I was looking for information about Intel when I found this news story about this year's science winners and while reading their biographies, I noticed the number of musicians that were winners. Teaching classical music and music appreciation is falling off in public schools because lack of time and saving money by cutting 'non-essentials' is a cultural disaster. For the interface of difficult music and difficult science is quite strong.
Mary Masterman, a 17-year-old Westmoore High School senior from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was awarded a $100,000 scholarship for describing the spectrograph system she built. Mary machined her own parts, and aligned her own optics. Using lenses from a camera and a microscope as well as a laser for her light source, Mary was able to separate the individual photons scattered by the tested molecules, similar to the effects a prism has on light, and record their wavelengths.
Mary has been honored in the past for numerous science awards, and showcased a Raman Effect presentation at an American Astronomical Society conference. Ranked first of the 658 Westmoore High School students, Mary also enjoys painting, bird watching, and plays three instruments: piano, harp, and flute. Mary is planning to enroll in either MIT or CalTech.
First, Mary's biography is similar to my own in some rather frightening ways. When I was in Jr. High, I made a spectrograph, too. My father founded the first Laser Research Center at the University of Arizona but this was years before he did that. I machined all the parts, too.
Second, Mary plays three instruments as I did at her age.
The second place winner is a musician, too.
For his mathematics project that solved a classical open problem in differential geometry, John Pardon of Chapel Hill, North Carolina's Durham Academy received a $75,000 scholarship.
John also plays cello for the Honors All State Orchestra, and spent a summer working on a Costa Rican organic farm. John is looking to study math and computer science at either CalTech or Princeton.
Like myself, he plays the cello. And I was in All State, too. And first chair in the school orchestra. Of all the classical musicians I knew during those years, going into college and beyond, the number of scientists and doctors or striving for degrees in the sciences or architecture was very high.
Lots and lots of mathematical geniuses and computer programmers. People who liked to play with intellectual riddles and puzzles, people who liked complexity and penetrating the inner workings of things love classical music and take the time and trouble, and it is a lot of trouble, to master this art form.
Albert Einstein was an avid violinist. So it's only appropriate that the medical school in the Bronx that bears his name should have its own amateur symphony orchestra.
The Albert Einstein Symphony Orchestra has been giving concerts at Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine since 1982. Not all of the 45 or so musicians are doctors. But many of them are, including the orchestra's founder and conductor, Dr. Stephen Moshman, an internist.
I once belonged to a string quartet. All of our fathers were professors. We all loved poetry and old novels. Then there is the opera: an even more rarefied love, it seems. I loved the opera since I saw Fidelio by Beethoven on RCA TV in the early 1950's. At one point, the soprano was pretending to dig a grave on stage. 'There are no rocks,' I whispered to my mother.
'That's because there are no rocks in New York City,' my mother said to tease me. I then puzzled about this a lot and went into the library and dug around for books about the geology of NYC. Was it all sand?
One of my own children, watching 'Salome' by Strauss, whispered to me, as Salome received John the Baptist's head on a silver platter, 'Mommy, I think he wants his head back.'
Back to the issue here: All cultures are made up of people doing things of various sorts. Cultures give birth, grow and die. Our own culture has been most magnificent in preserving so much of the past and with archaeologists working hard to dig up or restore thousands of years of lost cultures, all this enriches us tremendously.
Truly, we ride on the shoulders of past genius. From the cave paintings of romping horses, wild bulls and leaping deer to block buster movies today, much of the history of human artifice and creation lies at our beck and call.
Talented, dedicated young people look upon all this with wonder and joy and try their best to master as many facets of this massive mountain of culture as possible. One way to judge intelligence is the ability to focus on something and then master it. One of the more difficult enterprises is the discipline of making music using the coding and the instruments created and designed by the Northern Italians of the Renaissance.
The painting at the top of this story is from that time. The artist strove to show how sex, nature, birds in particular, written music, many instruments, scientific tools, paintings and other crafts all made for a civilized life. The explorers, business men and scientists all gathered around the table to make music.
In particular, the sea-faring republic of Venice embodied all this. The best classical instrument makers lived there and practiced their arts there.
