Cathy Woolard and her blog-savvy campaign staff

Looking for an Internet candidate in this election year? Cathy Woolard has just declared for the US House of Representatives in the Fourth Congressional District in Georgia. (Cathy, who will be Georgia’s first openly gay congressional candidate, is an outspoken opponent of state bans on gay marriage who has been active in local politics for a long time.) Greg Greene, who has done work for her over the years and who blogs at Blog For Democracy and the Political State Report as well as at the Green[e]house, wants to know whether the campaign should hop on the Internet bandwagon with blogging, online fundraising, and all the rest.

Me? I think in these days of limited soft money contributions, getting micropayments online from progressive, tech-savvy bloggers and blog readers is probably one of the surest bets. And picking up the Dean modus operandi on behalf of a real live candidate, and taking all the way through a win in November, is the surest way I can think of to get national press.

Get out there and pound some doors, online and off, Greg.

Work, uninterrupted

I finally got the side yard overseeded and fertilized again yesterday, taking advantage of our bizarre 80° heat and sunshine to do a little yard work. Just in time: it’s fifty and raining today, so at least I don’t have to water the new grass.

And in more excitement, our dogwalker starts today. I actually get to put in a full day at the office without driving home to let our bichons out. I think they knew that something special was happening this morning; they woke us at 4 am and never quite calmed down for the next two hours until our alarm went off.

Other busyness: the UPC production of the Brahms Requiem is Friday night. My voice has, I think, finally recovered from the nastiest cold of the year, which had me under the weather for almost ten days.

Faster than a speeding bullet

The hypersonic test flight of the X-43A, NASA’s scramjet test plane, had special significance for our family. My dad was working on the program that produced the engine while he was in research at NASA. His part was subtle but important: how do you figure out if your engine is running hot (or cold, or just how it’s running at all), when normal operating temperature is so hot that most probes would melt?

Cool stuff…

Incidentally, the title of this post is correct. Mach 7 = 7,815 feet per second. According to this article, the fastest projectile (not propelled by railgun) tops out at about 6,000 fps.

Learning to pray again

I wrote earlier that I joined a church choir after years in semipro vocal groups because I wanted to explore my faith more. I didn’t realize that I would get an opportunity from a completely different direction.

My dad had a minor heart attack (now there’s an oxymoron) last Sunday. He spent the past few days in the hospital while they first verified that it was, in fact, a heart attack and not a stomach condition; then tried unsuccessfully to clear the build-up in the minor arteries where the attack took place. He’s home now and relatively comfortable, thank God, but I think we were all pretty scared for a few days.

And I’ve been seriously praying again. Not bargaining, as I prayed when I was younger (you know: “God, if you’ll only get me through this test I promise I’ll be good”). Not raging, as I might have done in my angry teens and early 20s. Just talking to God about how I’m feeling, my hopes and fears for my dad and my mom, and asking for strength.

The blogosphere has helped too, between AKMA and Real Live Preacher. But the biggest help has been being with other people every day who don’t shy away from talking about faith and about their challenges and fears and joys and dreams. Hey, who says Presbyterians are the frozen chosen?

What’s been up

It’s been a busy week. I think it’s a good sign on a number of fronts that work has been a blur of productivity as I work on a very important deliverable. I’ve actually been eager to get out of bed in the morning, and that hasn’t been true for a long time.

On the house front, we’re finally upgrading our stove to a gas model. Tough decision between two Maytags, this model and the Gemini. The cheaper one has five burners, unusual on a standard 30 inch range, but the Gemini’s safer control knobs (mounted on the top, away from potential little hands), higher BTUs, and of course dual ovens make us think seriously about spending the extra couple hundred bucks.

It also appears we’ve finally resolved the tree dilemma which has nagged us since before closing the deal on this house. Rather than outright removing the big trees in front, we’re going to limb them up about ten feet and remove some of the smaller pines that have grown up in between them. Should greatly improve light and air circulation in the front of the house. And reduce the pine needle problem: one of the trees sheds so many needles that they can’t all fall to the ground. They just build up on the lower branches like dandruff. Fire hazard, anyone? I’ll try to post some before and after pictures once the arborists are done next week.

Tired: wardriving. Wired: power rustling

People are getting arrested for using power outlets in public locations like train stations and businesses to charge their laptops. The Register calls it power rustling. Next up: for-pay electrical outlets in airports? I think it’s already being done but I can’t find the reference on my blog.

Wait! I know! What we need is an elaborate system of chalking based on hobo signs that could be used to indicate the presence of open, unmonitored electrical outlets.

