How to Listen to Great Music by Robert Greenberg (Part 2)

Classical Era Orchestral Genres, Part 2. The solo concerto was born. This was very important in classical music. The piano and violin as solo instruments were very popular. The viola is any stringed instrumented played a with a bow. Later, it was mostly played on the upper arm or shoulder. There are 4 principal instruments (soprano, alto, tenor, bass). They correspond to the violin, viola, cello and bass. The viola is a perfect fifth below the violin. Modern violins have chin rests. The instruments made by Amati, Stradivari are simply of top grade. These were Baroque instruments. Their instruments could endure the test of time. Fortepiano refers to early pianos made with wooden harps. The first drawings of a piano was invented by Cristofori in 1700. Pianoforte means soft-loud By 1800, pianos almost completely replaced the harpsichord. Mozart composed more than 40 concertos and was incredibly prolific. One simply cannot go wrong with Mozart. Sometimes, there will be a solo theme exclusively for the soloist. The soloist, most of the time, would also prepare a cadenza or a solo. Listen to mozart’s piano concerto no. 1. Mozart’s piano concertos are one of the most famous and best ever composed.

Send in the Buffone. Opera in the Classical Era. It is late 17th century Baroque Italian opera now. The Metastasio was composed between 1698 to 1782. It was known as opera seria, or serious opera. Rosseau hated opera serias and the aristocracy of Italy. His ideas were controversial. Opera Buffa was invented in the streets. Rosseau embraced this style of opera. Listen to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, La Serva Padrona. Listen to Mozart’s operatic ensemble. Mozart composed over 22 complete and incomplete operas. One famous one is the Magic Flue in 1791. Don Giovanni was composed in 1787. It is Italian for Don Juan. Beethoven emerged just after Mozart passed away at 35.

A Revolutionary Artist for a Revolutionary Time – Ludwig van Beethoven. Was Beethoven an 18th or 19th century man? He changed the face of Western music. Listen to Haydn’s symphony no.88 and Beethoven’s Symphony 5. Hadyn was more upbeat. Beethoven’s is ferocious and modern and dark in character. Beethoven’s is in C minor. Beethoven’s theme cannot be sung. The phrases in Hadyn’s theme are rhymed. Beethoven’s symphony 5 doesn’t sound like other music in the classical era, but sounds completely modern. What did Beethoven take his music in this direction? Beethoven was a lonely child and did not have a social life. Bach’s music had more influence on Beethoven than Mozart. After his mum passed away, he took responsibility of taking care for the family. Beethoven focused on power, sound. He was a cocky character, who learnt from Hadyn. After he lied to Hadyn, Hadyn stopped teaching him. Beethoven was very strong willed, which made it difficult to teach him. His hearing loss began in 1796 and he was deaf in 1818. However, despite all that, he still continued composing and making a difference.

Beethoven’s Compositional Innovations. When the going gets tough, the tough innovate. He was influenced by Napoleon. From 1792 to 1802, he composed mostly classical style of Hadyn and Mozart. The heroic period is between 1803 and 1815. Many of the string quartets and piano concertos were composed during this period. The late period is from 1816 to 1829. They contain the last 5 piano sonatas, the 9th symphony and the diabelli variations. He composed 9 symphonies, 16 string quartets and 32 piano sonatas. He believed that music is a form of self-expression. He simply uses classical form to where they serve his expressive needs. There are also motivic development and on-going dramatic narrative. He placed great emphasis on learning and development as an artist. Many other composers were influenced by his works. All of his innovations can be heard in the first movement of Symphony 5. The music grows from violent to lyric triumph. Theme 2 was in E-flat. Theme 2 follows on smoothly from theme 1. Now, we enter the development section. Motivic development and fragmentation have deep metaphorical meaning. Later he switches to C major. C major is the key of hope and life. Essentially, he was a Romantic composer.

