01. Good night and good morning
I originally presented this piece at the 2022 Association for Asian American Studies conference in Denver on a panel with my San Francisco State University colleagues. The topic of our panel was Asian American Studies and healing. This piece was my first composition using GarageBand and I was still embarrassed to admit to using a DAW (digital audio workstation). I even made a joke about GarageBand in my presentation because of my embarrassment. I grew out of this snobbery fast but I mention this because my embarrassment came from the same oppressive system of music education that had me analyze so many dead white men’s compositions. That looked down on tools that opened up music making to those who didn’t read sheet music.
In “Good night and good morning” I remade Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, a perennial recital favorite for young aspiring pianists in Japan. I played it at my recital when I was ten, my final Japanese frilly-dress recital. I remember a stinging comment from the mother of one of my piano classmates. When she learned that I would play it at the recital she said “Oh that’s a beautiful piece but it’s horrible if you play badly.”
I wonder whether perhaps she would approve of my iteration. It is played well, by me and by GarageBand. It is also no longer a nocturne, a nighttime piece. Here in my piece it’s morning, a different sound world even though all the notes are coming from Chopin. Actually this is not true, take back what I said about that mother’s approval. I played a wrong note while recording and I dearly kept the wrong note as my counter hegemony.
I was raised in a value system that made me feel terrible if I made a mistake, especially at a piano recital. I’m stepping out of that system with this piece. In my new world the wrong note gains life because, right notes wrong notes, they are both mine, I made them. When I read this passage in Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous I couldn’t help but chuckle: “The thing is, I don’t want my sadness to be othered from me just as I don’t want my happiness to be othered. They’re both mine. I made them, dammit.”
This counter hegemony felt good. I embraced GarageBand, right notes and wrong notes, how they all came out from me, with my Chopin hangover and all. Still I was using an existing piece within my repertoire and my next step was to grow out of it.