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Beauty Connects Head and Heart

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That’s why schools have their own song; why atheists gaze in awe of the Sistine chapel ceiling; why important events are memorialized in monuments; why men give engagement rings to their beloved; why wives want to decorate the place where th family lives; why Coats of Arms and flags are specially designed to rally loyalty to a cause; etc., etc., etc.

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PS to my faithful followers: I apologize for neglecting you the last two weeks. Life has just gotten in the way again. But I’m back at home with the computer after two trips to visit family, so I promise to get back to you at least twice a week. And I must learn to use my new tablet for future trips. 

Beauty, Music, and Healing

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Illustration by Jon Lieff from Music Training and Neuroplasticity

I remember a young mother who was concerned about her eight year old so shy that she wanted to stay home most of the time. The mother tried various ruses to get her to play with friends away from home and to reach out to other children, but most of her attempts were less than successful.

She eventually enrolled the child in a music class and left her there alone at the first meeting, then crossed her fingers and hoped for the best. After class, she was amazed to see the exuberant joy on her reclusive one’s face as the little girl began to sing her own name and a welcoming greeting to show off her new skills.

The teacher had eased the tension for all of the students that morning by teaching each of them to sing an introduction that included their name and a welcome to their classmates. Although many adults quake in fear at the thought of singing a solo in public, somehow singing reduced all fears for each of the students.

Singing is also used as therapy with stroke victims or others suffering from some type of brain impairment. Their ability to speak is often diminished. However, singing uses a different part of the brain than speaking does, so singing ofter helps repair the damage. I understand that Gabby Giffords was treated with a form of music therapy when recovering from the assassination attempt.

Music also has the power to help people with dementia remember aspects of their lives that had been long forgotten. I remember reading about a patient who appeared to be totally unable to understand or communicate. But one time  when walking near a piano, he sat down and played song after song after song that he had played as a young adult with a band. Eventually he showed additional signs of recovering both speech and memory.

When reading about the therapeutic uses of music, many people wonder what it can do for the normal person (whatever that is). I know a teaching consultant who encourages all parents to insist that their children participate in music lessons. According to Andrew Pudewa at IEW, it’s not so much an effort to discover the next virtuoso as it is to help the child’s brain develop more fully.

If you’re interested,  The Great Courses, an adult learning resource, recently released Aniruddh Patel’s “Music and the Brain” course. This series of 18 half-hour lectures covers fundamental ideas of music theory, neuroanatomy, and cognitive science and looks at the diverse range of experiments, discoveries, and debates in this fast-changing field. Access the program online at thegreatcourses.com. Also, there are several books and numerous articles available on similar topics.

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather

Loyalty Is Beautiful

This video tells the story of Francis Scott Keys penning the words to

our national anthem at the end of the War of 1812,

our second and final war of independence from Great Britain.  

Although filled with people of different nationalities and belief systems, the United States has a distinctive outlook and presence on the world’s stage. As each wave of immigrants arrived in this land and became citizens, they enriched the American culture in distinctive ways through customs, foods, habits, and attitudes.  For example, our “comfort” food after almost 250 years now includes chili, cornbread, pizza, corned beef, barbecue, chow mien, sushi, and more. And people of all national origins buy, cook, and eat out at restaurants specializing in food from each country as well as the newer “fusion” establishments that combine differing culinary tastes into one dish.

The binding agent for all of our diverse backgrounds is loyalty to a belief system embodied in the Declaration of Independence. As G. K. Chesterton, an Englishman, once observed,  the United States was the only country ever founded on a creed. Thus, every time the national anthem is played and/or the flag is unfurled, citizens stand to honor the memory of those who lost their lives giving us the freedoms that we now enjoy. It’s a simple, public way to reaffirm our commitment to continue the exemplary ideal of  “liberty and justice for all.”**

Needless to say, neither the people nor the politicians have always lived up to our goals. Every American that I know is heart sick about these failures and tries to correct them. But despite our flaws, we have done well enough that our current major problem is the hordes of people sneaking into the country to live here without understanding our history, our goals, or the loyalty required of citizens to keep US the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Loyalty to an ideal can bind families and groups of all origins and sizes together, empowering them to accomplish more greatness than any one person can possibly do alone. Loyalty to excellence is both beautiful and powerful. May all countries and all peoples embrace it.

