Friday, April 25, 2008

Requiem

The boys and I started the evening at Barley's in the Old City (to avoid the Sundown traffic) with a few beers and a Greek pizza. The agenda for the evening: the KSO production of Hector Berlioz' Requiem.
And a production it was. A full chorus on stage, four timpanists and four brass choirs arranged in the corners of the audience. We sat perched on the edge of the balcony, stage right. The lights dimmed. The music began.
Immediately, and throughout the performance, I was taken aback at the overwhelming immensity of the piece. Though full of simple chord progressions and harmonies, some minor, others major, the unforgiving point of the entire Requiem was awe and fear. The piece was large, looming, awesome and terrifying, from the melodies of the flutes to the words of the chorus. Perhaps it was merely the mood in which I happened to be, but I was struck by the notion that a God who would demand such frightened reverence is not only a God I would not love and worship, but a God at whom I grew tremendously angry. I was reminded of a passage in Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy which described that god of fear and awe, the god of destruction as well as creation, the god of Job, of the Aztecs, Moloch and Kali, as a god trapped in time - the dreadful theology that arises when the eternal Godhead is removed, by our own devices, from eternity and placed into the causal reality of the natural world. How strange and appalling it is to believe in such a god, and to try and reconcile this divine wrath with divine love! Berlioz wrote singly to that god of power, not the God of power, wisdom and love. If we lose any portion of the Godhead in our perception of the Divine (in other words, if we allow our own clouded sight to define the boundaries of what is and what is not, instead of accounting for our limited understanding), it is no wonder we arrive at something which leaves us apprehensive of God.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Mimosas and Floria Tosca

Sunday afternoon was the final performance by the Knoxville Opera of Puccini's Tosca. Met for brunch (and the attendant 25 cent mimosas) at DGB, then headed over, picked up our tickets at will call and made it to our seats, on the floor this time instead of the balcony. Although the angle was not optimum for viewing the stage, the closer approach gave the opportunity to see the performers' facial expressions, something which came in tremendously handy when Tosca sang of her painful choice regarding Baron Scarpia. I was moved almost to tears, able to feel her bitter anguish. "The loving Tosca is a prisoner...." She cried out to God, forlorn and forsaken, and when her trembling form finally fell silent and collapsed to the stage floor, the audience erupted into applause, and even I was not opposed to the unscheduled break in the story.
There were, of course, the occasional moments of unbridled idiocy (in case one forgot that one was in Tennessee). The woman behind us was constantly clinking her hefty metal bracelets together, and halfway through the third act, an older lady in the row in front of us decided it was a good time to use a lint roller on her blouse (because, as my friend pointed out, it's imperative to look one's best in the dark). Although I love tragedies (especially those, like Tosca, in which everyone dies), I still am less than enamored with Puccini's treatment of his villain, Scarpia; we already know he's the bad guy, there is no need to sing about his desire to conquest women. But I forget that the character is not speaking to us, merely musing to himself.
After the performance, the boys and I headed over to Market Square to enjoy a beer and the sunshine on the patio of the Preservation Pub, and then went our separate ways. It was a pleasant end to a pleasant day, the highlight of my strenuous (and unfortunately stressful) week.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Do this in remembrance

Today is the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Virginia Tech. It serves to remind us, not only of this horrific event, but of our own tragedies. We take a moment of silence, breathe deeply, perhaps even choke back tears of remembrance. I was a junior in a high school a mere 10 miles away when the Columbine shootings occurred, walking in to my AP English Language & Composition class to find everyone silently mesmerized by the looping news footage.
It is in our nature not to believe that this is the end; as it has been said, "eternity is written on our hearts." And yet, tragedies prod us painfully into questioning that very nature; how can we reconcile God and man, good and evil? It is a question which has troubled mankind since our inception, but still we remain distant from a true comprehension, as each new instance of suffering simultaneously draws us closer and pushes us farther away. It is true to say that only God understands the full nature of man, though probable that we will never fully acknowledge that only God can reconcile man to Himself, not the other way around.
Verily, verily I say unto you: only the living suffer death.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Methods and problems

There are several ways in which I can determine, in theory, the normalization for my data.

In practice, none of the aforementioned ways are consistent.

Being a graduate student really bites sometimes.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Drummer chimps

ResearchBlogging.org
A new story on NPR discusses some recent research following a specific tribe of chimpanzees in Senegal.
The chimps have been observed creating spears from tree branches, as well as drumming rhythmically on hollow trees to attract possible mates and intimidate rivals. Additionally, chimps in Senegal have also been observed using caves for shelter.
The anthropologist involved in the research, along with a photographer companion, followed the band of chimpanzees for weeks, foregoing even a change of clothes in order to get closer to the group. Other tribes in the area studied by the researcher had been known to use the "ant-dipping" technique for catching termites (see the reference), but the cave use was almost unprecendented, as well as the use of homemade spears for hunting bushbabies. Other surveys have indicated the chimps use certain leaves for apparent medicinal purposes.
In truth, I'm not equipped to speak very profoundly on the subject, as my training is in physics. However, I would certainly argue that these studies argue very strongly - certainly in a natural sense - against a sharp and extensive distinction between humans and our closest genetic neighbors.

Reference:
McGrew, W., Pruetz, J., Fulton, S. (2005). Chimpanzees Use Tools to Harvest Social Insects at Fongoli, Senegal. Folia Primatologica, 76(4), 222-226. DOI: 10.1159/000086023