All the city-states of Northern Italy were tremendously creative and the pinnacle of more than one artform belongs to their cultures. Like Athens and the other Greek city-states, they flourished in freedom, political dissensions, intrigues and riots. And like with Athens, whenever a conquerer beat them down and took over, the creativity ceased.
Today, as living museums, they live off of the rich culture of the past. I feel fortunate that much of this cultural wealth has been open for my own exploitation thanks to modern technology and travel. But I feel as if I were a time traveler, a person from the past, floating through modern times. The Italy that produced Verdi and Pucchini now produces soccer riots.
When most people are content to have simple music with an unmistakable and to me, a tediously obvious beat and short phrase, the appreciation of the complex musical constructs of say, the Romantic Victorians or composers from far earlier like Bach, puzzles ordinary people. Many businesses that want to drive away unwanted loiterers play classical music!
Perhaps it sounds like jumbled noise to them? I know that when I moved away from the cocoon of college life surrounded by musicians and scientists, there was hostility shown if I played classical music outside the home. What really puzzles me is why people hate long, flowing, melodic lines. And even in college, playing classical music for the sheer joy of listening annoyed most of the students who were not part of the school of music.
Early Saturday morning the line was long and raggedy, erratic and agitated, littered with empty coffee cups and the sleepless faces, which creased in the sunlight, of beautiful women on a casting call for the show’s ninth season. The line started outside the Park Central hotel at Seventh Avenue and West 55th Street, turned the corner at Broadway and then doubled back onto West 56th Street. That very few of the 1,500 women standing there looked like models, in the very narrowly defined sense of high fashion, did not appear to be of importance. A contrapposto stance and the impatient tapping of high heels suggested that in each posing applicant there existed the confidence of an inner Naomi Campbell.
“I love Naomi because she is a diva,” said Bianca Golden, 18, who towered over the competition standing at 5 feet 11 inches, plus stilettos. Ms. Golden, with her hair up, wore a black cotton coat with tiny ruffled pleats at the waist, similar to the leather one worn by Ms. Campbell on Day 3 of her court-ordered community service last week for beaning an assistant with a cellphone. “After a while of being called fierce and everything, being a diva comes with the territory,” Ms. Golden said.
All these diva wannabes are really dumpster diving dames. They want to be rich and famous as well as spoiled rotten. And they want to be trashy winners but not beautiful in the sense of the Grande Dames of the Victorian era who drapped themselves across the divans of struggling painters, listening to poems written by struggling writers and in general, being the center of attention in a rich cultural mileu.
These lasses want to be fat fashion models. They want to be on TV and compete with the army of starving, long legged, vacant eyed robots who nearly all come out of former Soviet states. These poor teenagers live lives as volpuous as hermits locked in cells. They may ingest drugs and party so long as there is no food. Starving to death, they rely on addictions to stay the course. Why on earth would anyone want to live like that?
True, top models marry rock stars. These end up in divorce nearly all the time because going from grim starvation to luxury takes its toll. Note that the model, Nicole Simpson, died of drug abuse at a young age. Yet she remains a star in the heavens of many a stout, badly dressed young lady with bad manners.
It's Christmas time and apparently what every little boy and girl would like most of all is to be famous.
Being a celebrity has topped a list of what children under 10 believe to be the "very best thing in the world" in a survey carried out for National KidsDay.
Those who believe we live in an increasingly shallow culture will not be surprised to learn that at numbers two and three in the poll of 2,500 children were "good looks" and "being rich".
Many youth in our capitalist systems believes they should be famous. They don't even bother trying to gain some sort of skill that might enable this. They just want 'it'. Girls flock to fashion model try-outs because they think it is an effortless career despite the obvious fact that it is as rarified as basketball and requires the same genetic/kinetic miracle as well as a life of misery.
The need to work all of one's life to attain a skill and then to work hard and moving up the ladder with this skill is why so many scientific-minded children take the time and effort ot master difficult classical instruments. Playing a piano is fairly easy but the difficulties of continuing require hard work. Getting a violin or cello to sound better than a cat being run over by a car takes a fair amount of determination.
And you have to play scales, an intellectual pastime that only very determined children who can picture the final result would want to engage in when other kids are goofing off in the afternoon. It's funny but back when I was playing a lot, I used to not feel 'right' unless I quickly ran through several octaves of first, all the major and then all the minor scales. It was relaxing.
