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Nucleus



December 31, 07

A Return to New Year's Resolutions


I've poo-pooed New Year's resolutions for most of my adult life, noting that the gyms tend to be full in January and sparse in February - ie, i never had faith that i'd ever have the willpower to actually commit to superficial statements of intended change. But after seeing the powerful effects of slaying a $55,000 debt ogre in only 9 months thanks to a written budget and goals glaring at me from a (digital) page, i'm beginning to realize the true benefits of word-smith'd dreams. What seems so mundane on the surface belies the underlying secret of such exercises, mainly: organization and focus.

Dan Miller, author of "48 Days to the Work You Love", runs a terrific life and career coaching website at www.48days.com. In his latest December newsletter, he has a link to a great outline for 2008 resolutions that models his 7-point wheel factoring all aspects of life balance:

  • Finances

  • Physical Health

  • Personal Development

  • Family Relationships

  • Spiritual Health

  • Social

  • Career


  • I spent some time filling in the outline via Google Docs and came up with the following goals for 2008 (so far):

    1. FINANCIAL Income, Investments

    Five-Year Goals
    Set up substantial kids' college funds
    Be on track to have net worth of $1 million

    One-Year Goals
    Set up $50,000 emergency fund
    Achieve all wishlist budget items

    Beginning TODAY!
    Budget weekly savings of $200 for wishlist items
    Develop better business accountability and profit/loss statements and future plans for real income growth


    2. PHYSICAL Health, Appearance, Exercise

    Five-Year Goals
    Get body fat down to 15%
    Be able to bench 200 pounds

    One-Year Goals
    Lose 5 pounds (get to 140 lbs)
    100 pushups daily
    100 situps daily
    60 pullups daily
    5 mile runs 3x per week

    Beginning TODAY!
    30 minute workouts in the morning


    3. PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

    Five-Year Goals
    Improve Korean, especially reading
    Learn Japanese
    Learn German
    Learn French

    One-Year Goals
    Learn about mutual funds and stock market investing
    Find wholesome books for inspiration and motivation
    Read at least 2 new books per month
    Memorize Japanese characters
    Learn PureData/GEM
    Learn Blender 3D modeling

    Beginning TODAY!
    Learn 2 new Korean words per day
    Maintain list of books read on website

    4. FAMILY Relationships (incomplete...still working on this one)

    Five-Year Goals
    Get closer to family members - be praying for them regularly

    One-Year Goals
    Closer relationship with Mom and Dad
    video interview parents for their history and personal backgrounds

    Beginning TODAY!
    Teach piano lessons to Eric and Timmy more regularly
    Read to boys every day
    spend more time talking with Kyungmi

    5. SPIRITUAL (incomplete here too...)

    Five-Year Goals
    Memorize all of Psalm 119

    One-Year Goals
    Commit 10 psalms to memory
    Finish theology books (Thomas Watson, etc.)

    Beginning TODAY!
    Pray more actively and specifically for church members and missionaries
    Begin memorizing select psalms

    6. SOCIAL Increased number of friends, Community involvement, etc.

    Five-Year Goals
    hmmm....

    One-Year Goals
    Connect personally with network contacts at least once this year
    Reconnect with old school alumni
    Prepare Christmas cards and messages ahead of time
    Keep in touch with family on a regular basis

    Beginning TODAY!
    Improve responses to emails and phone calls

    7. CAREER Ambitions, Dreams, Hopes - REALLY INCOMPLETE

    Five-Year Goals

    One-Year Goals

    Beginning TODAY!


    I'll try to update this as soon as i'm able, particularly on the Career section. On the book side, here's a list of what's been read this month:

    Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
    Dance with the Dragon by David Hagberg
    Financial Peace Revisited by Dave Ramsey
    48 Days to the Work You Love by Dan Miller
    QBQ: The Question Behind the Question by John G. Miller

    A lot of personal development literature, as you can probably tell. Several books need finishing, as follows:

    The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee
    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
    Life of Pi by Yann Martel
    The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D. and William D. Danko, Ph.D.


    Several more are on the burner as we speak - the list immediately above has been loaded from my Audible library onto my new 8 gig iPod Nano (Kyungmi's Christmas gift to me - thanks, Honey!)

    Quite a long list...certainly more than daunting at first glance, but hey - if i can chunk away almost $55K in 9 months, i think i can start attacking this list of resolutions, in much the same way: a little bite at a time. I'll keep y'all updated, and hope you'll keep me accountable in return!

    Best wishes for your own New Year's resolutions for 2008!

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    September 27, 07

    A Tasty Compliment

    Eric - my finicky-taste-budded 9-year old - told me last night that he thinks i make the best dinners ever! That garnered a hearty hug from me and a huffy pout from my mother-in-law! Wish i could take all the culinary credit, but this is really another feather in the cap for MealtimeMakeover.com, the weekly dinner and grocery planning service that's been a lot of fun for my whole family. The only complaint i have is that portions tend to be a lot bigger than my family of 6 is accustomed to eating. Even with leftovers for lunch, i'm finding that i have to throw away older dishes that don't get consumed fast enough. That quibble aside, it's been nothing short of a culinary adventure for everyone with easy-to-find ingredients and super-simple cooking instructions! Who knew cooking could be this much fun?

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    September 09, 07

    The Power of the "OFF" Button



    i mentioned previously the painful amputation of the unlimited data plan for my Samsung i730 PDA Phone, as well as the new household rule of turning off stuff (mainly my computers) when they're not in use. The sudden lack of instant internet access anywhere, anytime has resulted in some strange side effects - most notably, peace of mind and a better focus during work.



