All posts by Devin Kwok

2016 November Newsletter

Moving to Calgary

As many of you know, I have confirmed that I am leaving Fort McMurray after the end of this term in December, as my wife is transferring to Calgary. For piano lessons, I will send out individual emails to refer you to another music teacher. Please be patient as there are a limited number of piano teachers in town and their schedules may already be filled. If you are taking theory, I am happy to continue our lessons over Skype or a similar video calling service.

Finally, a big thank you to all my past and present students for making Fort McMurray an awesome place to teach! If you enjoyed having me as your teacher, please consider sending me your testimonial by email or commenting at Your feedback will help me improve and continue teaching music in Calgary.

Studio Recital

Our final studio recital will be on Friday December 16, tentatively scheduled at 7pm. Please dress accordingly as this is a formal, ticketed event which will be held in the Suncor theatre (same building as regular lessons). Family and friends, please come support your students! I will be performing as well, and there will be a reception with snacks and drinks afterwards. If you need to leave early or arrive late, please let me know and I will prepare the order of performances accordingly. If you are unable to attend, I strongly suggest we prepare for the outreach performance on November 25th (see below).

Outreach Recital

I am arranging for a casual performance downtown at the hospital’s extended care ward for myself and any of my students. We are tentatively scheduled for Friday November 25, from 2pm-3pm. This is a great opportunity to give back to our community, and a chance to perform for those of you who will be away on our December 16 recital. If you would like to participate, please let me know right away.

Winter Gala

UpTown’s annual winter gala performance is on Dec 9. Come see performances by the string ensemble, vocal ensembles, and dance groups of UpTown’s classes. I will be performing a solo and accompanying the choirs.

Piano Tuner

If you have an acoustic piano, we now have a local piano tuner in town! As part of regular maintenance, pianos should be tuned once or twice a year, after seasonal changes in humidity and temperature. Please contact Dianne Paré at 780-531-0699 or at

Important Dates

  • Nov 25, 2pm: outreach recital (downtown, TBD)
  • Dec 6-9: last week of regular lessons
  • Dec 9, 7pm: UpTown Winter Gala showcase (Suncor theatre in Holy Trinity)
  • Dec 13-15: make up lessons
  • Dec 16, 7pm: studio recital (Suncor theatre in Holy Trinity)


Studio registrations – 2016 Fall

Welcome back everyone! Fall music lessons will be starting the week of September 13 and ending December 9, with a make-up week from December 13 to 16. My teaching times are now Tuesdays through Fridays, 3:30pm to 8:30pm.

If you haven’t already contacted me, please email a preferred weekday and time for your lesson registration, as well as an alternate day and time. I will confirm the lesson time and forward payment instructions to you.

Updated studio policies

During the last term I had multiple students miss months of lessons, which not only took up my time but also made it impossible for them to progress. Starting this term, registrations must be for the full term (13 weeks), and missed lessons are no longer credited towards the next term, but can be rescheduled or made up. If you will be missing more than 1-3 lessons, please be aware that I cannot reschedule every one.

I’ve also added updated my recommendations for practising. You can read the updated policies here:

Future terms

Due to external circumstances, I regret to say that I may be leaving Fort McMurray after December. Please know that I am committed to teach until the end of this term, and I will do my best to transfer you to another studio if I am unable to teach in January. I am currently speaking with other music teachers in town to find room for transfer students. Theory students can continue taking lessons through online calls. Please let me know if you have any concerns, and if you no longer wish to register, I fully understand and can refer you to another teacher upon request.

2016 April Newsletter

Summer term

Don’t forget that lessons resume this week! I will be arranging make-up lessons with you individually for the end of term. Finally, please inform me right away if you will be registering for summer lessons, starting June 12.

Marie-Josée Lord Trio

Fort McMurray Music Teachers Association has been offered a special 10% discount on tickets to the classical voice concert this Friday April 15 at Keyano. To redeem the discount please use the code MJL online at this link or at the Keyano Box Office. The discount code is valid for advance purchases only and will expire April 14th at 11:59 pm. Full concert details here.

