Musical Milliner

August 6, 2013

The Singer’s Mind

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This is an informative article from a teacher’s blog. Lots to think about. The art of singing involves so many inter-connected systems. One’s psychological and spiritual state is a huge part of the equation, and technology is giving us answers as to how the musical brain functions.

Mostly, singers are bat shit crazy.

Read on.

 

http://www.singalexander.com/blog/2013/8/Training-the-Singer-s-Mind

http://www.singalexander.com/blog/2013/8/Training-the-Singer-s-Mind

October 21, 2010

Ascolta Tutti

Our resident guest columnist, professional astronomer  Claude Plymate of NSO at Kitt Peak takes up more Big Questions.  This week : Life in the Universe, Part I ~ Are We Martians?

One of the foremost questions in science as well as theology has always been “are we alone in the cosmos?” For the first time we are actually making real headway into answering this fundamental question. Recent results in biology have shown that life is far more tenacious than we ever could have imagined. At the same time, astronomers are demonstrating that planets are rather common companions to stars. Current estimates are that between 30 – 60% of stars include planetary systems. That would indicate that there are something like 30 to 60 billion planetary systems in our galaxy alone! That’s 5 – 10 planetary systems for each individual living on Earth. And if you assume our solar system is somewhat typical, each planetary system likely includes several planets. These overwhelmingly huge numbers makes it very easy to assume that Earth cannot be so special as to be the only place in our Universe where life has taken hold.

Observations of Mars from telescopes atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii have found evidence of methane in its thin atmosphere. This methane could be the result of geologic processes but could just as well be a side effect of life – living, farting organisms! What would if mean for the commonality of life throughout the Universe if we were to find it growing right now on our next door planet? Well, it depends. If it was found that life had spontaneously and independently sprang into existence on at least two distinct planets in our solar system, the implication would be that life is easy to get started and that life is likely to be found just about anywhere that the proper conditions exist. If however there is or ever was life on Mars, it is highly likely that it is directly related to life here on Earth and that its origin was not independent.

It is well known that throughout the history of our solar system a significant amount of asteroidal material has been flung back-and-forth between the Earth & Mars. The Martian meteorite ALH84001 made quite a media splash back in the 1996 when a team of NASA researches announced that structures imbedded in the rock appeared to show fossilized evidence of microbes. The controversy continues about the origin and meaning of these structures but it does clearly show that material from Mars occasionally does make the trek to Earth. Presumably, although not nearly as common, rocks that have been blasted off of the Earth by asteroid impacts should also occasionally find their way to Mars. (Mars’ weaker gravity and thinner atmosphere makes it easier to eject material off that planet than from the Earth. At the same time, more meteors will get pulled into Earth’s deeper gravity well.) It’s been shown that many types of microbes can easily survive inside a rock catapulted off of a planet and in the harsh conditions of interplanetary space for the time required for travel between Mars and Earth. This cross-contamination between the two planets would seem to make it highly likely that any life there is directly related to life here. The concept of life on a planet being seeded by life from elsewhere goes by the name panspermia. Panspermia makes it quite possible that we are all Martians!

As cool as it may seem to think that we might have or had microbial relatives living on Mars, it would tell us nothing about how likely or how often life gets started in the first place. Mars, however, is far from our last possible place to look for extraterrestrial life inside our solar system. Several of the moons around Jupiter and Saturn are believed to have liquid water oceans below frozen ice mantles. Any of these sub-surface oceans might make comfortable ecospheres for extraterrestrial critters. And it is rather unlikely that Earth or Martian bugs could have made the journey that far out in the solar system. Any life out there is quite unlikely to be related to us. If any other life that is truly unrelated to life here on Earth is found within our solar system, the odds are overwhelming that life must be pervasive throughout the Universe.

This leaves us at this the moment without knowing how easy it is for life to get itself started. What is clear is that once life does get going, it quickly adapts to a very wide range of conditions; I think the quote from Jurassic Park was “life finds a way.” Even if we find that life is difficult and takes a long time to get started, there are so many planets that have been around for such a very long time that the odds seem good that life – at least microbial life – is common across the galaxy.
Claude Plymate
Engineering Physicist
National Solar Observatory ry
http://www.noao.edu/noao/staff/plymate

(c)GoshGusMusic(ascap)2010

July 27, 2010

Luce del giorno: Cinquain VI and VII

(c)cjarc
Cinquain VI

First light
Eyelids clenched tight
“You are not here if I don’t look”
Child says.

Defy
The itch to peek
Beyond paralysis
To ascertain if there is need
Knocking

Embrace
Hope monsters flee
Replaced by gentle sun
Blessed by all warm love around me
Goodness.

