dear diary...

Dearest Papa,

Dearest Papa,

Happy 52nd Birthday! Today, I had my virgin experience of social art jamming, with the intention of painting something that could be gifted to you as your birthday present. Well, art alone without meaning is but a symphony of colours harmonised and mingled together with brushstrokes bold and fine. So here is a list of things that went through my head as I embarked on a 3-hour long artistic voyage on a Tuesday afternoon without even pausing to drink or eat:

  1. Just like how I am your very first child, your maiden voyage into this big, uncertain, sometimes scary world of fatherhood, this piece of art is my first jab at creating something somewhat aesthetically pleasing.
  2. First attempts are never perfect. The artwork is definitely not perfect. And neither am I. If you asked me, I could go on and on about all the regrets I have about this painting and the mistakes that I had foolishly made precisely because of my inexperience. I screwed up, made mistakes, cursed myself, panicked, found solutions, asked for help, prayed for things to get better and go my way. I sketched and erased, tested the waters, debated between purple and grey. But still, the background is too patchy, and the branches look too flat. The petals of some of the flowers are warped and slightly deformed. Yet, despite all these blemishes and imperfections, they are unmistakably mine and I own them like how you have owned me in the twenty years that you’ve raised me — proud and with the most unshakable conviction of a creator, a father. And I salute you for that.
  3. Being a father, whether it’s your first time or 5th time, is always stressful. I can’t claim to have carried the kind of weight you’ve been carrying, but painting under a time limit is pressurising period. Not to mention painting outside the comfort and private confines or your own home. Every stroke, every move is made under public scrutiny. Constantly, your ears are helplessly deluged with cacophony of opinions, peoples’ ruthless judgments, comments and criticisms. You try not to buckle, take a deep breath, calm your nerves and continue your hustle. Thank you for raising me in your own way, even when the voices that tempt and mislead echo ever so loudly and persistently.
  4. Cherry Blossoms. Why Cherry Blossoms, you may ask. You have always wanted to go to some place like Japan in the summer during the Cherry Blossom season, but have been unable to because of your busy schedule and us. This painting is for you and all the opportunities that you have missed because of me, Bin and Kai, while we await that one summer when we can finally catch the flowers together as a family. Aside, the Cherry Blossom is perhaps the most fitting embodiment of life and all it’s beauty, ephemerality and fragility. This is a reminder to cherish every second spent with loved ones and every moment, no matter how upset or angry or disappointed you may be, because it is precisely these emotions that lift the highs of life even higher.


Infinitely, with love

Your daughter, Ning ❤


dear diary...

A Letter to Debussy

Bonjour Monsieur,

Just recently, I stumbled upon a playlist of your pieces on Spotify and I must say that I am very thankful for that. In this day and age, it is simply too hard to find music as divine and beautifully complex as yours. Your pieces leave me with a very rich feeling and often, when it ends, I will feel as if I had just woken up from a reverie. Google tells me that you were an impressionist composer. I have heard of impressionism in art before. They typically have quick, thin brushstrokes, their objects lack defining outlines and they omit minute details. This made me wonder: what makes your pieces impressionistic? Here are my thoughts on one of your masterpieces, Clair de Lune, in my humble attempt to understand musical impressionism.

Clair de Lune has a magical ability to evoke different moods. I feel that it evokes several different qualities and auras of a moonlit landscape. The notes were like a force. This force was strong enough to nudge my thoughts in a certain direction but not impose a definite shape on them. In a way, although your notes inspire a certain vibe, I still had the freedom and space to project my own imaginations onto the piece.

In the opening 14 bars, there is a general stillness and tranquility marked by pianissimo in dynamics. There is not much movement going on in the first 8 bars as the left hand sustains a thinly constructed harmonic line that slowly descends while the right hand delivers the melodic theme that clearly stands out from the mellow harmonic backing. These few bars alone conjured in me a sense of pensiveness, a peaceful imagery of a lonesome moon.

This peacefulness, however, is soon shattered and disturbed as you gave the next section a different texture. From bar 27, the harmonic line adopts an arpeggioc texture, rendering more movement and liveliness. This section brings to my mind the whirling cells of clouds in Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Amidst the flurry of movements (of the air particles and light in the painting; of the arpeggiation of the chords), there still is an established order – a distinctive melodic line stands out in the sopra voce just as how in the painting, the general image of the stars and the moon are not undermined by the seemingly chaotic brush strokes.

After several bars, you brought back the melancholic theme of the first 8 bars. I noticed that you modified the theme quite a bit. I interpreted this thematic recurrence as something like a memory – an imperfect one – of the tranquility evoked in the opening bars. Just like how the theme recurs with a structurally different baseline and tonal quality, our memories of things from the past can never be as perfect as the past itself. It is sometimes effaced by the passage of time and our limited capacity to remember perfectly. Sometimes, our imagination and emotions at the time of remembering embellish and enrich the memory, just like how the harmonic line thicken with the addition of more notes.

My conclusion is that, in the same way that an impressionistic painting aims to make viewers grasp the general mood and form of the object, impressionistic compositions like yours seek to inspire rather than impose a certain atmosphere and image. I would love to hear from you about the ways in which you achieve this through notes and harmonies.