My art is for me, not for you. What I feel, see, and hear is important, and I/my art will express what I feel, what I see, what I hear. Take it or leave it. – Robert Greenberg

It is the struggle between C minor and C major, between despair and hope, between death and life, that is the large-scale dramatic narrative in Beethoven’s 5th symphony. It is a struggle that is won by C major during the third movement, a victory that is celebrated in the blaring and giddy 4th movement. – Robert Greenberg

Isn’t it Romantic? The Music of the 19th Century. This is the period from 1827 to 1900. It meant a poem that dealt with legendary people. In the 19th century, it refers to something outside of the everyday. There is much expanded expressive content and incremental changes. Franz Liszt was from the Romantic era. Many respected Beethoven as the ‘Moses’ of new music. There are 4 romantic era trends. They are fascination with emotional states. Tchaikovsky wrote the fantasy overture to Romeo and Juliet in 1869. This represents explicit emotion. The second major era is musical nationalism or use of folk music. The third era was a fascination with nature. Nature was pure and was worshipped. Beethoven’s Symphony 6 represents a summer evening’s storm. It is known as the Pastoral symphony and has a 4th movement climax. There was an even greater shift to individual styles.

All art aspires to the condition of music. – Robert Greenberg

Structural Problems: Formal Challenges in early Romantic Music. Alternative structures needed to be formed. People started composing shorter pieces and without structure. Program music flourished in the 19th century. Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote is about Don Quixote in 10 episodes. A symphonic overture is a 1 movement program written in sonata form. Schumman, Mendelsson, Mahler, Dvorak all composed a few pieces based on traditional structures. Brahms was flexible, like Beethoven. Schubert created the ballad or a lieder, or a song. He composed the Erlkonig (Elf King) for Baritone and Piano. Schubert was incredibly prolific for someone who passed away at 30. He composed 9 symphonies, 13 operas and hundreds of songs. The piece is from a poem. A father attempts, vainly, to save his young son from the clutches of the ‘Elf King’. This is one person mini opera. The father is in baritone. The voice of the boy is set high. The narrator is set medium low and the Elf King is smooth. This is one of the compact, power of the German song. Schubert went from one piece to another. Both Chopin and Liszt continue to define piano music up to today. Chopin was born in 1810. He was composer for piano. He composed 16 polonaises, 4 impromptus, 21 nocturnes, 20 waltzes, 4 scherzos, 58 mazurkas, 27 etudes, 28 preludes. Chopin has unwavering commitment to the piano. His pieces are also very short.

Going Beyond Beethoven. Franz Liszt said that his talent ennobles me. He believed God bestowed him with a gift. Many composers were influenced by Beethoven. They wrote program music. Listen to Hector Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, composed in 1830. He took creative risks. He was a self-indulgent man. He composed it when he was only 27. However, it’s his most bold and influential work. It was his symphonic autobiography. It was one of the most ground-breaking works. It was a story about an artist in love. His passion for Harriet Smithson took centre stage. It was a combination about music and literature. The piece was 5 movement long. The first movement is about reveries – passion. The second is that he finds her noble and shy, yet the image is linked with a musical idea. It hardly resembles the sonata form anymore. The second movement, the image of his beloved appears wherever he goes. The third movement is dark, one of despair. He hopes that his loneliness will be over. Nature is the metaphor in this case. There is a weeping descent too. In the 4th movement, he poisons himself with opium. The ‘March of the Scaffold’ is one of the most famous movement. The author was accused of killing his beloved and his severed head was displayed to the howling mob. The fifth movement is about hallucination. ‘She’ joins the Sabbath and takes part in devilish orgy. This piece of music is stunning in how original it was.

19th Century Italian Opera – Rossini and Bel Canto. The focus is on French and Russian opera. They were very influential in the 19th century. Operas were being performed in many places. It was cultivated in the large Italian cities. Opera was supposed to delight and move the listener. The operatic style is bel canto or ‘beautiful voice’. Rossini, Bellini were some of the composers. Rossini composed William Tell, an opera. He is one of the most quotable composers of all time. Most of the time, operas were not published and they passed off old material as new. Rossini used the same overture in 4 different operas. The Barber of Seville, was however, very famous indeed. It is one of the greatest opera buffe ever composed.

Giuseppe Verdi – It’s All About the People (Dramatic Truth in Italian Opera). His name sounds European. He was no nonsense and to the point. Italian opera improved because of him. He was a prolific composer too. His wife and daughter passed away. Un Giorno di Regno was a complete failure. Nabucco was a hit. He used dramatic truth and momentum. Often he kept to his style and refused to bow down. He didn’t care what the critics thought of him. The orchestra played a much bigger role here. Aida was his most famous opera. The characters he chose resonated greatly with the audience. A lot was based on how human the characters were portrayed.

