Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Diabolus in Musica

So the other night I went to a LA Chamber Orchestra talk on the history of Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto, a work that is famous for throwing out the rulebook of the concerto form (and also having some bits that sound so much like Chopin, it's eerie).

The conductor mentioned a term I hadn't heard before - Diabolus in Musica (The Devil in Music)- a medieval term that was given to the tritone, an interval that was deemed so dangerous, people thought it conjured up the devil.  It's the interval of three whole tones dividing an octave, so a C natural to an F#, for example, and it was expressly forbidden in church music according to cannon law.

It's also an augmented 4th, which is the interval between the first two notes in "Maria" from West Side Story.  It longs to be resolved.  Can you imagine the Ma-Ri without the A at the end of it?  It's desperate for a resolution.  So having it just hanging there seems unnatural and sinister.

From an article in Token Rock:

Some say the tritone represents the Devil because it is a dissonant interval with an irreconcilable split ratio of 7:5 (augmented 4th) or 10:7 (diminished 5th) as found in meantone temperament. But dissonance cannot be the only reason. The tritone is not much (if any) more dissonant sounding than the intervals of a minor 2nd or major 7th and no one thinks they are devilish. They're not even naughty.

Some say it was the Devil in music because the tritone is so close to the interval of a perfect 5th that two monks could too easily sing dissonantly as they tried to chant in pure parallel 5ths. But this cannot be the only reason because when they sang out of tune anywhere else, those wrong intervals weren't the Devil. They were just out of tune.

It received a revival in popularity during the 19th century, and the second movement of Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto uses it liberally, as it supposedly tells the story of Orpheus going down into Hades to tame the devil.  Interestingly, a lot of heavy metal bands use it now.  Slayer actually has an album entitled "Diabolus in Musica," paying homage to the tritone.

The whole thing really interests me - that just a few hundred years ago people actually thought that the devil could live in music, and be summoned by an interval.  We think we're so clever now, but how many of us still freak out over Ouija boards, or tarot cards?  I wonder whether, in five hundred years, someone will bring up card games, and say, "and even into the 21st century, many people still believed that tarot cards had some type of power to summon the devil or spirits."  Our brains are so funny.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Week in Books

I've been on a major reading kick lately, because I'm aware that there's a ticking clock and in less than six months (hopefully) the time I have to read books without pictures in them will be cut very short.  So I've been going through my Amazon wishlist, putting books on hold at the library, and trying to make my way through as much of my reading lists as possible.

This week I finished:

40 Love
by Madeline Wickham:
my froth reading for the week.  I first fell in love with Sophie Kinsella when I bought the first Shopaholic book at the Tesco's in Covent Garden on my lunch break as an impulse when I was getting a sandwich in 2000.  Her books aren't deep, though they deal with issues that are sometimes hidden beneath all the foam.  This one was about four families getting together for a tennis tournament, and, as usual, madness ensues.  The finale was worth the entire book.  I read it in about three hours, and thoroughly enjoyed those 180 minutes.

 The Age of Wonder

How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science

by Richard Holmes.
Full disclosure, I listened to the unabridged audiobook.  And it seemed to last for freaking ever.  In fact, I think it did.  I started listening to it in October.  Before I was even pregnant.  Now granted, normally I listen to audiobooks when I walk around the lake, and with winter I've been walking a lot less.  But not that much less.  This book is L-O-N-G.  It's all about the age of romance (ie in music there's Chopin; in art, Van Gogh) and how Science had it's own Age of Romance.  It starts with the journey of the natural scientist/botanist Joseph Banks to Australia (with the crew that was measuring the Venus Transit) and ends with the rise of Darwin.  It focuses on several other leading scientists - William Hershel (astronomer, who built a 40 foot telescope and discovered lots of stars) Sir Humphrey Davy (basically made chemistry a recognized science) and a few others.  I enjoyed it, but yeah, it was long.

Island of Vice

Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-loving New York

by Richard Zachs
Here's something I didn't know: Roosevelt was a prime example of Victorian Puritanism.  This book was the monthly book club choice in the library, and looked appealing to me, so I picked it up.  It goes over the time when Roosevelt was getting started in politics, and became a police commissioner for the NYPD, which was, at the time, completely corrupt.  Brothels were everywhere, giving kickbacks to cops to look the other way. The Sunday laws against saloons being opened were completely ignored.  And cops took bribes left and right.  Roosevelt didn't like this, and set about changing it.  The people of NY didn't like corrupt cops, but they disliked not being able to buy beer on a Sunday, their only day off, even less.  There was a huge backlash against him.  Then he started going against prostitution, which is a noble idea, but not so much when the cops start arresting women who are simply walking alone after dark.  Fortunately McKinley got elected and Roosevelt's friends were able to lobby him for a job for TR, so he could get out of NY before he was fired.  Oh, it also shows him having petty political fights with rival commissioners.  Not his best time, but probably hardened him for national politics.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Needles and funny movies

I went back to acupuncture today.  It's been a while.  Not only did I reach my limit with my insurance last year, but I also was freaked out about doing much of anything during my first trimester.  Plus, it was kind of crazy, between Christmas, New Year's, then I got a cold, then the Great Spotting Incident happened; it's only been within the past few weeks that I've started settling (if you could say that) into this pregnancy.

