Posts Tagged ‘sing’

Photo: Wen-hao Tien.
Taiwan-born artist Wen-hao Tien (left) started inviting people from around the world to teach her songs from their homelands as part her exhibit on immigration experiences at the Pao Arts Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

Singing a new language can be a good way to learn that language, but even if you are not trying to learn it, you can experience the emotion in it. Consider all the choruses around the world learning the Ukrainian national anthem these days. Who is not moved by the feeling of solidarity, whether you are a Ukrainian, a singer, or a listener?

It may take an artist, perhaps an immigrant artist like the one in this story, to explore the mysterious, emotional side of the phenomenon.

As Patrick Cox reports at Public Radio International’s the World, “Opera divas sometimes have to sing in languages that aren’t their native tongue. So do popular singers. The Beatles sang in German in their early years. Today, BTS sings in Japanese as well as their native Korean.

“Is it easier to sing than speak in a foreign tongue? And what is the difference between singing and speaking?

“Taiwan-born artist Wen-hao has put that to the test as part of her exhibit ‘Home on Our Backs,’ about the immigrant experience, at Boston’s Pao Arts Center.

“Tien, who has lived in the US for 33 years — much of that time in Boston — wanted to explore the sound of homelands as part of the exhibit.

So, she started inviting people from around the world into the exhibition space to teach her songs from their places of origin.

“Among the musical numbers she learned: a Dutch Indonesian song, a Sanskrit chant, a Shaker hymn, a French song, and the ‘Happy Birthday’ song sung in Brazilian Portuguese (which Tien now considers far superior to any other version).

“For Tien, learning to sing these songs — even when she didn’t fully understand the lyrics or the cultural context — was a highly emotional experience.

“That didn’t surprise William Beeman, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He said singing is ‘enhanced communication.’ …

“He knows this in a personal way [as] Beeman was an opera singer for a time. He said that learning to sing can be a bit like becoming a young child again — and it often sparks childhood memories. 

“ ‘The first thing that a teacher has to do in order to be able to get a person to sing is to kind of regress to the time when they were 4 or 5 years old,’ he said. That is usually a time when people can sing ‘freely and openly without any inhibition.’ 

“Which is also what Wen-hao Tien taps into with her ‘Teach Me a Song’ project. The songs tend be old ones — learned at a young age. …

“Tien’s exhibit also features her artwork, including an elaborate dress made of red plastic bags. The inspiration sprang from a family visit and a clutch of red plastic bags from a grocery store nearby to the exhibition space, where her parents always shopped. 

“ ‘My parents used to visit me from Taiwan,’ Tien said. ‘The first thing they would do when they arrived is to take the subway and go to Chinatown.’ They’d go to a grocery store in Boston’s Chinatown and buy a ton of food. Tien remembers the last time they did this was not long before her father died.

“ ‘I was in my apartment and it was getting dark,’ she recalled. ‘I looked out the window and saw two old people. Both were carrying as many bags as they could possibly hold.’  She knew it was her parents because of the bags. …

“ ‘That’s my last memory of my parents visiting me from far away,’ she said. ‘The image of them carrying many, many red plastic bags.’ … 

“Tien filed this in the back of her mind for years until these memories eventually resurfaced. She decided to make a dress out of about 35 of those bags, stitched and branded together in the style of a ball gown. …

“Tien has made a second dress out of red plastic bags. She hopes to give that one to Boston’s new mayor, Michelle Wu. Like Tien, Wu was born to Taiwanese parents.

“For more on Tien’s ‘Teach Me a Song’ project, check out ‘Subtitle,’ a podcast about languages and the people who speak them.” More at the World, here.

Read Full Post »

Tim Jonze wrote a funny story at the Guardian about hiring a therapeutic opera singer to deal with his anxiety about becoming a father.

“The soprano reaches a dramatic climax, demonstrating impressive lung power as she sustains the dizzying peak note, before bringing Quando me’n’ vo’ to its close. It is a powerful, emotionally draining performance, and one that seems to resonate around the room for some time after she has finished. Which is why I get up off the sofa and ask her if she would like a cup of tea.

“This, as you might have guessed, is not your typical night at the opera – and not only because it’s only just gone 11 am. It is called Opera Helps, and is a project dreamed up by the artist Joshua Sofaer. The gist is this: contact the Opera Helps phoneline with a personal problem, and they will endeavour to send a singer to your house. Said singer will briefly discuss the issue with you, select a suitable aria that addresses it, then perform it for you while you relax in familiar surroundings: on a comfortable chair, for instance, or even in bed.

“It’s not therapy as such – in fact, they are very keen to stress that their singers are not trained therapists – but the project does aim to help you look at your problem from a new perspective and, hopefully, experience the healing power of music.

“ ‘It’s about giving someone the space for reflection, the same way having a chat with a friend might give you fortitude to carry on,’ says Sofaer, who found success running the project in Sweden before bringing it to the UK. …

“ ‘In my experience, you either respond to the music or you don’t – I don’t think it is based on your musical education or what class you’re from or how much money you’ve got, which is the common perception. The idea that opera needs an expert audience is a complete misnomer.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: David Bebber for the Guardian  
Opera singer Caroline Kennedy sings to Tim Jonze to relieve his stress.

Read Full Post »

Sy Montgomery had a lovely story in the Boston Globe about studies investigating  animals’ dreams. I zeroed in on the beautiful little zebra finch.

“What do birds dream about?” Montgomery asks.


“University of Chicago professor Daniel Margoliash conducted experiments on zebra finches. Like all birds, zebra finches aren’t born knowing their songs; they learn them, and young birds spend much of their days learning and rehearsing the song of their species. …

“The researcher was able to determine the individual notes based on the firing pattern of the neurons. While the birds were asleep, their neurons fired in the same order — as if they were singing in their dreams.”

At American Scientist, Michael Szpir titles a related article “To Sleep, Perchance to Sing.”

“It turns out that single neurons in the forebrain song system of the sleeping birds display a pattern of activity that’s only seen in the waking bird when it sings. [Amish S.] Dave and Margoliash think that this neuronal activity is part of the learning process — the birds are rehearsing in their sleep by dreaming about singing.

“Since the awake male zebra finch will sing when a female is presented, it seems natural to ask whether the male finch has an image in mind when he sings in his sleep. Margoliash won’t speculate, but if human males are any indication we might imagine they dream of fetching female finches. It’s either that or bird seed.

“You can hear the song of the awake zebra finch at: http://www.williams.edu:803/Biology/ZFinch/zfsong.html.” More.

Read what other critters dream about at the Globe, here.

Photo: Nigel Mann

Read Full Post »

The phrase comes from the carol “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”

Somehow, the words “when half-spent was the night” instead of “in the middle of the night” (a choice doubtless made to fit the rhythm) makes one think about the meaning more. Something about a gift arriving unexpectedly halfway through a time of darkness. Something surprising and curious.

A nice gift I received Friday was an expression of gratitude for being there for someone through her first year at my workplace. With tears in her eyes. Golly. Something surprising. A welcome surprise.

Then today, tucked in the back door, a stealth gift. Hmmm. No note. Swedish colors. For Erik? I think I recognize the cookie style. It suggests Suzanne’s longtime friend, a buddy since kindergarten, known for — among other things — her mother’s cookie-painting parties at Christmas.

Suzanne is being remembered, and being reminded of fun times, at a busy season when her friend is visiting town for only a short while. These are gifts that make people feel good.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: