When I first was assigned Walt Whitman’s poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, I was amazed at how long a poem about a ferry ride could be. However, once I started reading, not only could I understand how, but I was also able to relate. First off, when Whitman says, “Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me” (Pg. 24 stanza 2), it reminded me so much of my rides on trains and buses. I have always taken public transportation to get to school or wherever else I had to go, and what helps the ride become less dreadful and long is watching the people around me. I am so interested in these strangers and even try to figure out what their stories are and/or the type of people they are. Another thing we share, to my surprise, is the wonder of how many people will get on and off the train or bus I’m riding, just like Whitman does with the ferry. In addition, his comment, “It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not, I am with you, you men and women of a generation, ever so many generations hence…” (Pg. 25 stanza 2), brings a feeling of comfort to me as well. His suggestion that we are all alike makes me feel less alone.
It seems that the purpose of this poem is to shed light on the idea that all people share a bond. Whitman even takes it a step further and talks about how people are similar emotionally. He starts off talking about the bad person he once was and all the bad things he used to do. This is probably relatable to most people because, for the most part, all people at some point in their lives have done things that they were not proud of. What I like most about this poem is the amount of honesty that exists. He says things that most people would think twice about saying out loud. Besides his talk about the person he once was and his extreme curiosity, he discusses his negative views on people when he says, “Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are…” (Pg. 33 stanza 2).
Our trip to see The Heiress on Broadway this past Wednesday was, for the most part, a very enjoyable one. I’ve gone to see Broadway plays before, but this time the experience was a bit different. This time around, I knew what to expect because I had read the book the play was based on. Although for many people this would be seen negatively, to me it made things more interesting. It was fun being able to compare the two versions of the story. I personally favor the play over the book Washington Square. The play incorporated a lot of humor into the telling of the story, although I do understand that it is easier to accomplish this through acting as opposed to writing. In addition, I loved the ending of the play. When reading the book I was dying for Catharine to give Morris a taste of his own medicine or any type of punishment at all. When Catharine stands up Morris in The Heiress by leading him to believe that she will take him back and elope with him, I could not have been happier.
Overall, the play The Heiress was very entertaining. Besides the wonderful actors and well-written script, the props and setting were also worth mentioning. I felt that the detail and effects, such as the light shining through the windows to show that it was morning, were very cool. They made the scenes seem very believable which I loved. The only complaint that I have is that the seats where too steep, making the play hard to see without uncomfortably leaning over the railing.
In the beginning of Monday’s seminar class, we talked about the book Washington Square that we had read and written a paper on. While a majority of the points made were in agreement with my thoughts while reading the book, a couple of interesting and new observations came up as well. For one, I never really gave much thought to the time period that this story was placed in. After discussing it in class, it was brought to my attention that selecting the setting is actually a thoughtful process. Henry James wrote this book to take place in the 1850s with the purpose of having the events occur at a time that was calm. No war was going on and there were not many worries; it was a time of relative prosperity. I also never realized the possibility that the story was given its title to evoke all that is bright and calm. I was actually a bit disappointed that I did not make this connection, in that I know the area of Washington Square quite well. Lastly, James’s comment of Catherine carrying everything on her broad back came to mean something different to me than to many of my fellow classmates. To them, I believe it was taken as a negative comment that put Catherine down. However, to me, it seemed that James was just bringing to our attention that there was much that Catherine had to deal with. Therefore, she needed a broad back to get through it all. I did not pick up on the negative connotation of being open and making everything visible to others.
After discussing the book, we watched a couple of films based on it. First we watched parts of The Heiress, and then we watched Washington Square. The Heiress was a more dated film, but it was also my favorite of the two. The Heiress was more true to the book than Washington Square. In Washington Square, the cousin had to introduce Morris to Catharine, which made it seem like he had no idea she even existed. I didn’t like how Catherine seemed so uneasy and hyperactive. On the other hand, she did a good job of showing how desperate she was for her father’s acceptance.
In class on Wednesday, we had a guest speaker who came in to talk to us about classical music and to also gave us a bit of an introduction for the philharmonic we will be attending this Sunday. Before he came in, we had a discussion on the opera we had seen the previous week. I enjoyed this part of the class because I was able to determine whether my peers had some of the same feelings or questions I had. Also, I was able to get some of my questions answered. Something I was glad to get clarified was Lui’s purpose of the play. When I raised this question in class, I was under the impression that Lui had no purpose due to the fact that nobody was paid attention to her or seemed effected by her death. Professor Kahan, along with some of my other classmates, opened my eyes to the possibility that she had a less obvius purpose. The character of Lui existed to make Turandot’s heart melt and without her, Turandot would probably not have realized that she wanted to be with Calaf. She also helped with the setting by communicating the view of servants/low class people in those days through her use of third person and her treatment in the play.