    David Allen in his "Getting Things Done" principles talks about how emptying the mind - mental "RAM", if you will - results in significantly less stress and better productivity. i never noticed how non-stop my mental engine had been running until i started setting up the new "off button" boundaries. Having computers on 24/7 keeps you constantly connected, constantly wondering about that next email, never able to completely "shut off" thoughts about work, communication, to-do's, projects, the list goes on and on. i never realized how glazed my focus had always been when my kids clamored for attention or my mother-in-law called me repeatedly to come down for dinner or my wife was mentioning things that happened to her at work. Instant, ubiquitous access to information in many ways made me a slave to the almighty connection; a data-addict if you will, never more than a few seconds away from checking emails or browsing my RSS feeds.



    With the introduction of the "off" button has come the inclusion of a strange new word into my vocabulary: "NO."



    "NO, i don't need to check for that next email."



    "NO, all that paperwork can wait until later."



    "NO, i don't need to waste three hours browsing and surfing - it's more fun playing 'Clue' with the kids."



    I'm beginning to like this new life of computers that are "off" - and, boy, i never realized how loud the CPU fan gets at night!







    As technology improves medical technologies move along with it, helping to make things like childbirth safer than ever. With medical changing all the time as impressive new medical technology comes into play, procedures like surgery and child birth will change through the years.
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    September 03, 07

    Dandelion Wine - the Last Drops of Summer

    As the final hours of Labor Day draw to a close, i'm borrowing a title from an old Ray Bradbury book celebrating the memories of childhood summers to reflect on all the various ways we tried to mitigate that perennial summertime lamentation, "I'm boooored...what can we do today?"

    Here is our top ten list in hindsight of great activities to placate summertime doldrums:

    10. Save Money

    Well, that was the intent - to be honest, our summertime budget was blown way out of the water due to having lots of cousins visiting for extended periods of time, but we came up with some pretty creative ways to pare down our monthly expenses, such as:

  • learning to cut hair - i invested a month's worth of haircuts in a nice clipper and scissors set. Good thing my boys are so good-natured to put up with some of my frankenstein cuts (bald spots, anyone?) Ah well, there isn't a bad enough haircut that 2 weeks of growth can't cover up...


  • changing life insurance policies - this is a tip from Dave Ramsey: opting out of our whole life plan and moving to 20 year term insurance is setting us up to save about $100 per month, in addition to getting a $7,000 kickback from our accrued life insurance "savings" to help pay down our debt snowball. The folks at Zander insurance have been very helpful so far, so you might want to check them out .


  • changing car insurance - at the risk of sounding like a TV commercial, we saved hundreds by switching to GEICO...and personally, i think a poor starving pianist would make for a much funnier commercial than a silly caveman in therapy...


  • trimming digital fat - this one is really painful: i just canceled the unlimited data plan from Verizon for my Samsung i730 Pocket PC phone. That means no more web browsing at the supermarket checkout line, but i am saving $40 per month...


  • turning off stuff - our electric bill last month was terrifying, thanks in part to having an extra family's kids holed up in the basement playing DVD's and video games constantly. Having all my computers and amplifiers left on 24/7 certainly doesn't help with containing power costs, so the new rule for me is turning off all computers, electronics, and lights that are not in use. Besides, having the hassle of waiting for bootups keeps me from wasting too much time in Facebook...



  • 9. Drink Wine

    Kyungmi and i had a wonderful time in the New York Finger Lakes region, staying at The Fox and The Grapes Bed and Breakfast and visiting wineries along the eastern shores of Seneca Lake.

    The Fox and the Grapes Bed and Breakfast - Five Stars from Kyungmi and me!

    The white wines are really outstanding, particularly the Rieslings, but we managed to find some terrific reds as well. Hands down the best reds we found were at Damiani Wine Cellars - their various Cabs and Meritage were some of the finest we've ever tasted!

    Kyungmi tasting wine with winemaker Lou Damiani

    We also enjoyed some yummy reds at Chateau LaFayette Reneau, and were particularly impressed with the Chardonnays and Rieslings at the elegant Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars.

    Kyungmi outside the Lamoreaux Wine Cellars

    Getting ready to taste some amazing white wines at Lamoreaux Landing


    8. Read Great Books

    Who would've guessed that standing in line for 3 hours in the middle of the night for a book would be so much fun? Yes, i was part of the Harry Potter mayhem (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)), dragging along Paul and his cousin Ho-Won:





    A wonderful lady at Borders bookstore has been incredibly helpful at pointing Paul and me to some other great young adult reads, such as:



    The Maximum Ride trilogy by James Patterson, starting with The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride the Angel Experiment). Think teenage X-men with super short attention spans (each chapter is no more than 3 or 4 pages long - makes for quick reading and fast-paced action)


    The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan, first of the "Percy Jackson & The Olympians" triology - great for kids who want to see Greek mythology hipped up in modern settings with a wacky sense of humor:



    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, that fantasy/sci-fi classic from my own middle school years:

    The above books had my teenage son falling back in love with reading and both of us scouring the Borders racks for more.

    On my own end, i was completely swept away with that international best-seller, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini -



    i was actually in tears as i listened to the audiobook ending driving through the Finger Lakes region.



    The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1) by Philip Pullman gets high marks for exquisite craftsmanship, but failing ones for abysmal theology. I started reading this to see if my kids would enjoy this, but found that i have to steer them away for the time being. Even though the protagonists are children, the themes are quite dark and graphic - better suited for mature audiences in my opinion. First in a trilogy.

