10/22/12 – Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Walt Whitman

Our assignment for Monday’s seminar class was to read Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Walt Whitman and express our various feelings in a blog post. First off, when I first was introduced to this poem, in high school, I remember it to be a lot shorter in length; I guess that was because my class and I only read an excerpt from the entire piece of work. However, when I began to read it again, I immediately started to vividly remember the various discussions and connections we made with this poem and the concept of life. It seems to me that repetition of words was used frequently because I think it enabled the reader to grasp the full concept of what the speaker is trying to portray. By using the same word again within a stanza, I felt a different emotion than one without repetition.

At first glance, it seems to be a story of what a man sees and thinks, while aboard the ferry on his way home from work. However, once I was finished dissecting the poem in its entirety, I came to the realization that the meaning, is in fact much deeper than what meets the eye. Mr. Whitman categorizes everyone in a very similar manner, particularly those who use the ferry as a form of transportation. For example, in stanza four he said, “These and all else were to me the same as they are to you,” which directly relates to the idea that we all go about our daily processes in nearly the same way. We, as passengers aboard the ferry have sat where people before us have sat, and people after us, will sit where we have sat. All humans are connected physically, and spiritually. Walt uses the ferry as one example that displays his belief.

This poem definitely made me start to think how similar the basis of my life is with everyone else. We all experience hardships and tribulations, whether we look at humans before our time or what is to come. In stanza three, it reads, “Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd.” This very quote strengthens his ideals, for we may feel sometimes distant from everyone else, but in fact we are all one, and operate in a similar fashion.

I think this poem in a way relates to Ways of Seeing by John Berger because we notice everyone aboard the ferry but don’t actually see them for who they are and what they represent. By delving deeper, we come to the realization that all humans are related in some way, and not until you “see” it, will you understand where Walt Whitman is coming from. This poem opened up my eyes to a different way of thinking, and I am developing a new fondness for poetry.


10/18/12 – Broadway Show – The Heiress

Instead of going to our regular seminar class at 4:40 at CSI, both seminar groups went to a Broadway show. It was called The Heiress.  The last time I went to a show on Broadway was when I was in 6th or 7th grade, and my family and I saw, The Lion King. If I compared both shows, I would say that The Lion King kept me wanting to see more, whereas, The Heiress kept me on the edge of my seat towards the end. However, they are still absolutely magnificent and mind-blowing performances. The trip to the show was definitely one to remember, for it was filled with a lot of unexpected occurrences and tons of laughter.

My group and I, surprisingly, made it to The Heiress just in time, and were ready to witness the wonderful show. To be honest, I think it started off a little prosaic and wasn’t enticing at all. However, the satirical comments started coming out one after another, providing laughter for the entire audience. I can definitely say, I got a different feeling from watching the show and reading the book because the book didn’t appeal to all my senses, whereas, the Broadway show, touched on all expression levels. I think I can speak for everyone when I say, that the best part was the ending. Obviously, it differed greatly from the book Washington Square because in the novel, Catherine asked Morris to politely leave her life and never come back. However, at the show, she led him on to think she’ll take him back and as soon as he came back to her house with his clothes packed ready to marry her, Catherine shut off all the lights in the house, and swiftly went upstairs, leaving poor Morris, outside and alone.

I thought the construction of The Heiress, was quite inquisitive and pretty easy to follow throughout the entire show. I was never left bewildered or wondering to myself if what I thought happened, actually did. Going to this Broadway show was a change of pace, and I would definitely go back to see it anytime. I am also looking forward to seeing our teacher, Professor Kahan perform soon.

10/15/12 – Washington Square & The Heiress

Today’s seminar class was for the most part brand new material for me. I never heard of Mendelssohn, but I was shocked to hear of all the wonderful contributions he made to the world of art. He was a brilliant man, which rubbed off on his children because they were consumed with a rigorous education schedule. Mendelssohn’s children had many tutors, music and gymnastic lessons, learned Greek, Latin, and arithmetic. While in Europe, he did the Grand Tour, which is to go all around Europe absorbing the culture as part of your education. Mendelssohn took ideas of what he believed the Scottish individuals portrayed and poured it into his symphony. We were privileged enough to hear one of his most famous works, “Wedding March,” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Also, this brilliant man wrote incidental music, because he got caught up with writing music for Shakespeare. Because of Mendelssohn prodigious education, he knew five languages, and was constantly reading, making him fluent in Shakespeare.

