Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Why Would Ana, or Anyone, Love Polyphony?


One reader said she found the two movements of Ana Darcy's Partita on Simple Gifts delightful, but that she had trouble hearing "what the music was doing." That's understandable, because, after all, there were two things going on at the same time. Truly hearing polyphony, the superimposition of two voices, takes a little practice--but just a little.

Here's a tip that may help everything become clear. In most music today, we're used to hearing the melody in the right hand, the higher notes. The left hand usually provides accompaniment--the lower notes. But in polyphony, the left hand has a melody too. So try this: play Ana's second variation again, and listen only to the low notes--it's just a minute or so long. (Music clip) Concentrate and try to follow it to the end. If you lose the thread, play it again. After a couple repetitions, you should be able to listen to all of it and hear both parts at the same time--while they harmonize with each other. It's like a third dimension of music! That's what gives Ana the "frisks!"

If you read music, the illustration above should prove interesting. (If you play the piano, you can print it out!) It is Bach's Two Part Invention #8, a fairly simple example of polyphony which can be seen on the page fairly easily. (Right click it and open in another tab to refer to conveniently.) It's based on the F scale. The first notes for the right hand (the top stave) show the notes of an F chord, going up, and becoming more complex as they come down. But look at the second stave, for the right hand. Those are the exact same notes as the top stave, only one octave lower and played one measure after the ones on top. It's like it's chasing the beginning melody! If you'd shift the bottom stave one measure to the right, the notes would line up with the top stave almost exactly.

The pattern reverses in the second measure of the third line, where the two hands "trade" parts. The right hand (the bottom stave) takes the over the melody and the top line, starting in the next measure, chases the bottom line. The piece changes keys, too, but we won't go into that. Suffice it to say that after trading places they meet at the end, back in the original key. It's perfectly symmetrical.

It's the kind of piece that only Bach could have written: complex and simple, perplexing and delightful at the same time. It fills the brain with frisks. Ana loves to play this one. To hear a fairly competent amateur (NOT Ana!) playing it on a harpsichord, click here.

The original puzzle. Answer to the puzzle.

Bach's Little Fugue in g arranged for two instruments, which you may print and play!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ana's Musical Puzzler & Challenge to Readers


Ana Darcy loves fugues. That's apparent from her books as well as elsewhere in her blog.

A fugue is a special form of polyphony. Polyphony ("many voices") is the combination of two independent parts or melodies in harmonious progression. A simple example is "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," where the same tune is begun by one voice, taken up again a phrase later by a second voice while the first continues, and taken up another phrase later by a third voice, producing a layered composition of three voices, with the result that all are singing the same melody but at three different points. All parts harmonize with each other.

A fugue is the most highly developed form of polyphony (also called counterpoint). We don't need to go into the "rules" for a fugue, but basically the first melody develops as it goes along, while a second melody, or a second version of the first version, develops independently. (Some fugues have three themes, or even more!)

It's a treat for the ears, or as one ancient writer described it, "it fills the brain with frisks." Ana loves those frisks. She finds the mental effort required to follow the development of two themes at the same time perplexing and exhilarating. Several of the simpler fugues are among her favorites to play. Just imagine playing a harpsichord or piano (or organ) with each hand playing a different melody, both harmonizing with the other and producing, in effect, a third kind of tune--two horizontal and one vertical. It is truly mind-bending.

At some point Ana realized that a simple, popular tune she loved would probably make a delightful fugue. Unfortunately she didn't know enough about musical composition to be able to write it.

Her harpsichord teacher, however, helped her locate a person who could: Larry Wallach, of Simon's Rock College of Bard, in Massachusetts. Mr. Wallach accepted the commission and composed a five movement suite on the tune Ana selected, each movement of the suite written in the style of a different baroque-era composer. Ana was thrilled and delighted. Her teacher commented that any baroque composer, had he been able to hear it, would have thought it was a completely normal piece of baroque music. Sadly, however, several of the movements were too difficult for Ana to play.

So what did she do? We already know that her favorite harpsichordist, Rebecca Pechefsky of Brooklyn, New York, recorded Ana's very favorite version of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, Book 1. (Listen to a sample at Music of the Galaxy.) Ana commissioned Ms. Pechefsky to record Mr. Wallach's suite for her, which Ms. Pechefsky did gladly and wonderfully well. The result is the world premiere recording of this suite by Larry Wallach.

"What is the tune?" you may ask. Instead of revealing it here, why not offer a sample and see who can recognize it? We'll provide only two hints. First, it's a tune that nearly everyone knows quite well, a tune that has been used and reused many times, in both popular and classical music. Second, this particular movement of the suite is written in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach, and specifically resembles one of his Two Part Inventions. If you recognize the tune, simply put the name in a comment to this post. Have fun!

(Suggestion: right click and open in another tab.)

