What does a marker sketch of Loki by the incomparable Tom Hiddleston have in common with Cornell’s copy of the Gettysburg Address?
Well, as the clearly leading nature of my opening sentence suggests: a lot more than you’d think.
In conjunction with Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg–an exhibition hosted by Cornell’s Kroch Library in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address–a copy of the speech written in Lincoln’s hand has been display on campus for the past few weeks. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to catch the Gettysburg Address in person the day before it went back into storage!
The Address itself was, as you can see, displayed in a simple, elegant wood frame. The gallery, located two floors beneath Olin’s main entrance, was crowded with students and members of the Cornell community. Most delightfully, the visitors in attendance included a good number of children who possessed remarkable knowledge of Civil War history.
Surrounding the display were cases containing other ephemera related to the Gettysburg Address and its legacy, including the most fantastically named book of all time…
Image from CU’s online exhibition for Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg.
Though its title may suggest otherwise, The Perfect Tribute was actually a factually incorrect, romanticized version of the Gettysburg Address’s origins: and yet its popularity in schools following its publication in 1906 allowed its fictionalized history to persist for years.
What I found most fascinating, however, was the story behind Cornell’s copy of the Gettysburg Address. Our Address traveled to Cornell in the possession of Wilder Bancroft, a chemistry professor, and was finally donated to the university by Marguerite Noyes in memory of her husband–and yes, that’s Noyes as in West Campus’ Noyes.
What of my tenuous connection to Tom Hiddleston’s “Loki, by Loki,” though?
Image from Mr. Hiddleston’s Twitter (surprising, I know!).
Well, Professor Bancroft received the address by way of his father, who had in turn been given the address by his stepson, Alexander Bliss. Turns out that quite a few people, including Bliss, began asking Lincoln to write out signed copies of the Gettysburg Address in order to procure funds for charitable causes.
Lincoln obliged, and offered this copy to Bliss to include in a book (containing manuscripts by the likes of other public figures such as Edgar Allan Poe) that Bliss was assembling to raise money for the Baltimore Sanitary Fair–kind of like the contemporary celebrity charity auctions where you can purchase Hiddleston’s doodles.
Anyway, somehow Lincoln’s first copy for Bliss turned out to be the 1864 equivalent of the wrong pixel resolution or something, so Lincoln made Bliss yet another address facsimile, while Bliss eventually gave the rejected copy to Bancroft. I’m sure the mix-up inconvenienced Lincoln a little bit, but I’m sure I speak for the rest of Cornell when I say that I’m glad that he inadvertently made an extra that ended up on campus over a century later!
As I mentioned earlier, the Bancroft copy of the Gettysburg Address has now returned to the Disney Vault–I mean, the Kroch collections, but you can still view a facsimile of it and the rest of the Remembering Lincoln exhibition until December 20: so if you have to walk from North to Collegetown or something, why not stop off in Olin to warm up and check out some history?
Allow me to sum up my activities for the past few weeks with one particularly horrifying image.
There is a certain point, my friends, at which the overworked mind begins to descend into a level of madness only matched by that of the protagonists found in Gothic fiction. I personally reached this nadir one fateful night last week, when, after days of constant writing and research, I realized that my senior thesis–the culmination of all my art historical studies at Cornell–was really going to include a scholarly discussion of a movie trailer in which CGI-altered chihuahuas rap in a vaguely Mayan (but purportedly Aztec) setting.
Back when I was still in Scotland, I wrote a post detailing how excited I was to have finally settled on a thesis topic: the representation of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art objects in contemporary American film. Now that I’ve officially survived the trials of my first semester of independent research and have produced a satisfactory first draft, here’s a quick guide to the basic structure of the Cornell honors program (at least, in the glorious world of the art history department).
If you’re interested in being a prospective honors candidate in art history, you’ll enroll in four credits of independent study under your thesis advisor in the fall of your senior year. The structure of this “class” is at the discretion of you and your advisor, provided you produce a first draft by mid-November. In my case, those four credits basically consisted of lots and lots of research.
And I do mean lots: this lovely dragon-framed stack is merely a selection of the texts I consulted for my project.
Still, if you really love your subject (and you should!), research should be exciting! Cornell’s library system is incredibly extensive and will likely offer nearly all of the books you may need, but if you find yourself without some obscure tome, you can always use the free Borrow Direct service to have the necessary volumes shipped from any Ivy League library.
Before I began my research process in earnest, my advisor also introduced me to Zotero, an invaluable citation and research tool that makes the busywork of typing footnotes and bibliographies as outdated as hand-painted manuscripts.
