India

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I suppose I cheated, a bit, by just posting a link to an album and not actually writing at all.

My friend Rach asked me, a few days after I got home, if I’d had any culture shock, and aside from joking about the cold here, I couldn’t really say yes. India was a sensory overload, though, in every possible way, and I was in intake mode for the month that I was there – trying food, taking pictures, reading museum blurbs and wikipedia articles, studying maps. It’s only since coming back that I’ve started figuring it all out, processing and turning it all into some kind of output, and since I don’t want to be that girl who goes to a developing country and talks about how much she and her view of the world has changed (oh, the growth, the reflection, the profundity!) – I figured I could dump here, without too much fear of boring people. If you don’t want to read, don’t.

Delhi 2012

There was a lot to this trip, a lot that I haven’t figured out yet and probably won’t and some of which I don’t necessarily want to put a name to. I think some things are better left unanalyzed, and I generally run the risk of overanalyzing. I’d also like to do this in snippets – new year, new term, fresh start, maybe more writing?

IMG_2950

I was unpacking on Saturday, settling into dorm life again, made it to an empty suitcase for the first time since November. I’d worn the top layers of clothing at home, but the bottom layers were crushed and crumpled, a few light kurtas and summery scarves I’d brought to Bombay. The bottom half of the suitcase smelled like India, just like it did the second I walked off the plane in Delhi, just like it did when I arrived back in Boston and my sister said I smelled like India – a kind of dusty, spicy, incense-y, “herbal-y” (to quote another friend) smell that is impossible to recreate but is always the most familiar part of visiting.

I emptied out all the clothes and books, but I’ve zipped up the suitcase and left it under my bed – just in case I need a whiff of something familiar, in between the conversations and emails and research into an unknown next year.

empathy, science, and art

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{from a panel on which I was asked to speak, on identity and the arts}

I’m a scientist. I’m premed, I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was little – I’m Indian, that’s pretty normal. I also love getting to know people. If we’re going to be friends, I want to know who you are, who you want to be, where you come from, what keeps you awake at night, what you love and what you hate, who you love and who you hate and why you love or hate them.

So, it makes sense, really, that I’m a neuroscience major – I like knowing how people work, and there’s really no better place to study that biologically than the brain.

That said – from my science-y premed self – I honestly, truly, and completely believe that science is nothing without art.

I’ve been playing music for about fifteen years now, and I’ve met and gotten to know my closest friends through music. I’ve learned about emotion through music – my highest highs have been playing orchestra concerts with thrilling, glorious brass chorales, my lowest lows have been comforted by the emotional and musical presence of my favorite pieces. I’ve learned empathy through music – there’s nothing quite like playing a piece that communicates someone else’s story, and sharing that passion and that story with a new audience. Playing requires an understanding of a composer’s thoughts, the conductor’s thoughts, the orchestra’s thoughts, the audience’s thoughts – empathy, I’m fairly sure, is ingrained in instruments and concert halls and musicians all over the world. From my experience, we use creative expression to understand our emotional world and the feelings of those around us, and so it follows that the arts are fundamentally grounded in emotion.

Emotion is a scary thing for a lot of scientists. Emotion can’t be quantified, can’t be bottled and studied and picked apart and measured quite as easily as blood pressure or body temperature. But science is about understanding our world, and our world includes a vast and complex spectrum of emotion. Science is a limited tool to understanding this spectrum – and this, this is where the arts are absolutely essential.

I am a neuroscience and music double major. I study the intersection of brain science and music – how emotion is communicated and understood through sound, how our emotions are changed and manipulated by sound, how our intelligence and physical and mental health are enriched by the beauty and creativity of music. My appreciation and understanding of the human condition – of who I am, of who you are, of the world we share – would be absolutely nothing without either science or art.

I am a scientist, yes. But I am also an artist, and those two identities have come together rather harmoniously, if you’ll excuse the pun, to inform these last few years at school and, hopefully, wherever life takes me next.

wistfulness

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(listen to this while you read)

I tend to romanticize nostalgia and dreariness a bit, but I do genuinely like wistfulness. I like warm but muted colors, dusty candlelight, husky voices, meandering poetry, open ended questions. I like how electric and gray the air was yesterday, before the rain-soaked leaves became too heavy for the gusts of wind plucking at coats and loose hair. I’ve been thinking about aesthetics, for some reason – probably in part because I have to pick classes for next term and for the first time ever I can take something that’s completely unrelated to brains, bio, or music, and I want to take advantage of the fact that I am at a liberal arts college and can all of a sudden be snooty about things like aesthetics.