RCM summer exams

For those of you doing RCM exams, the deadline for summer exam registrations is June 1. Theory exams are on August 5-6, and practical exams between August 8-20. If you are not sure whether you should register for this exam session, please consult me by email or at your lesson. You can register for exams at, using my teacher number 105796.

Music Heals donations

Music Heals is a foundation supporting music therapy services across Canada, and they are looking for used iPods and other MP3 players to repurpose for therapy. If you have an old music player you no longer use, please consider donating it to this program. Mailing and drop off locations can be found here:

Upcoming Dates

  • April 11: lessons resume
  • April 15, 8pm: Marie-Josée Lord Trio (Keyano Recital Theatre)
  • May 24, 7:30pm: studio recital (Suncor Theatre)
  • May 30 – June 5: lesson make-up week
  • June 12: summer term start

(The fundraising recital on April 24 has been cancelled)

2016 March newsletter

Music Festival

The schedule for music festival has been posted at If you registered for festival, please check the date and time of your performance. Note that some festival times are during school hours.

Composer Workshop

As part of music festival, adjudicator Christine Donkin will be holding a workshop on composing music for beginners. The workshop is at Westwood Theatre on Saturday March 12, with an entry fee of $15 (payable at entrance). Please RSVP by email to if you are interested in attending. Full details at

Fundraising Recital

I am performing with other music teachers in town for a recital on April 24! Please mark your calendars as this will be an excellent opportunity to hear our local musicians. The recital will be fundraising for Sorrentino House in Edmonton (see for details).

Studio Recital

Our annual recital will be held on Tuesday May 24, tentatively scheduled at 7:30pm. Please let me know if you cannot attend. We will discuss what repertoire to perform in private lessons.

Upcoming Dates

  • Mar 12: music festival: composition workshop (Westwood Theatre)
  • Mar 21 – Apr 10: no class
  • Mar 19 – Apr 18: music festival, piano (Suncor Theatre)
  • Apr 9: music festival, instrumental (Westwood Theatre)
  • Apr 24: Sorrentino House fundraising recital (Westwood Theatre)
  • May 24, 7:30pm: studio recital (Suncor Theatre)

2015 November Newsletter

The studio masterclass is coming up on Nov. 27. Even if you aren’t playing in the masterclass, come and join us for Christmas games after!

Also be sure to check out the concert on Nov. 28, featuring Dr. Jim Sherry (trumpet) and Bang Lang Do (piano) from the faculty of the University of Dubuque, along with Fort McMurray’s high school and community bands. This is a rare opportunity to hear great wind music!


The masterclass is a chance for myself and my students to perform their works in progress. We are scheduled for Friday, November 27 at 7:30pm-8:30pm, but if you are performing in the masterclass and can’t make this time, please let me know immediately and I will try to accommodate you. The masterclass will be in Suncor Theatre in Holy Trinity High School, which is the same building that UpTown! lessons are held in.

In this informal event (no dress code), students perform their piece and get a mini-lesson on their work so far. Once all performances are finished, we will have some musical games with Christmas tunes, snacks, and prizes. Please let me know if you or your student has any allergies.


I am now offering saxophone lessons – please contact me for details.


Listenings is a series about the music I enjoy. This month’s listening is Benjamin Britten’s cantata Rejoice in the Lamb.