Nineteenth – Century German Opera (Von Weber and Wagner). This was about nationalism and experimentation. In 1821, Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischutz was played. German opera was not prominent. The Italian ones always reigned supreme. The singspiel type became very popular and gained huge prominence. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was outstanding and was able to capture the literary beauty of the German language. Music was tended to be dominated by minor keys. The opera tends to contain supernatural beings and happenings and a background of nature. The pattern of good over evil tend to be present. Carl Maria von Weber was a virtuoso pianist. He wanted a fully inclusive artwork. German opera was a lot more free form than Italian language ones. Richard Wagner was a controversial composer and was a revolutionary. He created over 13 musical-dramatic productions. He wanted to combine Greek drama, myth, Shakespeare and Beethoven together into an art form. Tristan und Isolde is a very influential piece. Wagner invented the Leitmotif, a thematic melody or progression that represents a person, a thing, or even an idea. A descending chromatic line represents death. Arthur Schopenhauer believed in the power of classical music. This idea helped shaped Wagner’s thinking. It cannot be denied that Wagner was revolutionary and created an alternative reality and arouses a sense of the mystical in us.

Of Thee I Sing (Music al Nationalism in the 19th century). The evolutions faltered. Political nationalism was outlawed. This led to a musical movement called nationalism. This was a powerful feeling. The basis here is largely folk music. We will explore the music of Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and the group of composers known as the Russian Five. Chopin loved Poland and some of his works are styled like Polish dances. Listen to Polonaise for Piano in A Major. It is like a waltz. This one is the most heroic. There is a simple form A-B-A. Later, he saw his income dry up as he got older. He hated performing. Liszt was an amazing piano prodigy. He was impressed by how Paganini played the violin and wanted to be the Paganini of piano. His works are very difficult to play. Many saw him as the God of piano and women were extremely impressed with him. He was virtually one of the greatest who ever lived. Later on, he composed orchestral music as well. Hungarian Rhapsodies were Hungarian folk music. The Rhapsodies are very fun. He was proud of his music. The most famous piece is Hungarian Rhapsody the 2nd in C sharp minor. It was played in Tom and Jerry too. There are constant shifts between major and minor. Nowadays, musicians could play part of their ‘ethnicism’ too. Brahms was very impressive too. He composed Hungarian dances and other works. Listen to Brahm’s Hungarian Dance 5.

Romantic Nationalism, Russian Style. Russian nationalism also emerged because of political events. St Petersburg is the most westernized city in Russia. After Napoleon’s defeat in 1812, pride swelled. One of the famous composers in Mikhail Ivanovich Glindka. Later, he composed an opera. The Russian 5 were Cesar Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Alexander Borodin, Balakirev, Glindka. They studied music carefully and analyzed them. They didn’t like Rubinstein as they were a threat to Russian music. Listen to Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov. He mastered proper compositional technique. He became very influential. Listen to the Russian Easter Overture. It is very nationalistic. This was the spirit of romanticism. Next we will explore the different factors that affected 21st century music.

A Modern Music for a Modern World. This is a period for change. Music changed dramatically. For those who liked classical music, 20th century music might seem dissonant. They are acquired tastes. However, we might feel so because people need to get used to the music. You will need to understand the context of the music and the historical perspective. The period of Beethoven was known as romanticism. Mahler’s symphony 9 is still a Romantic composition. Mahler was a complex and difficult man. He was almost homeless and never welcomed anywhere. He was ‘forced’ to conduct for a living. The first movement is pregnant with meaning. The cello notes represent his heartbeat as he was suffering from irregular heartbeats. Later, the music slips and spirals into the abyss. It is a fatal heart attack. Commercially recorded music was only available in the early 1900s. It has been a double edged sword. The speed at which we do things now will probably lead to over-stimulation in someone from the 19th century. Because people demanded more, we cannot simply play the same old music over and over again like in the past. This affected music creation. Einstein’s theory of relativity forced us to re-consider the way we live. There was an extremely great desire to be relevant.

