Thursday, February 12, 2009

Upper class entertaining on a budget

(NAPSI)-Cutting back on extravagances doesn't have to mean an end to entertaining in style. There are easy, inexpensive ways to entertain for less and still have a great time with your friends. Here are ideas to consider:

Fun Finger Foods

Sometimes hosting a cocktail party at home can be an expensive endeavor but saving money doesn't mean you have to scrimp on the sophistication and fun. Forget hors d'oeuvres with expensive ingredients such as shrimp or crab. Instead, play around with traditional favorites by mixing it up.

Consider this enjoyable and inexpensive recipe for a pretty party dip:

Cucumber Dip

2 cups unflavored yogurt

2 small cucumbers, peeled and diced

8 scallions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup fresh chopped mint

(2 Tbsp. dried) plus a little for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, beat the yogurt until smooth. Fold in the garlic and scallions. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in the mint, then add the cucumber. Garnish with a tablespoon of mint. Chill before serving.

More Ideas
  • Get a few interesting cheeses from the grocery store, grill them on toasted bread and cut them into tiny grilled cheese triangles. The exciting twist on traditional treats and bite-size appeal of these appetizers can offer elegance and flavor without requiring much effort from you.

  • Sliders or minihamburgers are another great way to add a fun twist to classic favorites. Add unique ingredients such as grated onion or brown sugar for a little extra flavor.

  • For a vegetarian option, bake crushed pecans or walnuts in a mixture of butter, Cajun seasoning, chili sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Not only will guests savor the spicy seasoning, you can do the prep for either of these creative crowd pleasers the day before your party, giving you time to relax, mingle and enjoy the party.

Elegant Ambience

While good food and interesting drinks are key elements for your stylish event at home, don't forget the ambience. Adorn tables with vases of colorful seasonal fruits and vegetables. Choose various shapes and sizes for an appealing arrangement. You'll achieve a look of classic elegance that's more cost effective than floral bouquets--especially since you can later use the centerpieces in a hearty soup or salad. Soft lighting is another way to lend a touch of elegance. Scatter tea lights and candlesticks amongst the decor to set the tone for the entire affair.

Unique Wine Pairings

Another way to save money on entertaining is to simplify your bar. Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay--with all the wine varietals out there, it can seem hard to find a good match for the diverse foods you'll be serving. Fortunately, you don't have to risk overwhelming your guests with too many choices: Just stick to two fun and fantastic wines.

For example, Seven Daughters Red and White Winemaker's Blends are each made up of seven different grape varietals, each contributing a unique flavor that is interesting on its own and considered fabulous when combined. Both are sophisticated options that pair well with an assortment of dishes, a way to achieve contemporary elegance without breaking your budget.

Mix Up A Signature Cocktail

In addition to serving wine, come up with a signature cocktail--it's a simple way to creatively customize your soiree. Try mixing things up with muddled fruits, new liqueurs or classic, old-school cocktails. Many delightful recipes can be found online and it's a great way to enjoy mixology for the evening. By limiting your drink selection to a signature cocktail and new, stylish wines, you can save money and time.

To learn more about each distinct varietal and how they blend together to achieve a mix of approachable sophistication and fun, visit

An Elegant Musical Atmosphere

The addition of a low-cost musician can also add to the value of your event. Pianists throughout the United States regularly charge cut-rate fees with many hourly charges beginning at $250.00. Paul Kwo, for instance -- a master, award-winning compooser and renowned pianist - specializes in the high-end playing of private parties and corporate functions in the Los Angeles area. For more information, visit

Entertaining does not have to cost a lot of money if you serve
fun finger foods, delicious dips and inexpensive but flavorful drinks.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Art of Piano Improv: Core Essence (Part II)

By Paul Kwo

I believe that when we look into other fields we gain perspectives that we would never discover even if we dive to the deepest crannies of our own fields. My acting and my study of is craft has led me to one of the biggest discovery of my art of improv on the piano.

Golden Rule: Always say yes.

This has been a rule that I have learned in improv, is the acceptance of everything that is thrown at me as the actor. I must say yes and accept the new situation no matter how bizarre. Because by doing so we discover new worlds. I have applied this in its entirety to my muiscal improvs.

This rule defines my musical improvisation and is divided in the following two subsections.

1) A improviser can never make a mistake.

Every note that comes out of my finger is correct whether I intended it or not consciously. I believe if we play something that even if our conscious did not intend, our subconscious has led us there. In order to discover the music we have to let the music unfold itself for us. But time and time again performers try to lead the music. That's when improvs get stale and stagnant and non-musical. Let the music take the performer to where it wants to go and it will go there. But if you try to correct the music, it will eventually completely close up on you.

