Four Great Years at Dulwich College Beijing

I have been away from this blog for quite some time, mostly because of my busy, rewarding job at my previous school, Dulwich College Beijing. It was just ranked third best international school in the world, which does not surprise me. Here are some of my personal highlights, from my time working at DCB from 2012-2106.

Whilst teaching at Dulwich, I finished my Master of Music Education degree at Northwestern University (4-summer Masters Programme). This was a huge achievement for me. I particularly developed my orchestral conducting and music theory skills in that course. I also had the opportunity to play as principal flute in the NW Summer Orchestra, under Maestro Bob Hasty. He has become a great friend of Dulwich and ISCMS. In my final year, I performed as soloist with the orchestra, which was an incredible honour. See my previous posts.

Development of the Junior Strings Orchestra in Junior School. They were playing very well by the time I left, with the members embracing a happy but competitive culture in the ensemble. I worked in tandem with Nina Haynes (Head of Junior Music) in recent years, and we formed a great team. It is seen now as an excellent group, to which the youngest players aspire. The Junior Music programme has fed into the success and growth of Senior School music very successfully, particularly in the last couple of years.

Leader of Junior Strings, Mango Yue
Leader of Junior Strings, Mango Yue

Development of the DCB Symphony Orchestra – my proudest achievement. I feel the orchestra grew and flourished, under my direction. After my four years, they were working as a dedicated team, with students committed to its success all year round and playing well together. I had good attendance at the weekly rehearsals and performances. High expectations and challenging, well-chosen repertoire, made the orchestra develop into a great sounding ensemble. The Symphony Orchestra is almost completely made up of students now (plus 2 DCB teachers), with very minimal augmentation needed only at big concerts, such as Founders Day, where they perform a long programme every year. I miss working with them, but I know they are in good hands with Paul West.

Conducting DCB Symphony Orchestra, October 2016
Conducting DCB Symphony Orchestra

I taught a few excellent flute students along the way. This being my specialty, I was proud to help them develop into fine flute players, with tonal control far better than most school flute students. Particularly Sarah Markus and Nini Toh, who both became excellent principal flute players in various student orchestras.

Flute students
Flute students Nini Toh and Sarah Markus

I was proud of the improvement of all my general music students, from year 5 to year 13. Their academic results were on an upward trajectory, while I worked at DCB. I believe I had a positive impact on their success and enjoyment of Music. I am particularly proud of the IB Music students who achieved grades of 6 and 7 in SL and HL Music. It is incredibly difficult to get a 7 in IB Music. DCB students seem to achieve only 6 or 7 nowadays, which is amazing.

Another achievement I am proud of, is the development of the KS3 curriculum, working particularly with Chris Hutchinson. We made music in year 7-8-9 better for the students, perhaps in ways that are not immediately obvious. The students now enjoy a rich musical experience, at all levels. They regularly work on creative, student-led, group projects. This can be measured by the increased take-up rates of elective music in year 10. Particularly, Music in years 8-9, is reminiscent of the Musical Futures project-based curriculum which has taken off world-wide in recent years. Students learn a wide range of musical and social skills, in these student-centred music classes at DCB.

I am proud of the audio recording work I did at Dulwich. I grew into that role and improved my technical skills enormously in the time I was there. The high-quality recordings captured of concerts and performances, was a factor in the students gaining top results in examinations and success in auditions and competitions. I worked closely with some incredibly talented young musicians. I am proud to have been able to support them and encourage them in their successes.

As Secretary of ISCMS (International Schools Choral Music Society), I continue to work hard on planning and running the ISCMS Festivals. These high-level music events benefit our top music students enormously. Many DCB students have sung or played in these concerts in Beijing, Shanghai, Busan and Zhuhai. Amy Yun led the ISCMS Festival Orchestra a number of times, Sarah Chan led the cellos, Sarah Markus was Principal Flute. DCB has dominated the winners’ list of the Jenkins Award for composition, with three of the four winners since inception being DCB students. Their excellent compositions were premiered live at ISCMS Festivals.