Zhenyang is one of the brightest young stars at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, which has in recent years become part of China’s huge export machine churning out musical virtuosos.
With the same energy, drive and sheer population weight that has made it an economic power, China has become a considerable force in Western classical music. Conservatories are bulging. Provincial cities demand orchestras and concert halls. Pianos and violins made in China fill shipping containers leaving its ports.
The Chinese enthusiasm suggests the potential for a growing market for recorded music and live performances just as an aging fan base and declining record sales worry many professionals in Europe and the United States. Sales for a top-selling classical recording in the West number merely in the thousands instead of the tens of thousands 25 years ago.
More profoundly, classical music executives say that the art form is being increasingly marginalized in a sea of popular culture and new media. Fewer young American listeners find their way to classical music, largely because of the lack of the music education that was widespread in public schools two generations ago. As a result many orchestras and opera houses struggle to fill halls.
I was talking with my daughter about how Asia is outstripping the USA in figure skating. Even American winners, quite a few are Asian. But China is now coming out of left field and sweeping away the competition, all of their skaters are home-grown and home-trained.
For the last 10 years, I have enjoyed them because of their sense of grace and musicality. Namely, they are sensitive skaters who express an appreciation for the inspiration of classical music. This delights me no end, for years, I used to hold my ears while listening to skaters. I used to figure skate, myself, and persuading budding Olympians to listen to the 'higher' forms of music, learning to move with it, was one of my delights.
Most skaters played classical music only because their Russian coaches insisted. But they took little joy in it and when they could choose their own music, it was usually really boring pop stuff. So here we are, fading fast and along comes Asians who really do like classical music!
The study, called “The Sound of Silence—The Unprecedented Decline in Music Education in California Public Schools,” and produced by the Music for All Foundation using data from the California Department of Education, showed that 50 percent fewer students enrolled in music programs in 2003-04 than in 1999-2000.
The numbers represent a loss of a half-million students, a higher percentage than in any other subject, at a time when the total California public school student population increased 5.8 percent.
In addition, the number of music teachers declined by 1,057, or 26.7 percent.
Although the authors of the study seem hesitant to commit to reasons for such a steep decline, they name, with reservations, two potential causes: California’s budget crisis, and the emphasis created by the No Child Left Behind Act on reading and math scores, which tends to channel school resources toward those programs.
Teaching positions for graduates of university schools of music collapsed. I remember the fading of the Vienna/Berlin/Paris/Rome cultural nexus in our universities: I was majoring in Germanic Languages and minoring in Music. Gah. Talk about suicidal.
I got pregnant and quit school and started working, rebuilding houses and selling them. My advisor laughed when he learned I was making more than he. Then he was fired when they shut down his department! And across the country, as schools ceased to require multiple languages and music, the departments of universities that produced students in these fields faded quickly and died. For example, here in upstate NY, SUNY no longer has any German courses at all except for simple 'learn German is 100 years' (heh, inside joke).
$105 Million Allocation for Arts Education Makes History in California
In approving the final budget on June 30, 2006, California designated the largest known state-funded expenditure for arts education in public schools in California and nationwide. Schools will now receive an estimated $105 million in ongoing funding for arts education (estimated at $17-18 per student), in addition to a one-time allocation of $500 million for arts, music, and physical education equipment. This funding stream will go to every school district statewide, slowing an alarming trend of cuts for arts and music in public schools. Read more about this at the California Alliance for Arts Education website.
But the destruction continues. When I was in high school, we had a full sized orchestra. With everything from bassoons, harp, several basses, a full flight of cellos (run away!), even several violas! Not to mention a menacing troop of French Horns led by my younger brother.
Nearly everyone I knew from back then went on to higher intellectual careers. Their ability to focus, to concentrate on difficult or hidden things---learning to riddle out the inner meaning of a line of music using only the coarse medium of written scores is like looking behind the mirror. This means not taking things at face value but using intellectual tools to pry open emotional secrets written by someone else.
Mother Nature has lots of secrets and we must use numbers and words to eke out some of the meaning of her dense reality. I know for a fact that more than one scientist, starting with my own dad, think about science while playing music. Perhaps the two thought processes tickle each other's synapses.