Upcoming Dates

  • Nov 21, 6pm: FMMTA 32nd Annual Scholarship and Awards Recital (Keyano Recital Theatre)
  • Nov 27, 7:30pm: studio masterclass (Suncor Theatre at Holy Trinity)
  • Nov 28, 7pm: Dr. Jim Sherry and Bang Lang Do concert, with Fort McMurray Community Band (Suncor Theatre at Holy Trinity)
  • Dec 6-10: make up week (I will book lessons with you individually)
  • Dec 11: UpTown! Winter Gala, featuring performances by students and instructors from UpTown’s music and dance programs
  • Dec 12, 2pm: RCM theory exam: advanced rudiments

Britten – Rejoice in the Lamb

Benjamin Britten was a celebrated 20th century composer who is best known for “bringing back” English opera. Like musical theatre, an opera is a play in which the words are sung, and has been popular in Italy since it was invented there in the 17th century. English opera was less common after the death of composer Henry Purcell in 1695, but Purcell’s music inspired Britten to return to the genre, starting with the opera Peter Grimes in 1945.

Besides opera, Britten wrote many other kinds of music for singers, including the chilling War Requiem in memory of World War II. During the war, Britten also wrote the cantata Rejoice in the Lamb for the anniversary of a church. A cantata is like a mini-opera without costumes and acting, and J.S. Bach famously wrote over 200 of them on everything from the Bible to his love of coffee. Below is a recording of Rejoice in the Lamb by the Choir of King’s College in Cambridge, in 2 parts.

A cantata has several parts, or movements, which are either for the chorus (all singers), or a solo (one singer). Below is a chorus movement that is written as a fugue, a form that is similar to the canons we discussed in Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Listen to how each voice starts singing the melody at a different time, but joins together with the other voices at the end.

The libretto, or lyrics, of the cantata are from a poem by Christopher Smart, who wrote it when he was supposedly insane. This religious poem includes such odd ideas as the “rhymes” of different instruments (the cymbal’s are bell, well, toll, and soul), and the letters H, K, L, and M. The poem is best known for its description of Smart’s cat “Jeoffrey”, a section which Britten sets as a lovely solo for treble (high women’s or boy’s) voice. Listen to this solo below, along with the following movement, which is an alto (low women’s voice) solo telling the story of a mouse.

Besides voice and percussion (drums and cymbals), the only instrument you will hear is the pipe organ. Organs were the original music synthesizer, popular before the invention of pianos and electronics. They came in all shapes and sizes, from hand-cranked versions played on street corners, to enormous instruments still used in churches today. Organs have several stops, or groups of pipes, that each make a different sound, and the largest organs can imitate an entire orchestra with hundreds of stops. in the movement below, listen to the different dynamics (loud and soft) and timbres (the instrument it sounds like) that the organ can play.

2015 October Newsletter

I hope you are enjoying your Thanksgiving break! Don’t forget that there are no classes this week, between Oct 11-15.

Please check out the Upcoming Dates below for the many concerts coming next month, including the newly listed Alberta Symphony Orchestra promotional tour featuring a talented string quintet and Fort McMurray’s own soprano Cara Brown!

RCM winter exam registration

For those of you doing RCM exams, the deadline for winter exam registrations is November 3. Theory exams are on Dec 11 and 12, and practical exams between Jan 18-30. If you are not sure whether you should register for this exam session, please consult me by email or at your lesson. You can register for exams at, using my teacher number 105796.

Community bands

The community band and jazz bands which I play in are looking for new members (age 14 and up). Rehearsals are Tuesdays or Thursdays at 7:30pm in Holy Trinity. If you are interested you can contact me or register online through the Suncor Theatre box office at Holy Trinity.

If you play a woodwind instrument and prefer a smaller group, my woodwind chamber ensemble also has room for more players! Expect jazzy Christmas songs and tunes from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Our first meeting is Oct 17, so contact me right away.


Listenings is a series about the music I enjoy. This month, we have the cool jazz of Dave Brubeck Quartet’s album Time Out.