The many concerts we held at DCB was a great achievement. With my colleagues, we hosted many top international artists, oftentimes having them work with and perform alongside our students. The production and presentation of these concerts was always at a professional standard, with a lot of planning and hard work by us behind the scenes. The Diversty concerts were amazing. Some highlights include having my Chamber Orchestra play an entire recital of Baroque music with the brilliant counter-tenor Justin Kim. The quality of performance by our students at that concert, sounded like professional musicians, at times. More recently, the brilliant Carducci Trio performed at DCB and played with the Chamber Orchestra in two pieces. Even the Junior Strings accompanied Alexander Suleiman in a lovely performance of The Swan by Saint-Saëns, which I arranged, rehearsed and conducted. I was privileged to conduct orchestras for concerti played by Tony Yun (Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor by Chopin) and the amazing cellist Jacob Shaw (Alice on the Beach by Philip Henderson). I also conducted the orchestra in the premiere performance of Memories The Fuel They Burn 2 Stay Alive by Benoit Granier.

Carducci Trio playing with DCB Chamber Orchestra
Carducci Trio playing with DCB Chamber Orchestra

The Dulwich Festival of Music and the Junior MADD (Music Art Drama Dance) Festival were highlights, showcasing DCB students. These events really showed our music programme to be the best of all the Dulwich Colleges (in my opinion!). We always seemed to supply the greatest number and highest quality musicians, at these combined events. Our students’ participation and behaviour was always exemplary and I was never less than extremely proud of all our touring students.

Chris Hutchinson at MADD Festival 2016
Chris Hutchinson at MADD Festival 2016

Right till my last day of work at DCB, music performance was a highlight for me. My excellent Chamber Orchestra played one last time under my direction, in the final prizegiving assembly. A tight, rhythmic performance of Karl Jenkins’s Palladio. A great way to finish, only to be topped off by the hilarious and moving tribute song delivered for me, by my colleagues in the music department, at the staff farewell.

DCB Music Staff
DCB Music Staff

Lumen – ISCMS 2012 – Best Yet!


500 on stage

I was about to start this review from Wednesday 15th of February, 2012 as this was officially the first day of Lumen, the Festival of the International Schools Choral Music Society (ISCMS). I quickly realised that we actually started much earlier. I could go back one day to the Tuesday, to the Chamber Music Concert, ‘A Night of Champions’ in which I was fortunate to perform with my talented colleagues. My professor from Northwestern University, Dr Robert Hasty also played fiddle in a duo with his wife, song-writer Christina Trulio. Also performing was the Dulwich College Big Band, and a number of amazing student composers and performers, Kathryn Chua, Pratcha Sananavanont, John Hui, Amy Yun and Julien Bell. This concert was really an entree to Lumen and set the tone for the incredible music-making to follow in the next five days!


Chamber Music

We could go back to the weekend and the arrival in Beijing of our practitioners. The first, and by far the most exuberant of our stars to arrive was Dr Beverly Vaughn. Known affectionately by all Lumen folk as Bev, she brought to the festival her vitality, sense of fun, passion for music and her sheer energy. She made a wonderful contribution to the success of Lumen and is now considered a part of the ISCMS family. ‘Go Bev!’

“Go Bev”

Another member of the ‘ISCMS family’ is our regular mentor and friend, Dr Martin Adams, whose role is Artistic Director – Repertoire and Development. His youthful joy in music making and concern for our talented young students always adds tremendously to the success of ISCMS. His energy levels too are amazing, bringing him into a close second place – only pipped by the super-human Beverly! He was caught napping (literally) in between rehearsals following a couple of marathon days of music-making and socialising but his enthusiasm for our ongoing project is inspiring.

Still looking for a place to start my review, I should go further back in time to the months and weeks of practice done by our dedicated teachers and students in the lead up to Lumen. As in other cities, we in Beijing combined our schools, Dulwich, WAB, BCIS and BISS for a number of preparatory rehearsals. This was in addition to the many hours of practice done by individual students and teachers – all before the official ‘first’ day on Wednesday 15th February.

Of course, being on the committee of ISCMS, I can say with pride that the excellent planning and preparation for this event went on for the whole year. All the work behind the scenes in logistics planning, financial management, artistic development, venue bookings, negotiations with artists and sponsors, hotels, transportation, school administrators, printers, music publishers…….etc. All the meetings, the 2170 emails I have tagged from …..all of these efforts by a passionate and visionary ISCMS committee must be considered a major factor in the stunning success of Lumen.