There are no such thing as a wrong note. The note is played and will forever remain played. Make use of it. Take advantage of it and see where the "so-called" mistake would lead you!

2) It's not what you play but how you play it.

Since a performer can never make a mistake, the performer's job is to communicate whatever the notes come out in a musical manner. Music is very powerful and every note has its strengths and weight. One can play 5 notes and have communicated the universe while another player may have played 5 million notes and have said nothing more then look at how fast I can go.

Music is not about techniques or about speed. It is not about how fast we can play or how many accurate we play them. Yet over and over I see our obsession for accuracy because that's what's easier to judge. It's what could be easily standardize. But yet we totally and utterly fail when it comes to upholding the same standard when it comes to musicality.

I have to admit even when I first started to teach piano I fell in the same trap. It was easy to just teach note and rhythm accuracy then to teach musicality. So lessons always end up emphasizing accuracy. We give our excuse saying that without accuracy, musicality is impossible. But that's erroneous as I have discovered in Improv. I can play all the wrong notes in the world and still make music. I can play with my fist and palm and still make music. I can play with random ping pong balls and still make music. Music does not require accuracy, it is self sufficient if you let it be.

It is not what I play but how I play it. It doesn't matter what the composer intended, but what I am communicating through it. If one were to remake a classic film, no one would ever expect nor even want the filmmaker to make a historically accurate film. In fact we would absolutely frown on such an act. Instead we want a fresh new perspective. We want to see it in a totally different light. But yet when it comes to music, classical music, we act in the exact opposite manner. I find it stagnant and irrelevant.

Don't deny the reality of the situation. Don't deny the so-called wrong notes. Let the music unfold itself and let the music speak for itself.

Visit us online at:

Paul Kwo, Los Angeles Area Composer and Master Pianist

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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Art of Piano Improv: A History (Part I)

By Paul Kwo

I've played the piano since I was five years old in Hong Kong. My parents wanted me to study music mainly just to give me an extra skill and to play for church. So even when we moved to Los Angeles, my parents continued my piano lessons. Of course being in a predominantly Chinese area, classical piano was the obvious choice of study.

I hear music my own way. I have always had a hard time playing only what's on the page, not because I can't but because I have a tendency to want to add or subtract. Being a classically trained musician that's a tough concept to swallow. Very little freedom is allowed when we are dealing with music of composers like Beethoven, Chopin and others. Furthermore it is even more unheard of to improvise and play music of my own. None of my teachers have ever done so and I was never exposed to any improv in the classical arena.

Finally after a good many years of the stringent piano performance practice of Classical music, I decided to give Jazz a try. I have always wanted to improvise and thought perhaps this would be a fantastic opportunity to do so. Boy was I wrong. When I sat down with my new Jazz teacher I discovered that there were rules to learn and follow, and my improvisations were not correct. I gave up on piano.

My dream as a kid in music was simple. I wanted to just sit down and play music. I didn't want to practice. I didn't want to learn rules. I didn't want to read scores and I didn't want to memorize music. After so many years of study I learned that music is something to study and learn and then perform. I learned it all and finally said farewell to music.

Fortunately I discovered Second Life and online performance. It took me a good nine months before I decided to give my first concert since I was not all enthused to learn a ton of music just to play a concert online. It was certainly too much work. Finally I decided since it's just an online concert, I will just play a couple of pieces of music that I can easily pick back up and then fill the rest of the concert with some improvs. I thought if they don't like it what could they do but just leave. Fortunately the audience enjoyed it and supported my performance. So over the next few months I played less and less standards and eventually began to perform all improvs.

I have performed improvs at my church. Throughout my life since I was playing at my father's church I had a lot of liberty as to what I could and couldn't play. It was a small church and very quickly I was their music director. For a long while I played the standard piano solo preludes at the beginning of the services. Eventually I because a little sick of playing the same thing over and over again and I was also too lazy to learn anything new. So I decided I'm just going to make it up right there. No one really cared anyways what I played. All they want is just some pretty and peaceful music. What's the difference if I played something that I composed on the spot versus something that's pre-composed. So I just played, as I have always dreamed music would be.

That is music to me, as it needs to be. I have always wanted to just sit down and play and now I do just sit down and play and make music.

Visit us online at:

Paul Kwo, Los Angeles Area Composer and Master Pianist

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