Today we are halfway to Christmas, which seems fitting as today is the day that May is released. While the EP’s title refers to the month in which it was recorded, Derek Yau also mentions “possibility and hope” in the form of things that may happen. As Sheenagh Pugh writes in her poem “Sometimes,” “Sometimes things don’t go, after all, from bad to worse.”
It must be strange to sit at a piano in the middle of a pandemic, waiting for a muse. Yet Yau seems to be a positive person, as evidenced by his work in the band Subzar. As the band’s cellist, he’s been hiding another talent ~ until now, as he’s revealed his identity as the uncredited pianist in I am not yet here (in retrospect, an ironic title as he was there all along). Yau’s wish is that his music might be felt as “an open embrace in times of unrest.” If so, it’s certainly appeared at the right time.
While we’ve placed the EP in Modern Composition, it’s mainly improvised: vignettes recorded over a stretch of days that blended into each other as these pocket-sized clips do now. Stitching and segueing improvised segments turns into composition somewhere along the way. In the same fashion, we often look back on a spiritual journey and realize that we’ve changed, even though we’re unable to identify when. This pandemic has altered us all in ways both subtle and overt. Some things are personal, but others are true across the board, including a universal need for encouragement. Over the course of 24 minutes and 22 seconds, Yau does his best to contribute feelings of empathy and peace.
It’s surprising to remember that Yau is better known as a cellist. The piano was his first love, and the spark still remains. (Sorry to make you jealous, cello!) The intricacy of the notes produces a feeling of fluidity. One can hear Yau thinking as he pauses before plunging into new mindsets and moods. At times he seems pensive, even wistful, yet never descends into pathos or tears. The very act of playing keeps his head above water. As melodies tumble down the ivory path, one recalls the moods of May: in some areas, anxiety and fear as infections soared, and in others, cautious optimism as hospitalizations eased. One would wake every morning, check for relevant headlines, and use its rules to plot the day.
We’re still in that place now: it’s over / it’s not over. The worst has passed / the worst is yet to come. Much of our anxiety is based on our fears of what may happen. We may enter lockdown again. We may re-elect all our worst leaders. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Referring again to Pugh, “A people sometimes will step back from war, elect an honest man.”
Robert Schuller coined the phrase, “peace of mind through possibility thinking.” As Yau plays, his heart seems to lighten, working through his worries with notes and phrases. Sometimes there are no right words to say; but there can be right things to play. The impression is of forward progress: from tentativeness to resolution, from thought to action. By mid-piece, even the keys are pressed harder than before. May lacks a definitive ending, but the choice is purposeful; it’s a reflection of our own stories, and what dreams may come. (Richard Allen)