From the arrival of the first students and teachers from 26 different international schools, this year’s ISCMS festival was indeed a stunning success. Lumen, meaning light was the name of the festival and we have now established ISCMS as the premier student choral music festival in the region, possibly in the world. We attracted 500 participants to Lumen, which set a record on a number of levels. We now have interest coming in from all over the world, with teachers and students wanting to be part of this event.

There were too many instances of creativity and music-making at an inspiring level, to review every one in detail here. I will try to mention some highlights, though.

The collaboration between students, teachers, professional and semi-professional musicians, academics and an army of volunteers, is what makes ISCMS a unique experience for all involved. The focus is always on our young ISCMS students, who are constantly pushed towards excellence in what they are doing musically. They have the opportunity to work alongside some of the best practitioners and highly experienced musicians in the world. There is no other student music event which can offer this standard of excellence and the results are clear to all.

The culmination of all the preparation mentioned above was of course the final Gala Music Concert held in the Forbidden City Concert Hall on Saturday 18th February. The orchestra and singers all performed magnificently. To mention a few personal highlights, the violinists standing and playing the reel solo in Lord of the Dance; Katie Targett-Adams singing “The Song” from Karl Jenkins’ Gloria; jamming with Bev; sitting in the orchestra and hearing the first beautiful notes emerge from the massive ISCMS Chorus behind me.

Katie Targett-Adams

Lumen was one of the best musical experiences of my life. Thank you to all who were involved.

MAD Collaboration

Yes, we artistic types are sometimes accused of being quite mad, but in this case MAD stands for Music, Art, Drama. Recently, students of the three disciplines at Beijing BISS International School were showcased in a very pleasing way. The three Arts teachers, Catherine Rankin (Drama), Gillian Mercer (Visual Art) and I collaborated in the presentation.

Grade 9 Clarinetist, Terry Zhu

Here’s how the show went:


The first part, logically enough was the ‘M’ for Music and I had a selection of my grade 9 Music students playing short compositions from their Ground Bass Project. The idea of the project was to learn about this composing technique widely used in the Baroque Period. Most people are familiar with the Pachelbel Canon, which is a very good example of a piece composed on a ‘ground’ or repeating bass line. The students all created ground bass lines and then chose someone else’s to create these excellent sounding pieces. We have been building up a Ground Bass Bank in their class wiki. I hope to build the project into a wider collaboration next year. Here is one of the pieces, composed by Charles Zhou – called ‘EMO Bass’. Charles’ classmates Simon Lu (piano) and Terry Zhu (clarinet) did a great job playing his piece in the concert.

Collaboration was the theme for the whole night. More compositions were played by students through the concert. Congratulations to Alex Ding (flute), Tony Foo (guitar), Simon Lu (piano), Sang Hyun Woo (piano) and Jung Woo Han (violin). I also helped the students by playing cello and flute with them for some of the pieces.

Another highlight was the singing of Violet Lindsay. Violet is a grade 11 Music student who has been working hard on her singing during the past year. She sang a difficult song from Phantom of the Opera, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again –  accompanied by Julie Lindsay on piano. Well done Violet!

Violet Lindsay, Grade 11 BISS Student

We also showcased the performing talents of a number of students who played piano beautifully. Congratulations to Grace Chung (gr 10), Andy Park (gr 10) and Jesse Zhao (gr 8). A special note should be made about Jesse’s playing. Although only a grade 8 student, he plays with such a spectacular technique and sparkling musicianship, that he is someone to watch in the future. He played Chopin ‘Black Key’ Prelude absolutely brilliantly.


We had a short interval in the concert at this point, which gave the audience an opportunity to look at the Art Exhibition on display in the Courtyard. Work was by the Grade 10 students of Gillian Mercer, our brilliant art teacher who will sadly be leaving China next year to take up a new job in Darwin, Australia. The works were beautiful two and three dimensional prints all created in the theme of ‘clouds’. As always, the quality of the visual art produced by Gillian’s students was consistently high, with the work always offering some deeper meaning than just a superficial, aesthetic experience. Wonderful work Gillian and students!