I'm such a baby when it comes to needles.  Seriously, my acupuncturist just laughs at me as she takes out the needles that she uses on toddlers.  Toddlers, I tell you.  And they even freak me out.  I'm getting a bit better since I've had so much blood drawn lately, but there's still something ridiculously unsettling about looking down and seeing needles sticking out of your knee, feet, and wrists.  And if you accidentally try to scratch your head, and you hit a needle there, it's just weird.

But I do think there's something to this acupuncture.  Last May, acupuncture alone increased my luteal phase from 10 days to 14.  I can only imagine it was the acupuncture since it was the only thing I was doing differently.  Later on when I was taking progesterone during the IUI's my luteal phase got longer as well, so for those I can't chalk it all up to the needles, but for that cycle in May, it's the only thing that had changed.

Here's something else.  When I ask my Western Doctors what they think about acupuncture, half of them just kind of snicker.  "Well it won't hurt," one said, "because it doesn't do anything."  So then when we did the first IUI I asked him whether it was ok to keep doing it during that cycle, and he says, "well, yes, but make sure they know you're doing fertility, because there are spots they will want to avoid."

Now here's the thing.  If it doesn't do anything, then why would there be spots they would want to avoid, and why would that matter?

It doesn't take a Sherlock to figure out that there's more to this story than these MD's are letting on.

Anyway, it's been over three and a half years of trying to get pregnant - and sustain a pregnancy - and I'm pretty much convinced that doctors are stabbing in the dark.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I still go to them.  I still listen to what my OB says, and I ask her about everything under the sun (like, is Neosporin safe?) but I also think that there's an awful lot they don't know.

So the short story is, I got needles in my wrist, knee, feet and head today.

Also, I've been feeling a lot better lately.  The whole second-trimester thing is rocking.  I'm exercising regularly, even though it's winter (which is a challenge, because I also hate being cold) and I'm meditating, and spending a lot of time reading books (because I figure that my reading will be kind of curtailed here in under six months).  So after acupuncture I went to Panera.  I could eat every meal at Panera, but J isn't as much of a fan.  Whenever we go out, I always ask for Panera, and he usually just rolls his eyes.  Sometimes he indulges me.  But I was on my own today, so Panera it was.  I ordered the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad without even thinking about it (no chicken because I'm still a veggie, extra apple) and then when I saw it, I realized there were blue cheese crumbles.  Soft cheeses are on the (very long) list of things I'm not supposed to eat during pregnancy, and I immediately started thinking about what to do.  Do I ask them to make me another one, without the cheese?  But the queue for lunch is really long.  Do I try to pick them off?

[Sidebar:  These are the dilemmas with which I am faced every day, which is why I insist that actually raising a child will be cake compared to this act of trying to conceive and carry one.  My mother in law just laughs at me when I say this, though my stepmom gets it.  Here's my thinking:  I can do everything perfectly, but I have no ultimate control over how it will turn out.  Yes, that applies to parenting, obviously, but it's not your own freaking body.  Plus, with a kid, you can look at them and see that they are ok.  With a fetus, you can't.  I could eat the blue cheese, and it could cause some terrible birth defect, and I wouldn't know about it.  For the final two weeks with Baby T I was blissfully going along thinking everything was going ok, starting a google doc of my favorite names, and it turns out that my body was rejecting him, and I didn't even know it until the last day.  I'm sorry, but with the exception of your kid getting really sick, I don't think there's anything in parenting like that.  Your own freaking body rejecting your baby, without you even knowing it, so that while you're just hanging out doing the laundry and sticking a chicken in the oven for dinner, your body is preparing to expel him (after 7 hours of active labor, of course).   You can't tell me that letting go and letting another human being just do their own thing and become their own person and make their own mistakes can be as hard as that.  Maybe I'll find out that I'm wrong, but I am pretty much convinced that 40 weeks of pregnancy (God willing) will be the hardest thing I have ever done by the time it's over.]

So, do I eat the blue cheese or do I not eat the blue cheese?  I decide to be reckless.  I pick out the really big chunks, but for the little crumbs that are left in the dressing (which also, I might add, freaks me out because there might be raw eggs in it, who the fuck knows, this is why I don't eat out much) I figure that it can't hurt.

I'm hoping I was right, but of course, as I just stated above, I have no idea whether I'm right or not.

