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Dana Leong: No Boundaries

By Published: February 26, 2008
DL: Sure. Absolutely. It has to do with the many centuries of isolation. It is just a different mindset. The way they can animate inanimate objects, with technology and voices, and just their overall view of the relationship between the land and themselves. You'll find old ladies vacuuming the subway platforms every night. You'll have the toilet thanking you for your deposit. It's like, "Ok, ok." There is also definitely a preservation culture. I just started to really think about that as well—after centuries of isolation, being an island separate from everything else, developing a separate cultural identity. I think it was slightly recharged by the actions during the war. I didn't even realize it until recently, didn't really [think] about it—Japan is the only place in history where a nuclear bomb had detonated on earth and affected live humans. I think that may have something to do with recharging the deepest isolation of feelings of cultural exchange.

AAJ: I want to go back a minute to when you were growing up. Your brother played violin, and you started on violin as well, but quickly your mother gave you a cello and soon thereafter, a trombone. Now those are very different instruments. Most people would say, wow, they have nothing in common. But if I am not mistaken, they actually do have some similarities.

DL: Both instruments are in the same range, so they have the same low and high points in their note range. As well, they are the only two instruments in the orchestral family which read all four of the written musical clefs, which would parallel to a choir. They play very high sometimes, you can play in the treble clef, and they play in the alto range, the mezzo soprano, high male, low female voice, as well as the tenor and bass clef.

AAJ: So that provides on both instruments a high degree of flexibility.

DL: Right. A full spectrum. And extra training on reading and comprehension.

AAJ: So very challenging instruments, but once you are involved with them, they give you real range.

DL: There's another thing that I slowly started to realize. I'm the type of person who likes to do puzzles, and challenges, and try to figure things out. I think one of the main reasons I keep sticking to both of the instruments is there's a high margin for error. It's not like the fingerboard of a guitar or a violin where the notes are right under your fingers and you are moving very close. There's three-and-a-half feet of string there! And only one tiny little right note.

AAJ: As you advanced on the instruments, did a lot of sibling rivalry develop?

DL: My mom did a good job of separating us before any of that really started happening, before there was any outside comparison being made. My brother is about three-and-a-half years older than I am, and from the get-go, he had quite a few extra years' experience on me. So I pretty much looked to him as the pace car. And he played trumpet too, so I could learn from him on both instruments.

AAJ: Did he continue on with music as well?

DL:He does, actually. He's playing professionally in the Bay area right now with a couple of the orchestras out there—the opera orchestra, the ballet, he teaches a lot of students, has his own string quartet. He's doing the whole thing—travel, tours. But he's doing all classical music.

AAJ: So, obviously, you changed at some point from classical to jazz and other forms. But I have also seen you confess to an early obsession with heavy metal?

DL: Oh yeah, sure.

AAJ: What were your favorites?

Dana Leong DL: Let's see. First off would be early Metallica. You know, Master of Puppets. AC/DC. [Also] current things. Since I own my own studio, I'm really into checking out production, size of sound as it comes out of speakers or headphones. A band like Evanescence actually strikes me a lot because they have a very classical sound, but then they mix it with Metal and Goth. Huge dramatic production, and it just sounds humongous when it comes through the speakers. It's sparkling and huge.

AAJ: I'm glad to hear the interest in metal didn't just die in the 80's.

DL: (Laughs) Right!

AAJ: How did all that evolve into jazz and hip-hop?

DL: I studied classical cello, and I studied jazz on trombone. When I got to college, that's what I decided to continue with. I did a degree playing jazz trombone at Manhattan School of Music but was also studying orchestral cello and all the solo literature. And then at that point, I had thought about the idea of doing the opposite on both instruments. But I didn't really do the work yet. So my college years were very important to form the crossover on both instruments, where I started to learn how to play jazz and other styles on the cello.

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