They still call it the White House but that’s a temporary condition too

I finally got around to changing my tagline (the old one, “Because no one has a monopoly on Fair and Balanced,” was getting a little long in the tooth). The new one, “You don’t need the bullet if you’ve got the ballot,” is simultaneously a shout out to George Clinton and the P-Funk crew (the song the line comes from, “Chocolate City,” is the fondest and sharpest look ever recorded at the darkening of the Washington, DC population) and a reminder to register to vote, and then actually do it.

Because all the blogging in the world only makes a difference if it changes the ballot box. And the hearts and minds of those placing their vote there.

Never send a soprano to do a tenor’s job

Language Log (my new favorite RSS feed) points to a Physics Today article that explains why you can never understand the words an operatic soprano sings—even if she is singing in your language. The story discusses a study conducted at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, which experimentally shows through acoustics that different vowel sounds are almost impossible to differentiate.

The issue appears to be resonance frequencies. The one that helps distinguish vowel sounds is the first resonance frequency, R1. And for really high range singing, a soprano’s fundamental frequency (f0) is actually above the first resonance frequency. Vocal practice (such as forward placement through opening the mouth wide and smiling) helps raise the resonance frequency, but not enough. Fabulous experimental data rounds out the picture.

This also confirms customary directorial practice which tells sopranos just to sing “aah” on particularly high passages, and compositional practice which avoids difficult rounded vowels on high notes (unless, of course, the composer was Beethoven).

By contrast, of course, a tenor’s high range is well below his first resonant frequency pretty much all the way. Yet another reason that tenors are in demand: you can actually understand us.

Hindemith and Shaw and requiems and me

I felt a compulsion this morning to pull out the Shaw recording of Hindemith’s choral masterpiece, When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d: A Requiem for Those We Love. It occurs to me that I’ve never told my story about the piece, and how I came to meet Robert Shaw.

First a word about Lilacs. The facts: Hindemith wrote it in 1946, on a commission from a young Robert Shaw, in memory of Franklin Roosevelt who had died the previous April. Roosevelt’s death had come 80 years—very nearly to the day—after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Perhaps for that reason, Hindemith chose Walt Whitman’s great poem of mourning for Lincoln as his text.

Hindemith’s work is simultaneously a monumental and an intimate piece, forbidding and vulnerable, as it alternates choral passages of (frankly) excruciating difficulty and dissonance with melodic arias from baritone and mezzo, and choral fugues of intense rhythmic power, all supported by an orchestra heavy on woodwinds. It’s a bitch to prepare. When I sang it in 1995, we sweated the choral parts—which comprise a relatively small portion of the work—for two months, knowing what was coming.

And he came. Robert Shaw, the greatest choral conductor of the 20th century, commissioner of this masterwork, instructor of choral conductors, dropper of pearls of wisdom both sacred and profane. I remember so little of what he said during those hot rehearsals, only that he looked exhausted and that I felt both his exhaustion and his invigoration as we sang the piece.

I return to the piece these days as a comfort that grief and sorrow are not only mine, and as a reminder of my first encounter with a great musician and leader.

Bonus links: there are a few online remembrances of Shaw that include sprinklings of his wisdom, such as the following:

  • “I get a horrible picture, from the way you sing, of little bitty eighth notes running like hell all over the place to keep from being stepped on. Millions of ’em! Meek, squeaky little things. No self-respect. Standing in corners, hiding behind doors, ducking into subway stations, peering out from under rugs. Refugees. Dammit, you’re all a bunch of Whole-Note Nazis.” (to the Collegiate Chorale, 1946, as cited in the New York Times)
  • “It is the nature of music, unlike painting and most of literature, that its final creation is not its original creation. Music needs to be sounded, to be sung. In this sense, the composer literally must leave his work to be finished by others… . Can you imagine Michelangelo asking us to come in and help him finish the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Us and our dirty little daubers?.” (quoted in Religion Online)
  • “Our tenors are adolescent. Our altos have not passed puberty. Our sopranos trip their dainty ballet of coloratura decorum, and our basses woof their wittle gway woofs all the way home .. Get your backs and bellies into it! You can’t sing Beethoven from the neck up—you’ll bleed! Beethoven is not precious. He’s prodigal as hell. He tramples all over nicety. He’s ugly, heroic; he roars, he lusts after beauty, he rages after nobility. Be ye not temperate!” (on performing Beethoven’s Ninth, as quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Quick links roundup