In part also, I think, because I’ve had a major obsession with apartments and kitchens these days. Open rooms, bright sunlight puddling on worn wood floors, nothing too big, just me-sized, with glass bottles of spices and lentils like my mother has. I think it’s just a tangible picture for my restlessness to hold on to. I’m so excited to graduate and live in the real world a little more – college feels like an isolated bubble sometimes, a protected little fantasy place away from city life, without people under 18 or over 25, with standard issue furniture and no nails in the walls. Don’t get me wrong, I do love it, I love being close to incredible people and getting to study everything I’m passionate about – but I’m ready for a change.

conversations with Yo-Yo Ma

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On Thursday, Yo-Yo Ma came to Dartmouth.

This was a Big Deal.

As the DSO conductor put it in rehearsal that evening, Yo-Yo Ma is quite possibly the face of classical music, the name that almost anyone anywhere – musician or nonmusician – would recognize.

And that is why his concert was sold out more than an hour before tickets were even released.

This is the Year of the Arts here in Hanover, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Hopkins Center for the Arts, and the Hop is going all out. Take even a quick glance at the Performances page and be amazed by the sheer number and prestige of visiting artists this year. Students should be thrilled at the opportunities presented by our Arts Center – but merely bringing big name performers to our small campus is not enough.

According to an interview with the Hop’s publicity coordinator, “the Hop’s typical practice is to reserve around 25 percent of tickets for College students and sell the remaining seats to Hop members and the public.” 25 percent of a 900-seat auditorium means that approximately 5 percent – a mere 5 percent! – of the student body has access to tickets to any given performance.

And the Hop calls itself a center to “provide the core educational environment for the study, creation, and presentation of the arts“? How can it provide an educational environment for its students when so few are allowed to attend concerts, when it does not promote student involvement and participation in the arts to the extent of its capabilities?

I am a senior music major. I, like many of my fellow music majors, was unable to hear Yo-Yo Ma perform. The DSO conductor, again, summarized it rather eloquently at our rehearsal that night: “The number one classical musician in the world is performing 100 yards away. And you – you all who study classical music – are unable to hear that performance.”

Now, I would be remiss if I did not praise the Hop for giving the members of the DSO a chance to talk with and hear Yo-Yo Ma in his rehearsal prior to the concert. It is true, talking with him about the state of arts and culture education in the US and about his musical goals and passion was an incredible opportunity. But it is absolutely not true that we were unable to attend the concert because of rehearsal.

We were unable to attend the concert because it was sold out.

In his conversation with us, Mr. Ma told us about his favorite concert venues – college campuses, he said, and not just because he was sitting on the edge of the stage in Spaulding Auditorium. College campuses, because students who love music, who are vibrant in their excitement and passion for the arts, bring that excitement to the performance. Students help make it a two-way exchange of musical ideas, and Mr. Ma said he feeds off of that enthusiasm.

I wonder what he would say as he sat on stage and looked out into the packed audience – and saw only a handful of students.

We owe it to Dartmouth students to provide them with access to some of the greatest artists of our time.” Yes, you do. The Hop and its administrators are failing in that responsibility, and we as a student body will hold them to higher standards.

back to school

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I’m usually hard pressed to pick a favorite anything – favorite color, favorite ice cream flavor – but fall is definitely my favorite season. I love the few weeks between late August and early September, as thick oppressive heat turns into sunny days and cool evenings and the greens of New England are rich and warm, the tinge of red in the tips of tree leaves. I love the feeling of a new beginning, a recommitment to school and work and to-do lists and new books, warm sweaters and boots and cups of tea.

I am so excited to go back. I’m excited for bio and neuro, I’m excited for DSO (Dvorak 8 and lots of friends playing concertos), for studying in the library foyer – I’m even excited for lab, and I usually dislike labs. I’m excited for my best friend’s wedding in Montreal in October, for apple picking with friends who never had cider donuts before, for wine and movie nights in my closest friends’ apartment.

This will be a good term, a good year. Happy senior year.

Dvorak: Symphony No. 8

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(click through for the rest of the recording)

program notes I wrote for DSO’s fall concert.