Upcoming Dates

  • Oct 17, 1pm-5:15pm: Elizabeth Clarke masterclass (Casman Centre Amphitheater – free!)
  • Oct 18, 7pm: Elizabeth Clarke concert (Casman Centre Amphitheater – free!)
  • (NEW!) Nov 14, 7:30pm: ASO Promo Tour (Keyano College Recital Theatre)
  • Nov 3: RCM winter exams registration deadline
  • Nov 21, 6pm: FMMTA 32nd Annual Scholarship and Awards Event (Keyano College Recital Theatre)
  • Nov 27: studio masterclass (Suncor Theatre at Holy Trinity)
  • Nov 28: Dr. James Sherry and Bang Lang Do concert, with Fort McMurray Community Band (Suncor Theatre at Holy Trinity)

Brubeck Quartet – Time Out

Dave Brubeck was a great American jazz pianist and composer and one of the creators of the style know as cool jazz. Jazz was born from African-American blues and spirituals, and quickly spread around the world to become one of the first genres of popular, or pop music. Jazz’s use of syncopated (off the beat) rhythms, “blue” or off-tune notes, and improvisation (making up music on the spot), is still heard in everything from modern classical music to rock and roll, R&B, and hip hop. Cool jazz was a reaction to the fast, difficult style of bebop jazz, which was itself a reaction to the dance styles of the “big bands” of the 1920s to 1940s.

A typical jazz tune can be adapted from existing songs such as “Someday My Prince Will Come”, or an original composition. This song is repeated at the beginning and the end as the “head”, while musicians take turn improvising a new melody during the “solos” in the middle. The remaining musicians repeat a pattern of chords, called the chord “changes”, to give the melody harmony throughout.

Organized by Brubeck from 1951, The Dave Brubeck Quartet is a typical jazz ensemble with a drummer (Joe Morello) to keep time, a bassist (Eugene Wright) to lay down the changes, a harmonizing instrument (Dave Brubeck on piano), and one or more melodic instruments (Paul Desmond on alto saxophone). The quartet’s most famous album is Time Out, which plays with your sense of time by using unusual or irregular meters of 5, 6, or 9 beats per measure.

“Blue Rondo a La Turk” was inspired by street music heard by the quartet while touring Turkey, and is written on a 9 beat pattern divided into 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 parts. The title of the song is a play on Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” (Rondo in the style of the Turks), which was itself inspired by Turkish military band music. An abrupt change into 4/4 marks the start of Paul Desmond’s solo, which showcases the relaxed and light sound of cool jazz.

“Take Five” is one of the best known jazz tunes of all time. Played entirely in 5/4 meter, you can hear the division of 5 beats (10 subdivisions) into 3 + 3 + 2 + 2 clearly in the piano part throughout – the same beat pattern as the “Mission Impossible” theme.

Kathy’s Waltz starts as an unassuming 4/4, which is then transformed into an upbeat 3/4 when Desmond enters. But during Brubeck’s piano solo, he magically returns to the original quadruple time while the drums and bass continue the triple time that started with saxophone. If you tap along to every 2 beats from the beginning, you will find there are exactly 3 beats of the faster triple time for every 2 beats of the slower quadruple time, a relationship called polyrhythm or hemiola.

2015 September Newsletter

Hello everyone!

Please read below for information about the fall term.

Studio Masterclass

The masterclass date has been changed to the afternoon or evening of Friday, November 27. Please let me know if you can’t make that time.

FMMTA Scholarships for RCM exams

If you completed a Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) exam in the last school year, you can submit your mark to Fort McMurray Music Teacher’s Association (FMMTA) for their annual scholarships. Deadline is Sept 30. For submission instructions, see this document.

Woodwind Ensemble

I’d like to start a chamber music group for woodwinds (flute, clarinet, saxophone, oboe/bassoon). If you or someone you know plays a woodwind instrument and is interested in joining, please let me know!


Listenings is a series about the music I enjoy. If you missed the last article, it was Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy.

Some of you also know that I got married this summer! I wrote original music for the wedding – if you are curious about my activities as a composer, you can listen to my music here: Music for A Ceremony of Union.