I want my music to be as relevant to the 20th century as the aeroplane. – Claude Debussy

‘Commercial recording made it possible for anyone to hear anything, anywhere. But, unfortunately, the record industry also created the passive listener: the couch potato. With the availability of commercial recordings, it was no longer necessary to attend a concert or learn how to play an instrument yourself if you wanted to hear music. – Robert Greenberg

Two hundred years ago, people thought nothing of sitting in a carriage for 5 days to travel 250 miles; of taking 30 days to cross the Atlantic; of writing a letter and having it answered months later; of reading a 2000 page novel.- Robert Greenberg

Revolutions, Evolutions, and ‘-isms’ galore. Making New Music in the Early 20th century. The French music revolution was emerging. France is the musical marsupial of Europe. Their music tend to celebrate timbral nuances. The French language is nuanced and flexible. This is a sense of pride for the French. Claude Debussy was revolutionary. His music was characterized by finesse and nuance. He was born in Paris and hated German music. Debussy liked to eat only small portions of food. Some of his works were influenced by the French language and romantic expression/literature and Impressionism. Impressionism was about art, light, blurred edges etc. He had an original approach to rhythm, melody. Listen to ‘Nuages’ from Three Nocturenes for Orchestra. His music doesn’t have any clear theme. His style has been greatly imitated. He sees every chamber group as individual instruments that can be used in any way he pleases. The harmonic colours are often interwined. His music was not well received by critics. Often, his music contained a lot of vague floating shapes and this was not well received by many. Debussy’s music is what modern compositional music sounds like.

From Russia with Rhythm – Igor Stravinsky, Stravinsky’s teacher was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. He was a late bloomer and was not very talented when young RK accepted him as a student. Serge Diaghilev spotted Stravinsky’s talent. Stravinsky’s first great work was The Firebird. It was based on a Russian folk tale. There was plenty of innovation being used. The dance has asymmetric beats. Another work with rhythmic asymmetry is The Rite of Spring. It is the product of primitive Fauvist spirit. The dramatic narrative is created via rhythmic asymmetry.

No Waltz in the Park – Arnold Schoenberg’s Vienna and Expressionism. Vienna was the heart of the Austrian German musical tradition. His music was a continuation from German music. Many Germans and Austrians share the same language and cultural heritage. In the 19th century, expressionism was born. Schoenberg was a pure Romantic. To him, the artist should express himself to the fullest. He was born in Austria. The good thing about Vienna was that there were many composers there. He eliminated dissonance from his music. He composed 21 songs known as Pierrot Lunaire. It is basically a set of sophisticated cabaret songs. The poems follow a A-B-A form. Pierrot is the clown who has the ability to commit heinous crimes. The piece is so revolutionary that it can’t be compared with anything else.

The sound and expressive content of a given era’s music – are a function of the larger environment and a composer’s response to that environment. – Robert Greenberg

When we listen contextually – with the life and times of the composer in mind – we realize that no great piece of music is conventional. – Robert Greenberg


Music Selections

Johann Sebastian Bach – Brandenburg Concerto 2; Fugue in C minor; Cantata no. 140; Passacaglia in C Minor; Brandenburg Concertos

Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony 1, 2, 3, 6, 5, 9 ; String Quartet in E-flat Major; Piano Sonata in G major; concerto in D Major for violin and orchestra; Diabelli variations for piano

Hector Berlioz – Romeo and Juliet; The Damnation of Faust; Symphonie Fantastique

Johannes Brahms – Hungarian Dance No. 5; Piano Quartet no. 1; Concerto in D Major for violin and orchestra; clarinet quintet in B minor; piano quartet no. 1 in G minor

Frederic Chopin – Mazurka in A minor; Polonaise in A major

Claude Debussy – Three Nocturnes for Orchestra

Mikhail Glinka – A life for the Tsar

George Frideric Handel – Messiah Overture; Messiah Hallelujah Chorus

Joseph Hadyn – Symphony no. 92, 88

Gustav Mahler – Symphony 3 and 9

Felix Medelssohn – Symphony no. 4

Wolfgang Mozart – Eine kleine Nachtmusik; 12 variations on twinkle twinkle little star; Symphony 39, 40, 41; Piano concerto 17; the Magic flute; The Marriage of Figaro; Don Giovanni

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov – Russian Easter Overture

Gioachino Rossini – The Barber of Seville, ‘Una voce poco fa’

