In today’s seminar, we took a look at Walt Whitman’s poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. I had already read the poem before the class on Wednesday, so I knew what really stood out to me and I had my opinions set in my mind. However, I always like reviewing these kinds of things in class the next day so that we get different insights on them and are able to view them from a different point of view. When we reviewed this poem in class, we spoke about the symbols used in the poem, as well as the way the poem itself was written and the effect it had on its meaning.
I never realized how much of an effect the rhythm of a poem could have on the poem itself. We spoke about how the repetition and rhythm of the poem echoed the boat rocking back and forth, as well as the people getting on and off the boat. This definitely complemented the overall theme of the poem, and gave a great new perspective on the poem that allowed me to picture the vivid imagery of the poem. A great poem will have rhythm to reflect its meaning, just like an emotionally powerful song can have a slow tempo with long-held dramatic notes to make the song come together.
Walt Whitman really ennobled the experience of riding the ferry, perhaps reminding us to enjoy the little things in life. He spoke so elegantly and created great imagery through his diction and rhythm, which I would never realize on my own.
In yesterday’s class, we were given a poem by Walt Whitman entitled Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. This poem has a very a deep and profound meaning, although it is not explicitly stated. Upon reading the poem and closely analyzing it however, I could understand exactly what Whitman was trying to convey. Everyone in the world is connected. If we think about riding the Staten Island Ferry, certain mental images come to mind. We usually don’t know anyone on the ferry, but we all see the same things: the Statue of Liberty, the ships sailing, and that unforgettable view of the Manhattan skyline at night. As we gaze at these icons, we never stop to think that everyone else on that same ferry is looking at the same things and probably thinking the same things we are. No matter what languages they may speak or what they may look like, we are all connected by our thoughts and what we see, and as Whitman said, “What is it then between us?” (Stanza 5). The world really doesn’t seem so big and abstract when we think of the fact that everyone else in the world really isn’t so different than us. People hundreds of years ago have once stood in our place thinking about the same things we have. This gives me a sense of comfort that everyone is connected somehow, even if we do not always realize it.
On Wednesday, our class got the opportunity to go see the play The Heiress. After reading Washington Square by Henry James, I was eager to see it in another light, and I was not disappointed.
I think the play was excellent. It wasn’t a carbon copy of the book, but that was not the purpose of it. It did a good job of maintaining the key aspects of the book while adding many humorous and dramatic touches. Unlike the movie, I did not feel the play modernized the book, but rather it just allowed readers to see it come to life like never before. For example, the part involving Catherine’s red dress was really able to be visualized as we could see the vibrant red dress and hear Dr. Sloper’s tone of voice as he spoke to Catherine. The ending was probably my favorite part, as the curtain went down to the fading sound of Morris crying out, “Catherine! Catherine!” It was different from the book, but the dramatic aspect of it was incredible. I never thought I would feel that way about a play, but I was really overcome with emotion when I heard the cries for Catherine as she walked away and the curtain went down. It was definitely another great experience for me, and I was happy I enjoyed it as much as I did.
In today’s seminar, we spoke about the novel Washington Square by Henry James. When I was first reading it, I could tell that Dr. Austin Sloper had a very sarcastic and condescending tone when speaking to his daughter, Catherine. He never considered his daughter anything special, and that is shown in his cruel words. In class, we spoke about a particular line from the novel in which Dr. Sloper really insults Catherine. She comes downstairs in a vibrant red dress, of which she feels very confident about because her late mother always wore red. She was very excited to wear the dress and be closer to her mother. However, when she walked down, Dr. Sloper immediately shot her down. First, he exclaimed that it was improper to “wear her wealth on her broad back.” He then said that she looked ridiculous because her mother “was dark; she dominated the color.” The class discussion really helped me to grasp even the smallest details with big significance in the novel.
We also watched clips from the movie and play versions of The Heiress in class. While watching the movie, I felt that the producer did not do the novel justice. He cut out the part about Catherine’s red dress, and he seemed to modernize it. The party Catherine had attended and the way the characters acted made it seem like any high school or college party someone would go to today. Morris seemed like “prince charming” discovering the painfully awkward girl at the party. It just seemed weird to me more than anything. The play was much different, however. The play preserved more of the literary elements and James’ tone while adding a whimsical aspect through dramatic acting. I look forward to seeing it on Wednesday!