Henry James, the author of Washington Square spent most of his life in Europe, and his point of view of the Native Americans was in fact, completely prejudice by his experiences in Europe. He thinks European culture is way better than American life, and developed a keen eye by constantly observing the human character. The narratives point of view is quite sarcastic, and ironic. In my opinion, Catherine, as described in the novel, looks like a plain yet pretty woman and solidly built. Catherine loves to spend her money on fancy clothes, which definitely isn’t approved by Dr. Sloper. Her father doesn’t like it because it shows that she is wearing her money as well as making her look older. I found it quite interesting as to why the novel was written in 1880, but Henry James set the action back thirty years. The reason for doing this was because it was before the Civil War, and economically, it was prosperous. The title, Washington Square, evokes a sense of calmness, and a feeling, that everything is good in the world.

Henry James makes fun of Catherine by saying that her back is a broad one, which could have carried a great deal. He never blatantly says something nice to her, which in a way upsets me. Catherine doesn’t wear expensive clothes to look better; she just likes the clothes and the way it feels on her body. Therefore, the reason she chose to wear a red dress was because her mother wore red, so it was Catherine’s way of connecting with her deceased mother.

Finally, towards the end of class, we compared both movies, which are Washington Square and the Heiress. There are some striking differences pertaining to both motion pictures. For example, Catherine is perkier in the movie Washington Square, whereas in the Heiress, she is more elegant and contained. Also, different people in both movies introduced Morris Townsend. This class was another one of those influential and uplifting sessions, teaching me a lot of something I hardly knew anything about.

10/10/12 Discuss Turandot/Michael Sirotta – Guest Speaker

Yesterday’s seminar class began with us discussing the opera, “Turandot,” as a whole and giving each of our inputs, explaining the positives and negatives, as well as what we felt was good and bad. I greatly appreciated discussing the “minor character”, Liu and her role holistically in the opera. But, I didn’t really quite understand why her death was barely paid attention too, however at the same token it made the man more emotionally appealing to Turandot. Being this opera was the first one I ever attended, I was amazed at the scenery and the discipline the conductor must have for his/her orchestra.
The next part of class was a change of pace because I, along with the rest of the class were introduced to a man named, Michael Sirotta, who has traveled all over the world and wrote music from instruments all over the world. Thankfully, the Internet has brought this ever-expanding source of music so easily into our lives. On Sunday, Professor Sirotta is having his newly-written orchestral composition displayed at the Staten Island Philharmonic, and our class is lucky enough to be given the opportunity to attend such an empowering and breathtaking show. This particular piece explores musically a Jewish folk song by Mark Warshawsky, who was a lawyer in the Ukraine, and created Yiddish tunes. I was completely unaware that the alphabet used for Yiddish is in fact the Hebrew language.
I found it so interesting how Professor Sirotta’s first musical memory was so vivid and remembered exactly where, when, and what exactly it was. It just shows me, that it greatly influenced his future and this memory will be forever embedded into his brain. This song that he listened to when he was only five years old was “Ofyn Pripetshok,” better known as the second Jewish national anthem. I was shocked when I heard that statement, because I didn’t really understand how it fits into the category of being a national anthem. This piece is about a Rabbi who teaches small children the Hebrew alphabet, but out of no where the Rabbi hits you in the gut emotionally, by saying that he hopes his students will realize the tears that exist in all the letters in the alphabet, and more importantly, gain the strength to go about each day.
After Professor Sirotta finished discussing why he chose this particular piece to display at the musical gathering on Sunday, he provided us with two different variations of the composer, Johannes Brahms with and without the orchestra. He made it clear to us that, in the 20th century, composers still wanted to do variations and themes, but didn’t want to follow the structure except for some phrases. Therefore, they made their own variations which us, as the audience, cant sing or recognize.
Michael’s piece is a set of variations, not exact phrases by phrase, but was more interested in the melody and harmonic possibilities, so he deconstructed the melody and put it back in different ways, creating introductions and themes emerging out of it. I am looking forward to attending my first Philharmonic and it’s very convenient that it’s held at the College of Staten Island.