    7. Make Yummy Stuff

    I used to bake bread from scratch by hand every week. Unfortunately, my current schedule has pretty much ruled that out, given that the whole process requires at least 3-4 hours to accommodate all the yeast risings and final baking time. i suppose it was a very good summer indeed given the fact that i was able to get back to making a loaf of sandwich white after so many years' hiatus!

    Getting the kids involved with cooking projects is always lots of fun. Paul had a hand in cooking steaks for dinner one evening, using my oyster sauce marinade:

    Score both sides of steak with sharp knife
    Combine enough oyster sauce and minced/crushed garlic with a bit of water to make a marinade that can be brushed onto both sides of steaks
    Pan sear in hot oil to desired doneness


    Eric and Timmy loved making lemon/lime-ades with my old glass hand juicer:

    Squeeze juice from 4 lemons and 2 limes (or just 6 lemons for plain lemonade)
    Fill remainder of pitcher with cold water
    Add sugar to taste (we use about 1.5 cups of sugar)


    Other cool summertime treats included making homemade orange ice cream and replacing store-bought popsicles with Snowcones made with my old Rival ice shaver and a variety of flavored syrups (another money saving idea, by the way)

    My kids' new best friend, the Rival ice shaver!

    6. Play Games

    Believe it or not, kids can actually get sick and tired of video games. Yes, really! A few remedies were found in some old-fashioned board games - i never really played many of them as a kid, so the novelty was just as new for me as it was for my boys. What a great way to spend time bonding together! We particularly enjoyed Risk and have just started getting into Clue. We plan to get started with Pictionary - 20th Anniversary Edition soon as part of our "new" family activities night.

    One day, Paul discovered my old role playing books and was reading through the rules for Tunnels and Trolls. My personal game of choice as a teenager was The Fantasy Trip by Steve Jackson Games (TFT has been out of print for years and years, 'replaced' by the GURPS game system). I tried running through the basic rules for TFT with Paul, but he never really warmed to the system. Instead, he caught on with a fascinating fantasy card battle game called Magic: The Gathering.



    i never realized how complex, rich, and incredibly strategic these card games could be! Relatively easy to learn with a few basic rules, yet amazingly varied in action - lots and lots of fun getting into this granddaddy of collectible card combat systems!

    Eric did some snooping of his own into my teenage library of old strategic board/book games and dug up Starfire! by an old company called Task Force Games:

    Eric having way too much fun with my old copy of Starfire!

    He's been poring incessantly over the rules and descriptions of modular weapons systems, bombarding me with questions about Shearing Planes, Overload Dampeners, Multiplex Missile systems and the like...i was afraid the actual gameplay would be over his head, but once we got started it was actually a breeze and a lot more fun than any of us anticipated! Ahhh, the good old days of pre-silicon gaming when the powers of a pencil and a pair of 6-sided dice ruled the universe!

    5. Ride Bikes

    Here's a great site for biking trails in New Jersey:

    http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/bike/tours.shtm

    You can either have trail maps sent to you by snailmail or downloaded as PDF's. We visited the trail in the Pine Barrens around the Batsto Historical Village. Nice smooth roads that stretch on for miles, and some great woodland hiking for those who aren't so cycle-inclined.

    For some reason i couldn't find my old rear-window hanging bike rack, so i had to get a hitch installed to my minivan for a new carrier:

    My new hitch and bike carrier

    Pricey, yes - i can feel Dave Ramsey wagging his finger at me - but well worth the investment in family fun!

    Gearing up in the Batsto Village parking lot

    4. Get Pets

    Paul initially wanted a snake - Kyungmi adamantly put her foot down in opposition. We settled for a Great Horned Mountain Lizard instead, but the poor thing died after only about 3 weeks or so, due to ingesting a piece of bark bedding ("impaction" i believe was the term). The second Horned Mountain Lizard didn't fare much better and had a nasty attitude to boot - we returned that in time for a store credit and replaced it with a much more docile Chinese Water Lizard. Looks just like the gecko in the Geico commercials. I'll try to post some pictures of "Liz" as soon as i can. We replaced the bedding with moss to prevent any more impaction possibilities. i never realized watching lizards gulp down crickets in the morning could be so entertaining!

    In familial fairness, i let Eric and Timmy pick up a pair of dwarf hamsters. Cute little buggers!

    Eric, Timmy and Chi-Ho enjoying the new Dwarf Hamsters

    One of the hamsters is quite the speed monkey, running around at full tilt and climbing the walls and ceilings like a primate. A few days after buying them, she somehow squeezed through the wire walls and escaped in the basement. She kept darting out from under the piles of junk in my office, only to scurry away each time we tried to catch her. The solution was to get one of those mouse traps from Home Depot, the kind that features a one-way door into an empty plastic box. Sure enough, within 10 minutes of setting that trap, i heard her munching away happily on the apple and peanut butter bait within. She hasn't tried to escape since.


    3. Learn to Program

    The folks at MIT have put together an amazing open source program for kids called Scratch that teaches the basics of programming within a graphic environment akin to playing with Legos:



    The interface is well designed for kids - Paul and Eric were programming their first games within minutes. Even Timmy joined in the action and designed a "Spider-man" game with the built-in drawing tools. In addition to the excellent program, there is a seamless interface with the Scratch community, where participants are encouraged to both share and download projects from other users, making for one of the best interactive learning environments i've ever come across.

    Here's an image link to Paul's "Bleach Battle" game - the speed of this thing is quite impressive!



    Eric's and Timmy's games to be posted up as soon as they finish refining them!

    2. Play with Glass

    After enjoying the Finger Lakes region, we enjoyed some family time at the Corning Museum of Glass.

    Kyungmi at CMOG

    More Bundt Bowls than i ever care to see in one place...