Cinquain VII

Compline
Comes round. Think hard.
Take measure of my life
What has been done or left undone?
We’re asked.

Useful
Perhaps useless
Charity matters most
Above all choices one can choose
To love.

Loving
When most challenged
Scrubs away at the dross
Which entombs the beauty within
Brightly.

(c)GoshGusMusic(ascap)2010/photo (c)cjarc/Grace Cathedral

June 20, 2010

Reflective Haiku I

Two old lady friends-
A neurotic depressive
And a bipolar Buddhist.

Both afraid of death.
Both worn down by the journey
Of fighting demons.

Breathing in and out,
Each reminding her sister
They have each other.

Each floats her own way
And fights against the darkness
By treading water.

Each knows she is loved
But often forgets this fact.
Hold on, wait it out.

The badness will pass
It’s just a matter of time
Keep faith in God’s love.

(c)GoshGusMusic(ascap)2010/(c) photo cjarc/Grace Cathedral

May 10, 2010

Strani eventi: Physics of Precognition or Just Fuzzy Logic?

Filed under: empricism,Faith,Language,metaphysics,precognition — by Musical Milliner @ 10:32 pm
Tags: , , ,
(At left, the Carina Nebula. Photo courtesy of NOAO.edu)

A few days ago, I had a metaphysical discussion with an old friend, Claude Plymate. Claude is an astronomer. A real astronomer who has spent his life massaging a very special observatory, the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope atop Kitt Peak outside of Tucson. Claude has cred. His wife, Teresa Bippert is also an amazing astrophysicist who does crazy things with optics at the University of Arizona- things I can’t begin to understand. Both attended undergraduate school with me. Just so you know:

“The McMath-Pierce solar telescope is the world’s largest solar telescope, and the world’s largest unobstructed-aperture optical telescope with a diameter of 1.6 meters. Permanent instruments include a dual grating spectrograph capable of extended wavelength coverage (0.3-12 microns), a 1-meter Fourier Transform Spectrometer for both solar and laboratory analysis, and a high-dispersion stellar spectrometer.

Important discoveries include: detection of water and isotopic helium on the Sun; solar emission lines at 12 microns; first measurement of Kilogauss magnetic fields outside sunspots and the very weak intra-network fields; first high resolution images at 1.6 and 10 microns; detection of a natural maser in the Martian atmosphere.” (http://tinyurl.com/26vu3sc)  Smart folks, these friends of mine.

For me, our chat was a flashback to the days when a group of about eight to twelve of us undergrads sat around a large round table, drinking coffee and arguing and speculating over the Big Questions late into the night. We studied different disciplines, but among the many other things we had in common was one biggie: we were night owls. Students of astronomy & related sciences, writers and musicians. And there was the campus radio station in which we criss-crossed at various times.  People who were up awaiting  a celestial event, or the quiet in which to think, or the need to burn off energy from a rehearsal or performance. These were the people I loved most, and after all these years, know that I still do.

I got into the subject of precognition with Claude. Just like the old days. I told a story of an experience I had some years ago. I was on our sailboat, pre-kid era. We had dropped anchor and slept in Clipper Cove between Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island, near where we berthed. In the early morning, I looked up at the Bay Bridge nearby, and pondered aloud to my spouse, “Do you see the ramp on the lower deck (eastbound) of the bridge by the bottom of the cantilever? It looks like one of those ramps kids use to launch their skateboards. Wouldn’t it be weird if a car drove up it and flipped into the Bay?”  The guy looked at me cock-eyed. He had learned by then that sometimes I say weird things that come true.

We had a lovely sail, tied up the boat and headed to the clubhouse to use the facilities. Walking up the dock, we heard sirens. Lots of sirens, and a Coast Guard helicopter zoomed over us to the south side of the bridge. We noticed traffic stopped on the lower deck.  We thought, “Oh shit. Bridge accident. Might as well go fix a drink and hang out until the thing is cleared.”  True, we were going back home into the City on the upper, western deck, but a serious accident will occasionally slow the whole structure.

In the clubhouse, actually “shack” was a more fitting description of the Treasure Island Yacht Club back then,  nobody was around. We turned on the television to see if there was information available.

Yes, there was.  A car had driven off  the little ramp, gone over the side of the bridge and into the Bay. There were fatalities. Spouse performed a double cock-eye at me. Meanwhile, I was trying to wrap my head around the big picture. Someone later asked me if I felt responsible. That never entered my mind.  Just absurd. I may practice certain spiritual rituals,  but overall I embrace empiricism. I have no explanation for this experience, or any of  the others. No way to prove or disprove. So I just let it be.