Antonín Dvořák (September 8, 1841 – May 1, 1904), considered one of the most versatile composers of his time, conducted the premiere of his Symphony in G Major in Prague on February 2, 1890. In the summer of 1889, Dvořák retired to Vysoká, and, inspired by the rolling countryside and bucolic setting, composed his eighth symphony in just two and a half months. The symphony marks a departure from traditional formal and harmonic structures and from the dark passion of Dvořák’s contemporaries, but its cheeriness has been well loved by performers and audiences alike.

Dvořák was the eldest of nine children born in Nelahozeves (near Prague, then part of Bohemia in the Austrian Empire, now the Czech Republic). His father, an innkeeper and butcher, encouraged his musical talent through primary school, and when young Dvořák was sent to live with his uncle to become an apprentice butcher, he continued studying organ, piano, and violin. At the age of sixteen, his father relented and allowed him to pursue music as a career, under the condition that he become an organist. Dvořák wrote his first string quartet at the age of twenty, two years after graduating from the only organ school in Prague.

A few years after his marriage to Anna Čermáková, Dvořák and the already established composer Johannes Brahms struck up a friendship; the latter’s music would strongly influence the former in the years to come. In fact, Brahms sent Dvořák’s early compositions to his own publisher in the early days of their acquaintance. Dvořák’s popularity with critics and audiences alike grew, and in 1892, two years after the premiere of the Symphony in G Major, he accepted the directorate of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. After three years in the United States, homesickness and a desire to return to the European music scene convinced Dvořák to move back to his native Bohemia with frequent stays in Prague, Vienna, and London. His sixtieth birthday was celebrated, in accord with his favor and esteem, as a national holiday, with banquets and concerts in Prague. Dvořák died three years later of a stroke, leaving many unfinished compositions behind.

Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony is scored for two flutes (second doubling piccolo), two oboes (second doubling English horn), two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, and strings, and runs for 35 minutes. The piece is one of his better-known works and has been loved by audiences since its premiere, but music scholars have often criticized the work for its lack of formal structure. Instead of staying with a traditional harmonic plan, Dvořák moves into less defined harmonic soundscapes, opting for a more varied modal sound as the backdrop to his melodic fragments. While this may make for a structurally confusing piece, Dvořák’s genius as a melody writer keeps his audiences satisfied with the return and embellishments of his charming melodies. As Brahms wrote soon after it was published: “Too much that’s fragmentary, incidental, loiters about in the piece. Everything fine, musically captivating and beautiful – but no main points! Especially in the first movement, the result is not proper. But a charming musician!”

The first movement, marked Allegro con brio, starts off with a slightly deceptive introduction in g minor, but the bird call that arrives in the flutes soon after quickly moves the movement into a much more optimistic tonal center. The lush introduction returns first in the strings to mark the beginning of the development, and then again in the clarinets to mark the beginning of the recapitulation. The first movement is characterized by a plethora of melodic material which swell to a frenzied climax and a grand finish; as composer Leoš Janáček said of this piece, “You’ve scarcely got to know one figure before a second one beckons with a friendly nod, so you’re in a state of constant but pleasurable excitement.”

The second movement, marked Adagio, is not as melancholy as one might expect; rather, its opening somber interplay between the dark richness of the strings and the light fluidity of the winds floats into a lilting melody handed off from flute and oboe to solo violin. The lushness of the beginning returns and gives way to a thrilling climax heralded by trumpet fanfares. Phillip Huscher of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra called this movement’s tension-riddled intensity contrasted with its delicate nuances a “masterful example of complexities and contradictions swept together in one great paragraph.”

The Allegretto grazioso that follows is neither a conventional minuet and trio nor a scherzo, but rather an elegant intermezzo. The movement starts with a languorous, rippling waltz in the violins and flutes; the “trio” section uses the reediness of the oboe and bassoon to suggest Dvořák’s roots in Bohemian folk music. After the return of the waltz, Dvořák concludes the movement with a short, surprising Coda, marked Molto vivace. This sweet ending is in fact a quicker, more accented version of the rustic dance used previously.

Dvořák announces the last movement, marked Allegro ma non troppo, with a proud trumpet fanfare. This movement is a theme-and-variations, with the central theme introduced gently by the cellos. The variations that follow include every possible adaptation, from burbling flutes to a solemn, persistent march to a bombastic brass section. The movement starts to sweetly fade away before Dvořák tosses in one last hurrah, a vibrant and spirited ending.