Opera – Turandot 10/3/12

Yesterday’s seminar class took place at the opera and our class went to the Metropolitan Opera House, better known as the Met, to see the show Turandot. Briefly, it is about a princess who resides in China that will only marry a man if he answers her three impossible riddles correctly. If they fail to complete the task, it will result in them getting beheaded. I think the climax of this opera was when Turandot realizes that the male race isn’t such a dictating figurehead, but rather can embody sympathetic and caring qualities as well. To be perfectly honest, my immediate reaction when I found out that we would be going to an opera weren’t positive or uplifting. But, gratefully, that all changed once the first act begun. I was overwhelmed with the distinct range of voices, possessing such control and ease. Reading along with the subtitles that were in front of the seats benefited my understanding significantly.

However, I think some parts in the opera were a little ambiguous and I didn’t comprehend the entire scene as much as I should’ve. Therefore, I asked for clarification from Professor Monte.  One example of this was when the three riddles became a vital part in the opera. I was able to figure out the first two of them, but the last riddle wasn’t being processed in my head, and I restored to asking my neighboring students for assistance. During the intermissions, my friends and I were aimlessly walking around the Met, and were able to hear bits and pieces of random conversations and implemente this newfound knowledge to get a better understanding of the opera as a whole. Everyone in the Opera House was remarkably pleasant and answered all of my questions completely.

I was flabbergasted when I first saw the scenery on the stage as it related to the overall tone of the particular scene. I think that as the audience you are able to tell a lot about the colors and the setting itself as it compares to the plot transitions. The props and items used in the construction of the stage setting were so detailed and picturesque that I was able to feel as if I was on the stage participating in the play Turandot. All in all, I had a wonderful time at the opera, and my outlook has been altered drastically because I have come to the conclusion that these types of shows aren’t prosaic and monotonous but uplifting and inspiring!

Opera 10/1/12

To be perfectly honest, before this class today, I knew little to nothing about opera and all that it entails. From the beginning of the class until the end, it was an entire learning experience for me. For starters, I quickly grasped the fact that the four most influential opera composers included: Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini. The lowest voice for a man is the bass and through the evolution of opera, which began nearly four hundred years ago, it became a combination of the artistic approach and the concept of “showing off” in the way that the audience wants to hear those high notes. For example, Mozart wrote dozen of operas and particularly, four of them are famous, each of them ridiculing the aristocracy.  I find that rather comical because I think it takes a great deal of skill to use a form of art to make fun of the upper class so eloquently and gracefully. There are two types of sung music. The first one is recitative, which by definition is a music narration because the notes go along with the particular voice. The other is an aria, which is the main part of music, and the singer expresses one emotion, thought, or idea. The main tune of the opera is sung twice and the second time, the singer adds more notes as a way of showing off.  We listened to an aria by Don Giovanni, and it was a funny drama consisting of comedy mostly about the idea of rape and was discussed in a light-hearted manner. After that, we began to listen to Barbiere Di Siviglia by Rossini. This particular piece has a baritone, which is voice above the bass. Also, synonymous to the work performed by Mozart, Rossini was a stand up to the aristocracy to Pre-French Revolution literary movement. In good aria, I learned that the singer says one idea or notion but repeats it in numerous different ways. Another thing, I became accustomed to in this class was, a librettist, which works with the composer, has to understand how voice works, and build a character/plot. In opera, all Shakespearean poetry turns in kinds of arias, and little synopses are given about what Shakespeare wrote.

Soon, we listened to aria from Othello by Verdi that is composed of a dramatic baritone in which the top of the voice is used more and it relates better with the character. Unknown by me, the King of the High Seas is the composer Pavarotti, and women in opera have for some strange reason a high death rate. Finally, there are many more voices for women than men, such as: alto, mezzo-soprano, soprano, dramatic, lyrical, spinto, light lyric soprano, coloratura, and finally soubrette. All of these are used frequently in operas composed by women. Today’s class was quite influential and I am satisfied that it came before our trip to the opera because now I will be able to apply this new knowledge to the opera itself. I have a new liking for this particular art form mainly because of the intricacy behind the various voices as well as the overall persona embodied by the men and women on stage.


In the beginning of Seminar today, we first discussed the four basic elements of music. They are rhythm, melody, harmony, and timbre/texture. The only one that left me a little perplexed was timbre, which by definition means the character or quality of a musical sound or voice. After the foundation of music was laid out, we delved deeper and explained the fact that music without text leaves meaning to the imagination. When the context isn’t provided for the listener better known as the audience, it’s up to one’s bountiful imagination to put two and two together, and come up with the deeper meaning behind it all. All four elements of music work together, but in some pieces one of the four will strike you the most, making it more prominent than the others.