But Claude, being grounded in empiricism and the scientific method wrestles with these questions every day. Claude and I talked about my story and a few related matters, and this is what he wrote. It is used by Claude’s permission.


“I’d like to apologize from the start for the new-agey, pseudoscientific tone of this. Recently, I’ve been hearing about some experiments that appear to show test subjects responding stimuli a fraction of a second BEFORE receiving the stimulus! It is easy to ignore or discard such anomalous results as bad experimental technique or analysis. But what if the results are revealing a real effect? What if there is reproducible laboratory results showing people have some precognitive abilities? Is there any way we might concoct a reasonably conceivable physical explanation for such phenomena? Perhaps what some refer to as the “quantum foam” might provide some insight.

On the smallest scales, the so-called Planck length of around 10^-36 m (trust me, that’s REALLY small), space is expected to deviate from the smooth continuum we’re used to. The contour of space becomes rough or bumpy, changing randomly at each instant. This is where it gets its name quantum foam. In other words, our concept of position becomes fuzzy and even completely breaks down at the very smallest spatial scales. Presumably, time is equally distorted and fuzzy near its smallest divisions. The sizes of these deviations are randomly distributed but heavily weighted toward the smallest scale distortions. However, larger distortions in space/time must also occasionally occur. In this way, it is just conceivable that every once in a while some bit of information will pass from a moment in the future, into the present or even into the past! (Likewise, information from the past could find itself thrust into the future. This, however, would be of less interest and indistinguishable from the normal flow of time and causality.)

Such time/space distortions are happening continuously at every point in the Universe. Larger, even discernibly large, variations in time and/or space are statistically extraordinarily improbable but must occasionally happen. Now consider the brain – it’s made of a whole lot of neurons that are made of lots and lots of quanta. Every once in a while, some of these improbably events must happen in our brains. Could a brain neuron occasionally be triggered by an event that has yet to occur? If so, it would be expected that such occurrences would happen much more frequently for events from the very near future (small fractions of seconds) as apposed to from farther into the future. The ability to reacting to future events would clearly represent a strong survival advantage and would be very strongly selected for. Even if developing precognitive abilities were biologically expensive and/or quite difficult but just possible, evolution would demand that we developed the capability! Might it even be that evolution could have fine-tuned emotions to play the role of filtering out random noise while amplifying important signals? Perhaps this is why precognition tends to be associated with emotionally charged events”

(c) GoshGusMusic (ascap) 2010

For a better, very cool view of the Carina Nebula, check this link from Kitt Peak ‘s website:

http://nssphoenix.wordpress.com/2010/04/23/star-formation-in-the-carina-nebula/


April 19, 2010

Pausa: Two Stories. Part I.

Filed under: Language,Life in Music,Musical Life,Opera,Singer,Soprano — by Musical Milliner @ 4:03 pm

I was reading another singer’s blog this morning wherein she describes a common audition hazard. What does one do when the accompanist does not or will not take the standard range tempo for an aria?  Too slow, your phrasing is ruined. Too fast, and you hyperventilate or vocally trip over all those even faster runs.

In her account, she tells of an inexperienced accompanist in a German Operhaus who just couldn’t move it. Granted, it was Strauss, and any piano reduction of anything by Strauss requires more than normal human powers to play. It’s enough to bring up a little religion, you know?

In Part II we will chat further about Strauss.

So…I know the feeling. I have had the opposite happen. One time the accompanist seemed to want to kill me via Violetta prematurely.

It was at Chicago Lyric. I was asked to take it from the cabaletta, the place where the girls are separated from the women. This guy played it so fast that I was momentarily stunned. In those first few measures, you have to assess, “Will I manage, or must I stop him?” I mean, this was the Lyric!  The Lyric.

They had flown me in for this audition, paid for my hotel. So I did stop him with all the graciousness I could, just as my coach had drilled into me.

He was nice, and seemed to understand my request. And then he took off again just as he had the first time.  Actually, I remember it being faster.

I did it.  Nailed it. I was being tested. “Can she handle the pressure? Can she think on her feet and make it work?” Well, yeah. I can. I do. Take that, you sick bastard.

It wasn’t until I left the room that I let myself feel pissed. This guy had intentionally fucked with me, and he had lost the duel.

How we deal with these situations is part of the package, and it has to be  practiced, just like everything else we do.

(c)GoshGusMusic (ascap) 2010

January 15, 2010

La Sonnambula: Grief and the Liminal Place

I keep bumping into a word. It’s a familiar experience. One day, you hear a word with which you are mildly acquainted, but haven’t heard all that much. Then for no apparent reason, it appears, sprinkled into conversations or text with noticeable frequency. It’s both annoying and intriguing. Right? But collecting words enriches our experience. And as German language speakers well know it can be a hoot. Let’s stick to English.