Grade 10 'Cloud' print
Grade 10 - Cloud print 2


The final part of the MAD Showcase was the grade 10 Drama students’ play called Nosrep. ‘Nosrep’ is person spelt backwards and the script was created by the students and Cath Rankin, our talented Theatre Arts teacher. Nosrep is a puppet play and details the turbulent experiences of a young student growing up with dyslexia. The students, only four of them, performed beautifully and must be congratulated. A great highlight for me too, was the fact that all the music used in the play was composed by the grade 10 Music students! Yes, I was very proud to hear how well their ‘commissioned’ work fitted with the changing moods of the characters in the play.

What a great Arts Faculty we have at my school and what a great bunch of students we have to work with.

Grade 10 Drama 'Nosrep'

Student Life – Loving it!

I am well into my course now – week three. The 4-Summers Master of Music Education program at Northwestern University is a wonderful opportunity for me to formally take on the role of student again. As we always declare ourselves ‘lifelong learners’ in the International Baccalaureate program, this has been a test of my commitment to that mantra. I am happy to report that I am having a great time and learning heaps! The lecturers here are dynamic and very knowledgeable, experts in their fields. And my classmates are all highly motivated and experienced professional music educators. I am learning so much from networking with my colleagues as well as the formal lectures and assessment tasks.

MME Class of 2013 - Photo by Dr Carlos Abril

The social life amongst the students, is very ‘energetic’ to say the least. A ‘quick drink’ after ensemble rehearsal often ends in a 2:30am finish at Nevin’s, the local watering hole here in Evanston. Although I have been feeling ‘young at heart’ working with my much-younger colleagues, I must admit to ‘bailing out’ early a few times during the past week. Discretion the better part of valor!

Nevin's Pub
Gerard & NU Friends

We have six weeks each summer (four times) to cram in as much learning as possible. We are expected to take three course subjects each time and play or sing in a Summer Ensemble. My courses this time are: ‘Advanced Conducting: Before the Downbeat’; ‘Music Theory Review’; and ‘Music Technology’. I am also playing piccolo in the Concert Band.

I have been learning new skills and new ways to look at things (the most interesting aspect, I feel) in all of my subjects. Particularly, I have been impressed with my theory lecturer, Dr Susan Piagentini. She has a powerful knowledge and passion for the subject and teachers us in such a well-organised and thoughtful manner. Each day, we are set homework assignments which she returns immediately at the following class with excellent feedback. She monitors each student’s progress in a non-judgmental way and is the model of a good teacher. I have learnt new theory techniques and can feel my skills improving under her guidance. This will directly benefit my students, I am certain. Wonderful!

The conducting course too is great. Directed by Dr Robert (Bob) Hasty, my friend who conducted the wonderful Mozart Jupiter performance in the Forbidden City Concert Hall (see previous post) in Beijing earlier this year. His expertise in analysing scores (before the downbeat) has been enlightening. I will take a second course in a future summer to deal with the craft of conducting ‘after’ the downbeat. I have found it useful doing the two ‘analysis’ courses in tandem, as the skills studied in both are interchangeable. Both of these lecturers have opened my eyes to a more linear approach to music analysis. I have enjoyed refining my skills of looking for melodic ‘key markers’ and making informed judgements about phrasing, harmony and rhythm.

My third course is a compulsory component in the program, Music Technology. As my readers and colleagues will be aware, I am a lover of technology and particularly its use in music education. To be quite honest, I have been finding the learning tasks very easy in this course. I do see the value of ensuring that all graduates have the skills to confidently use available technology in their classrooms, but thanks to my work at BISS, I really am ahead of the game. We have a wonderful, dynamic and enthusiastic lecturer, Dr Maud Hickey. She has guided us patiently in our learning tasks, such as website publishing on the Northwestern University server. I am very pleased that I have had the chance to learn more about HTML code and video and audio streaming. I spent a few late nights tinkering with these skills. Having previously relied on WordPress templates for my web publishing (this blog), it has been a great chance to discover a few ‘tricks’ for designing and publishing my own pages. Check out my video page designed using iWeb and hosted on my own domain! Also, have a look at my Northwestern homepage designed using HTML and SeaMonkey. Follow the links to see some of the assignments we have done, including streaming audio and audio editing. As I said earlier, I feel have not been stretched with this course, but I have had the chance to refine and share my skills. Another valuable experience from my studies here at Northwestern and a good reflection of our successful use of technology at BISS.