Once you’ve finished over-enthusiastically poring over books (like The Road to El Dorado’s Tzekel-Kan featured above), it’s time to get writing! Most of the art history theses from past years that I examined were around seventy-five pages in length; I decided to begin with a slightly shorter draft in order to save room for more material to be added before I submit the final work in April.
Even though it may sound intimidating to any college student accustomed to the ten- or fifteen-page term paper, I’ve found my thesis to be a surprisingly satisfying expression of the opinions about the art historical discipline I have cultivated throughout my years at Cornell. Of course, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I had my epiphany about how such quality works as Ancient Aliens connect to museum and curatorial practices, but now that I have my theme, I’m ready to let it shape not only the next draft of my piece but also my approach to the last few Cornell art history seminars I’m taking next semester.
(Though seriously, it’s pretty weird that I could find a way to talk about bad movies–my favorite things–for school, right? Maybe I had some extraterrestrial assistance…)
Whether you’re a rising senior who just received an Early Decision admissions letter or a particularly precocious thirteen-year-old with your sights set on Cornell, I can guarantee that you’ll witness at least one massive construction project during your time on the Hill.
In my four years at Cornell, I’ve seen Morrill Hall and Risley, my former dorm, completely covered with (and eventually stripped of) scaffolding. Cornell received its new architecture building sometime after my freshman year, and the Johnson Museum’s New Wing was first opened to the public when I was a sophomore.
Then again, I’ll probably never walk past Anabel Taylor without having to cross the street to dodge the major Law School revitalization, and even my own dear Goldwin Smith Hall will likely be a surreal mess of loud noises and gated-off pits for the rest of my Cornell career.
Although I’d often heard of the glories that awaited those lovers of ice cream who dared travel far beyond the Ag Quad to visit Stocking Hall, I never expected to be able to visit the Dairy Bar as a Cornell student: it was closed for renovations during my first year here. Luckily, the construction chaos ended sometime after Homecoming, and I can now continue to say that I’ve officially visited every Cornell Dining-sponsored a la carte eaterie on campus.
Though I don’t know what the Dairy Bar looked like before the construction, I’m digging its current mod aesthetic. The entrance features a modernist interpretation of a milk bottle while the interior looks like what renowned Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius might’ve dreamed up if he were a time-traveller from 2300 with a penchant for dairy products.
The “Bar” itself currently offers coffee, your average Grab & Go fare, some fresh sandwiches, and, of course, ice cream! Except it’s not Cornell ice cream. Yet.
Although I thought I remembered reading that Cornell’s dairy would go back into production in late September, the “Cornell-approved” Perry’s Ice Cream flavors were all the Dairy Bar had to offer today. Because the selection of Perry’s flavors tragically did not include Lemon Pound Cake, I decided to branch off and try one of the tempting “ice cream cupcakes” sold pre-packaged out of a freezer.
What a fool I was!
How could something decorated with rainbow sprinkles go so terribly wrong?
I expected an ice cream cake in cupcake form; instead, I received a cupcake that appeared to have been frozen since the Devonian Period, topped with rock-solid vanilla ice cream and a mound of frosting. Since I don’t make a habit of carrying a pickaxe around in my purse, I was barely able to scrape any ice cream or cake off that veritable glacier with my sorry plastic spoon.
(It’s also particularly sad because I’m sure someone at Cornell Dining spent his/her time creating this otherwise lovely cupcake that was subsequently destroyed by an extra-long stay in the deep freezer.Friends, heed my tale of woe and ask for a sugar cone with a scoop of Perry’s pumpkin ice cream instead.)
So, though the atmosphere has a kind of intergalactic appeal, I might spare myself the long walk up Tower Road until Cornell dairy products are available once more. In the meantime, here’s hoping I can have my first taste of the new Cornell ice cream before I become an alumna!
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Enya has finally failed me. Usually I turn to the soothing New Age stylings of everyone’s favorite Irish castle-dweller in times of trouble: there’s just something about hearing glistening synth sounds and lyrics written in an invented alien language that can transform a dull bus stop or a long walk to class into a peaceful musical oasis.
But sometimes there’s only so much Amarantine can do. Recently I’ve found that Enya just makes the troubles of senior year seem all the more annoying–how can she sing her occasionally vaguely Dada-esque lyrics with such glee when I’m struggling with a massive honors thesis, pre-enroll, and an impending concert? For anyone who is similarly tired of playing “May It Be” on repeat whenever a prelim looms but still wants something strange and calming, allow me to offer an alternative–weird instruments.