Upcoming Dates

  • Oct 17, 1pm-5:15pm: Elizabeth Clarke masterclass (Casman Centre Amphitheater – free!)
  • Oct 18, 7pm: Elizabeth Clarke concert (Casman Centre Amphitheater – free!)
  • Nov 21: FMMTA 32nd Annual Scholarship and Awards Event (Suncor Theatre at Holy Trinity)
  • Nov 27: studio masterclass (Suncor Theatre at Holy Trinity)
  • Nov 28: Dr. James Sherry and Bang Lang Do concert, with Fort McMurray Community Band (Suncor Theatre at Holy Trinity)


Welcome to the composition portal! All your homework is listed here.

If you need more staff paper, you can print some from here:

Week 4

  1. We will be looking at YOUR composition work next week – no excuses. Use all techniques we have covered to this point.
  2. Vocal melody exercise: find 1-2 lines from a poem other text (by an established author) that would be suitable for setting to music. Identify key features of the text.
    • what is the syllabic stress?
    • what are the most important words?
    • set the text to a melody in a non-standard scale (not major/minor)
    • use rhythm, meter, and intervals to emphasize stressed syllables and key words
  3. Read James Agee’s poem Sure On This Shining Night. Compare Samuel Barber’s setting with Morten Lauridsen’s. Both were/are American composers. Ignoring the stylistic differences between these 2 compositions, compare their treatment of the text through melody.
    • First analyze the text, identifying the syllabic stress and key words.
    • Focus only on melody In each composer’s setting. Find a few motifs that recur in the melody only.
    • In each melody, identify which words in the text have the following features:
    • melodic emphasis – larger or more dissonant intervals stand out
    • rhythmic emphasis (agogic accent) – longer notes emphasize certain words
    • melisma – using more than one note per syllable also creates emphasis
  4. Listen to Stravinsky’s The owl and the pussycat. This piece is from later in Stravinsky’s career when he focused on 12-tone (serial) composition, meaning the use of all 12 chromatic notes in a regular pattern.
    • Even though this song is fairly atonal (has no clear key), the same text setting features apply. Identify which key words have melodic or rhythmic emphasis.

Week 3

  1. Complete week 2’s work.
  2. Scales: create a piece from a scale of 3-6 notes. Avoid using a scale you already know, even if it’s only part of the scale (e.g. first 5 notes of major scale).
    • Identify the interesting features of the scale: what intervals or chords does it contain? Which ones need special treatment (e.g. tritones and minor seconds)?
    • Either rewrite one of your existing pieces in this scale, or write another short piece.
    • Your piece can use transposed versions of the same scale, but it cannot use any notes that don’t belong to the scale (E.g. C Eb can be transposed to D F, but do not use C D).
    • The sound world you create must be unique – it shouldn’t sound like any scale you are familiar with.
  3. Listen to movements 101, 115, and 133 of Bartok’s Mikrokosmos. Béla Bartók was a Hungarian composer who collected Hungarian folk music. Mikrokosmos is a set of 153 beginner pieces that use 20th century compositional techniques, including unusual scales and irregular meters.
    • Movement 101 is called “Diminished Fifth”. What is the piece’s scale mode?
    • Movement 115 is called “Bulgarian Rhythm (2)”. What is the rhythmic division? What is the scale? Try to identify the notes in the melody of the first 2 measures by playing through them on the piano.
    • Movement 133 is called “Syncopation (3)”. What is the the rhythmic division? What kind of chord (major, minor, etc.) is in the left hand? Which notes in the melody don’t fit this chord?
  4. Listen to part of Steve Reich’s Six pianos. This is a living American composer known for minimalist music, or music that uses repetition gradual change.
    • How long is the repeated pattern? How often does the pattern change? What is changed?
    • Most of the interesting features are generated by rhythmic elements we’ve discussed: displacement and syncopation. Which beats or subdivisions are accented?