I write on this blog while listening to classical music. It moves me along rapidly, sometimes it takes over and I find myself typing too fast, trying to keep up with the thoughts it inspires (this is why there are typos here, heh). For example, when I write about greed and money, I like to play Wagner's 'Das Rheingold' because it is all about gold, dwarves who hate love and giants who lust for love but fight each other and duplicitous gods willing to cheat anyone they can.
Wagner, being an overspending bankrupt, knew instinctively how money music should sound. Ditto with Mozart, another great inspiration when writing about money matters!
Beethoven is for evolution stories. And Mahler: psychology and war.
It sounds pretentious, I know, but the fact is that a composer’s duty is not to any particular listener or any particular imagined audience; a composer’s duty is to the work itself. A composer has to remember that a true work of art is rich, multifaceted, and challenging. Its aim is not popularity, its aim is truth. It doesn’t give up all its secrets at first hearing, because it’s built to last: designed not merely to charm at first hearing, but to withstand the test of fifty hearings. The bodice-ripper you buy at the checkout stand is good for (at most) one reading; James Joyce’s Ulysses is good for dozens (indeed, it may actually require dozens). There’s the difference: one is business, the other art. Beethoven, you remember, sneered at the notion that he should consider the limitations of his listeners — or even his performers. He was rude, nasty, and arrogant. But do you suppose that if he had been less arrogant, if he had aimed lower, his symphonies would have been rich enough, compelling enough still to thrill us 200 years later? I would never dare compare my music to Beethoven’s. (I said once that I belong to that great throng of composers who spend their whole lives trying to be almost as good as Massenet.) Yet, to be worth his salt, any composer has to aim as high as Beethoven.
Who is my audience, then? The practical answer is: an audience of one listener, myself. Only if I write music that makes my blood race, that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, do I have any hope of writing something truthful enough to have the same effect on another listener. I can only hope that this approach will put me in touch with a slightly larger audience: those who love the great tradition of Bach, Mozart, Schumann, Debussy, Bartók, and who are willing not merely to sit back passively and let music wash over them like some mood-altering drug, but to work hard enough to meet the composer half-way.
I must say, he sounds awful. Listening to sirens wail in NYC or people screaming, 'I'll kill you deader' outside my office windows wasn't inspiring or enjoyable. I used to play my classical music loudly to drown them out. I certainly didn't want it inside, with me! Gah.
I love modern Chinese composers who come from that communist country! I have heard string quartets that couple Chinese idiom with a central european ethos that created music as lovely as my beloved Smetana or Borodin.
When I was poking around in the music library at the Universität Tübingen, I found these lovely cello duets written by a music teacher in 1824. They were simple and sweet and fun as hell to play.
I watch Japanese TV and I notice, they use an awful lot of either classical music or their version based on this music art form. I actually assemble this stuff on CDs and play them for fun. I was shocked recently by a Japanese anime that used Mahler's Symphony of a Thousand, his #8, in their show. This is powerful music that is hard for modern audiences to handle, it being the most overgrown flower garden of that hot house, pre-WWI Vienna, there ever was.
Of course, a monster is smashing Tokyo and in particular, this girl's high school during the piece.
Just like when Star Wars came out with that neo-classical score. I went out and bought the records. It was fun identifying the sources of various styles and themes.
In college, years ago, I had big fights with young composers over this issue: write me music I can love! And once, when a young man did this for me, my cello professor sneered, 'How sweet. It even has a melody,' as if this were a curse, not a blessing.
From Japanese TV, NHK, showing a German TV production.
And I blame Schoenberg for all this. He wrote the incredible 'Guerre Lieder' and the haunting 'Verklärte Nacht.' Then he flipped out and hacked off all the branches of the classical tree and threw open the doors to the hot house and in roared the blizzard of the 20th century which killed all those flowers, good. Hitler stomped in and crushed all underneath his boots.
And China is the new Mitteleuropa. Rising like the Chinese emblem of eternal life: the phoenix who is reborn from the fires of death, the Chinese re-embrace the idea of cultural greatness, the fine arts and a new way of looking at the world where East meets West in a dizzy new form, how exciting they all are!
I can't wait to see what they do next.