If you give up, the answer is here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

An Animal Poem Makes Ana Cry


While out for a walk one day, Ana and Matt happened upon a turtle that had been killed by a vehicle on the old two-lane highway that runs past their house. Turtles are common along the Rio Grande through the Mesilla Valley, and Ana had always enjoyed watching them go about their business, however hard it was to determine just what their business was. She thought they looked like dinosaurs, which they probably do. She was upset to see one dead when, almost certainly, avoiding it should have been possible.

Less than a week later, they heard Garrison Keillor's resonant voice read the poem "Turtle" on public radio. She immediately looked it up online, printed it out, and studied it, only needing Matt to explain the meaning of "stuck up to the axle."

They read it to each other several times, Ana weeping unashamedly. She decided to add Kay Ryan's book to her growing collection of poetry.

"Turtle," by Kay Ryan.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Poem about TWO Cats!


Any poem with "cats" in the title is sure to attract Ana. Here's a poem about not one, but two cats, which she couldn't wait to read.

Once again, she needed Matt to explain terms like "Florentine bravoes," and "stiletto," but after they read it several times out loud to each other, she decided she liked it even though she found fault with parts of it.

Those who know Ana through her stories know that she and cats seem to be on the same wavelength. Most cats are quite fond of her, and she reciprocates that affection. As for cats' relations with each other, they are tribal, she feels. Just as lions congregate in a pride, with one male and several females and cubs, so will domestic cats under normal circumstances. It's not that they're indifferent to each other, but that they observe tribal boundaries.

At the same time, she agrees that cats do indeed do things with the least possible fuss. What she likes most of all about the poem is that it accurately describes the way cats accept their situations stoically. Dogs do that too, in her experience. She finds that admirable, even while she knows full well that accepting the status quo is something that humans should not do too much of. So much needs to be improved.

By the way, at first Matt felt weird reading poetry to his wife, and having her read it to him. It took him back to elementary school. Ana changed his mind about that. She takes such delight in verbal performance that he began to enjoy it as well. Even their children join in sometimes. Try it yourself, with friends and loved ones! You might like it!

"Two Cats," by Katha Politt

Also: Learning Peace from a Cat

Many more poems, including cat poems, are in the right column under the photo of the LOVE sculpture.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ana's Native Language, Luvit, Examined


(The graphic above (with thanks to Bucknell University) is discussed below. If you right click it and open it in another tab, it will be conveniently available.)

The language of Ana's people on their home planet, Thomo, was touched on briefly in Distant Cousin, chapter 20, when Ana first met Dr.William Sledd, a philologist and linguist. Perhaps this is the place to delve a bit more into the history of her language and her people. We'll get to what clues from her language electrified Dr. Sledd below.

As you may have read in her responses to reader questions (Question 4), Ana's ancestors had been transplanted to Thomo some 162 generations ago. Using the standard Earth figure for one generation, 20 years (the typical time for an infant to grow to adulthood and have children), we can calculate that her people were removed from Earth approximately 3260 years before the present era, give or take. We also learn, in DC3, Distant Cousin: Reincarnation, that she seems to have some mysterious ties to the people of the Caucasus, near the Black Sea, on the dividing line between Europe and Asia.

That region is thought to have been the homeland of the Proto-Indo-European tribes from which today's Indo-European languages sprang. Three thousand years is a long time, and the nomadic peoples who lived in that area left almost nothing of themselves behind. The detective work which points to them as the original speakers of Indo-European has been almost entirely linguistic in nature, based on examination of similarities and differences between their modern descendant languages. (This was touched on in Distant Cousin, Book 2, chapter 18.) Volumes have been written about this scholarly detective work, but the details are far beyond what can be covered here.

Suffice it to say that over many centuries, tribes of nomadic Indo-Europeans wandered far from home, never to return. Some went as far as present-day India. Others stopped in Iran and Afganistan. Still others went to Scandanavia, and throughout Europe. As they settled and multiplied in their new areas, their language changed over time, to fit their local conditions. In brief, the result is today's collection of modern Indo-European languages, which when graphed resembles a family tree, complete with multiple branches.

The branches of this "family tree" mostly correspond to the geographical areas of the globe that the ancient wanderers settled. (See the graphic.) There is an Indian branch, for example, a Hellenic branch, an Italic branch, and Iranian, Germanic, and Balto-Slavic branches. Each one of these branches has split into numerous other languages over time.

To mention just one example, take the Italic branch. Two thousand years ago, the language of the Indo-Europeans who had settled in the Italian peninsula had slowly become Latin. Likewise, the Hellenic group was speaking classical Greek. The ancient Indo-European language in India evolved to Sanskrit, still studied today much as Latin and Greek are in the West.

Again, that was two thousand years ago, a long time. The Roman Empire spread Latin throughout Europe until it collapsed about the year 400, leaving Latin speakers largely scattered and isolated (the so-called "Dark Ages," not really all that dark). Over the following centuries their Latin changed slowly in all the places they remained, eventually becoming mutually unintelligible, in effect, different languages: French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, and so forth.

