, with banjo bands, mandolin orchestras, Hawaiian guitar bands, and Spanish guitar bands(!?); and d) banjo virtuoso Frederick J. Bacon published music through Santos’s publishing company (various footnotes in Fred Bacon’s Wikipedia page).

#11 Sheet Music by the Pound

Came across the old magazine for banjo, mandolin, and guitar, the Cadenza, Volume 4, #1, 1897, p.12.

“That’s a jolly idea they have in Berlin of selling sheet music by the pound. You go to one of the shops where music is sold in this way and give them a lot of the pieces you want and they select them and lay them in a pile and weigh them out – so many pounds, so many marks and pfennings. Or, if you can afford, say, three pounds of musicm you can take one pound of sentimental, one pound of dramatic, twelve ounces of comic, and four ounces of devotional, or any other arrangement that suits your fancy. It is a great boom to the musician who is poor-not to speak of the poor musician-because under this system Wagner and Brahms and Dvorak will cost him no more than the insignificant and forgotten Smithkowski and the deluded and soft-hearted Screwleeski. And Wagner for the piano, of course being bought by the pound, can be played by the pound with good grace. The Listener recommends to our local dealers this system of selling music. – Boston Transcript.”