As you may have noticed from the last installment of Should’ve Been A Music Major…, I’ve recently gained an interest in strange experimental music. It’s so serious that I actually added both Introduction to Computer Music and Experimental Music to my schedule during pre-enroll this morning. The whole obsession really began six years ago during a family trip to San Francisco, though. My parents had planned a visit to the Exploratorium on Pier 15; I was skeptical. Surely a museum with such a ridiculous name was targeted exclusively at the six-and-under set.
But then I discovered the theremin, and suddenly I was gleefully jumping around with the most energetic of the first-graders.
I certainly lacked the poise and elegance of Leon Theremin himself. Photo from here.
If you’ve never experienced the transcendental joys of a theremin, here’s a quick summary: it’s an electronic instrument that truly appears to have been magically crafted by some musically-inclined conjurer. Wave your hands near a theremin, and freakish cosmic song will emerge. The sound’s tone and volume are modulated by how close you get to the theremin’s antennae. The overall illusion is that you’re communicating with aliens whilst standing in front of what looks like a vintage walkie-talkie.
Sadly, my “Theremin Songs for Stressful Times” is quite lacking at the moment (though that should all change on the glorious day that I obtain my one of my own), but a few select hits include my favorite Debussy piece ever, a Beach Boys song that sounds pretty spacey on its own, and a hilariously strange version of “Edelweiss.”
Okay, so maybe I’ve totally sold you on theremins, and you’re listening to Theremin Dust in the Wind right now. But wait–what if you have a neighbor who likes to engage in loud social activities late at night whilst you’re trying to study to such sacred music? Perhaps your current thoughts are something along the lines of “Aren’t there any weird instruments that are totally magical and adorable but also conveniently really annoying for the purposes of revenge?”
Oh, have I got the new friend for you.
Or, as the case may be, several new friends.
Much like Furbies, Teletubbies, and whoever had the grand idea of putting only one trashcan between the Arts Quad and North Campus, otamatones seem to come from another planet where logic and sense are basically unheard of. These eerily cheery Japanese innovations create a wailing, theremin-like sound when squeezed. In theory, a variety of tones can be created by moving one’s fingers up and down the fake fretboard that makes up an otamatone’s “stalk,” but considering how abrasive these guys sound when played by experienced musicians, I’d say that takes a great deal of skill. If you thought greenhorn string players were bad, imagine life with an amateur otamatone player.
Don’t really understand it yet? That’s okay. Just watch this video. Either you will have nightmares or you will be incredibly happy for the rest of the evening. In any case, it makes a good study break–just make sure you have headphones on if you’re in public. (Sarr Above The Busy Humming claims no responsibility for any duress caused by angry bystanders should any reader accidentally blast otamatone music in any library or study space.)
But let’s conclude with the best (and least annoying), shall we? Do you know what’s cool? Tesla coils. Do you know what’s cooler than Tesla coils? Tesla coils that play covers of popular songs. (Man, why can’t tesla coil ensembles be as popular as a cappella groups in the collegiate world?) Singing tesla coils are also known by two puntastic names–the Zeusaphone…
…and the Thoramin. I’m not even kidding. I love these people already.
This is one you really have to see to believe. The next time you feel overwhelmed, try watching what looks like wild lighting playing House of the Rising Sun, In the Hall of the Mountain King, or He’s A Pirate (perhaps the most useful pump-up song in the history of contemporary film scores). Just imagine you are a glorious singing tesla coil, and your test/essay/THESIS/job application/etc is the concrete that you are unceremoniously zapping.
Or if all of this is a little too high-tech for you, why don’t you join me in listening to some more old-school stuff? Hey, if a floppy disk drive can play John Williams, surely anything is possible.
I’ve never been much of an indoor person. If professors (and weather) permitted, I’d love to attend all of my classes under a tree on the Arts Quad. Consequently, when I’m at work or visiting the Johnson Museum, I often imagine how I’d curate an outdoor art exhibition. In a world where objects were impervious to climatological damage, wouldn’t it be nice to see a suit of armor sitting on the grass, a Hudson River School landscape hanging from a branch, or Northwest Coast masks staring out at you from the bushes?
Since I lack the resources to create my own outdoor museum, of course, Cornell’s impressive collection of outdoor art will have to do in the meantime. Follow along for a digital tour of my favorite artworks that aren’t kept at the Johnson!* If you have friends or family visiting (like I did this weekend!), what better way to frame your campus tour than with some fun facts about our coolest sculptures?