 

        The Star Spangled Banner

  1. Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

    What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,

    Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,

    O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

    And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

    Gave proof thru the night that our flag was still there.

    Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

  2. On the shore, dimly seen thru the mists of the deep,

    Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,

    What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,

    As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

    Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,

    In full glory reflected now shines on the stream;

    ’Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh, long may it wave

    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

  3. Oh, thus be it ever, when free men shall stand

    Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!

    Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land

    Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!

    Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

    And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”

    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

                             

                                     Text: Francis Scott Key, 1779–1843

                                     Music: John Stafford Smith, 1750–1836

**This explains the distress we experience when we see a group that refuses to honor or acknowledge our flag and anthem, but does nothing to solve problems instead of just complaining about them. 

 

 

 

Redux #2: Beauty of True Riches

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The only things that can never be taken

from you are your memories.

Create beautiful memories; they are your true riches.

Dr. Marvin E. Patterson

Shortly after posting the above quote last week, two friends responded by reminding me that our memories can be taken away from us too. This is Part Two of my response. 

If you live in a country where English is the first language, you no doubt have heard the hundred year old hymn, “The Love of God.” The story of how it was written sheds light on our dilemma of whether or not memories can be kept a lifetime even when someone appears to have lost the capability of thinking and remembering.

In the eighteenth century, a certain man was considered so hopelessly insane that he existed for years locked in a tiny cell where he could do no harm to himself or to others. Food and necessities were provided, but he was considered incapable of rational thought or conversation. After his death, as the attendants were preparing his cell for a new occupant, they found the following poem scratched into the wall.

     Were the sky of parchment made,

     A quill each reed, each twig and blade,

     Could we with ink the oceans fill,

     Were every man a scribe of skill,

     The marvelous story, Of God’s great glory

     Would still remain untold; For He, most high

     The earth and sky Created alone of old.

At first, everyone presumed the poor man had composed it himself in occasional moments of lucidity.  News about the discovery spread as the public wondered how a deranged man unable to communicate with others could achieve such lyrical grace with words.

As the story passed from person to person, town to town, and country to country,  someone finally discovered that actually it had been written in the eleventh century by a cantor for the Synagogue in Worms, Germany, Meir Ben Issac Nehorai. These lines were  part of a hymn used during the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost.

So the insane man knew the old poem and could remember it even though he didn’t appear to be able to even think. Not only could he remember, it comforted him or he would not have written it on the wall in his cell.

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To finish the story of the hymn, in 1917, Frederick M. Layman, an American living in California, was impressed by the story of the poem above. In fact, he was so impressed, he  adjusted the translated words to fit the meter of a hymn he, himself had started, but couldn’t seem to finish. His reworked translation of the Jewish poem became the third stanza:

     Could we with ink the ocean fill,

        And were the skies of parchment made;

     Were every stalk on earth a quill,

        And every man a scribe by trade;

     To write the love of God above

        Would drain the ocean dry;

     Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

        Though stretched from sky to sky.

No one ever really knows what is going on inside another person, what they’re thinking, or what they remember. One can judge by facial expression, body language, or words, but still not know even if another person is  telling the truth or not. Family members of patients who are in a comatose state are now warned to speak encouraging words when around the patient because he may be aware, although unresponsive. Patients coming out of anesthesia after surgery sometimes hear what is being said by others, even though they are still unable to speak. Even when a person appears to not understand, respond, or remember, there still is that inner being that appreciates and recollects.

Wise and happy people strive to make beautiful memories realizing that they really are true riches.