    The artwork was stunning and the live glasswork demonstrations were very impressive. The big hit of the museum for my family was the hands on studio crafts:

    Making a glass flower

    Kyungmi makes an ornament

    Eric works on glass wind chimes and Paul makes a glass bead

    Timmy works on a sand blasting cup project

    Keep in mind that glass needs about 8 hours to cool safely - fortunately, the museum offers a shipping option for completed projects. Great fun!

    1. Visit Family

    This was voted #1 by all the boys - what better way to spend the summer than by being with cousins and visiting Grandma and Grandpa at the farm?

    Wonderful memories, great souvenirs, and even some new skills and activities to boot - definitely a summer to remember!

    www.hughsung.com www.hughsung.com/blog Hugh Sung http://hughsung.com http://hughsung.com/blog

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    August 11, 07

    V-Day Post Op Report

    My first attempt at V-day actually took place three years ago. i visited one of my wife's colleagues for an initial consultation and description of the procedure. Funny how i somehow managed to "forget" to schedule the actual operation afterwards...i guess the descriptions of cutting and cauterizing have a peculiar amnesiac effect on me...

    This time around, Kyungmi managed a bit of professional arm-twisting to cajole another colleague to fit me into his otherwise jam-packed schedule. My preference was to be admitted to the hospital for the procedure - i wanted to be completely knocked out with general anesthesia. Unfortunately, no beds were available within the given time frame, so we had to stick with the outpatient office option, where Valium would be administered along with much hand-holding and local anesthetics.

    As we walked into the office yesterday morning, the receptionists were quick to point out how obvious our motives were from the "deer in headlights" look in my face and the gleeful salsa dance that propelled my wife behind me! As we sat in the waiting room, Kyungmi asked if i could have the Valium administered right away to save time. A look of shock passed across the nurse's face - hadn't i already taken one? Evidently i hadn't read the pre-op instructions carefully and - uh - "forgot" about getting the Valium prescription filled, which i was supposed to have taken an hour before the procedure. The nurse shook her head in doubt, explaining that the doctor was pretty strict about requiring Valium and that we'd most likely have to reschedule. But before i could wipe my brow in relief and walk away from this second attempt, Kyungmi leaped out of her seat and marched straight back to twist the remaining arms and make sure we went ahead with the operation. "I'll be his Valium!" she declared!

    Oh, great...i started imagining the necessity for a big bone to be shoved between my teeth to suppress the screams and the need to bite through my tongue from the pain. Maybe leather straps to bind my hands and legs apart to keep me from escaping? Perhaps branding irons were being heated to a white hot glow at that very moment for the final touches...

    The moment of truth came. Kyungmi was a very good dose of Valium, holding my hand as i prepared myself and lay out on the operating bed, but the operating doctor promptly had her dismissed ("I never operate in front of family!" he declared). He explained that there was actually a dual purpose for the Valium - not only as a calming agent, but also as a muscle relaxant to prevent the "turtle effect".
    "The what?" i asked.
    He explained how fear makes a turtle recoil its head and limbs...ah, yes, the analogy made sense. The funny effects of fear...

    I tried not to look at the rack of tools being laid out, but it was hard to avoid seeing them out of my peripheral vision. Fortunately, a good conversation about music and musicians went a long way in calming me down. The doctor did an excellent job of explaining what to expect at each stage. The worst part of the operation was actually the very beginning, with the pinch of the needle and the slight burning sensation of the anesthetic. There was one other uncomfortable moment in the middle where an increase in pressure required a bit more anesthetic, but besides that there really was no pain at all. I kept my eyes fixed on the ceiling the whole time - i just didn't have to stomach to watch any part of the procedure. The strangest part was the smell of burning flesh, but fortunately it was only a smell and not a sensation.

    A few minutes later and that was that. i was able to walk out of the office with really no pain, although the anesthesia began to wear off after about 30 minutes. Most of the pain feels like my jewels were kicked pretty roughly, and i'm noticing some black and blue bruising today, but the incision site itself doesn't hurt at all (Kyungmi was amazed that everything could be done with such a small cut! Apparently we have Chinese doctors to thank for that technique.) The Percocet painkillers really put me to sleep yesterday afternoon and through most of the morning today - haven't slept that well in years! i think i'll stick to Advil for the rest of the recovery, as the pain has significantly subsided already and i'd rather not sleep the entire weekend away.

    So there you have it - V is for Vasectomy, and it was far less painful that i dreaded, though i'll be walking with a John Wayne swagger for some time to come...

    www.hughsung.com www.hughsung.com/blog Hugh Sung http://hughsung.com http://hughsung.com/blog

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    August 10, 07

    V-Day

    ...wish me luck...gulp!

    www.hughsung.com www.hughsung.com/blog Hugh Sung http://hughsung.com http://hughsung.com/blog

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    May 29, 07

    Back to workout roots...

    Dave Ramsey is making me crazy!
    Getting a hold of my monthly budget has been a bit akin to taming a bucking bronco, but i've been finding that whittling things down bite by bite has been more effective than i would've thought. My cable tv service will be shut off at the end of this month for a $30 savings (keeping the high speed cable internet! no way i can sacrifice that!!) - i've vowed to terminate my subscription to Audible.com, much to the literary dismay of my iPod ($24/month) - Starbucks is pretty much a pipe dream at this point for my daily caffeine boost (wow - i think i was spending upwards of $70-$100 monthly just for cups of coffee at my neighborhood cafe!) - and now, my latest bit of budgetary surgery involves terminating my gym membership for another $60 monthly savings.