The higher-years students have been warning us not to expect much ‘social’ time in our second year. We are expected to complete the two other compulsory components of the program, Philosophy and Curriculum concurrently in that six week block. This is apparently an onerous task. Well, at least we will have a year of teaching at our respective schools to get our minds ready for the challenge! I might even try to get a head-start on the reading before then.

Enough blogging for now. Back to my Bach Fugues!

Apple Education Leadership Summit – Prague 2010

Gerard in Prague
I have just returned from an inspiring weekend in Prague, attending the Apple Education Leadership Summit. Apart from thoroughly enjoying the beautiful city (a photographer’s dream), with its gently curving cobble-stoned streets, it charmingly painted shop fronts, it’s gilded and gargoyled public buildings (the Smetana Concert Hall), its tasty street food (flame cooked sausages with the best mustard I’ve ever tasted and sauerkraut on fresh bread), the Moldau River with its arched bridges, palaces, cathedrals and of course the Czech beer.
Apart from all this, which made for a brilliant weekend, I was inspired by the passion and ideas of my fellow educators. The unofficial theme for the weekend was Challenge Based Learning. And everyone present seemed to be on the same journey towards embracing technology at the centre of their plans for smart learning strategies at their schools. From what I saw, there is no doubt that students in the 21st century are hungry for opportunities to direct their own learning using digital, mobile tools. They certainly will not wait for their teachers to invite them or ‘show them’. As the final speaker, John Couch said, the students of today can no longer even be described as ‘digital natives’ they are just ‘digital’.

Challenge Based Learning is the logical progression from Project Based Learning. The key to understanding the change in thinking, is that PBL is still largely controlled by the teacher, whereas CBL is driven by the students themselves. Teachers in the 21st century will have to get used to letting go of their traditional role of ‘master’ and ‘expert’. Instead, we will find our place as motivators, guides and co-learners. Yes, the teacher will become the student.

A few of us tried to involve people outside the Summit through some of the presentations, by joining a ‘back-channel’ using Twitter. I enjoyed catching a few excellent quotes and links and sending them out to a small but growing online group following the hashtag #AELS10. Have a look at the transcript of tweets from the weekend for some inspiration.

A highlight of the Summit was the inspiring presentation of Itay Talgam, musician and conductor and final keynote speaker. In his years as a conductor, he has observed and analysed the interaction between conductors of renown with their orchestras and audiences. He uses their conducting styles as metaphor for leadership to help us become aware of the way we lead others in our own communities.

All in all, a wonderful weekend, full of people passionate about education, ideas and technology.

Composing? – Start with an Idea

I’ve been thinking about composing lately. Not just doing composing, but how to be effective and compose something good. I have realised that often, the only thing that separates the ‘professional’ composer from the rest of us, is the fact that they actually capture their ideas and write them down. They produce something rather than just wishing for it. Of course there is the element of talent and skill, but let’s focus on the ‘getting started’ aspect of creating.

How often have you been part of a conversation around the dinner table, when discussing some piece of artwork -perhaps a controversial winner of a prize, say the Archibald Prize. Somebody always pipes up with, ‘I could have painted that!’ or ‘My three year old could have painted that!’ or worse ‘My dog could…..’. Sound familiar? It is usually meant to project some sort of superior, good taste from the speaker (which quite often backfires of course). It could also be an example of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – a well-known Australian phrase meaning we should cut ‘the tall poppy’ down to the size of all the other average-sized poppies. In other words, if anyone excels, especially in an artistic pursuit, the community wants to pull them back to the collective mediocrity of the accepted popular aesthetic standard. I am getting side-tracked, but here is the point I would like to make to that outspoken dinner party critic – if you think you could have done better, why didn’t you?

The attitudes reflected by our ‘chardonnay expert’ above, and the others around the table who nodded in agreement, may also be partly responsible for the fear which prevents us from taking a risk when creating, particularly when it comes to composing music.

So here is my thinking. Forget about producing a Mozart-like masterpiece, especially when you are starting out. Just start with an idea, but get it down (paper or digital).

I have been working with my music students on this way of thinking lately and I can see some good results already. Let’s make a list of possible composing ‘ideas’.