What I remember most about the second half of Wednesday’s class was how enthusiastic professor Sirotta was about what he was talking about. The love and excitement he has for music and the subject/inspiration of his symphony truly amazed and inspired me. I also enjoyed listening to his story about his first memory of music. At first this didn’t seem very impressive, but I then attempted to recall my earliest music memory and was unsuccessful. The fact that professor Sirotta was not only able to remember the song but practically every detail was actually very cool, and his decision to incorporate this memory into his present day work seemed nothing short of genius. This, along with all the time and effort it took him to put together this symphony, makes me more than happy to show up and support professor Sirotta this Sunday.
On Wednesday we went to the Metropolitan Opera and saw Tourandot. Being that this was my first opera, everything truly fascinated me. So many people showed up and seemed excited. This was a bit surprising due to my prior belief that opera was no longer something people were interested in. Not only did people show up, but they also got dressed up, wearing gowns and suits along with their flashiest accessories. They actually complimented the Metropolitan Opera, which was a very extravagant and classy building with beautiful chandeliers and red velvet stairs that seemed to go on forever. Once we got seated, I was excited to see the show that had all these people aroused.
Overall, I thought the show was very well written and rehearsed. I loved the detailed and exorbitant costumes, and thought the props and choreography were perfect. The singing was clearly done by professionals who, in my opinion, made singing opera seem simple. As far as I could tell, they hit their notes and had enough power to be heard from the back of the auditorium.
Some thing I was not particularly fond of was how they used the character Liu. She made a big deal about how she loved Calaf and later dies for him, but even then, she is still simply forgotten. Her death is not made into a big deal, which made me wonder why they even put it in the script. Another thing that made the opera a little less enjoyable was the fact that we were sitting so far away. I wasn’t able to see the characters’ faces, and therefore their showing of emotions. This definitely took away from the show/experience. Also, I had a hard time going back and forth from looking at the translations to the stage. Regardless, going to the Metropolitan Opera and watching my first opera was still a great experience, and one that I may want to repeat sometime in the future.
Monday’s class was all about opera. This seemed appropriate considering that in a couple of days we’d be going to see what, for most of us, was our first opera. Something that professor Kahan had said that I found to be particularly interesting was that opera singers were like athletes. I listened to the explanation about how both need to practice a lot and take care of themselves in order to keep up and perform well, and being an athlete myself, I instantly understood and began to have more admiration and respect for opera singers. Another thing about opera that I found interesting was its history. The fact that women were once not allowed to be on stage and some men had to make the sacrifice/decision to take their roles seems ludicrous.
As the class progressed, we took an even closer look at opera. First, we discussed how all of Mozart’s works have a consistent theme of overcoming depression, which was actually news to me. Then, we looked at the structure of opera. We discussed how at certain times, the plot would simply get moved along and notes would be used mainly to get the speech out. On the other hand, there is an aria, which is the main part of music. It is when the singer expresses an emotion or thought. It is usually sung twice and the second time with improvisation in order to show off the singer’s voice. Women’s voice types were also a major part of our discussion on Monday. There is mezzo soprano, dramatic soprano, lyric soprano, spinto soprano, and light lyric soprano, just to name a few.
To truly understand the different styles and components of opera, we listened to a few examples. Nessun Dorma by Pavarotti was so touching and the talent that the vocalist had was incredible. Madamina was also an enjoyable performance, but for a different reason. It was a comedy about rape, which shows what was expected of men with power, sexually.
On Wednesday we began our look at music with a discussion on the different components of music. Rhythm, melody, harmony, timbre, and texture were all mentioned, with timbre being the one that I was least familiar with. Timbre, from what I understood in class, helps determine how many instruments are playing by identifying the characteristic sound that each instrument produces. Although I had heard of the other terms before, I never knew exact what they were, how to identify them, or their importance to music. Listening to different songs being played, and discussing these different components and the roles they played in each, turned out to be the best way to change that. Overtone was also something we discussed during Wednesday’s seminar and was a bit harder for me to comprehend. However, after an example was produced through the use of a piano, it became much clearer. Later in the class we were given sheet music, which I found to be very confusing considering I never learned to play an instrument and never had any interest in singing. I was a bit disappointed because I expected to do more with the sheet music and hoped I would finally get to learn how to read it. Instead, we went over some basic concepts that I feel I would have been able to figure out on my own. On the other hand, what I really enjoyed about Wednesday’s class was our introduction to opera. I thought looking at La Traviata after watching a film version of it was very interesting. The comparison helped me appreciate opera and see how much more emotion there can be in an opera compared to a film or show.
This past Wednesday in seminar, we looked at a clip from the movie “Girl with a Pearl Earring” to add to our conversation about hair. It was brought to my attention that hair was seen much differently a few decades ago than it is now. The fact that it was associated with sexuality seemed pretty amazing yet ridiculous at the same time. The thought of having to cover your hair at all times and your husband being the only one to ever see it seems a little insane and also cumbersome. The scene in “Girl with a Pearl Earring” that illustrated this precept helped me see just how big of a deal showing hair actually was for these women. To them it did not seem like a stupid idea or an inconvenience, which was a bit of a surprise for me.
