August 2005

August 30, 2005 00:12


I’ve always owned and used classic bows made of pernambuco wood from Brazil and horsehair from long haired horses in the colder parts of China and Russia. I’ve heard about and tried Baroque bows and carbon fiber bows, but I didn’t really understand why people use them until recently, when I test drove an Incredibow owned by one of my students. It’s fascinating to me as both a scientist and a violinist/fiddler. Incredibows are made by Ed and Carolyn Wilcox of Serenity Mountain, Arkansas. As they explain on their website,

Consider this: relatively little has changed in bowmaking in at least the past 250 years!... What other technology stopped changing it's product 250 years ago?

The stick is made of a hollow, tapered graphite/epoxy (carbon fiber) tube, and the “hair” is made of an undisclosed “space age” material. The hair is pretensioned and is not tightened and slackened before and after playing as the hair of a conventional bow is. The Incredibow weighs much less than a conventional bow, never needs to be rehaired, is guaranteed to last for at least three years, and is “nearly indestructible.” As befits a space age bow, the stick of the bow comes in many different colors, including pseudo-wood, brilliant solid colors, various bright colors with sparkles, and stunning holographic patterns of colors.

Most important, though, is the ease of handling. Here are my strictly subjective perceptions: The Incredibow feels different from the conventional bow partly because it weighs so much less. It is easy to play quick notes, as in jigs and reels, and to do string crossings, as are common in Scottish fiddle music. In these ways, the Incredibow is similar to a Baroque bow or a carbon fiber bow, which are used fairly frequently by players of Irish and Scottish fiddle tunes. It is very easy to produce a smooth, even sound with the Incredibow. It does not squeak or squawk if you press down too hard on it, and this is a great boon to beginning students and anyone who must listen to them. The sound quality is just as smooth and even at the lower half of the bow as it is at the upper half. I found myself venturing closer to the frog with the Incredibow than I would with my own bow. However, I did have trouble playing crescendo and decrescendo; there are times when you don’t want a very smooth, steady tone. After playing for a while, the thumb of my bowing hand started to hurt, and I realized that this happened because I was pressing down hard on the bow when I wanted to play loud. I tried staccato, spiccato, dashed slurs, dotted slurs, and Scottish snaps, and, at first, I found it more difficult to bounce with this space age bow than with my old fashioned bow. Other violinists have had the same experience. However, after playing with it for a while, I was able to get a good, controlled bounce. Beginning students should find it easier to play with an Incredibow than with a conventional bow because there is less technique for them to learn. If they want to switch to a conventional bow later, it would be difficult for them. This is not necessarily a problem, since they can do almost everything they need with the Incredibow. I’ll stick with my old fashioned bow, though. I don’t mind missing out on holographic shimmers and psychedelic colors, and I like the greater range of expression that my own bow gives me.

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August 23, 2005 23:55

Emily is very, very fortunate to have had music and love in her family background. My childhood and adolescence were so different. There were no musicians in my family, as far as I know. My parents were cold and angry to each other and to most other people. Most of my memories of my childhood are dark, drab, and lonely. I still have occasional nightmares about it. I had no siblings or extended family to show me what warmth feels like. Both of my parents loved classical music, and I grew up listening to it. My father got me a violin and took me to music lessons, and my mother objected with all her considerable wrath. In music, as in so many other things, my parents used me as a pawn in their battles against each other. My father seemed warmer and gentler to me than my mother did. He gave me his love of learning and of music. My mother was a bitch. I had to listen to her constant refrain: “You’re an egghead, a worthless, no good piece of s**t just like your father!” repeated over and over while I was growing up. When I was a teenager, something happened to my father. He, too, beat me down verbally. As a child and an adolescent, I was completely convinced of my worthlessness as a human being. (I’m feeling anger and pain as I write this.) My introversion, reading, and music probably saved me psychologically. They were my escapism from my harsh home environment.