*”Favorite” meaning you’re not going to find that giant shiny circle with stairs outside of Appel on this list. I know what I like.
The Ag Quad (home to the appropriately spooky tree featured above) is the perfect “gallery” in which to begin any exploration of Cornell’s outdoor art scene: its secret gardens are resplendent in the fall season.
The Minns Garden, established by Cornell professor Lua Minns in the 1920s, is a gorgeous gated oasis on Tower Road near Bradfield Hall and the Plant Sciences Building. During my freshman year, I used eat to-go meals from Trillium in the garden before heading to BIOEE 2070: Evolution.
In addition to a colorful assortment of plants (tended by current horticulture students), the garden also features more traditional manmade art. Its three gates, draped in metal replicas of apples, flowers, and branches, are the work of Ithaca blacksmith Durand van Doren.
If you prefer more abstract contemporary works, keep an eye out for what looks like a collection of skinny stacked pyramids in front of the new Human Ecology building (between Martha van Rensselaer Hall and Beebe Lake).
The sculpture sits alone in the Hum Ec courtyard without a visible plaque or inscription–but though its origins remain a mystery, its bright, Cornell-appropriate color and delicate design still warrant a look if you’re walking down the hill from Bailey.
No discussion of abstract outdoor art at Cornell would be complete without Jacques Lipchitz’s Song of the Vowels, a massive, curvilinear work located between Uris Library and Olin Library. (And, fortunately, the history of this piece is much better documented than that of our red Hum Ec friend!)
Lipchitz, a Cubist sculptor, completed the original piece in 1931; the version on the Arts Quad has been in the Cornell collection since 1962. During my time at Cornell, I’ve passed by Lipchitz’s odd bronze hundreds of times without ever knowing that it has six twins–there’s also a Song of the Vowels at Princeton, Stanford, and a few other museums and universities throughout the country.
I’m not overly fond of towering naked men, but Jason Seley’s Herakles in Ithaka I is undoubtedly a Cornell landmark. Seley was a professor and dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, and recreated the Classical hero by welding car bumpers together.
If your parents didn’t already snap a picture of you and this dude during O-Week, you’ll find him between Uris Hall and the Statler.
A former Engineering student introduced me to the beautiful Pew Sundial this morning. When the device is set properly, the shadow cast on the “clock” should align with the correct time (although it appeared to be about thirty minutes off today). Joseph Pew Jr. himself was an important Engineering School benefactor, and the entire quad is actually named in his honor.
Sundial fans might also want to visit the Bill Nye Solar Noon Clock, which gazes out from the top of Rhodes Hall, but be warned: it’s much less visually striking than the Pew sundial!
There’s a less prominent sculptural memorial behind the Ezra Cornell statue on the Arts Quad. This boulder remembers Professor Ralph Stockman Tarr, who taught physical geography at Cornell more than a hundred years ago. According to the inscription, his students chose this particular stone–a “Relic of the Ice Age”–to pay tribute to his interest in glaciology.
And, of course, how could I possibly make a post about outdoor sculpture without including these guys?
The statue of A.D. White was completed in 1915 by Karl Bitter, an Austrian-American sculptor who also memorialized the likes of Thomas Jefferson through sculpture. Good old Ezra, on the other hand, was unveiled in 1919 and created by Hermon Atkins MacNeil, who taught at Cornell during the late nineteenth century.
(Neither sculptor could’ve predicted that their creations would eventually sport accessories such as birthday hats, breast cancer awareness shirts, and plastic leis when pranked by wily students.)
That’s the end of my quick tour, but don’t let that stop you! Any readers seeking an extra challenge might want to look into the reliefs of Antoine Lavoisier, Ben Franklin, and friends on Tjaden Hall; the hidden rock garden between Willard Straight and Gannett; or the Andy Goldsworthy Holocaust Memorial out in the Plantations…
…not to mention the infamous dragon eggs (or halved golf balls? Flying saucer lids? Remote viewing apparatuses for Teletubbies?) of Milstein Hall.
Good luck explaining that one to your guests.
(Yes, I know it’s a day or so late, but there’s something nice about the alliteration with Monday, don’t you think?)
Fun introductory paragraph fact of the day: in addition to my job at the Johnson Museum (and, of course, this very blogging gig), I also write for a group that runs a couple of prestigious academic competitions (which shall go unnamed, lest any potential high school competitors discover this blog and start spamming my comments box with questions about this year’s topic).