For the second half of the class, Dr. Liu came to talk to us about an art exhibit in the CSI gallery that we were about to see. I really enjoyed listening to Dr. Liu because he did a great job of explaining things in a way that I was able to really understand. He also made a lot of good points, which had me very interested. I loved his point about how even though everyone in this day in age is basically forced to specialize in a certain area or subject, it is still possible, and even preferred, that you take an interest in some other areas as well. Specifically what he was talking about was how a scientist could be knowledgeable of and fascinated by art. This seemed to be a perfect introduction to the art we were about to see in the CSI gallery, which was filled with very detailed and unique art that did in fact incorporate science, and religion as well.
In class on Wednesday we continued our look at Edward Hopper paintings while also discussing an idea brought up by John Berger in Ways of Seeing. Although looking at Hopper’s collection was interesting, our discussion on the excerpt from Ways of Seeing was what I really enjoyed about Wednesday’s seminar. Discussing the idea that men can always get away with a lot more as far as appearance goes is something I definitely agree with but never really gave much thought to. The fact that it was so obvious yet seemed so new was probably what left me in awe. As an example, we took a closer look at Robert Di Nero at a special event. In the picture, Di Nero looked like he had barely put any effort into his appearance. His hair was gray and a bit messy, he looked a bit scruffy which gave the impression that he was too lazy to shave that morning, and it seemed as though he wore his wrinkles proudly, taking no measures to hide them. We then took another look at the Mona Lisa and the effort she must have put into her appearance. It is exactly this that likely made her worthy enough to be the subject of Da Vinci’s painting. Her hair looked done, her dress was elegant and made of rich material, and she even included accessories like a veil and shawl. By the end of our discussion I was convinced, and even a bit uneasy.
Some other things that stood out to me from Wednesday’s class were a few of the paintings by Edward Hopper. The first piece was Hopper’s New York Interior. At first glance I really liked the painting. Although I was unable to see the woman in the painting’s face, I still managed to feel bad for her. This was probably because of her bulging muscles that told the story of her hardworking and tiring life, or the small and dark apartment that she was forced to live in because she was probably not doing too well for herself. Another painting that I recall is Night Shadows. I remember being intrigued by this painting when it was first put up on the projector. I thought it was pretty cool how Hopper was able to make me uncomfortable by convincing me that I was stalking the suspiciously speed walking man that was in the painting. The scene is dark and brings on some mystery, which seems to be a trend with Edward Hopper considering that New York Interior, American Landscape, Seven A.M. and a couple of others that have this same element of style. Another trend that I found looking at Hopper’s collection is his obsession with shapes. In Night Shadows Hopper paints columns in the background which adds a number of vertical lines to the piece. The same occurs in New York Interior where vertical lines and rectangles are made into curtains, doors, and a detailed fireplace with columns. Hopper cannot even control himself from adding a bit of this element to his self- portrait where he includes the door and doorframe of the room he is sitting in.
During Monday’s seminar we looked at The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci and Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. I had seen The Mona Lisa before and my feelings towards it were the same as I had remembered. Looking at this piece, I never really thought it deserved the fame and attention that it received. The woman in the drawing seemed awkward, simple, and unattractive. It was because of this that I disliked the painting altogether. It wasn’t until our discussion in class that I realized there was much more to it. For one, her look was not as simple as I was so quick to conclude. Her facial expression may not have been too exaggerated, but it was not simple or emotionless like I had thought. From this class I learned that in order to really appreciate and understand art you need to look deeper. I then took a closer look at the person Da Vinci felt was important for us to see, and realized that she had an indescribable look in her eyes and a smirk that had originally gone unnoticed. I was then led to believe that there was a lot of mystery to this woman and possibly some held in negative emotions. This picture then became more complex and intriguing. I was also amazed at the fact that out of all the times I had looked at this painting, I had never noticed the detailed and scenic background. This only confirmed that I never really gave artwork the attention it needed for it to be truly appreciated.
When we looked at Nighthawks in class, it actually was the first time I had ever seen the painting. Just from first glance I didn’t really take any interest in the piece. Everything was so distant and as the viewer, I wasn’t exactly drawn in. It wasn’t until after the discussion we had in class that I started to become interested. The possibility that this painting told a story and represented a time period was something that never crossed my mind. This scene is from the 1940s and so by looking at it I was able to form conclusions about the time period and get a feel of what it was like living in it. One would be that war was going on and those who stayed behind during the war still had responsibilities. The fact that Hopper felt the need to portray this brings up the possibility that they were maybe overlooked and not given the credit they deserved.