In Wednesday’s seminar, we spoke about the opera we had seen the previous week. Now that I had seen the opera and had established my own opinions of it, I was excited to see what everyone else thought of it, and if we had similar opinions and observations. Like me, a lot of students were impressed with the music and how the music and dialogue went hand in hand. We began further discussion of how music, even without lyrics, can evoke such feeling and emotion in a person. We learned about how different note arrangements and different instruments can really portray an entire story by themselves. For example, a low bass instrument can create an ominous atmosphere, while a strings section can create an airy and peaceful atmosphere. Also, a bassoon can add a comical, whimsical touch.
When Professor Sirotta came into class and played us the composition by Brahm, I wrote down my reaction to every instrument I heard. The first clarinet riff that came in had a very “sneaky” sort of feel to it, and the harmonizing clarinet that came in after it felt slightly off of the scale that the first one one following, which definitely added to the sneaky aspect i felt. Various emotions were portrayed quickly after each other. When all the instruments came in, the song became happy and consonant, contrasting from the dissonant notes played right before it. Brahm experimented with dissonance to create a stressful and suspenseful atmosphere. When the flute comes in playing what sounded like a harmonic minor/egyptian scale, it reminded me a lot of a snake charmer song. This lesson showed me how powerful every single instrument is in a musical piece.
Wednesday night, we went to go see Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera. I can honestly say that even though I didn’t think I would ever go to an Opera, I actually enjoyed it. Every aspect of the Opera that we learned about in class came together to create a beautiful creation that I will always remember.
Before Monday’s class, I had always associated Opera with a man in a fluffy costume yelling at people in angry languages. However, my viewpoint was completely turned around after that class. After learning about all the aspects of the Opera, I was impressed with all the work that was put into it and was excited to actually see the Opera. When we walked into the theater, I couldn’t believe the immense size of it. I had learned that the Opera singers did not use microphones, but I could not understand how a person could possibly fill an entire amphitheater with just their voice. However, as soon as the vocals started, I was blown away by the fact that everything was so clear and perfectly audible. I could hear every note sung as if the singer was sitting in the seat next to me. The performers’ talent was incredible.
As well as the singing, I was also very impressed by the overall experience of the opera. It really did tell a very visual story. When I looked down at the stage and saw 100 people walking around on a beautifully crafted stage with lamplight, I was awestruck. It didn’t look like some cheesy play; rather, it truly looked realistic. The orchestra hit every note with feeling and emotion that perfectly complemented what was going on on stage. Overall, it was a great new experience for me.
In today’s seminar, I learned a lot about something I honestly never thought I would understand: Opera. Not to sound immature or uneducated, but the thought of people yelling long words at each other in different languages wasn’t anything I thought I could understand. However, today’s class really shined a light on to what the art of opera is really about and what it consists of.
We began the class by speaking about the different ranges of voice for men. The lowest range for a man is bass, but a long time ago, young men would castrate themselves (ouch) for the sake of being able to sing higher. These young men literally devoted their entire lives to singing opera, and I find this dedication, although somewhat psychotic, to be respectable nevertheless. Next, we learned the two types of opera singing: Recitativo and Aria. Recitativo is moderately paced dialogue, usually used to explain part of the story or keep it rolling along. Aria, however, is when the singer is able to have his or her “time to shine” and show off what they can really do with their voice. I was especially impressed by opera singing after I was able to understand Aria. Most people, including myself, would hear opera singing and immediately just think of a man in a fluffy costume yelling FIGAROOOOOOOO for as long as he could. After learning the emotional passion that is contained in the aria, as well as the incredible strain the singers must put on their voices to maintain high notes with no amplification, I was definitely able to appreciate the opera much more.
Opera, like any other type of music, can also be about anything. Giovanni’s Catalog Aria tells a very lighthearted and humorous story about a promiscuous man who’s had relations with practically everyone in town. So, contrary to my previous beliefs, opera really isn’t just people in fluffy costumes singing gibberish in angry languages. The emotional element, as well as the physical demand, have definitely changed my opinion about opera.
In today’s seminar, we spoke about something very close to my heart: music. I really do believe that music is more than just notes played on an instrument. Even without lyrics, music contains so much emotion inside of it that deserves to be appreciated. When we listened to Professor Kahan play Praeludium 1 by Bach, that emotion flowed seamlessly and beautifully with every key played.