    Don't get me wrong - i actually love going to the gym, especially the one that's as nice as ours. i have no plans to let my body go to rot, after having worked so hard over a number of years to get it in shape - instead, i'm returning to my workout roots by resurrecting my home gym.

    Out of clothes drying duty, back to burning muscle!

    A brand new chinup bar for my favorite new workout

    Lately i've been finding that my workouts have been simplified somewhat - a good chinup routine seems to take care of a lot of upper-body stuff in one fell swoop. Weights have been more a nuisance at the gym, given that there's either a shortage of benches or weight-appropriate dumbells, sometimes both. The fitness machines are always mobbed and sometimes more time has been wasted waiting my turn than actually using them. (Yeah, this is my attempt to find things to whine about so that my departure from the gym will be somewhat less painful...)

    I'll really miss the treadmill runs where i can park my video iPod to watch episodes of "Heroes" or "Battlestar Galactica" to pass the time...and i'll miss the wonderful sauna and hot whirlpool! But the budget bronco is calling for all hands on deck to tame the wild dollars in any way possible, so it's hard to justify a weight lifting workout at the gym when i have all the equipment i need right at home, or a treadmill run when the neighborhood is so beautiful to jog through.

    Actually, it's nice not to have to listen to my music through tinny sports headphones from my iPod now - since the home gym is in the basement where my Windows Media PC is located, i can just dial up that wonderful internet radio site Pandora and listen to a custom music blend through decent speakers! My cheap weights aren't as quick and easy to change as the professional ones at the gym, but at least i don't have to wait in line to move between exercises now. I just hope i can get back to the routine of outdoor running after so many years of indoor treadmills...

    Here's to Mr. Ramsey and my attempt to keep in shape - on the cheap!

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    April 25, 07

    B might be P...

    Just when i thought i was on the mend, chills and a dry, hacking cough, compounded with constricted lung capacity and achy muscles (and a raging headache) made Kyungmi think my Beat Up Blues symptoms may actually be pointing to: Pneumonia. Dum-Dum-DUUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHH....

    yuck...

    i'll be going in for chest x-rays tomorrow morning, but rather than wait for the results of that Kyungmi thought it would be a good idea to start my antibiotic regimen. Down the hatch in a single gulp - and that's pretty much it for 10 days! Unfortunately, i need to take additional pills (one a day for 10 days) to protect my gut from the effects of the antibiotics. Apparently, this stuff can wreck havoc on your colon...lovely thought that...

    >kaff kaff<

    'Scuze me while i crawl back under the covers and figure out how i'm going to survive back-to-back days of violin auditions for the Philadelphia Orchestra next week, along with a huge flotilla of Schubert lieder for a conductor rehearsal...

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    April 21, 07

    Beat up and Blue

    Feeling a little beat up and blue...hope to be back in full blogging action as soon as possible... No Trackbacks | Digg this Bookmark this post on del.icio.us. Submit this post on reddit.com. Submit this post on furl.net.l Bookmark this post on Google. Bookmark this post on Yahoo. Add this post to Technorati Favorites Add post text to Rojo Add this to Co.mments Add this post to Newsvine Add this post to Scuttle Add this post to Shadows Add this to Simpy Add this to Spurl Add this to Squidoo Add this to Stumbleupon

    March 20, 07

    Scheduling 101, or 6 Steps to becoming a Time Lord

    A large portion of my 'day job' at Curtis is serving as its Director of Student Recitals and Outside Concerts ("gigs", in the music world vernacular). That involves setting up new venues for our students to perform in, hiring the students, administrating logistics and invoices between presenters and performers, putting the actual programs together, and making sure I-20 Visa records for the international students are properly updated (among other things). Fortunately, i have a fantastic database that i've custom designed to handle pretty much everything in the workflow from hiring to concert to paychecks. UN-fortunately, i still have to deal with students who - despite their phenomenal musical talent - more often than not are seriously lacking in good communication or organizational skills.

    A recent snafu involving a student who accidentally double-booked himself for two concerts on the same day had me scrambling to find a replacement at the last minute (a role i find myself playing far more often than i'd like) and stewing to post this 'rant':

  • RELIABILITY = HIRE-ABILITY - you can be the most brilliant musician student in the world, but if you don't show up on time or fulfill basic obligations you will quickly find yourself shuffled to the back of the consideration list.


  • OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND = OUT OF JOB - too often, conservatory students think that presenters (and administrators) possess super-human powers of clairvoyance and that we will be able to peer into the cloistered workings of the practice room to count all the drops of sweat over that Scriabin etude. Hate to admit this, but despite our amazing tools of technology, if you don't communicate and make yourself heard and responsive, you will quickly be forgotten


  • THE HILL IS CROWDED WITH KINGS AND QUEENS - Conservatory students tend to spend so much time focusing on their art, it's almost natural to think that they will rise to recognition by the sheer greatness of what they do. A quick survey of the membership lists of sites like MySpace.com, ClassicalLounge.com, and even the rosters of major managements everywhere will quickly reveal that the music world is crowded with top talent vying for attention. Art and Dedication without Professionalism is like trying to sit on a 2-legged stool...