Arnold Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire no 1

Franz Schubert – Erlkonig and Symphony no. 9

Richard Strauss – Don Quixote

Igor Stravinsky – the Firebird; The Rite of Spring

Peter Tchaikovsky – Romeo and Juliet; Fantasy Overture

Richard Wagner – Tristan und Isolde



Why We Hate Cheap Things by The School of Life

Why We Hate Cheap Things. In the past, pineapples were expensive and people who bought them kept them as status symbols until they rotted and fell apart. It had almost a ritual quality. Savoring one was like a luxury. The top of the South Towers of St Paul had this divine fruit being perched on it. By the end of the 19th century, technology enabled large plantations to be built. Now, it is no longer deemed as a rare fruit. When the price falls, we become less passionate. In the past, when flying was dangerous and expensive, it seemed thrilling. Now, taking a flight on a commercial aircraft seems a little boring. We definitely do not appreciate the skies as much as Leonardo da Vinci would. The same can be said about having a hot bath. In the past, heating the water was considered difficult. It was largely reserved for war heroes or for the very rich. Now, it is a very common experience and some might even view it as a waste of time. We view cheap prices with a lack of value. Due to the Industrial Revolution, we are now able to make things cheaply. In the past, because of hand labour, more expensive things were associated with higher quality. There was a price to pay for craftsmanship. People hoped that with industrialization, prices would fall. In 1911, the commercial car was born. However, industrialization might have robbed certain experiences of loveliness, interest and worth. Now, it might seem bizarre if we are interested over cheap things. We now favor the things that are expensive. A child’s mind is more curious and wonder-like in nature. Children do not understand money. They can be obsessed with things that do not cost a lot. To adults, costs = value. Over time, when children understand money, they believe that saving for a big purchase is good. The artist Paul Cezanne was obsessed with painting apples and noticing their texture. Every apple exuded their own colour and aura. He was excited over apples, even though he was extremely rich. The fact of life is that we can get great things for little money. We have given up on too many of our native loves. In the modern society, we are drawn into advertising. The issue is that cheap but useable objects do not have sufficient advertising.

We need advertising pursued with the same sense of drama and intensity and ambition but directed towards biros, puddles and olives. – The School of Life

There are two ways to get richer: one is to make more money; the second is to discover that more of the things we could love are already to hand. – The School of Life

Contemplation of the history of the pineapple suggests a curious overlap between love and economics: when we have to pay a lot for something nice, we appreciate it to the full. – The School of Life

A reduction in our esteem for an experience follows a reduction in the cost of obtaining it. – The School of Life

This means that we often end up feeling that we can’t afford good things and that our lives are therefore sad and incomplete. The money hierarchy constantly makes us feel impoverished, while the truth is that there are more good things within our grasp than we believe. – The School of Life

Why We Look Down on People Who Don’t Earn Very Much. If you don’t earn a lot, what you say is unlikely to command much respect. There seems to be a link between talent, effort, skill and income. This is capitalism for you. A person’s wages are determined by the scale of their social contribution. Economics would say that wages solely depend on demand vs supply. Christianity insisted that a person’s worth has no relation to their financial standing. Whether you go to heaven depends on merits. Karl Marx thought that workers should be paid based on their contributions to society. This meant that the wages of the hitmen, casino owners would do down while that of the nurse and the farmer would go up. In the past, lacemaking was a job which was poorly paid. Many painters noticed this and painted pictures of lace-makers at their craft. The artists hoped that through their paintings, more would appreciate the lacemaking craft. Art gives us a sense of a person’s true merit and a willingness to disregard wages. Art can be the answer to bridge the gap between money and human value.

We recognize the phenomenon in our society well enough: the more someone earns, the more they are likely to be admired by strangers, and perceived as interesting and exciting. – The School of Life

On Being an Unemployed Arts Graduate. Arts graduates complain about finding employment. Some of them are also underpaid. Some people can’t understand why artists should be paid to study history. People lack a real understanding of what the humanities are about and how it can benefit humanity. The universities also can’t explain why students should pursue humanities. Humanities are the closest we have to replace religion. They are bodies of work that teach us how to lead our lives. We need to reinvent universities. There are practical aspects of reading 19th century literature. Humans crave nourishment as well. There needs to be a new definition of culture.