As part of my duties as a new S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit–I mean, curriculum writer, I spent much of the latter half of last week frantically researching everything from Japanese court music to the culture of selfies. Included amongst these quirky topics was Arnold Schoenberg, my new favorite musical dude ever.
Like his student John Cage after him, Schoenberg certainly didn’t write your average concertos and symphonies. Instead, just as he experimented with German Expressionism through his art, Schoenberg got up to some freaky musical stuff in his time. Though most of it probably weirded out many of his contemporaries, Schoenberg left an impressive legacy that still influences modern avant-garde music.
In 1921, Schoenberg developed his greatest idea yet (one that, unbeknownst to him, would cause a certain blogger to profess her eternal love for him more than ninety years later). My man Arnold S. pioneered the twelve-tone technique, which, like vegetarian-friendly candy corn, is basically something I’ve wanted my entire life. When I compose, I always have trouble keeping my work contained in one key: the music usually seems forced and trapped. A composer writing with the twelve-tone technique, though, uses all twelve tones of the chromatic scale with approximately equal weight–in other words, there’s essentially no set key for the song.
In other other words, it sounds a little something like this.
Now, I admit that most “modernist” music is a bit of an acquired taste–but come on, it’s not like I’m making you listen to Cage’s 4’33″.(Though remember, Cage studied under Schoenberg. If poor John had Schoenberg’s boots to fill, is it any wonder the guy ended up writing a composition of silence?)
If you’re still wary of the coolness of twelve-tone, why not try one of Schoenberg’s own string quartets? Personally, I could listen to this all day. When the music’s not tied down to one particular key, it sounds suspenseful, intriguing, and eerily similar to the kind of stuff the Phantom of the Opera writes.
The built-in drama of twelve-tone music also makes it much easier to imagine a scene to accompany it. When I hear the first movement of that particular string quartet, I imagine falling into the ocean in a bubble, eventually drifting all the way down to the bathypelagic zone, where I sink towards the abyssal plane while these bioluminescent dudes do battle around me. Of course, that may be due to my oceanography prelim on Monday.
What about you? Do you also think Schoenberg’s the coolest thing since Agent Coulson, or would you rather Debussy return as the face of Should’ve Been a Music Major [Insert Vaguely Alliterative Day]? Leave me a comment and let me know!
My 2013 fall break might be best described as “surreal.”
Surprisingly, that’s not (entirely) because I can’t believe that it was my last, but rather because of the freakishly summery weather that accompanied said “fall” break. With this past weekend’s temps hitting the mid-70s, I actually think it was warmer in Ithaca than back home in Volcano: and it’s October!
Since going home for a four day weekend is always out of the question for me, though, I did appreciate the balminess: it gave me a few beautiful days to visit some of Ithaca’s most autumnal attractions. Catching some quick glimpses of fall colors helped me forget that I was stuck in the middle of the summer that wouldn’t die (even as I overheated in my jacket and riding boots).
Before I graduate, I intend to visit every easily accessible waterfall in Ithaca. I’ve already crossed Taughannock off that list, so the logical next step was Robert Treman Park.
(Luckily enough, Treman is a state park, or I wouldn’t have had much of an adventure at all. Thanks a lot, government shutdown. )
Treman Park is home to Lucifer Falls, a waterfall that drops from a height of more one hundred feet above the gorge. During my visit, I naturally couldn’t get Pink Floyd’s Lucifer Sam out of my head, but in retrospect, I’m finding Chopin’s Nocturne in C Minor a little more fitting. Don’t the trills and triads remind you of a multi-tiered waterfall?
(Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is also a pretty nice Lucifer Falls piece.)
What makes the water here such a deep teal? The river inside the gorge was the same color as the rushing currents of Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa. I guess I really can’t leave Scotland behind, no matter where I am.
The walk from the park’s upper entrance to the falls and back was a little under a mile, I’d wager–but the frequent sets of steep stairs made the journey a bit more challenging.
The sequel to our falls adventure began with (second) breakfast at Waffle Frolic in. If you haven’t visited the Commons in a while (like me!), you’re in for a surprise–most of it is under construction.
Because this is Ithaca, though, the barriers around the construction have been transformed into a massive public art project, and its many murals include the charmingly rustic map of Middle-Earth we found across the street from the Seneca bus stop.
After an ample amount of both waffles and frolicking, we headed down Rt. 13 to the Ithaca Sound Maze, a corn maze stocked with a good handful of homemade instruments for visitors to play.