  • Well, this article could go on and on, but i need to get back to my desk job - so if you're a music student struggling to bring some order into your life of chaos, wanting to pacify the dragons of your school's administration or the vexing rants of your teachers and colleagues, here are some steps to becoming a Time Lord by way of one of the most basic tools of professionalism, SCHEDULING:

  • 1. Choose your weapon and be consistent - i once met a student who carried around 3 schedule books, one for personal appointments, another for school-related things, the third for musical activities. Little wonder that she was ALWAYS running into conflicts and double booking herself! Being a fan of technology, i'm most comfortable with digital PDA's (personal digital assistants, ie: devices like Pocket PC's or Palm Pilots) and have my schedule book built into my Samsung i-730 Pocket PC phone, but it's really a matter of personal preference and comfort level. The important thing is - whether digital or paper, Franklin Paper Planner or Blackberry device - to make sure EVERYTHING goes into that chosen scheduling medium. The nice thing about Pocket PC's of course is the fact that my schedule gets automatically backed up each time i dock the device and recharge, so if i lose my PDA i still have a record of everything...unlike paper...


  • 2. Keep your schedule medium on your person at all times - paper or digital PDA, cell phone applet or a full-blown program like Microsoft Outlook, your powers of scheduling will avail you naught if you don't have your scheduling medium with you at all times! Calls for that amazing last-minute opportunity can arrive at any moment - lessons may need to be moved around - the ability to see if any event is possible will only work if you can instantly access your schedule for reference and input. The worst thing i hear from students is, "I think I can do that - but i left my schedule book at home...", because nine times out of ten i can be assured that i will receive a call or an email containing mortified apologies...


  • 3. Know NOW - the fanciest DayTimer will serve you no purpose if you don't make a habit of checking your availability for incoming events immediately. Waiting to input items into your schedule later is a certain recipe for disaster. I really like the GTD (Getting Things Done by David Allen) principle of getting things off of your mind and into your memory devices as quickly as possible (memory devices being things like schedule books, journals, file folders, etc.). The less you have swimming in your head, the more stress-free you can be. Schedule books can be amazing receptacles to keep our daily data in order, but they're only useful if you don't delay in putting information in and immediately checking what's there against incoming events.


  • 4. Pencil in the Maybe's - i have a confession to make: i hate voicemails. My preferred medium of communication is email. That being said, there is an inherent delay from sending a message to receiving a response. Sometimes, when multiple people are looking for available times in my schedule to rehearse, it can get confusing to remember which person i offered time slot A or B to. One useful trick i've adopted is to pencil in all the "maybe's" into my schedule - for instance, if i'm asking student John Doe for his availability on Wednesday at 3 pm, instead of waiting for his response, i'll immediately mark into my schedule "Rehearsal with John Doe?" - the "?" is my tag for unconfirmed appointments. As they respond and i double check the event, i can remove the "?" as confirmed. This helps enormously to avoid confusion and double bookings among simultaneous pending responses.


  • 5. Schedule To-Do's - "To-Do" lists are only as useful as they are reviewed and acted on to "Get Done". Too many times my TD lists are left wilting in the dark recesses of my Pocket PC phone. That may be ok for long-term goals, but for immediate tasks i try to keep them away from the TD list and place them directly into my schedule book. Amazing how much more gets done that way...


  • 6. Review in the Morning, Preview at Night - i need to take this advice more to heart, but it's still good to flesh out. Too often i head out the door without so much as glancing at my schedule, relying on the faulty neurons in my head to remind me of the day's events. A good habit to get into would be to review the day's upcoming events at breakfast, then to preview the NEXT day's events at dinner. That way you can plan your sleep and wake times accordingly and minimize the last minute 'surprises'.


  • I'm sure there are tons of other good scheduling advice, but these are the items that immediately come to mind in light of the behavior i see among too many students. Well, that's my rant for the day, and...oops, time for lunch! Gotta go!




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    February 19, 07

    The Sung Ski Bunny Ninjas

    The Sung Ski Bunnies posing on top of Blue Mountain

    The recent frigid blasts of arctic weather gave us the perfect excuse to make a trip out to Blue Mountain for a wonderful day of skiing this past Saturday. We've been skiing now as a family for about 4 years, and it's hard to believe that up until this point we really haven't skied on anything other than machine-produced snow - we simply haven't been able to coordinate our schedules with natural weather conditions. Suffice to say, now we know what a huge difference real snow makes for ski bunnies!! Full picture gallery from the ski trip here.

    Ninja Sungs!

    While it's been fun to watch the kids learn to ski (even Timmy had a great time during his first ski lesson a few months ago), it's been a particular joy to see Kyungmi really take to the sport. I think the first two years were absolutely terrifying for her, as she had never really done any high speed (relatively speaking) activity like this before, but somehow she persevered (bullied by her nasty husband, i suppose...) - last year she finally came around to actually having a good time, and THIS year SHE was the one biting at the bit to get out to the mountains at the first opportunity! After feeling the soft natural snow trails, she rapturously confessed to being totally addicted to skiing, and now wants to set her sights on a trip to Colorado!

    My own ski story started when i was about 14 or so - i took a ski trip with my local youth group on a particularly icy day. No lessons, just got the rental boots, skis and poles, and had to figure out how to get down pretty much on my own. The only reliable method for stopping was to fall flat on my butt. Needless to say, the day was a mixture of terror and delight - well, mostly terror, i suppose. Uncontrolled high speed descents are NOT fun! The last run i took went particularly fast...once again, i had to fall back on my butt to stop myself before i careened totally out of control...but this time, my left hand was extended to break my fall, and somehow i twisted my thumb pretty badly.

    Nothing was broken, but there was clear pain from the twist at the base of the thumb. I was already a second year student at Curtis, so i really had no time to rest or to take a playing hiatus - foolish, i know, but miraculously i didn't sustain any permanent damage to the thumb. I resolved at that point never to go skiing for the rest of my life.

