Posts Tagged ‘chinese’

A Baby Sleeps (for Isabella)

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

After about two years of research, sketches and learning a new instrument, my composition for my daughter was premièred June 13th, 2009 by the SFCCO. The genesis of A Baby Sleeps (video Low / High) came after my daughter was born and my grandfather told me I need to write her a piece. I wanted to write a modern lullaby and one that would reflect my daughters American and Taiwanese heritage. For a few months I struggled for inspiration, then one night I realized my wife was singing a beautiful lullaby to her every night. I decided to write a “Theme & Variations” on this Taiwanese lullaby, 搖嬰仔歌 (Rocking the baby lullaby). It was written by the famous Taiwanese composer, 呂泉生 (Lu Chuan-sheng). (more information on this melody and Master Lu is available in an earlier post). Originally I was just going to add the beautiful Chinese instrument called 古箏 (gŭzhēng) to the orchestra. But in August of 2008 I was in Taipei and I bought an instrument that I have wanted to play for 20 years, the 笙 (shēng) (more on the sheng in an earlier post). So I started to add those instruments into the composition and ended up featuring the sheng and guzheng as soloist.


Gangqin Zhao, 古箏 (gŭzhēng) &
Michael Cooke, 笙 (shēng)

I had written a bunch of different variations and in March 2009 after the premièred of my composition String Theory, I started to put all the pieces together into a composition. I ended up throwing out several variations as they were to complex and made the piece lose it’s lullaby quality. When the dust settled I had four variations (plus the theme) that I liked: Variation I: Fragments, Variation II: Canon, Variation III: Block Chords & Variation IV: Reduction. I wanted the piece to flow better then just switching from variation to variation so I wrote some “connective tissue” to put it all together in a seamless way. The piece became more of a dream sequence then a traditional Theme & Variations. Now I prefer to view the composition in that way, where the first theme is when the baby is going to sleep listening to the lullaby and at Variation I she is asleep and starts to dream. The variation send her on dream adventures, maybe swimming in the ocean or floating in the sky. At the reprise of the theme at the end of the composition, the baby is back from her dream adventures and is dreaming about being in her parents arms.

A reviews of this concert can be found on Sequenza 21 and Memory Select’s Blog


Voice for the Formosan Parents – the Lullaby (搖嬰仔歌)

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

I recently completed a first draft of new orchestra composition which is a Theme & Variations on a famous Taiwanese lullaby, 搖嬰仔歌. I have found many variations in the translation of this melody’s title , “Cradle Song”, “Voice for the Formosan Parents – the Lullaby” or simply “the Lullaby”.  My wife sings this melody to our daughter every night and calls it “Rocking the baby”, my daughter just calls it “sleep song.”  We though it was an old Taiwanese folk song but when I started to do research on it I found it is a modern song. It was written in 1945 by the famous Taiwanese composer, 呂泉生 (Lu Chuan-sheng). Professor Lu was known as the Father of Taiwan Children’s Choir  because he was dedicated to promoting Children’s choir for 50 years as well as writing over 200 composition.  I have read a few stories about the events inspiring the writing of this piece:

In May 1945 during WWII, the allies bombarded Taiwan heavily to fight against Japan.  Master Lu evacuated his wife and 3 months old infant to the countryside of Feng Yuan, his hometown.  He stayed in Taipei and worked in Taipei Broadcast Bureau.  As the night fell, Master Lu’s longing for his wife and new born son inspired the song. The song has a wonderful simplicity that expresses the traditional attitude all Chinese parents have toward their children. It extols the hardships and high expectations experienced during child rearing.

My wife translated the lyrics which where written by Master Lu
father-in-law as:
The version of this melody I’m using for my composition is a little different as it is a transcription of the way my wife sings it to my daughter, but I have found this copy online of the original after I completed my piece.
A baby Sleeps
Growing one inch a night
Sweet baby
growing one foot a night
Rock the baby until sunset
staring at the baby in my arm
you are my sweetheart
worry you’ll get cold
cherish the baby like gold
It’s a great responsibility to bring up a baby
If only you get married, my duty will be relieved.

Sheet music to the lullaby

Sheet music to "the lullaby"

Master Lu Chuan-sheng passed away in the United States March 17, 2008 but generations long after will be still learning his songs to perform in concerts. I hope he would have enjoyed my composition inspired from his.



Saturday, March 28th, 2009
Michael playing sheng.

Michael playing sheng.

        I’m currently working on a new orchestra composition that adds two Chinese instruments to the orchestra, the shēng and gǔzhēngThe sheng is a 3000 year old Chinese free-reed bamboo mouth organ. It reached Europe around 1777 with Pere Amiot, and its influence was so strong that it resulted in the invention of the reed organ, concertina, harmonica and accordion. I have been learning how to play the sheng since the summer of 2008, when I finally bought one in Taipei, Taiwan.  I have been interested in the instrument for 20 years, though I first learned about the Japanese version called a shō. I bought a modern 38 key chromatic jiàn sheng, which is a very versatile instrument. Being chromatic means it can play in any key and works well in western music as well as traditional Chinese. One of the things that I like about this instruments is it play chords like a piano. As a life long woodwind player I rarely get to play chords on my instruments so it is great to be able to. Another thing that is cool about this instrument is it makes sound when you breath out or in. So you can keep it making sound for a long time.  


Music for Humans

Friday, June 9th, 2006
Michael introducing his composition.

Michael introducing his composition.

        “Music for Humans“, was premièred June 9th, 2006 by the SFCCO and Schola Cantorum. (Video Low / High) “Music for Humans”, makes use of extended vocal sounds instead of the traditional chorus sing text. Based on ideas I have for a choral symphony, the chorus is asked to make sounds humans can make but choir are rarely asked to. Clapping, snapping and clicking of the tongues are some of the extra sounds the choirs is asked to make. And since there is no text instead of the traditional Ooohs and Aaahs, I use the rich sounds of the Chinese Phonetic alphabet, Zhuyin Fuhao or known as BaPaMaFa. Not only are the sounds the choirs makes in “Music for Humans” unusual, but so it the way the choir is used. Instead of being a soloist, they are used as just another set of instruments like they way I used 4 vocalist in my first symphony. As for the sound of work, one can hear hints of Witold Lutoslawski, Paul Hindemith, and Meredith Monk. I make use of techniques made famous by Giacinto Scelsi, where I improvise sections then transcribes them into notation, for the orchestra to replay. Over all the work maybe a meditation of the human mind, with points of calm clarity, beauty and intense confusion, which is how we humans live our lives everyday.