I think that sometimes the notes of the song sound just like what its like when it’s sung. Melodies evoke a sense of feeling that can range from happy to sad and cheerful to gloomy. For example, West Side Story is a modern take on Romeo and Juliet. It takes place in the upper West Side of New York City, which in the 1960s was controlled by lots of gangs, and bestowed the name “ghetto.” We soon transitioned and listened to various works by the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. I brought up the point that different sounds evoke a wide range of emotions. If the composer plays louder, I think it hints at the fact a climax is present. Johann Bach’s first praeludium, I think depicted emotions of calmness, and the notion of bittersweet. His second praeludium was a little different in the way that it evoked emotions such as: darkness, suspense, franticness, and dystopia. I think it’s kind of ironic that the rhythm, cords, and melody can all be the same but get different emotions because of the variant configuration of elements. One of the last works we listened to was The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. In this case, I think timbre matters because if it’s high or low, it’ll evoke different emotions; in this particular one timbre got really loud and intense symbolizing the climax. In fact, this music was written for a ballet. This particular class has definitely taught me not only the basic elements of music, but the concept that the way you see something can be completely different in the way another person views it, even though its played the exact same way. This idea relates back to Ways of Seeing, perception is everything!

Art Exhibit – 9/19

In class on Wednesday, we further discussed the idea of style in conjunction to “Ways of Seeing.” Early on in the class, we watched various YouTube clips of “The Girl with the Pearl Earrings.” I truly think that this was a great movie to watch, specifically at this time, because it draws a very close connection to John Berger’s book, “Ways of Seeing.” It relates to the notion that there isn’t exactly one-way to see something or someone, but rather numerous.  Therefore, it all depends on the seer’s conceptual belief or perception about the particular subject. After that was discussed, we further conversed about Edward Hopper’s idea of style.  I still, wholeheartedly, think that his style represents a universal nature. In other words, his painting upheld validity not only in the past, but in present day as well. After the class gave their input concerning what they believe was Mr. Hopper’s style, Dr. Liu walked into class and gave us a concise overview of what to expect at today’s Art Exhibit, as well as the deeper meaning as to why these various pieces were chosen. Also, he explained that just because someone is for example a chemist, they could at the same time enjoy art, music, etc. We, as human beings, aren’t restricted or confined to one particular field of study. Finally, Dr. Liu led the class to the Art Exhibit. This very gallery was composed of the works by, Johann Jakob Scheuchzer. He depicted art, science, and religion in its own light, but didn’t forget to draw a conclusion and depict how each of these three focal points are in fact related and relevant to one another. To be honest, going into this Art Gallery, I was a little hesitant as what to expect and how it would be presented. However, as I walked around, examining each of the artworks closely, I formulated a great connection that each painting embodied. I think that it was Johann Jakob Scheuchzer’s goal all along, and he did a phenomenal job.  I have to say, I did in fact develop a favorite out of all of the various artworks and it happened to be the first one. First off, I was greatly mesmerized at the engraved frame around the image. It doesn’t merely set the scene and tone, but more importantly, expand on the biblical connections between the frame and picturesque image. I think it depicted the dominance of the sun as it relates to human life and the world of nature. Everything painted was balanced beautifully, and the brush strokes used gave me a warm and conceptual feeling. All and all, this Seminar class was definitely an eye opener, and I am starting to make associations between art, religion, and science that I have never before.