Since I’ve never visited a corn maze before (a pineapple maze is the best we can do in Hawai’i), I didn’t expect to be so excited by the novelty of wandering around and getting lost in a homegrown labyrinth. It was hard to not follow the example of the toddlers who ran frantically around each bend, laughing and leaving their slow parents to get lost somewhere among the ears.
The curious instruments, however, are what really make the Sound Maze an utterly fantastic day out. There are pots tuned to major triads to bang on, giant plastic buckets stacked together to form a wall of drums, and strange musical contraptions built out of bicycle wheels and a rainbow plastic tubes: all in all, definitely worth more than the $5 entrance fee.
Maybe I can satisfy my music-loving heart by opening my own maze somewhere across the country after I graduate?
(But a maze themed around vocalization instead of physical instruments, perhaps? So many possibilities!)
“A cappella” is probably one of the biggest collegiate buzzwords of the 21st century (although, since it is October, many Cornellians might suggest “prelim” instead). Cornell’s 10+ a cappella groups are obsessed with a cappella, the hundreds of students who pay upwards of $5 for a night of bopping and beatboxing are obsessed with a cappella, the artificial intelligence behind Pandora that keeps playing the Pitch Perfect soundtrack on my stations for no apparent reason is obsessed with a cappella, and, well, I’m not immune to its charms either.
My relationship with a cappella, however, runs deeper than my affiliation with my own quirky treble group, <3. During my time in <3, I’ve also become very closely acquainted with the delightful task of arranging a cappella music. (And I do mean “delightful” very sincerely–I often bribe myself into getting schoolwork done with the promise that I’ll get half an hour of arranging fun when I’m finished.)
Composing and arranging music are two of the many hobbies I didn’t discover until college. Now, before my sister refutes this claim by producing one of the many bizarrely New Age songs I scratched on staff paper during my childhood, let me clarify–though I experimented with composition before, I never had the resources to master it.
One uneventful weekend in my freshman year, though, I stumbled upon the computer lab in Cornell’s Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance. Sure, the computers were slow PCs that legitimately still used Internet Explorer–but they were also equipped with Sibelius, a top-tier music notation software that changed my life. Gone were the days of struggling to scribble a halfway decent bass clef: I just had to type a melody into Sibelius, and the strange music that constantly plays in my head would suddenly spring into being.
After I started <3 and began arranging full-time, of course, I started to get antsy. A silent library isn’t really the best place to arrange music–I worried that other computer lab users would hear me humming the countermelody along with the MIDI player or, worse, discover that I wasn’t composing a work of staggering genius but rather arranging the theme to The Never-Ending Story for treble voices.
A friend suggested I switch to Noteflight, a free online notation software that does…pretty much everything Sibelius does, and for a better price. Noteflight’s a little awkward–free members are only allowed to have 25 scores at one time and are limited to basic orchestral MIDI playback sounds–but it’s accompanied me through many a late night and early morning of blissfully frantic musical activity.
Are you, too, obsessed with a cappella? (Or weirdly plagued by original songs that haunt your every waking hour?) For the sake of the perhaps nonexistent reader who answered affirmatively to either or both of those questions, I’ll close with a few suggestions about how to transform a symphony into SATB.
1. Pick a song that actually has background instrumentation.
That said, a good way to start learning how to arrange is to pick a song that already has a few obvious parts for you to transcribe. Take this classic Postal Service song: can you hear how many different things those weird hipster synths are doing? Listen carefully and notate what you hear, and this could be a cappella-ready in no time.
Something like this extremely well-known Passenger piece, on the other hand, might be good to turn when you need slightly more of a challenge. The verses in particular are pretty sparse–you’d have to listen very carefully to transcribe what’s going on, and even then, you’re going to need a few more parts if you want this to survive as a choral piece. With a few well-placed “oohs” in thirds, audiences will be swooning over you in no time (particularly if you can effectively replicate that lovely singing accent).
2. Pick something you don’t hate.
Too obvious? Okay, let me rephrase this–pick something you can’t hate. When I start transcribing a new piece, I begin by listening to it over and over again: and then I have to listen to each tiny five-second section repeatedly while I figure out the rhythms. Even if you pick up on the beat and key very quickly, you’re still going get to know the piece really well. (Although, fair warning: something you love can still become annoying after the fiftieth listen. The first soprano part to my arrangement of the YouTube sensation “What Does the Fox Say?” will never leave my head.)
3. Make it more than a transcription.
So you’ve listened to that song hundreds of times, you’ve copied down literally everything you can hear in the original–are you done? Well, in one sense, yes. You’ve transcribed the instrumental music for human voices–awesome!