    Funny how 20 years can give you a new perspective on things! I guess longtime friends - and perhaps readers of this blog - have noticed how i tend to jump into new projects and hobbies serendipitously! My love of archery sprang completely out of the blue as a teenager - my obsession with learning to bake bread, then my woodworking mania...well, finding some free time during winter holidays and wanting to have a family activity drove me to think about skiing. That, and some wonderful conversations with a colleague at Curtis who was also a ski fanatic got me really excited about giving the sport another chance. Lessons, lessons, nothing but lessons for the first two years - and that made such a huge difference!

    I'm not ready for the black diamonds yet...perhaps never will be...but what a wonderful way to spend time with the family!

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    January 08, 07

    The "One Pound-A-Day Hugh Sung" diet

    The Christmas and New Year's holidays saw me gaining the typical weight of mirth - about 5 pounds, in my case. I'm sure the supermarket tabloids are filled with New Year's resolution diets, so i thought i'd offer one of my own - although i'm very reluctant to actually recommend it, as it involves - well - insane amounts of work and stress.

    Today, for example, will probably end up being a 2-pounder (loss, that is), given the insanity of my schedule. Here goes:

    7 am - leave for work
    8 am - arrive, cram in paperwork
    9:00 am - rehearsal
    10:00 am - rehearsal
    11:00 am - rehearsal
    12:00 pm - leave for Astral auditions at Rock Hall, Temple University - hopefully grab a quick bite to eat
    1:30 pm - begin Astral audition accompaniments
    4:00 pm - finish Astral audition accompaniments, return to Curtis
    5:00 pm - cram in paperwork, possibly a quick bite to eat
    6:00 pm - rehearsal
    7:00 pm - rehearsal
    8:00 pm - rehearsal
    9:00 pm - rehearsal
    10:00 pm - rehearsal
    11:00 pm - head home, prepare for next day which repeats and ends around midnight...

    The diet is even more effective when you forget to eat meals...again, highly NOT recommended for anyone to actually embark on...trust me, i think it's better to keep the gains of your holiday mirth...sigh... No Trackbacks | Digg this Bookmark this post on del.icio.us. Submit this post on reddit.com. Submit this post on furl.net.l Bookmark this post on Google. Bookmark this post on Yahoo. Add this post to Technorati Favorites Add post text to Rojo Add this to Co.mments Add this post to Newsvine Add this post to Scuttle Add this post to Shadows Add this to Simpy Add this to Spurl Add this to Squidoo Add this to Stumbleupon

    September 12, 06

    Getting Back to School Part 3: GTD meets Amy Tan's Fingers

    The start of a new school year is much more conducive to new year resolutions than January 1st, at least to me. Despite the fact that i've been working at Curtis now for about 14 years, i'm always looking for new ways to make my job (and life) more effective and efficient. Some years have been better than others - last year was pretty bad, despite my adoption of David Allen's "Getting Things Done" time and stress management methodology.

    Hmmm...perhaps i should rephrase that...

    Thanks to GTD, i was able to more or less survive what surely would've been one of the most punishing work schedules i think i've experienced to date. i think i had a good handle on mastering some of the 'short term' aspects of the GTD productivity mantra, enabling me to get as close to an empty inbox as possible on a day-to-day basis, but i really dropped the ball when it came to overarching long-term goals and projects in a lot of areas...

    And now, with the advent of yet another school year, my mind is wandering to a strange fusion of GTD and...Amy Tan - huh?

    I've just started Amy Tan's novel, "The Bonesetter's Daughter", as an audiobook on my iPod (i LOVE audiobooks - getting through "Master and Commander" at the same time on my Garmin Nuvo GPS computer!). The protagonist - Chinese-American Ruth Young - struggles with her mother slipping into dementia and a deteriorating relationship with her Caucasian lover. Near the beginning of the book, Ruth uses an interesting finger-counting system to mark off her daily "to-do" list...and that got me thinking...

    i had been starting a Mind Map of my daily life - tasks that needed regular daily attention, juxtaposed with some longer term goals that i wanted to set my sights on. As you can imagine, the map is already pretty packed with an insane amount of stuff - no amount of graphic juggling seems to help me put my head around a routine that will circulate through all these things. Then i started thinking about Amy Tan's character, the way she counted off her fingers and toes, giving her a 20-point daily memorization system...could i employ something like that in tangent with David Allen's excellent GTD task filing/productivity system?

    Here's my attempt to map a 10-finger daily to-do list to cover the most important short-term and long-term aspects of my life:

    Left Hand - Morning activities

  • Finger 1: Quiet Time - spending time in prayer and reading God's Word, and helping my kids do the same - Paul and Eric already have this excellent habit ingrained, now i need to help Timmy do likewise

  • Finger 2: Practice Time - this is a new priority, i must confess with great shame. In recent years, i've been literally flying by the seat of my pants, learning repertoire with breakneck speed. That simply cannot continue, especially with the enormous amount of repertoire i see looming this year, already packed with more recitals and concerts this early in the season than i've ever had before...finger 2 is my new priority to get an hour's worth of good practicing every morning before i do anything else following

  • Finger 3: Kid's piano - this finger has yet to get up and running, but i really need to get back to giving the kids their micro lessons...hopefully by the end of this week...

  • Finger 4: Exercise - sigh...another finger that has to awaken from the grave...this week, i promise...

  • Finger 5: Agenda review - too often i've started the day without a clue what was coming up. This will hopefully be my opportunity to prepare for the day, week, and month, especially to take advantage of down-time in the train or car


  • Right Hand - Daytime/Work activities

  • Finger 1: Initial Emails - i'm slowly learning to keep the internet valve shut off until my left hand's activities are done. My regular practice (or addiction) has been to check emails first thing in the morning...then before you know it, i'm swamped with messages, surfing the web for news, trotting from blog to blog...and my whole day is gone! Finger 1 will hopefully keep the initial daytime emails to immediate and emergency responses

  • Finger 2: Recital Review - my job at Curtis is multi-faceted. A large portion is the scheduling of the 100+ student recitals we have each season. It would be good to have a finger to dedicate to reviewing the recital requests and overall schedule integrity on a daily basis, instead of ad hoc whenever i can squeeze it in between my rehearsals and lessons...

