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Numbers Are Beautiful?

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Paul Erdøs picture courtesy of UCSD

When asked why numbers were beautiful, the famed Hungarian mathematician replied:

“It’s like asking why is Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony beautiful. If you don’t see why, someone can’t tell you. I know numbers are beautiful. If they aren’t beautiful, nothing is.”

“Theia Mania” Can Be Beautiful

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The picture above is the front cover of a CD

that the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra sold to the public

to commemorate Robert Shaw’s 100th birthday.

It is a recording of a live performance, not a studio production.

As a long time Robert Shaw fan, I was delighted when the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra began selling this CD of a live concert in honor of his would-be one hundreth birthday in 2016. I had become aware of the Robert Shaw Chorale while in college and had managed to snag a couple of their vinyl records even during those impecunious years. I was especially impressed that he was a self taught musician and conductor and yet he had already made a dramatic impact on the American cultural scene.

Imagine how delighted I was when he  not only “followed” me to Atlanta in 1967, but also immediately proceeded to transform our newly shared music world while also raising funds for and building the Woodruff Arts Center. 

Another reason I bought one of the first Commemorative CD’s available was that it was a recording of an ASO performance very similar to one that I had attended in 1984. I will never forget the exultation of the audience at the end of that particular rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth. I remember well how good it felt to clap, and clap, and clap, and clap.  I actually wished that I had learned how to whistle because “Bravo” just wasn’t quite enough. And, for the first time I, the ultimate prim and proper introvert, had understood people who jumped onto their chair seats or out into the aisles so they could express their joy more dramatically. I have no idea how long the applause lasted. I just remember that it didn’t end until Mr. Shaw asked the audience to please let them go, “because there’s just nothing more for us to give after this.”

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This is the back side of the Commemorative CD. Please note the last entry of content, number 5:  eight minutes and 41 seconds of applause recorded at the end of the concert. Remember this audience was composed of staid, dressed-up, classical music lovers that many might consider somewhat stuffy individuals. They were sandwiched together in an auditorium after a laborious bout with Atlanta’s infamous traffic. In other words, they were a stressed out bunch of people as the concert began. It was not a crowd of young people mellowed out after smoking weed and drinking at an all afternoon picnic/concert.

It’s now standard for the classical music audience to rise when applauding at the end of a concert to express gratitude for the evening’s entertainment. But, it’s usually a somewhat dutiful applause, as people quickly begin glancing around the room to decipher just the  how soon they can start gathering their things to leave for dinner or after dinner drinks and still be polite.

This eight-plus minute recording of applause also records people shouting “Bravo,” whistling, and demanding yet another curtain call from the conductor. This is a modern example of the Theia Mania we first read about in Plato when a single person or a group has been freed from ordinary concerns and aspirations, then lifted emotionally and spiritually to a higher level by the beauty of the scenery, a piece of art, a musical performance, or a theatrical production. At least for a few minutes, the audience and the creators become one in a joyous unity.

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For more information about Theia Mania, relating to the arts such as poets, sculptors, artists, musicians, performers, and audiences, listen to Robert Reilly’s lecture on Josef Pieper’s monograph, Divine Madness, Plato Against Secular Humanism, to a group at the Institute of Catholic Culture: https://instituteofcatholicculture.org/talk/divine-madness/

PS: Through the centuries, diverse groups have used theia mania to describe lots of weird events. But today I’m siding more with Josef Pieper,  to wit:

“Such patrimony is achieved and preserved only through a willingly accepted openness: openness for divine revelation, for the salutary pain of catharsis, for the recollecting power of the fine arts, for the emotional shock brought about by eros and caritas — in short, through the attitude rooted in the mysterious experience that Plato called theia mania.” (or Divine Madness)

Another PS: Yes, the CD is worth buying from ASO and it’s not that expensive.  But, it’s not as good as vinyl – or the real concert.  CD’s are great, but they’re a pale imitation of the real thing.

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Plato’s Beautiful Way to Build the Brain

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While mankind’s intellectual achievements have increased by magnitudes in the centuries since Plato’s and Socrates’ era, in 2018 we still stand on their shoulders to get our “better view” of the world. In many ways we still rely on their fundamental understanding of the nature of man as we search for wisdom and ideas appropriate to our present situation. 

Or, as Dr. John Cuddeback has claimed, “Nothing is said that has not already been said by a Greek.”