For several years, a regular feature on the inside back page of the Atlantic Monthly was Word Fugitives. Readers would send in clever notes, such as the following from the July/August 2004 edition. Lots of fun to read the creative suggestions that made the column.

The second fugitive sought in March was “a term that describes the momentary confusion experienced by everyone in the vicinity when a cell phone rings and no one is sure if it is his/hers.” Paul Holman, of Austin, Texas, suggested conphonesion; Pam Blanco, of Warwick, Rhode Island, phonundrum; Alan Tobey, of Berkeley, California, ringchronicity; Jim Hutt, of Blue Mountain Lake, New York, ringmarole; William A. Browne Jr., of Indianapolis,ringxiety; and Gordon Wilkinson, of Mill Bay, British Columbia, fauxcellarm.

Taking top honors is Michael W. Pajak, of Portland, Maine, for being the first of many readers to suggest the apt coinage pandephonium.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200407/wallraff)

You get the idea. Every once in a while I’ll catch onto one of these and play with it. Of course we can play with language. How dull would it all be without this delicious pleasure? Sometimes it’s  a thoughtful word, a word that strikes a  tune in your thinking. And in your aural experience.

My new ear worm is the word  liminal. Unless you have spent time studying psychology or philosophy or some other “ology”, it’s a word you’re unlikely to toss about in everyday conversation. But here it is, and it won’t leave me alone. I know exactly why I am obsessed with this one.

In the past two weeks since my friend died, I have been plagued with a common grief reaction:  I awaken with a hard smack most mornings. I am dreaming about whatever, and in the passage from sleep to full consciousness my peace is abruptly disturbed when I remember what a crap time this is, and how  much I dread getting on with my day with this heaviness of heart. I wander off, underlining the hours until I can return to soothing linens of an indulgent thread count, a down duvet, and the half-dozen pillows I like to burrow under. It is indeed comforting under the comforter.

Sleep does not come easily because although my body is relieved by the cozy set-up, my thoughts are amplified as my brain betrays me, and I’m stuck with a familiar rat chasing these eternal rotations of my mental wheel. Insomnia is a bitch which has taken root in the past few years and is situationally exacerbated.  Usually I find sleep by means of an iPod with comfy headphones. Music is so often the cure in my life. Thank God for such a wonder.

The space in time between these two states is the liminal place. It is betwixt and between, and serves as a transitional period for our emotional states, our brain function, as well a means by which our bodies are nudged into activity, or from activity into peaceful slumber.  The early twentieth century anthropologist Victor Turner described the liminal state as the passage between childhood and manhood in certain African tribal cultures which practiced coming of age rituals. In fact, one can find examples of these practices in most non-Western cultures. (http://www.liminality.org/about)

The etymology of the word derives from the Latin “limen” (nominative case)  and liminis (noun,genitive case, third declension…I live in a house where both sons were required to study Latin, which means mom had to learn a bit as well.  I salute Ms. Firth in her persistence.)  But my sources concur that the English translation is “threshold.”

The very word used to describe this void in which change unfolds, is grudgingly recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary-2 (1989) only as an adjective, and not at all in it’s noun, liminality. (http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/liminal.htm) OED-3, began a major overhaul in 1993, and to date is not yet one-third complete. Words such as liminal and liminality, though not truly within common usage, are expected to be added  due to their increased inclusion in scholarly applications. (Ibid)   OED-2 gets picked on for it’s snootiness and perceived bias, but at 221,000 entries, it retains it’s place as the most authoritative English dictionary. (www.oed.com/newsupdate/revision0712)

Language is, or should be, elastic enough to accommodate  evolving usage.  I could get into a discussion here about email and social networking shorthand, which some see as the demise of English language, (and I don’t),  but that will have to wait for another day.

Back on track.  So we have this space between two places of consciousness. It’s a place where we process and integrate. It can’t be codified into a specific length of time. The liminal time seems to be fluid and mutable. It may be seconds or minutes.

My thinking is that when we experience significant disturbances in our daily lives, we do not spend the necessary  time in the liminal. We awaken with a spurt of catecholamines and don’t experience the liminal transition which is intended to ease us into or away from conscious function. There is something about the import of liminality which makes it essential for well-being.

I’ve managed to sleep a requisite number of hours. My dreams, as I can recall, are benign if not pleasant or interesting.  Yet when I slam into wakefulness, I am tired.  Not forever. Just right now. Another part of  my current situation. The full liminal meal will return, but apparently I need the shock of adrenaline to get me moving these days.  It just doesn’t feel right.

(c)GoshGusMusic/ascap

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