Aside from my parents, the person who had the biggest effect on me as a child was my violin teacher. He was such a dear man. He was like a grandfather to me. He was tough at times, but he was uplifting. He believed in me. I have such warm memories of his home, where I had my lessons. His dog would sit next to me during my lessons, and when he yelled at me, she’d bark at home. She died of an overdose of dog biscuits, I believe. He spoiled her with them. The song “Leader of the Band,” by Dan Fogelberg, describes so well my feelings about him.

He earned his love through discipline, a thundering velvet hand
His gentle way of sculpting souls took me years to understand.
I thank you for your music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for your kindness and the times when you got tough.
And [teacher] I don’t think I said “I love you” near enough.
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument, his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man.
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.

So many times in my life, music has saved my mortal soul. I know that it affects other people that way, too. I have no children of my own, but I have my students. They, like everyone, come from home environments filled with both good and bad things. I try very hard to give them the strength, warmth, fascination, challenges, and rewards that only music can bring. Music is the strongest message. It survives, and it enables us to survive.

I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.

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August 21, 2005 11:41

Here are some of my butterfly photos for you to see.

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August 15, 2005 21:43

Relief! Release! On Thursday I was stricken with an asthmatic response to hot, humid, polluted air which was officially deemed “unhealthy.” The air quality remained unchanged for four days. Even my healthy friends had trouble breathing, and I just stayed indoors. Today was different. The weather was beautiful – sunny warm, and *low humidity* -- very unusual for this area (near Washington DC). I went out to the one place I missed the most: the gym. There I took my first step aerobics class since my near fatal car accident four years ago. I didn’t perform at the level I used to. I had to march along on the floor for a good part of the time, but I made it through the whole hour. Wow! A milestone for me! Now my legs ache in that old familiar way, and I love it. I’m feeling very tired, so I’ll go to bed now. Maybe I’ll even sleep well tonight.

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August 11, 2005 23:49

Gasp! Wheeze! Shudder! Gasp! Greetings from an asthmatic. I didn’t wake up until noon today and when I did I felt like was suffocating. I took my asthma rescue medicine and sat up and read until it took effect, about 20 minutes. I can feel it kick in because I suddenly feel alive and awake. I had something to eat, puttered around on my computer, and ventured out to the grocery store. Since I don’t have a car, “venture” means “walk” for me. After I walked a short distance, I got very tired, and I felt like someone was throwing knives into my chest. I took refuge in an air conditioned store that was having a going-out-of-business sale, with everything at 60% off. This was a silk floral store where I couldn’t possibly afford anything at full price. My refuge surprised me by precipitating an acute asthma attack. I had been in there yesterday because of the sale, and I had breathed normally then. This is a very typical asthmatic reaction. My lungs had been irritated (or assaulted) earlier in the day, and that made them hypersensitive to additional environmental insults. I put on my asthma face mask, and continued in the pursuit of bargains. (I got some gorgeous silk orchids, which are much easier to take care of than real ones.) As soon as I went out of the store, someone resumed throwing knives into my chest. I made it to the grocery store, took some more of my asthma rescue medicine, and waited for it to take effect. Then I bought some food that was good for me (fresh fruits and vegetables) and went out again. I had a few more things to buy, so I headed for another grocery store. I got mad at the Invisible Assailant who was throwing knives into my chest again, and I decided to do something rebellious and sinful. To me, “sin” generally means saturated fat and/or chocolate. The very thought of it raised my spirits. As soon as I got to the second grocery store, I headed for the freezer where they keep the ice cream. Joyous occasion! Breyer’s ice cream was on sale, buy-one-get-one-free. I knew that I had already done the buy-one-get-one-free thing a few days before, and I was not sure whether I would be able to stuff another two half gallons of ice cream into my freezer, but I had a happy thought: I would just have to finish one of the old half gallons to make room for the two new ones. I was so excited that I forgot to put my asthma mask back on when I got outside, but my body reminded me to do it. I was only a few blocks from home, but I was tired and gasping for breath again. As I approached my home, I looked with trepidation at the stairs that I would have to climb, and then a miracle happened. One of my healthy male neighbors came by and I had him carry the groceries upstairs for me. I put the ice cream in the freezer and then crashed. This time I especially enjoyed the escapist reading I was doing. As a major contrast to the hot, humid, polluted summer weather around here (near Washington DC) I’ve been reading a book by a woman doctor about her experiences at the South Pole. After reading and resting for a while, I felt much better. Aaaah, I’m going back to the kitchen now for some more ice cream.

