HE picked up the recorder in school, and is today a renowned flautist with a Best New Age Grammy nomination to boot.
Canadian Ron Korb later took to the flute and was drawn into the world of classical music. “I think music is a very important thing to support in schools. Music is a wonderful pastime that can be enjoyed throughout one’s lifetime.
“There is a lot of research that indicates music is good for developing the brain through hand, eye coordination, motor skills, and appreciation of the arts can enrich a person’s life immensely.”
He has since performed for Queen Elizabeth, Princess Takamado of Japan, Princess Bopha Devi of Cambodia, and was featured on the World Youth Day recording for Pope John Paul and the Dalai Lama’s World Festival of Sacred Music in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He has also shared stages with Peter Gabriel, Tia Carrere, and Olivia Newton John, among others.
He has played many movie soundtracks which have been nominated for Oscars and Cannes Film Festival awards. Some of the films have included Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, Atom Egoyan’s Sweet Hereafter, Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra, and John Woo’s Blackjack. Korb, with more than 30 albums to his credit, who has toured all over Asia, earning a following as well as nicknames including Prince of Flutes in Japan. He actually studied music there after graduating from the University of Toronto in the early ’90s. While living in Tokyo, he worked as a staff writer for Japan Central Music where he wrote songs for Alan Tam, Roman Tam, Stephanie Lai and Yvonne Lau that earned Gold and Double Platinum awards.
Korb’s nominated 2015 album Asia Beauty is really a concept album that comes with 36 electronic pages of liner notes accompanied by original photographs, 19 tracks, three bonus tracks, and the sounds of his flute with an array of wind instruments from Asia as well as western musical instruments.
Korb describes his album as a storybook with music. The idea began on a 2007 trip to China. Seven of the songs from Asia Beauty are the musical setting of an original story called Dragon Flute and The House Of The Five Beauties which Korb wrote in his hotel in Shanghai after his concert at the Shanghai International Spring Music Festival, 13 years ago.
“The music is inspired by things like the dramatic landscape, the ancient history, the people and their stories, the arts and culture and their dynamic present in cities like Shanghai where things are changing rapidly,” he says.
He spent an extra week travelling around and each night, he would add a few more pages. “I was inspired to write a supernatural story set in Ancient China based on some history and some of my experiences.”
The instrumental album travels from Hanoi Cafe, Vietnam to ancient palaces in The House of the Five Beauties to the bamboo forests of Taiwan in Blue Bamboo to the spectacular terraces in China in Two Mountains.
“Honestly, every place in Asia has its own unique personality and character and I am fascinated with all of them. I love any place that has a strong living connection with its history.
“For instance, I love Malacca in your country of Malaysia, the hutongs in Beijing, the canals in Suzhou, the temples and shrines in Japan, Angkor in Cambodia, the palaces in Thailand.
“As far as music in this last album, Asia Beauty, I focus on the traditional Chinese instruments but I also have a lot of affection for the instruments of Southeast Asia.”
Korb has performed in Malaysia, most recently in 2013, at Toccata Studio in Petaling Jaya. In his blog (www.ronkorb.com/blog), he wrote that he also visited Malacca where he stayed at the Majestic Hotel which he stated was like “walking into an old movie”. “The ceiling fans, period furnishings and clawfoot tub all make one feel as you are back in time.”
On Asia Beauty, the well-travelled Korb performs with musicians including Laila Biali (Sting, Suzanne Vega), George Koller (Holly Cole, Peter Gabriel), and Donald Quan (Loreena McKennit) as well as Asian traditional instrumentalists.
Chinese woodwinds showcased include the bawu (folk clarinet), xun (ceramic vessel flute), and dadi (bass bamboo flute), along traditional instruments like the erhu, pipa, yangqin, and the 5,000-year-old guqin.
Asia Beauty has garnered critical acclaim, radio chart positions and many awards including the Best Classical Instrumental at Akademia Awards, a Best World Music nomination at the TIMA and a sweep of the Global Music Awards winning Best Instrumental Performance (track: Blue Bamboo), Best Crossover World Music (track: House of the Five Beauties) Best Album Art/Graphics and then “Best of Show”.
On listening to the tracks, I am moved by the emotive quality of the melodies. Sometimes sad as in Ancient China, or upbeat as on Joyful Rain, the sound of the flute with the accompaniment of the various other instruments opens the realm of the imaginative mind and the door to the heart.
Korb is understandably pleased with this first Grammy nomination, which was released independently. In fact, independent labels have maintained their share of Grammy wins — hovering between 44 per cent and 50 per cent — since 2011.
“I think with the collapse of many major and minor record companies, this trend is inevitable. With the rise of streaming and downloading that can be managed by the artistes themselves there will be more indies appearing on Grammy ballots. However, the quality of the music is in some ways is actually improving.”
The 58th Annual Grammy Awards will be held in Los Angeles, Monday, Feb. 15, 2016. For more on Korb, visit www.ronborb.com.
** this story appeared in the new straits times, january 25, 2016.