Musicians, educators, and music lovers during the intervening centuries have often found these early philosophers’ emphatic insistence on the importance of music in education somewhat curious, if not bizarre. Plato, et al, believed that music not only prepared one’s mind to easily learn, it also trained the soul to seek justice. Music, mathematics, and rhetoric were The three pillars of  Greek education. They maintained that music was of primary usefulness, not only to young school children, but also an integral part of training the military forces.  In fact, they asserted that  music is the highest form of communication.

However, in the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries, too often music is just considered “nice.” It would be a “nice” addition to the curriculum if the school board can figure out a way to include something, anything, that could possibly be called “music education.” More frequently, it is ignored because “nice” does not compel. In today’s American culture, music education in the early grades appears to be reserved for those who can afford the “niceties” of private schools and/or private music lessons. 

But, are we becoming “too big for our britches?” Have we traded wisdom for technology instead of adding technology to wisdom?

In recent years, there have been numerous scientific experiments that support the early Greeks’ understanding of music as foundational to education. Thus,  *Andrew Pudewa, Director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, believes music training can be a way to “build more RAM” into one’s brain. One source he cites is a 1997 study on preschool children. Before dividing them into groups, all took the same I.Q. test. Then one group spent  six months of keyboard training, while a second group had six months of instruction in singing, a third group received training in using computers, and the last group spent their months in free play. At the end, all four groups took the same I.Q. test again. The group of pre-schoolers who spent six months learning to play music on a keyboard increased their spatial-temporal I.Q. scores by an average of 46%, far higher than the other three groups. Obviously something happened in their brains to make that big of a jump in mental ability. Let me repeat that to be certain you understand: a mere six months of training pre-schoolers to play music on a keyboard increased their cognitive abilities by 46%.

The bigger jumps in mental ability through learning to play a musical instrument occurs primarily in the younger ages. Still, older children and adults can improve test scores by listening to classical music while studying and just before tests. The Piano Guys, who have done much to popularize good music, even offer YouTube videos to accompany study sessions. They call it **The Ultimate Study Music: 90 Minute Cram Jam. 

Another source for information about music training – playing an instrument, not just music theory, that is – is a commercial web site for the National Educational Music Company: nemc.com. It offers numerous general interest articles about the benefits of music training for children under the Support tab.

The proposition that was posited by the Greek philosophers thousands of years ago, has been proven in scientific experiments during the last 50 years on people and labratory rats. Thus, we can say with certitude that good music improves mental ability in humans and animals. Some have even concluded that plants are affected by music, but that’s another subject altogether.

The bottom line is that the practice of training  young children to play musical instruments is not as wide spread as it should be. Since three to ten year-olds can not purchase or rent musical instruments, employ teachers, or drive themselves to lessons, it is imperative that some adult provide that gift for them. If you, as an aunt, uncle, god-parent, grand-parent, parent, or friend of the familiy, have a young child in your life, please help him take music lessons. That sacrifice on your part probably will not result in a new child prodigy going out on a new concert tour. No. It will be much better than that! 

The result will be that all of mankind will benefit from intelligent people growing up to solve old problems, create new techniques to improve life, design better structures, and increase understanding between members of the human race. 

Is it possible to leave a more beautiful legacy than that?

Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather

*Pudewa began his career in education by working with Shin’ichi Suzuki and his method of teaching young children to play the violin in Japan and has since adapted Suzuki’s educational philosophy to other areas of education and established the IEW. One may find his speeches and footnotes on this and other scientific experiments regarding  music and intellectual development at the website: Institute for Excellence in Writing.

** Piano Guys study accompaniment:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=py_uxBfEkrI&feature=em-subs_digest

 

 

Music, Beauty, Transcendence

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Photo courtesy of Pexel

“Strange but true. We human beings are moved by music as no other animal is. Stranger still, it moves us rational animals apart from whether we can play it, read it, or even much understand it. Music reaches the passions without passing through the mind. Although some music calls forth enormous, in truth, life-long diligence from those who play it, those who have devoted no study whatever to listening to it are moved by it. As a consequence music is unique among human pursuits in being able to overcome the vast gulf between rare virtue and common aptitude. It is the most mathematical of the fine arts. It is science and fun together.”

Michael Platt,

“Physics without Ethics: The Brutality of Rock ‘n Roll,” Fidelity, July/August 1996

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.

* * * * * * * * *

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.