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August 4, 2005 00:04

Right Brain, Left Brain, Music, and Ravel

I read an interesting thread on this site about Ravel’s brain injury and how it affected him musically. Then I stayed up half the night reading more about it. It’s fascinating. In Artistry and Aphasia, which I highly recommend, the authors noted that aphasia, the language dysfunction of the brain, is similar to amusia, music dysfunction of the brain. I also recommend . From the latter reference, I learned that after Ravel’s auto accident in 1933, he developed Wernicke's aphasia, which "gradually eroded his ability to write music. Still, he retained the ability to recognize notes and rhythmical patterns, choose his scores, even perceive that his doctor's piano had gone out of tune due to the damp winter weather. As he was to report near the end of his life, the music was trapped in his head." The authors of Artistry and Aphasia explained that "he could not translate his auditory imagery of a
piece of music into a visual form (by notating it) or into a motor form (by
playing by heart…Ravel commented poignantly, I will never write my Jeanne d'Arc; this opera is here, in my head, I hear it, but I will never write it. It's over, I can no longer write my music.” Ravel died in 1937 from complications of brain surgery.

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August 3, 2005 22:06

A friend told me that she is awaiting the birth of a grandson in September and that.there are some significant medical concerns about the health of the baby. She recently visited a grandnephew who is only a few months old. She held him and thought he was quite beautiful. He was born with a syndrome which caused serious problems in several of his organ systems. He had to have four surgeries, the earliest when he was only three days old. His digestive tract was affected, so he did not gain weight and develop properly until
after the surgeries. Now he is gaining weight and growing well. I remarked that the medical term for this type of problem is “failure to thrive.” She told me that she first heard this term when she was in India years ago, doing volunteer work at an orphanage. The attendants there had not had a lot of physical contact with the infants, not because they were cold or uncaring, but because they simply didn’t know that this is very important. Cultural factors played a role, too. The attendants at the hospital believed that the karma the babies had brought with them from their previous lives would make them strong. The small children who had not received much physical contact as babies were pathetic, she told me. They would sit alone, rocking themselves back and forth while staring ahead with vacant eyes. They just couldn’t have social interactions. I told her about some of the classic studies on monkeys who were separated from their mothers at birth. They, too, grew up to be pathetic individuals without the ability to socialize. She told me that she had seen a film about these children in India. One scene that she found especially moving showed a young boy alone outdoors playing a very mournful tune on a flute. She said that he was doing well to be able to play the flute. I told her that a song or a tune can save a person’s mortal soul. She agreed heartily. We both knew of plenty of people who had had this experience. (One of them was me.) She said that the conversation was getting too depressing for her. Then I told her something that brightened her spirit. Recently, I heard a CD with a song written and sung by a friend of one of my students. He wrote this song while awaiting the birth of his first child, a girl whom he nicknamed “New Moon Girl.” The repeating motif of the song was “Waiting for the New Moon Girl,” and part of the song was

All winter long
Waiting for the New Moon Girl
All spring long
Waiting for the New Moon Girl

My friend really liked that. I told her, “Next comes something even better.”

Every day is an act of faith
Waiting for the New Moon Girl
Every day is an act of faith
Waiting for the New Moon Girl

My friend told me that now she was feeling very good. I told her that I believe that the song is true for everyone. None of us has guarantees about our future. For all of us, every day is an act of faith.

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