Similar things happened with the Germanic branch (which evolved to German, Dutch, English, Danish, etc.), with Sanskrit (Hindi, Bengali, Kashmiri, Gujarati, etc.), and with other branches. (Refer to the graphic for a few more examples. Also note that most college desk dictionaries contain a chart of these, usually under "Indo-European Languages.") A little study of the chart will provide several insights. The parent language of modern English is Germanic. The parent language of modern Spanish is Latin. Going further back one linguistic "generation," the parent of Germanic and Latin is Proto-Indo-European. In a human family tree, what do you call two indviduals who have different parents but the same grandparents? Cousins, of course. Keeping in mind that this is only a memory aide and not a statement of actual relations, one could loosely say that English and Spanish are cousin languages, as are English and Italian, English and Hindi, Russian and Swedish, English and Farsi (spoken in Iran) and so forth.

Now we are ready to go back to Dr. Sledd in his study in Alpine, Texas. Matt Mendez told him Ana's station manager was named "Hleo." Sledd showed Matt a dictionary of Ango-Saxon, the language of Beowulf: "hleo" is the Old English word for "shelter," "protector," which suggested to him that her language fell under the Germanic group. Then, later, when Sledd finally met Ana, he learned her last name was "Darshiell," which she said meant "from the rainbow." A modern language with a similar word is French: "d'arciel," also meaning "from the rainbow." This was what astounded him: French comes under the Italic branch, entirely different from the Germanic. Based on only these two words, he had a piece of evidence that her language was related to TWO major branches of the Indo-European family tree--Germanic and Italic. This suggested to him that her language dated from before the time those two groups split apart--which would be very early indeed.

Note that the graphic shows two branches which have no descendants: Albanian and Armenian. Dr. Sledd and his linguistic collaborators have posited, in the monograph they published after working with Ana for a while, that Luvit is another such branch!

The name her people gave their planet, for example, is "Thomo." In Luvit, that "th" has a soft sound, rather like a "d," almost like "domo." It's an obvious cognate with English "domicile," and "domestic." The root word is found in Latin (because Engish borrowed it from Latin, along with thousands of other words, after the Renaissance). It means "home." Thus Luvit has affinities to the Latin branch. But readers who are familiar with the Slavic languages--Czech, Polish, Russian--may recognize some of the other Luvit phrases Ana uses from time to time, which reveal ties to the Slavic branch. Ana's language will never be a major feature of her stories, but anyone who wishes to pursue the matter might start with the Wikepedia article on the roots of Proto-Indo-European.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Poem: What She Taught Me


Here's a poem about someone remembering a teacher, an elementary teacher, apparently. Ana loves, loves, loves this one. It took her a session with Matt, reading it together, to fully understand it. She wasn't up on "linking verbs" or "predicate nouns," she knew none of the songs (but she does now), and she had never heard the word "goober" used to refer to peanuts. (Her son occasionally uses it to address his sister--that's the "goober" she was familiar with.) Once those details became clear she loved the collection of child-like memories.

She picked up on the change of tone at the end right away, although Matt had to help her with the meaning of "a man of a different stripe." She liked the idea that the speaker, despite being looked down on by her community nevertheless carries on regardless, because that's what courageous people do--on her world as well as ours.

It might be interesting to ask Ana what similar things she remembers about a teacher of hers.

Once again, we cannot reproduce copyrighted work. If you'll right click the link and open in another tab, you can easily return!

"What She Taught Me," by Marjorie Saiser

See more of Ana's favorite poems in the right column under the photo of the LOVE sculpture-->

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Measure Twice, Cut Once: a Poem about Carpentry


Why would an extraterrestrial woman be attracted to a poem about carpentry?

Ana's attention was caught by this poem because she had just spent part of the afternoon watching Matt rebuild a door frame in the old part of their house and then rehang the door.

He began after breakfast one morning, and didn't finish putting away his tools until the middle of the afternoon. The door frame was solid, though, and even matched the other ones in the house, and the door swung smoothly and closed tightly.

Ana, who tends to do things quickly, at first wondered why he was taking so long, but she soon realized he was thinking before doing, and making sure each step was done correctly. She often remembered that day with pleasure, especially when she opened or closed that door.

If you think about it, "Putting in a Window," by John Brantingham, is practically a love poem.

See more of Ana's favorite poems in the right column under the photo of the LOVE sculpture-->

Monday, March 1, 2010

Another big cat: A Lynx, this time


If Ana's family were serious about collecting cats, perhaps they should consider a lynx. Julie, of Julie's Jungle, says this lynx is one of the sweetest, most gentle and loving cats she has. Look at the paws on her! Lynxes figured in Distant Cousin: Reincarnation, but they were of the Eurasian species. There's a photo of one of those in the right column, third from the bottom. They probably aren't as sweet as this one. Thanks, Julie!

See many, many cat photos in the right column under the photo of the blue-eyed kitty-->