Week 2

  1. Complete week 1’s work.
  2. Rhythmic displacement: pick one of your motifs from week 1 which is rhythmically interesting. Alternatively, pick a rhythm from one of the Ligeti movements from week 1.
    • in a simple time signature (2/4, 3/4, or 4/4), write out the rhythm in as many different displacements as possible
    • each displacement must place the downbeat in a different part of the rhythm
    • identify syncopated notes (ones that don’t land on beats)
    • clap and count the rhythms
  3. Changing metre: rewrite the above rhythms, or a rhythm of your own design, in as many different metres as possible.
    • use at least 4 different irregular metres (5/4 with emphasis on 1 and 3, 5/4 with emphasis on 1 and 4, 7/8 with emphasis on 1 and 4, etc.)
    • identify syncopations, clap and count
  4. Listen to the beginning of mvt. 6 (“Dance of Fury, for the Seven Trumpets”) of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of TimeThis piece was written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in a POW camp during WWII. He had a fascination with rhythm and especially “non-retrogradable” rhythm, meaning a rhythm that is the same when played backwards.
    • What is the time signature of the first 2 measures? What about the 3rd measure? The 4th measure?
    • Based on the recording, how would you group the notes of the 1st measure (where would you write the accents)? Which notes sound syncopated (such as the dotted ones)?
    • See how far you can clap along… good luck!
  5. Listen to the opening and first dance (Augurs of Spring) of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (about 4 minutes): Igor Stravinsky is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. This famous ballet is about a pagan ritual of sacrifice that renews the earth in spring.
    • Listen to the melody at the beginning (in bassoon) and identify the motif (falling scale). Every time the motif returns, try to identify whether it is on the beat or a syncopation.
    • Augurs of Spring has a constant stream of 8th notes in 2/4 where the accent pattern changes continually. Transcribe the accents in the strings between 3:01 and 3:10 in the video (write down what you hear)
  6. Complete your short piece: Follow the instructions from week 1. You may choose to expand on your first piece, or write a second short piece to demonstrate the following:
    • use a rhythm in different displacements
    • use a rhythm in different metres, including at least one irregular metre
    • remember what we discussed in the Ligeti movement: at every moment your music must balance repetition and change

Week 1

  1. Listening: send me the names and composers of two pieces that interest you. Make sure you have both a score and recording of that piece.
    • See my listening articles for music ideas, as well as what you should know about the pieces you choose
  2. Isolate motifs: Identify two motifs from one of the pieces you picked.
    • Limit your motif to 4 notes or less
    • Each motif must be a repeating feature in the piece (by transposition, inversion, etc.)
    • Each motif must have a unique intervallic or rhythmic contour
  3. Develop motifs: using the methods we discussed, write out 3-6 lines of different variations on the above motifs.
    • You can copy out variations from the score or compose your own
    • Do not change the intervallic or rhythmic contour (with intervals, preserve the size, not quality)
    • As a result, you can either choose to use exact (real) transposition/inversion/etc., where you preserve the quality of intervals, or diatonic (tonal) transposition/inversion/etc., where you only preserve the size of intervals
  4. Listen to György Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata: mvt. 1 and 2 (feel free to listen to the whole collection). Each movement is written from a limited set of notes.
    • What are the motifs in each movement, and how are they developed?
    • Where does Ligeti repeat material, or introduce new material? What is the ratio of new to old material?
    • Listen to mvt. 10, which uses a much larger set of notes. Identify some of its motifs, their repetition, and their development.
  5. Write a short piece: Using 1 of the motifs and 2-3 of the methods from above, and using the variations you wrote, organize them into a short piece for a solo instrument.
    • Brevity is the soul of wit (maximum length of 1 page)
    • Every note must belong to a version of the motif, and the motif must be always recognizable
    • You can now modify the notes and rhythms of the motif
    • Repetition is your ally: balance the amount of familiar and new material you present at any time
    • Explore other ways of differentiating your motif (dynamics, articulation, registration, rhythmic displacement)
    • How can you begin and end the piece, still using the motif?