Copyright 2017 by Kaye Fairweather

Greek Philosophers on The Value of Music

 

It’s obvious to all that music is influential:
* Who hasn’t wept at the strains of “Danny Boy” or “Taps?”
* Brass bands playing marches energize every audience.
* “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” has stirred people to action since 1861.
* “The Star Spangled Banner” rouses even tepid Americans as they recall the men who voluntarily gave up their lives to hold the flag a loft all during the night battle to convince the British fleet that “our flag was still there” despite hours of targeted shelling.
* New Orleans jazz evokes the bitter-sweet aspects of everyone’s life.
* Since radios became popular, each generation of young adults has fallen in love with the kind assistance of “Moon Glow,” “In the Mood,” “Wonderful Tonight,” “She’s Always A Woman to Me,” or “Thinking Out Loud.”

Five to seven hundred years after David used music to calm King Saul’s fits of insanity , the Greek philosophers opined that music education was necessary for young students in order to train them to control and direct their passions in order to live worthy lives.

A recent paper* by Dr. Thomas R. Lawson of St. Anselm College in New Hampshire illustrates their ideas: “Socrates claims that a good musical formation “tunes” a man, so to speak, so things that are truly good (as judged by reason), cause him sensual delight, whereas bad things (again, as judged by reason) cause him pain, disgust, or some other appropriate negative emotional or visceral response:
      “Furthermore, it is sovereign because the man properly reared on rhythm and harmony would have the sharpest sense for what’s been left out and what isn’t a fine product of craft or   what isn’t a fine product of nature. And, due to his having the right kind of dislikes, he would praise the fine things; and, taking pleasure in them and receiving them into his soul, he would be reared on them and become a gentleman. He would blame and hate the ugly in the right way while he’s still young, before he’s able to grasp reasonable speech.”

So, 2500 years ago, the Greeks considered music education as a method of instilling moral values and helping their children develop into the best version of themselves. Our advances in technology have made music readily available to almost every one, not just the wealthy. Following Socrates’ and Plato’s lead, today earnest young parents play classical music recordings to their babies while still in the womb, but the idea is the same.

*http://www.anselm.edu/Documents/Institute%20for%20Saint%20Anselm%20Studies/Spring%202016/Man_Music_Catholic%20Culture.pdf

© Copyright by Kaye Fairweather 2017

Beauty Changes the Man

 

 

 

 

A German-made movie, The Lives of Others, illustrates the power of beauty to change noxious beliefs and actions into deeds of kind heroism – even when it puts the perpetrator into danger. Despite needing English subtitles for most American viewers, it won the 2007* Academy Award for Best Foreign Movie. With a bare bones budget of $2 million, a brand new writer/director, and actors working for a mere 20% of their usual pay, it also received a record number of nominations and awards in Europe.

Most of the dialogue and action involves Georg Dreyman, a playwright, Crista-Maria Sieland, a successful actress, and their circle of artist friends. The group is basically apolitical; they just want to fulfill their creative desires without fear of retribution from the State. Eventually one of them commits suicide after six years of being blacklisted and not allowed to work at all.

However the main character is a proudly diligent Stasi Captain in East Berlin. Gerd Weisler is well trained in effective methods of interrogation and the official expectation that ordinary people do not change without punishment, if at all. Weisler is neither evil, nor a slacker; he worked hard to succeed at his assigned tasks. He believed in the system.

But the Captain begins to change when sent to personally monitor George and Crista-Maria with hidden cameras and microphones in every room of their apartment. After hearing George discuss Bertol Brecht, he slyly enters the Dreyman apartment to ‘borrow’ a book of Brecht’s poetry. When he first over-hears Dreyman play “Sonata for A Good Man,” he is mesmerized. (See entry for July 4, 2017). Quietly, almost imperceptibly, he begins to adjust his written reports.

The plot is subtle, but powerfully moving. You will be glad you watched all 137 minutes, just like 95% of reviewers on Amazon. You might even decide to buy a CD of the score by Gabriel Yared. The writer/director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, spent a month translating the script into French before sending it to Gabriel because he believed Yared would be the best composer for the soundtrack. (Some of it in is the clip above.)

* Just in case you’re wondering, I had a number of serious health issues in 2005-2007, so I didn’t even hear about the movie until I started looking for examples of beauty changing the world.