In my opinion, though, the most exciting part about arranging a cappella music is the opportunity to transcend the exact arrangement of the original and create something unique. It can be fun to precisely mimic the sounds of specific instruments in a cappella, but in the end, it’s the fact that we aren’t instruments that make us so neat. My favorite a cappella groups are those that can keep a choral sound while still replicating the general idea of the instrumentation–and yes, I do often listen to such songs more than the originals.
In fact, I think I’ll take a break and do that right now.
It’s official–I have “applied to graduate.”
(Isn’t that the most awkwardly-named Cornell procedure of all time?)
In the process of this very difficult application, I also discovered that by the end of this semester, I’ll be officially done with the English major. (Which means Spring 2014 will be nothing but art history, linguistics, and other fun pursuits. I’m counting down the days to January already.)
I was really big on the English major as a freshman, and, consequently, I finished up most of my major credits by sophomore year. As a result, I’ve identified more as an art history major during my time as an upperclassman: but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t love my English major days just as much.
Also–okay, hold on. You know I’m just doing a segue into a list as usual, right? Then let’s skip the formalities.
Potential English majors: read on to learn about the best four English classes at Cornell (that I’ve taken, of course).
Fellow seniors with literary persuasions: I’m sure at least one of these (probably #3) will bring back memories.
Everyone else: consider this a vaguely academic recommended reading list.
Prof: Maureen McCoy
Rad required reads: short stories by Aimee Bender & Junot Diaz
Especially recommended for: anyone who can successfully survive its gameshow-esque portfolio submission requirement for admittance
For the purposes of this list, I limited myself to one creative writing class, and although it was difficult to choose, Narrative Writing eventually won out because of its fantastic reading list.
Before I went to college, I had the fortune to read Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and it absolutely blew me away. A girl who tastes the emotions of whoever cooked her food? A guy who (spoiler) turns into pieces of furniture? I couldn’t believe that someone who writes freaky stuff like I do could also be a critically acclaimed literary fiction writer. We were assigned one of her short stories for this class (in which a woman’s boyfriend literally devolves, eventually turning into a salamander), and I continued to find her work incredibly inspiring.
(Anyway, magical realism preferences aside, I was also lucky enough to take this class with Professor Maureen McCoy. I don’t think she teaches it anymore, but I know she occasionally does the intro-level creative writing course over the summer–so if you need some extra LA-AS credits and notice her name on the roster, go for it!)
Prof: Tom Hill
Rad required reads: The Mabinogion, The Romances of Chretien de Troyes, The Lais of Marie de France
Especially recommended for: students who enjoy throwing around the word “liminality” a lot; Arthurian legend fans
Not only is this class centered around two of my favorite subjects in the world (medieval literature & other realms), it’s also taught by the fabulously entertaining Professor Hill. He’s knowledgeable, funny, and, most importantly for a free-wheeling academic like me, will literally let you write your paper on anything as long as you can link it back to the course material. I did my first term paper on Welsh mythology in contemporary kids’ fiction and my final twelve-page essay on “nerd girls” in medieval literature: it almost didn’t even feel like schoolwork!
Also, if you really like truly bizarre and freakish old-time-y writing, look no further than Marie de France. She’s even got werewolves.
Prof: Masha Raskolnikov
Rad required reads: King Lear, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Faerie Queene
Especially recommended for: early English literature lovers; people who despise early English literature but want to learn about it from a really engaging and funny professor
Wait, an entry-level intro course? Complete with grad TAs, weekly writing responses, and discussion sections? Why would I ever put this as #2?
Though I’m certainly not missing the formal trappings of 2000-level intro English courses, I do miss these lectures. Even if you don’t like anything written before 1900, Professor Raskolnikov can at least get you to at appreciate medieval lit for fifty-five minutes. We also read Lear instead of some other (more annoying) Shakespeare play–and if I have to study Shakespeare formally, I’d rather have it be one of my favorites.
On that note, what makes this course particularly fantastic is its wide definition of “literature”: we read everything from Beowulf to mystery plays, sonnets, and Paradise Lost. And it’s interdisciplinary to boot, since Professor Raskolnikov also brings in queer studies and feminist theory from time to time–making “the canon” that much more palatable.