Good Materialism. Materialism is generally seen as bad. Is there such a thing as good materialism? We have failed to distinguish good from bad materialism. Even religious people have made material items, like shrines, artworks etc. They did so because they believed it developed their souls. Some material possessions can be seen as transubstantiation, where they have both a practical and physical form. Material objects can have a spiritual role in our lives. They can give us a chance to understand ourselves better. We should only purchase things which can lead to the better encouragement of ourselves.

We are still enmeshed in the desire to possess – but we are encouraged to feel rather bad about it. – The School of Life

Why We Are So Bad at Shopping. We need to learn how to shop. Shopping for others is tricky, but we don’t seem to think so for ourselves. Capitalism is supposed to provide us with unlimited options. However, humans are influenced by group instincts. There are very standard consumer patterns in our economy. Our shopping choices are really not that personal. Humans like to follow trends etc. They like to buy what it is fashion in the modern age. We do not want to appear weird in front of our friends. We do not analyze pleasurable activities much. Product reviews don’t help us too much as well.

Part of the problem is that we lack the ability to know, looking back over experiences, what truly brought us pleasure. Our brains aren’t so keen on taking apart their satisfactions – and therefore plotting how to recreate them. – The School of Life

It isn’t that we are too focused on shopping, we are not thinking deeply enough about what we’re doing. We haven’t yet learnt to be doggedly precise enough about pinning down our own fun and making sure we get it. – The School of Life

Using Sex to Sell. Using sex to sell seems cheap and low-class. Ficino believed that humans will move from sex to love. The next stage would be to long and have the capacity to understand. To get someone to understand something, it would to get the person interested in sex. Ficino suggested to Lorenzo to paint pictures of beautiful and sexy people. There is nothing wrong to use it and it has been used in the Renaissance period. However, it is useful to sell something noble. Once our senses are ignited, it is easier to learn. However, there is a need to sell things like books related to wisdom and philosophy.


Singapore Writer’s Festival 2017 (Part 2)

Why I Write: The Social Responsibilities of a Writer. Many people struggle with mental illness and there is a need to break the silence of mental illness. Try to live each day with dignity. Life is full of ups and downs. But the question is how we live life courageously in the face of trying circumstances. Writers write because there is something deeply that they care about. It is important to write from the heart (pain/loss). It is also important to place content in a suitable medium (make it accessible to blind readers, for instance). Listening without judgment is a skill that not many of us have. Use your sight to observe others and observe keenly. In life, everyone wants to be understood, even the poor or the mentally less able. Learn to inculcate understanding/ acceptance among others. Learn to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Changing Singaporeans’ mindsets towards mental illnesses is crucial. The aim of most of these books is for Singapore to become empathetic society. Caregivers need support as well and not just the patient/family member etc.

Against All Odds. Sam and her family had a happy life and marriage. They had 3 kids. However, after a fall in Thailand, she was paralyzed from the waist down and this put an end to her sporting endeavors. She could no longer do the things she enjoyed because of this spinal injury. After the incident, she felt depressed and upset with life. However, one day, a penguin came into her house and she found that because she could take care of something so fragile, it sparked inspiration in life and for her to keep going on. If you a writer, something will call out to you. Enjoy the moment in life, carpe diem. The penguin story is a spontaneous thing that happened and it was not planned for. Her husband (Cameron) captured beautiful images of the penguin and told the story of Sam through the bird. The penguin lived with them for 2+ years and the whole family, including the boys adored them. Although Sam can no longer surf, she can still kayak in the lake and train for the para-Olympics competitions. There is a need to learn to compromise after you had a serious accident. You will have to learn to do things in a different way. It is crucial to be physically and mentally active if you want to keep your zest for life. Exercise can definitely help you in a huge way. It is important to remain optimistic in the face of trying circumstances and you will eventually find a way forward.

Aram Across Religions. There are some commonalities across religions. Aram is an Indian word which means ‘what should someone do/what should someone avoid’. It has deep roots in ethics and values. Dhamma is what distinguishes humans from animals. Animals go by their instinct while humans have choice. This is the main difference between animals and humans. Even if you are very intelligent, without aram, you are like a block of wood. Aram consists of 2 main values – basic human values (Do not do harm to others) and values related to one’s life (value-specific ones). Religions all set out with the aim of creating Universal peace. It is interesting because all religious buildings end up with a peak at the top of the structure. Buddha emphasized the importance of discussing points of agreement and not disagreement. There is no need to argue. Literature is important as it portrays experience. All religions move to one being, with common values. There are many things that can be learnt from the Bible. William Wan drove the Kindness movement in Singapore. Love, Kindness, working humbly are all common values that all religions share. However, it is also possible to be an ethical, moral and virtuous person even if you do not faith in God. Buddha also struggled deeply to get rid of his human weaknesses and achieve human enlightenment. There is nobody that cannot be reformed and transformed. It is always important to remain grateful and to remember your roots. You are never good alone as everyone needs the help of others. Rama is a role model for mankind as he shows how to be good when the odds are not in your favor. On the surface, religions have many differences. However, when you go deeper, you will realize that religion is a lot more common than you think. As a human, we need to learn to be passionate and compassionate.

A Brighter Tomorrow? Aram and What the Youth Want. There are 17 Singapore sustainable developmental goals that we all thrive for. It is important to get youth to be involved. Jessica Cheam founded a start-up called Eco-business, which is an NGO. She aims to tackle issues like inequality and climate change. It is important for young people to be passionate about such causes. The story is yours to shape and to develop. The future is in your hands. It is important to give words of encouragement sometimes to others. Help the youth where no one believes in them. Help those people in welfare homes. Ultimately, love is important and if you really care for someone, put your heart into it. Love the person you want to help. Give the opportunity to a young person and you just might change someone’s life. What is the modern Singapore story? Singapore has moved from a third world to first in just 1 generation. However are Singaporeans still hungry? Do they still want to live the material dream? Different generations of people want different things. Migrant female workers are marginalized and can’t speak well. Many are from low-income families and marry poor men. There is too much social injustice. Amanda Chong is doing work in this area to help these migrant workers and their kids. These segments of society need more attention and bringing out the successful stories will help them. Can you be a protagonist in your own story/life?



Singapore Writer’s Festival 2017 (Part 1)

The Green State of Singapore. Singapore has plenty of thriving nature ecosystems. The last of the tigers seen on the island was the 1930s. In the last 100 years, there is a trend of increased use of cultivated land (crops) and increase urban land use. The percentage of primary forests have decreased a lot. The 1960s marked the resettlement of people from village to HDB. NParks works with MINDEF to allocate land for jungle training. These jungles also enable biodiversity to thrive. The interesting thing is that in the 1930s, almost all of Singapore’s bio-diversity was gone and this had to be built from scratch. Today, Singapore has an outstanding range of biodiversity. We have over 400 bird species, which is 4% of the different bird species in the world. We also range high on the bio-diversity index and have improved over time. We top the Green new Index, the Treepedia by MIT. Some interesting species which we have are the Horseshoe Crab, where there are properties in their blood which can detect certain toxins in human blood. Everyone needs to take positive action. Nparks has a nature conversation masterplan in place to boost our conservation efforts. Roadside greenery and the various nature parks, reservoirs are all due to careful planning. 22 May is the bio-diversity roundtable and we also get schools involved. There is a school where the Chinese teacher actually brings students in the courtyard for lessons, where there is more greenery. 93% of Singapore’s forests were chopped in 1883 due to colonization. The Botanic gardens were tasked to re-forest and to grow Singapore’s bio-diversity in the late 1800s. Up to the 1930s, Singapore produced most of their food. In the modern day, we import almost everything. This was largely due to government policy on the need to make better use of the land and modernize our economy. Botanic Gardens actually re-introduces extinct orchids through a hybridization process. The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew was the chief gardener. Almost everything green in Singapore has been created and this provides a conducive environment for businesses to set up shop here. Trees were planted along expressways to impress tourists. When animals (tigers, wild boars, meerkets) are dangerous, we try to get rid of them. The green movement is growing and more young people are on-board. The increase in green energy does not necessarily mean it’s good for eco-systems as these are very distinct. Land still needs to be set-up for natural eco-systems. Roof gardens on multi-storey carparks are also more common.

