Video: Favela and My One and Only Love, with John Stefulj

Since there was such nice feedback about the melodica video, here are a couple of songs with my friend John Stefulj. John’s friend Justin Harding recorded these for us. There is a plan to make a proper demo, but Justin’s a very busy guy and that might take a while.

John teaches all wind instruments at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, known locally as “The Con”. He also teaches at several schools in Queensland.

He actually plays just about everything under the sun, I saw him the other night at this event with another amazing musician Jose McLaughlin. John managed to blow a tune out of a sawn-off copper pipe, and there were rubber chickens under seats in the auditorium, for the audience to join in… get the picture?

Yes he’s mad.

He’s also the kindest bloke ever. We meet once a month to run through songs, with me on piano and him on saxes, flute, double bass and anything else he fancies. But I’ve put my foot down to rubber chickens. (Really, I’m so sensible I don’t know why he’s still around.)

When you play piano alone, you have to play your own bass, harmony, melody. John says I can lose the root in the left hand, explore new chord arrangements and play higher up, when he’s on the bass. It’s lovely having someone so cool to play with and learn from. Plus the acoustic bass is such a beautiful instrument! All that old-fashioned dark, rich wood!

As an aside, looking at those videos, I think my short hair has to go. Time to grow it again.

Video: Waltzing Matilda on melodica

Here’s a short video to celebrate MELODICA!

I  took my trusty melodica (hmm, I need to give it a name) to an audition last month to be part of an orchestra performing in the
Queensland Music Festival.

QMF is celebrating the city of Logan this year, and this orchestra will be performing August 1-2 in the festival finale.

I was grilled: did my melodica need tuning? (No). They tested its pitch with a tuner.

What’s its range? (3 octaves starting on F below middle C, so I guess it’s an alto).

Can I play chords on it? (Yep!)

Play two short songs of contrasting styles to demonstrate the range of the instrument. (I played “Come Back To Sorrento”, a pretty and melancholy Italian song, then finished with the jaunty Waltzing Matilda.)

And now we’re in! First rehearsal is in a couple of weeks!

The old melodica doesn’t get much good press, but I love mine and am doing my part to bring it to the world! My YouTube channel isn’t MelodicaMum for nothing :-)

SBS will cover the festival, so maybe she’ll (yes, I think my melodica is a girl) get some coverage too.

Melodica needs a name…suggestions welcome.

A Poppy in Portsmouth

In the early ’70s, my young life was like walking through portals. By day, I went to a local primary school in Hampshire, England. I got on a school bus, ignored the sing-song jeers coming from the back row, tried to get through the school day incognito, and walked home alone.

Stepping through the portal that was my front door, I took off my shoes and entered my Malaysian-Chinese home, with its sepia-coloured photos of ancestors long gone, the occasional colour photo of relatives whom I had not met, and an odd set of house rules which I would not dream of sharing with any English friend I might one day have. Perhaps the oddest of these was NEVER to put my feet up and show the soles of my feet to the television set when the Queen was making one of her broadcasts.

At home we ate nor mai fan, chicken rice, pork ribs, agar-agar seaweed jelly, rice porridge jook and “one hundred-year-old” black eggs. God forbid they heard about that at school.

Conversely, Mum was aghast when I said the day’s school dinner was toad-in-the-hole and frog spawn. She thought blue cheese was very suspect and I was forbidden from eating Cadbury’s Creme Eggs because she didn’t trust that they were cooked properly.

Mum did not make English friends and she and I were a solitary unit in a small village unpoetically named Cowplain.

One afternoon we passed a small group of people, including three retired servicemen in uniform, sitting at a table outside a department store called Landports, in the Commercial Road shopping precinct in Portsmouth. There was a collection tin and a tray of plastic red poppies on the table.

My mum paused, took out two brand new fifty pound notes from her purse, folded them and put them in the tin. She made a slight smile at the group, averted her eyes, and took a poppy.

This was an extraordinary thing for me to witness. We lived a frugal life. The hot water boiler and central heating was turned on for half an hour each morning and late afternoon (for my benefit I later realised. Mum stayed in a cold house all day.) We never ordered takeaways. We had two shared extravagances: to eat fish and chips for lunch in the Landports cafeteria, and to have strawberries and cream in Summer.

“Mummy!” I hissed frantically, “Those are fifty pound notes! Are you sure?”

She ignored me.

One of the retired servicemen stood up.

“Excuse me, Madam. May I ask where you are from?”

“I come from a place called Sabah, in British North Borneo,” she said. “We – we are always grateful to the Allied soldiers.”

My mother was self-conscious about her English, and was already moving away. The man stepped out and they shook hands. They stood there for a moment. My mum patted his forearm and nodded. Then we left.

I moved to Sabah for the first time in 2008. A year later my husband Mike took me to the Sandakan Memorial Park Service. Sandakan is a town in Sabah, Malaysia, and the memorial park honours the British and Australian POWs who endured the Sandakan Death Marches in World War II. Mike placed a wreath at the memorial on behalf of SAAA (Sabah Australian Alumni Association).



Here is a bagpiper from that day playing Waltzing Matilda and Flowers Of The Forest.

This Anzac Day April 25th is the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, when Australian and New Zealand forces went to fight the Ottoman Empire in World War I. On this day Australians remember their sons and daughters who have served their country in times of war and conflict. People from other countries remember them too.

Course for teaching students with Autism – Swinburne University

I’m a fan of Tim Topham. He’s based in Melbourne and I’ve never met him, but I find his blog really relevant for teaching piano in a modern context.

He highlighted an online Autism Training Course by Swinburne University. This course will be run in the form of a “MOOC” – a Massive Open Online Course.


I have been asked before, via the blog, whether I would teach a child with special needs. I wanted to try, although I made it clear I have no experience in this. Nothing came of it, but I remain keen. Surely everyone can benefit from the simple beauty of creating music?

So I have enrolled for this course. It needs two hours a week for six weeks. Here is Tim Topham’s post about it.

Elsewhere, I have a Year 12 student who is about to take a Grade 5 exam. Since he’s up to his neck in school exams, I thought he was going to stop lessons to concentrate on his finals. But no! He said he wants to continue – he wants to do improvisation with me. Oh yes! I’m so up for that! Of course I have my own approach to doing things, but it’s constantly evolving as I go. Lo and behold, Tim makes a timely post in his blog about learning improvisation with Christopher Norton. He’s even got a section on how to teach boys. Just great. More reading for me, for sure.

Cannons firing and dreams coming true – by Gordon Pan


This is Gordon Pan’s second post about the early bands in Kota Kinabalu, or Jesselton, as it was known in those days. So happy that he is a contributor to my first blog, and he’s got more to come. Wonderful.

Originally posted on SabahSongs:

After my first blog post in this series, I am glad a number of readers came out to comment on some minor sequence of events that took place. Since this instalment is on Cannons (not Canons as corrected to me by Henry Ng) and Kenneth Boon’sDreamers, I went to the source. It is fortunate indeed to be still in contact with Henry Ng who now resides in Sydney, Australia; Alfie “Boy” Quioc in Canada who is currently visiting Kota Kinabalu and Kenneth who is only a phone call away for coffee in town.

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The Cannons started out with the elder sibling, Henry Ng and younger brother Richard Ng. These brothers had their ancestry in North Borneo and because of work commitments, their father lived in Singapore where the Ng brothers were born and spent their early childhood till their teens.

Singapore was very much the melting…

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