Prof: Wayne Harbert
Rad assignments: daily etymology searches, translating Middle English texts, and cracking one of the earliest ciphers in the English language
Especially recommended for: linguistic descriptivists; linguistic prescriptivists who need to learn why they should be descriptivists; anyone who makes fun of me for saying “melk” instead of “mihlk”
Surprise! My favorite English class of all time is technically a linguistics cross-list! Look, I know I say a lot of positive things about Cornell, but please believe me when I say this course changed my life. Istill sometimes wish I were a linguistics major because of this class. (It also transformed me from an annoying stickler who used to actively correct people who said things like “nukuler” to a dialect enthusiast fascinated by the myriad ways in which Americans (and other English-speakers) talk.)
Honestly, I think it should be required: taught up in Bailey every year to the entire freshman class. Our lives at Cornell are dominated by the English language, particularly (obviously) if you’re an English major–but where did this ridiculously complicated mash of global languages get its start? What would it looked like if we tried to write or speak using only “native” English words? Why do I feel so uncomfortable with the word “avocado” these days? (Trust me, don’t look that one up.) Now that I know the bizarre and sometimes sordid history of my native tongue, I am way less likely to take it for granted.
And we got to talk about the linguistic implications of chatspeak.
so t4ke this cl4ss, pl0x!!!1111
Yesterday, I celebrated the Johnson’s fortieth birthday by opening popcorn bags, experiencing the joy of being retweeted by a genuine institution (okay, so I may have had an in there, but still), and really wishing that I had not spent most of the week researching 70s slang in preparation for this retro shindig. (I cannot, it seems, “dig it.”)
Of course, it’s a little hard for me to process the significance of this event–after all, I’m half the museum’s age, and I’ve only known of its existence for the past four years. I first visited the museum during Orientation Week for an event that definitely used the word “classy” more than once in its description. Drawn to that adjective like Marty McFly to a 4×4, I glammed it up and hoped my hallmates and I could navigate back to Balch in the dark once the evening was over.
To paraphrase the anonymous narrator of nearly every Land Before Time sequel, the world was a different place back then. The New Wing wouldn’t be completely constructed for another year, and, as a result, the Asian art pieces were all jammed together on the second floor. The gorgeous fifth floor–which architect I.M. Pei originally envisioned as a student lounge–housed a handful of offices instead of some of the oldest works in the museum’s collection.
I didn’t spend too much time in the galleries before heading up to the sixth floor to track down the mini-cupcakes, but I do remember being particularly enthralled by Edwin Dickinson’s Woodland Scene. It was installed by itself on a large wall on the first floor, intimidating anyone who dared approach it–and no piece that has replaced Woodland Scene since its move up to the American galleries has ever looked quite so stunning in that spot.
After that undoubtedly classy night, I didn’t visit the museum again until the fateful afternoon when I randomly stopped by the student docent info session.
Fast forward about a year, and I’ve magically just been hired as the Adult & Community Programs intern for the 2011-2012 season.
2010 may have been the year we made contact (OR DID WE?), but for the Johnson, 2011 was the real beginning of an era. In early 2011, the Asian galleries conquered the fifth floor, creating an awe-inspiring celebration of the Johnson’s very fine Asian art collection. That August, I spent a blissfully short time in the dungeon-like old education offices before all of my colleagues and I were switched over to a much airier space in the New Wing with a lovely view of the new Morgan Japanese Garden.
It was also a fantastic year for visiting exhibitions. My favorite Johnson Museum exhibition of all time is/was Demonic Divine, an exhibition organized by the Rubin Museum focusing on wrathful deities in sacred Himalayan art. Honorable mention goes to The New and Unknown World: Art, Exploration, and Trade in the Dutch Golden Age, where I learned, among other things, that dendrochronology is kind of the coolest thing ever. Another runner-up is Memory and the Photographic Image from the spring of 2012, where I discovered Margaret Bourke-White, a photojournalist, Cornellian and one of my biggest inspirations since.
I’ve continued to learn from the modern and contemporary pieces in the permanent collection as well. Hey, I tend to think a piece is dull unless it was made at least a thousand years ago, but even though it’s my goal in life to get non-Western “ancient artifacts” more generally accepted as genuine works of art in the scholarly community, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for those pieces that do have the privilege of immediately being classified as “fine art.”
So, to recap: Johnson Museum, I’m honestly more shocked that I’ve known you for going-on-four-years than that you’ve been around for forty. That’s a fifth of my life spent giving tours, taking notes, and facing the impossible task of cleaning up sequins after a family event. And, trust me, for someone who hasn’t quite reached your age yet, that’s also a long time.
But I’m going to stop there. Better leave and continue my weekend reading of The Monuments Men before this escalates into a sappy “I can’t believe I’m a senior” post (and perhaps also see if I can recreate those mini-cupcakes).