Wednesday – Edward Hopper’s Style

In class on Wednesday, we first discussed the idea of gaze. By definition, it means to be looking at something and thinking about it. For example, the Mona Lisa knows someone is looking at it because the eyes are gazing at us, the spectators. I think the smirk indicates that the gaze is reciprocated. The whole notion of gaze becomes one with the painting. Shortly after discussing that, Professor Kahan brought up the connection between Ways of Seeing, with how one views various pictures and other forms of artwork. We first took a look at a picture resembling Robert De Niro, and how we collectively ascribe power to him because just of the man he is. But, if all of his physical attributes such as: messy hair and scraggly beard were attached to someone other than Robert De Niro; we would most definitely think of that person in a negative manner. The other piece of artwork we stumbled on in relation to gaze was the, Mona Lisa. From what I can see, her face is smooth, her hair is done with curls, and her dress looks like its made of silk, which represents her stature in society. In connection with the picture of Mr. De Niro, women always have to look presentable and they can’t do what Robert does appearance wise, without getting judged significantly. The next order of business was depicting Edward Hopper’s style in his twelve paintings. Style, in relation to fashion, identifies the time period it’s in and what was useful during that particular period. For example, in the Fall 2012 collection, a good portion of various clothing lines represent the military, because it’s a way of showing solidarity, and it epitomizes what exactly is going on in this span of time. I think Edward Hopper’s style has a definite duality, in the way that it pertains to both the past as well as the present. This is seen quite lucidly in his various works of art. In the first painting, American Landscape, a house is placed in the middle of a farm. Some elements that make it look frightening are the size of the cows in relation to the house, the dimensions are flattened out, and it looks as if this particular house is in the middle of nowhere. The way it is painted, doesn’t allow me to see the bottom of it because it is below the train tracks. This artwork looks like it is part of the United States and can represent early America as well as present day. This idea flows coherently in Mr. Hopper’s style because all his paintings are universal and timeless. In his next painting, New York Interior there is a fireplace and painting in the picture, which can clearly relate to the early 1900s and the 21st century. The clock on the mantel, the ridges in the wood, and the columns are all decorative tools used to depict his style as it relates to classicism. I think, the woman in the painting is probably a dancer or maybe works in a dance hall. The clothes she is wearing leads me to conceive the notion that she could be a ballerina or a wealthy woman who just came back from a ball, and is taking off her heals and massaging her exhausted feet. In the third painting by Edward Hopper, Night Shadows a cartoonish image immediately pops into my head when I first laid my eyes on it. Therefore, from the start, the style embodies a present day take on cartoon shows. It looks as if the person is in a hurry due to his abnormally large strides and the tall lamppost causing a shadow. I think these entire paintings have another side to Edward Hopper’s style, which happens to be the mysterious factor. In American Landscape, New York Interior, and Night Shadows there are many elements in the painting that enable me to formulate questions in my head consisting of: how, why, and what is trying to be actually depicted. Therefore, I presume that the artist’s style exemplifies the duality of the past and present (universality), and the enigmatic side, in relation to the three works of art described.

Monday September 10, 2012 – Mona Lisa & Nighthawk

After reading “Ways of Seeing,” by John Berger, my entire outlook of the world around me was altered significantly. Not only did my immediate perception about the way I analyze and interpret different things change; but also, more importantly the way I saw my future and all it encompasses was drastically modified. For example, in our Monday class, we interpreted the Mona Lisaby Leonardo Da Vinci. At first glance, it seemed to me as if the subject painted and the background contrasted greatly. This is because the colors and shades used didn’t exactly flow coherently with one another. However, I quickly began to look at the particular painting as a whole, instead of critiquing minuscule fragments of the artwork.  Therefore, there is deceptiveness when comparing the complexity and simplicity in both the person and the background because they do embody characteristics of being plain as well as being quite arduous to fully comprehend. The focal point in this piece of work is her eyes, which divides the background. It left me quite puzzled as to what occupies the space next to her left shoulder. Personally, I perceive it as a miniature cliff of some kind and the river flows around it connecting the line back to her eyes. By doing this, it makes the subject’s eyes even feel more central. It’s ironic how the background of the painting is as mysterious as the person herself. The audience is quite befuddled when asked the question if she is smirking, frowning, or even smiling. However, something clearly that I noticed was the common geometric shape which happened to be an oval. For example, her body, her eyes, her hand shape, and even the shapes below the bridge all epitomize an oval.  Akin to all magnificent works of art, music, and dance a formula must be followed and once the foundation is laid, imagination must take over, expanding one’s horizon. The Mona Lisa is a clear-cut example in which at first glance, it seems quite prosaic and dull; but when I delved deeper into it, I formulated various conclusions, assumptions, and contrasting ideas concerning the background and the subject painted.  The next artwork we looked at was Nighthawk by Edward Hopper. Contrasting greatly from the Mona Lisa, the overall geometric shape present was a rectangle. The idea of the difference between light and dark, I believe was the foundation for painting this piece of artwork. The reason I feel that way is because the light that was beaming on the middle-aged woman made her look quite unappealing and clownish due to the heavy eye makeup and bright red lipstick. This tells me, as the interpreter, that maybe the artist wanted to assign a negative light on women during this time. Clearly, the men portrayed represent a positive persona, in which they are conversing with each other and epitomize a mysterious side to them. All in all, after reading Mr. Berger’s book, the way I see and think is like never before. I begin to make connections I never thought of before, which definitely will benefit me later on in life.