  • Finger 3: Gig Review - yet another portion of my job involves the hiring of students for outside gigs and recitals. This always eats up an enormous portion of my day, but it would be helpful to keep this in proper perspective so that it doesn't consume everything else in my schedule

  • Finger 4: Accompaniment Review - just a general-purpose finger here, to make sure i've kept perspective on my own accompaniment duties, as well as the proper assignment of work to my staff pianists and the handling of their various timesheets

  • Finger 5: Closing emails and task review - um, this is to keep that email flow mitigated somewhat. There really is no end to correspondence, just my attempt to make sure that i'm giving the flow 2 points of attention during any given workday - these might be more of my 'proactive' emails, as opposed to the morning 'responses' and 'reactions'...make sense?


  • Left Foot - Late Afternoon/Home time (if i can manage to be home at a reasonable hour...)

  • Toe 1: Kids' homework review - might have to relegate this to phonecalls or a webcam setup if i can't make it home in time (which will be often, once the recitals begin again...), but this toe is critical to keep in touch with my kids' progress...

  • Toe 2: Kids' extra studies - these would be extra-study activities to help keep my kids productive, things like yesterday's typing tutor game, or online math/reading activities, book reading, etc.

  • Toe 3: boy, so many digits! I really have to think of things to fill them with - um, ok - how about, Kids' Exercise? I really should be spending time with the kids, riding bikes with them, taking them to the park, outdoor time, etc.

  • Toe 4: Mom-in-law time - My mother-in-law and i are very close, but i know i take too much advantage of her. I really should use this toe to focus attention on her needs, even if it's just extra grocery shopping or chore management...

  • Toe 5: Wife time - no, not the littlest toe, or the last toe because of priority - mostly because of the order of day, she's usually home late. Wife time wouldn't happen until all the other late afternoon toes were used up anyway, given her schedule...


  • Right Foot - Night Time (boy, i'm really stretching this system...losing track of digits already...)
  • Toe 1: Practice - if time permits, and before the boys go to bed, need to try to squeeze in another hour or so of personal practice time

  • Toe 2: Family Worship - i must confess, this summer made it almost impossible to keep up with this practice. Need to get back on track with our family time of worship, prayer, Bible-reading and study

  • Toe 3: Personal emails - this can cover both traditional emails, as well as responses to messages via social network sites like MySpace and my own blog comments

  • Toe 4: Work follow ups - to keep my inbox at a sane level, i still need an evening follow-up to work-related emails and reports that need to be uploaded to the Curtis website. Sometimes, the quiet evening at home is a better place to concentrate than the disturbance-prone office...

  • Toe 5: Internet work - stuff like articles for this blog, marketing work that i'm doing via MySpace, video podcast/audio podcast production, research - in short, anything related to my personal web-based promotion activities


  • Well now, what an interesting exercise! To be honest, i didn't really know what this finger/toe-based productivity map would look like, but already i'm seeing the rough outlines of a system that - while not comprehensive and certainly not always do-able, given my wildly fluctuating schedule at times - might still give me a good overview of the activities that i want to give priority to in my daily life, and hopefully in better proportion than the haphazard scattering and stuffing into tiny free-pockets-of-time nooks that i tend to do...

    Talking to one of my wife's colleagues the other night, he showed me pictures of a beautiful pedestal desk he was building. This was a project that was already several years in the making - close to completion, but it was his patience and perseverance that really impressed me. The discipline to be able to chip away at something a little at a time each day, or whenever time permitted, instead of cramming it with spasms of unreasonable time blocks really pays off in the long run...a good lesson i hope to learn this year, particularly as it pertains to my own playing and personal life.

    This little piggy went to market...this little piggy stayed home...


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    August 05, 06

    The New Love of my Life

    I'm in love - i confessed to my wife that i met the new object of my passion in the Cincinnati airport on my way back from my first trip to the Masterworks Festival in Winona Lake, Indiana:
    The new object of my love...

    Meet the full body massage chair being offered at that geek-nirvana haven Brookstone - i think it's made by Panasonic. My back tingles just thinking about this chair...sigh...
    Visual control pad for the Panasonic massage chair

    A full-featured visual control display makes operation a breeze - audio prompts also alert you to the types of massages available, as well as periodic prompts for the time remaining in your prone posture of bliss...
    Another view of my object d'amour...

    When you begin your session, the chair automatically measures your body proportions and adjusts itself for proper alignment. It comes with pneumatic arm, leg and feet massagers (the leg and feet units work particularly well). Quite an amazing session when multiple body parts are being worked on simultaneously - feels like a whole team of masseuses working on you!

    The price for this throne of comfort? A measly $5000...time for me to start saving!

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    May 22, 06

    Podcast #12 - The Balanced Pianist with Susan Nowicki

    Pianists can be susceptible to a host of injuries. To address these issues, Susan Nowicki, a faculty member of the Dorothy Taubman Institute of Piano from 1997 to 2002 and current faculty member of the Curtis Institute of Music, will present principles of the Taubman technique as a clinician in The Balanced Pianist summer program at Colorado Christian University in July 2006.


    I asked Susan to talk about the Taubman technique, as well as her activities as an active pianist in the Philadelphia area.


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