  • A melodic idea. It could be just an interval that you like. I developed a nice tune once from the idea of an ascending Major 7th. I thought it could be quite expressive used later in a song. You don’t need the whole tune, just a fragment – something you hummed in the shower or on the bus. If you like it, write it down. You might come back to it and make something of it.
  • A rhythmic idea. Think of ‘Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck. It’s all about the timing and the syncopated ostinato (repeating) rhythm ‘ba-dum, ba-dum, dum dum’.  Even a little piece of a scale with a dotted rhythm is more interesting than one with straight crotchets (quarter notes). If you group eight quavers (eighth notes) into 3+3+2 you get a very nice syncopated rhythm which could lead to something.
  • A chord or progression. Maybe you like the way two or three chords work together. Write it down. A few years ago, Savage Garden wrote a multi-million dollar song  ‘Truly Madly Deeply’ which is just built on a pattern of three triads (3 note chords) C major, G major, F major, back to G major. So simple, but what a great song! Of course, the way they put the melody together, the instrumentation and production was very clever and sophisticated BUT the first idea was very simple.
  • Words and lyrics. Maybe you think like a poet and words come first. If you have a nice line, try working it into a rhythm, then a melody, then finally you might add harmony. Now you have a song!

I could keep giving examples of how simple ideas can be grown into something great (or maybe just good or OK). The point is, let’s keep those ‘ideas’ that pop into our brains. Jot them down in Noteflight or on your lunch napkin.They might turn into something and just remember – a BAD tune is still better than NO tune.

Mozart’s Jupiter & the Forbidden Requiem

Mozart Jupiter Symphony rehearsal

Mozart Jupiter Orchestra - Forbidden City Concert Hall

I have been participating this week in a marvellous four days of music making and learning. The International Schools Choral Music Society gathered together the resources of about 400 students, music teachers and professional musicians from all over the world. We were hosted by Dulwich College, Beijing and co-ordinated and led by Festival Director and Head of Music at Dulwich, the indomitable Shane O’Shea. Three special guests shared their passion for music and expertise with the students and teachers leading workshops, lectures, masterclasses, conducting, coaching, cajoling us all to produce our best.

Pianist, Dr David Curtin (Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, USA) played a wonderful recital celebrating the works of Chopin. His sparkling technique and musicianship inspired the IB music students who attended his piano masterclasses and his cheerful personality and sense of humour added a valuable dimension to the week. My two IB students from BISS, Maggie Liu and Harry Zhang played and participated in masterclass with Dr Curtin.

Composer, musicologist and music scholar, Dr Martin Adams (Senior Lecturer and Head of Music at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland) inspired students and staff with his passion and enthusiasm for music during his lectures focussing on the International Baccalaureate set works. Students and teachers gained a little of his insights and depth of thinking by having the opportunity to chat informally and attend his great lectures.

Dr Robert Hasty, Associate Director of Orchestras at Northwestern University (Chicago, USA) – coached and conducted the Festival Orchestra in a stunning performance of the Mozart Jupiter Symphony. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to play flute in the symphony alongside the fine young international students and local musicians from the China conservatories. Under Dr Hasty’s patient guidance, particularly the string players made dramatic improvements during the three days of preparation and became a very fine orchestra in a very short time. Dr Hasty also led conducting masterclasses aimed at music teachers (including myself) and students. We all benefited enormously from his clear, logical explanations and fine conducting technique. It was a real privilege working with and learning from such a excellent musician.

As I have said, the culmination of all the hard work was the performance in the Forbidden City Concert Hall of Mozart’s epic Symphony 41 in C Major ‘Jupiter’ and his monumental Requiem. What an experience for us all to put on a concert like this in such a special location as Beijing’s Forbidden City. The requiem choir had about 300 singers on stage, with students and teachers from 19 International Schools as well as the visiting professors participating. Conducted by Festival Director Shane O’Shea, the sound of the choir was rich and beautiful. It is so unusual to witness a choral performance where the power of the voices easily matched that of the orchestra. The precision of the singing in the chorus was truly remarkable, with clarity of articulation, phrasing and diction enabling the difficult Latin text to be clearly heard throughout. The energy and power of the choir was tempered by the tight ensemble work achieved through detailed sectional practises.The hard work of all the schools and their music staff culminated in a thrilling and impressively accurate performance. I am so proud to have been involved and look forward to making an annual pilgrimage with my students to future Festivals.