Everyone in the class had their own reactions to Bach’s piece, but generally, everyone agreed that it was a very relaxing, peaceful piece of music. Once again, even though it had no lyrics that would depict happy thoughts, the notes played together evoked a sense of relaxation and tranquility. When we used our imaginations, we could even tell stories about what the piece was about. Being a musician, I had the ability to understand what chords were played and was able to immediately feel, say, the tranquility of a major or a suspension chord, and the darkness and sense of intrigue of a dominant 7 or diminished chord. What really impressed me, however, were the options and thoughts of the non-musicians; they reminded me why I love music so much in the first place. When I heard how my classmates interpreted the piece and explained how it made them feel, I was immediately taken back to the reason why I originally started playing music: to be able to speak emotion and be able to tell a story with something much more powerful than words. While words will be comprehended, music will stay with you for a lifetime and leave a lasting impression. Hearing the dark feelings of the classmates that came from Praeludium 2 showed the power of music when it can be deeply appreciated. Even though some classmates had never played a single note of music in their lives, they were still able to provide vivid descriptions of what had gone through their minds when a piece of music had been played.
In today’s seminar, we had a special opportunity to go visit an art gallery a few doors down from our classroom. However, this was not just an ordinary gallery consisting of random pieces of art. When I walked in, I was very surprised at what I saw: paintings of religious events and icons. When Dr. Liu started to speak about how art, religion, and science were all related, I was confused at first, because I had never associated any of those things together. However, after reading the pamphlet from “Expanding Frames of Reference: Art, Science, and Religion in the Physica Sacra of Johann Jakob Scheuchzer,” it all became clear to me.
Dr. Liu vividly explained “Physica Sacra plate CCCLXXI” and how it relates to art, science, and religion. While gazing at this picture, I immediately noticed that the sun was the focal point of the picture. The beams of light emanating from it show its radiant power. In Dr. Liu’s analysis, he explained that the moon couldn’t be full when it is in the daytime sky, and thus it was a miracle. The painter conveyed this miracle in his painting by highlighting the sun and the moon as if these all powerful, radiant celestial beings were frozen in time. Along the border of the painting, there are a series of diagrams that show the expected illumination patterns of the world at different times during the day and night. I find this the most interesting part of the painting; it makes us think of the entire world as a whole, rather than just think of ourselves. The sun is perceived as this display of grandeur and power, possibly an allegory for God, that covers the entire earth and gives us light to see when we do not know where to go. The artistic, scientific, and religious aspects of this picture come together to create something beautiful.
This week in seminar, we spoke about gaze. First, we gazed at a picture of Robert DeNiro, an exemplar of power and fame. We spoke about the specific features of his face that complemented his personality. Even though the picture was taken at an award ceremony, he looked like he had not shaved recently, and his long hair was not done flawlessly like many other stars would have their hair if they had been in his position. This conveys his rough persona perfectly. Robert DeNiro has a certain attitude that everyone knows because he is so famous. His “tough guy” carefree attitude allows him to get away with things like neglecting to shave for an award ceremony, because it is almost expected of him to be rough around the edges and to not care about what others think of him. We also spoke about how there are different expectations for women that are higher than those for men. For example, if a female movie star went to an award ceremony wearing a dress with the tag still on it, she would be criticized by every news station on television about how she “made such a careless mistake,” but if Robert DeNiro went to the same ceremony with his fly open, we would just laugh it off because it would almost be normal to us.
So today, I decided to ask myself a slightly different question on the same topic. Why do we have different views and expectations of famous people than we do for ourselves? If an obnoxious rapper like Kanye West wore a chicken suit one day, no one would even question it. News stations would glorify him for “showing us that everyone can be beautiful in their own way.” Meanwhile, if we saw an ordinary person on the street wearing the same chicken suit, we would probably call the police to contain the mentally unstable and threatening individual. This made me realize that we have a much different view of our lives than we do for celebrities’ lives. We have trained ourselves to be very professional and contained in our everyday lives, but we look to celebrities to view life on the other side; they may represent the side of personality that we wish we could get away with in our everyday lives. Not that we can’t have fun in our “day jobs” per say, but looking at celebrities that act silly and outrageous every day makes us wonder what it would be like. It is almost as if celebrities live a “dream life,” where they can do things that would be unacceptable in average society.