If you think too much about this stuff, you can drive yourself crazy.  I mean, really crazy.   But for thirty seconds at Panera before the blue cheese, I was really having fun, and feeling like my old self again.

Tonight we watched a movie called Hard Times which is the silliest movie I've seen in a long time. It's set in a little village in Ireland where there are few opportunities and lots of time to come up with crazy plans to make money.  Four of the least brainiest among the village decide to hijack a Pfizer truck and steal the viagra, take it to Amsterdam and sell it, and make lots of money.  The truck-jacking scene itself was priceless.  In a fit of fear when the three American Hummer-driving security guards show up, they dump the drugs down the well.  And the drugs get into everyone's water supply.  And the entire village is suddenly feeling the effects of viagra.  It's on netflix instant-watch if a silly Irish movie about a horny little town harboring stupid criminals appeals to you.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Old Music Thursday

So I'm really into Early Music, right?  Like, the stuff before Bach.  And the other weekend I found a new radio show on Sirius (we got it in our new car, a Ford C-Max hybrid - yes, I drive a hybrid, don't start) called The Millennium of Music.  A whole hour of Josquin - bliss!  My staple for finding new/old music up until now has been the Harmonia Early Music Podcast that I get on itunes, but it's only like 10 minutes a week, which is enough for them to talk about 2, maybe 3 new releases.

My new favorite album, since hearing about it on Harmonia this week, is Arias for Guadagni: The First Modern Castrato.  So this is interesting because Gaetano Guadagni, the mezzo-soprano male singer for whom Handel wrote the arias, was an Italian who met Handel in London, where he had arrived as part of a traveling circus.  His family was musical, and it seems that they made an informed decision to have him undergo the operation that would have him be able to sing the mezzo-soprano pieces.

Guadagni showed up in London and, through connections, was able to meet Handel, who fell in love with his voice, and wrote several arias from the Messiah for him.  It was in London that he became well known, and became what we would think of as a modern actor/opera singer.  He wouldn't interrupt his performances for encores or applause, which audiences thought was rude, but was just the actor trying to portray the role authentically.  He played his role in Orfeo repeatedly, which was also unusual in a time when actors would rarely reprise a role for a second season.  He was "difficult" to work with for managers, and he got upset when composers (like Gluck) didn't cater to the personality of his voice, and his special techniques.  He was also caught in bed with other men's wives, which, considering he was, you know, castrated, would seem to support the rumor that castrati had some kind of sexual prowess.

Anyway, these days the roles are sung by counter-tenors, who have all their parts and were never operated on.  They simply train their voices to be able to hit the high notes.  Which is just slightly more boring, but probably a lot healthier and more hygienic than things were in the 18th century.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Finally Knocked Up!

In case anyone's been wondering, I've been hibernating.  Not just because it's winter, though that would certainly be enough justification on its own, but because I'm preggo!  Finally!  14 weeks, due in August.

It happened in November, which was a non-IUI cycle, but I was still on Letrozole, the nasty breast-cancer medicine that helps fertility by tricking your body into thinking that you're going into menopause and need to release a bunch of eggs at once.  It made me crazy - just ask J - and I resolved not to do any more hormones after that cycle.  Adoption it would be.  But then in mid December I find out I'm pregnant.  I'm fairly certain the baby was conceived over Thanksgiving weekend, which makes me so happy because Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, and now, every year at Thanksgiving, I can embarrass the crap out of my kid by giving thanks for their conception.  I don't care how much "Mom, that's so gross," crap I get.  I'm still doing it.

So anyway, now, with pregnancy, I have a whole other level of worry and freakouts.

There was the Great Spotting Incident of 9 Weeks, during which time I spotted for 65 hours, and was convinced I was miscarrying.  I talked with a midwife about how to do it at home; I was adamant I wasn't getting another D&C if I could help it.  That's been the high point of freakouts so far, I guess.  Now that I'm in my second trimester I'm starting to relax, but only a little.  Baby Teysko was lost at 21 weeks, and I won't fully breathe easy until they put a live baby in my arms.

I'm meditating a lot, though, and using all the relaxation and stress-management tools that I know.  For example, having spent so much time nurturing myself over the past two years, I know that I really love Harry Potter.  Like, really.  So I watch a Harry Potter movie on Amazon Instant Video almost every day.  They distract me, and make me feel like a kid, and if I can pass two or three hours at Hogwarts, so much the better.  I also play a lot of Skyrim, which also distracts me.  I can lose three or four hours just doing quests, which is great.  And I'm sleeping a lot better now, so I spend a lot of time in bed.  If I could just go to sleep and wake up at, say, 38 weeks with a kicking baby ready to be delivered, I'd be pleased as punch.  It doesn't work that way, so I need to find ways of coping, at least until we get past Baby T's time.  7 more weeks.

I shall probably start blogging more often now, as well, since I don't feel like I have to hide being pregnant...