All in a Traveller’s Day. The Chinese and Taiwanese markets are bigger than Singapore’s for writing. Write about your own experiences. Traveling can inspiring you to write. Mimi is an illustrator and now a comic book writer. One can use social media to update people on your upcoming novel. This might be a niche area. Writing a travel guide is different from a novel as you are heavily constrained by guidelines. Telling your publisher upfront that you are going to work on a particular work might help as it leads to you feeling the pressure and motivation to get things done. Most Singaporeans travel casually because they feel repressed here. However, most do not achieve the type of depth that travel writers experience. It is necessary for travel writing to have some element of universality, and not completely personal. Sometimes, even if you are a travel writer, it is important to just go in with less expectations and to experience as many things as naturally as possible. There is no need to contrive a novel. A good thing about comics is that you can exaggerate things that happened along the trip. The problem is that social media is all about framing and people make the place seems very exclusive and empty. However, in reality, there could be many people waiting for the same opportunity as you. Smartphone apps have changed the way we view things and meet people. Travel writing needs to be very open and chatty. Marc Nair writes a short haiku for every of his photos. There is a need to be a responsible traveler, such as by recycling materials. The problem with some tourists is that they may intrude into someone’s privacy if they go too close to someone’s famous house for a photo opportunity etc. Poetry can be linked with photography if it tries to explore the space in a photo. Write in your own voice and learn to find your own writing style. Sometimes, it is useful to get lost while traveling as it allows you to experience things you wouldn’t normally had a chance to.

From Apart to a Part: Writing to Unite. To some, many do not know where home is as they might have been displaced due to violence, turmoil in their own country etc. However, home is actually within you and once you are at peace, you must feel at home everywhere you go. Suki Kim taught English to North Koreans in NK for 6 months and wrote about her experiences. In NK, everyday felt the same and it felt really empty. There were no news/emails received and you didn’t know how to assess what was true. It was mainly propaganda. Literature can connect the arts/culture and translation is important as it helps to revive old literature. Through the shared power of literature, it is powerful enough to spread culture and important cultures. Learn to immerse yourself in other cultures. Learn to understand the human narratives through talking to refugees etc. The power of fiction is so amazing that someone else might actually think your character is a real person. It is almost possible to fall in love with a character in a book. All of us humans have a story to tell. It sucks being a migrant worker. The panelists shared about a Nigerian woman who tried to go to Italy to work as a result of social unrest in her country. However, her journey was fraught with difficulties and dangers. Stories help us to understand the world and make sense of what is true. Sometimes, the media do not feature such stories and hence the truth is suppressed. Social media is a way of broadcasting to the masses. There is a need to learn about someone else, and one of the best ways are through stories. Poetry is like rain, which politicians can’t stop. Soon, it will seep into the ground like rain. Writers have a social responsibility to share the stories of those who have slipped through the cracks. Through this sharing, it is hoped that the world will be more aware of such plights.

Growing up with Sumiko Tan. Sumiko graduated from English literature and moved on to a journalist covering crime. Later on, she wrote 2 books on crime. She is well known for her personal columns in the Straits Times on Sundays. The good thing about a personal column is that it allows everyone to start off on a clean slate. She wanted to show everyone that small things in life have a bigger meaning. Everyday experiences can be interesting as well. However, most of her columns had the same succinct writing and a certain structure to it. Over the years, she has received much praise for her work and sometimes some criticisms too. She always chooses to write from the heart and that’s how her topics were chosen. It is no wonder that she has written 400+ columns over 22 years. However, she only like 10 to 20% of them. They were compiled into a book. Some of the topics she covers are her pets, love, death, loneliness etc. She has an obsession with death. She only got married at age 46 and does not regret having no kids. Having kids would just have affected her career achievements. Now, she interviews household names like Tony Fernandez, Zoe Tay etc. Often, she also writes about her mum and husband. ST uses readership surveys to decide whether to continue her column and most readers responded positively. Over the years, Sumiko has generated the art to write everywhere, even with distractions abound. Deadlines also help her. Sumiko avoids over-dramatization of her characters and also plans to write short stories in future. She likes works by Sonny Liew and Tash Aw, local authors. Young people nowadays can do an internship or even start a blog to showcase their works and talents. This might help employers notice and aid in a job hunt. It is important to be sincere in your writings. She is grateful to having been born in Singapore, in such exciting times. So far, she does not have many regrets in her personal life.