[FEATURE] Music-making on the keys with Kerong Chok

It was 9.30am that morning, and yet there was a considerable amount of students that turned up for the workshop; both pianists and non-pianists majors alike. In less than two hours, he had managed to open the world of harmonization to us, going in-depth quickly from the mere basics he had started off with.

Kerong addressing participants of the workshop 22 May 2014

Recently, we had the good fortune of having Kerong Chok, pianist of the Teriver Cheung Trio, organize a jazz piano workshop in UCSI University. This workshop was described by him to be “less abstract” compared to other workshops, and focused largely on the understanding of harmony, as well as how to be a better accompanist without clashing with the melody. Expanding your repertoire and internalizing the songs would help, he explained, as it would easier to harmonize them effectively.

In the first part of the workshop, Chok goes through the basic practices for chords and their tensions. He points out available intervals according to scale that can be used to construct varying colors in chords. While it might seem very basic, he also talks about how the best movement and voicings could be achieved, with ways including inner voicings, contrary motions, as well as the various shapes of voice leading. He demonstrates each of these on the piano, mostly in the C key.

Later, Chok went on to talk about how a lead sheet can be interpreted. Instead of playing the single melody line as is, he suggested harmonizing the notes to get a fuller sound. Passing dominants were also mentioned at this point, as well as the use of diminished chords and tritone substitution; though he stresses that all these shouldn’t be used without justification. During the process of harmonization, the notes of the melody should also be taken into account of whether it is a note or tension to a usable chord to avoid clashing with the lead instrumentalist or singer.

Kerong accompanying Frances with a on-the-spot rendition of Tea for Two
Kerong accompanying Frances with a on-the-spot rendition of Tea for Two

The workshop came to a entertaining close with Frances Tsen coming up to perform a spontaneous rendition of “Tea for Two” with Chok. Utilizing the very same techniques he had talked about through out the workshop, he shows how an accompanist can compliment a vocalist’s performance, thus bringing the performance to an even higher standard. In the Q&A session, he was asked if there was a way to improve on the jazz language, or to memorize new genres. His response was to listen more. It was also a way to help the vocabulary and melody referencing, which would in turn improve their solo in the long run.

The workshop was well worth attending. As a musician who will eventually venture into playing with bands, or accompanying singers in venue, it’s important to know that playing solo is very different from playing accompaniment. I’ve also learned that listening more is inevitably important to increase one’s musical repertoire, as well as to learn to adapt to different styles. While there are more that could be still be learnt and explored, Chok has definitely given us a head-start into the world of performing.

Article was written by Chan Yuen Kaye, 3rd year student of the Bachelor of Contemporary Music program.

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