A house concert with RUNA

Moving to Wellfleet, I wondered whether I’d be trading cultural life for nature. With the National Seashore, ocean and bayside beaches, 17 ponds in Wellfleet alone, walking and biking trails, forest and dunes, I was prepared to make that trade, assuming that we’d seek out music, art, and so on, in Boston or other places. But the reality has been the opposite. Yes, the natural world feels especially close at hand, but cultural events seem more, not less accessible.

I do miss the human diversity of the university or the large city, but there’s been more on that score than I expected. In terms of public events, we’ve been to many galleries and art shows, enjoyed the Saturday Tea and Music concerts in the Wellfleet Public Library, book talks, and just saw the Blind Boys of Alabama in the recently renovated Provincetown Town Hall.

About a week ago we attended a wonderful house concert by RUNA, a Celtic music group. They’re an international ensemble comprising vocalist Shannon Lambert-Ryan, guitarist Fionán de Barra, percussionist Cheryl Prashker, and fiddler Tomoko Omura. They play both traditional and more contemporary Celtic songs and instrumental pieces from Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and the US.

The performances were excellent. I especially enjoyed the traditional songs, but some of the more recently composed ones, too. The video here is not from the concert we attended, but we did hear Fionnghuala there.

Persian night in Göteborg

We just had an amazing evening in an Iranian restaurant.

Vida La Vida (formerly Coffee Dance) at Fjärde Långgatan 48 Linnaeus, Göteborg, is a small, but imaginatively decorated place that plays an important role in the local art scene. The eponymous Vida is the multitalented owner and for us this evening, a very charming host.

We were invited to enjoy music and dinner at Vida La Vida by Bernardo Borgeson, an Ecuadorian/Swedish filmmaker, who has directed many critically acclaimed documentaries and short films. He’s also worked with marginalized youth to tell their own stories through film. These are often quite powerful and disturbing films.

We shared a small table with Bernardo’s friend. The only other table was a large one with Vida’s Iranian family and their friends, several of whom were visiting from the U.S.

Various individuals performed on the tar, daf, and other instruments, and sang songs such as Dele Divane and Soltane Ghalbha. The singing was beautiful, almost hypnotic. Many of the songs convey a sadness and sense of longing or loss, even if one doesn’t undertand the words.

There was also a lot of group singing, which we were invited to join, with song sheets showing the Farsi words in a Latin alphabet. All of this occurred as we enjoyed an excellent dinner of salmon, fresh vegetables, and good Persian bread.

The large group included a young couple about to be married. There was also a woman celebrating her birthday, so we sang happy birthday in Farsi (Tavalodet Mobarak), Swedish (Ja, må du leva), and English. They brought us into all parts of the evening, which went on for several hours, and included an excellent dinner plus birthday cake.

Need I add that this was not what we had expected in Göteborg? The evening was topped off by a walk home in which we saw ladybugs, witches, and skeletons. The intensity of the evening at Vida La Vida made us forget that it was Halloween here!

Dance your Ph.D.

Have you ever been asked to explain your Ph.D., or for that matter, any complex project, to someone who won’t even understand the words in the title?

Imagine you’re Maureen McKeague, working on “Selection of a DNA aptamer for homocysteine using systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment.” How would you summarize that in a way that conveyed the general sense of the work without trivializing it, or alternatively, putting your listener to sleep?

One answer is to create a dance video. This year’s “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest run by Science, received 45 submissions from around the world. I was impressed with all four of the finalists, but voted for McKeague’s because it seemed to most naturally fit the choreography to the logic of the research and I liked the dance itself.


Selection of a DNA aptamer for homocysteine using SELEX from Maureen McKeague on Vimeo.

You can enter your own vote on the Science site.

Now I’m trying to imagine how to choreograph my own dissertation, The Logical Structure Underlying Temporal References in Natural Language.

Threadgill’s Home Cookin’

A couple of nights ago, my sister, mother, and I went to Threadgill’s Home Cookin’ on N. Lamar in near north Austin. It’s not far from where I lived when I was in graduate school at the University of Texas.

I used to listen to Kenneth Threadgill and the Hootenanny Hoots when they played at the Split Rail in south Austin, so going to the restaurant brought back many fond old memories.

We had a delicious dinner in the kind of informal, but comfortable setting that I like a lot. At least for my own experience, I agree with the claim on the restaurant website that:

It is a simple fact that the Threadgill’s restaurants, museum and live music venues have more to do with Austin’s cultural and musical heritage than most any other institution within the city limits.

The history goes on to add:

Perhaps country music lover and bootlegger Kenneth Threadgill had more in mind when he opened his Gulf filling station just north of the Austin city limits in 1933, for the day that Travis County decided to “go wet ” in December of the same year, Kenneth stood in line all night to be the first person to own a liquor license in the county. Soon, the filling station became a favorite spot for traveling musicians since it was open 24 hours for drinking, gambling and jamming. Kenneth would sing songs by his beloved Jimmie Rodgers nightly. Musicians who came to play were paid in beer. Such was the atmosphere at Threadgill’s, it was only when a curfew was enacted in 1942 that its owner had to get a key for the front door, before that it had yet to have been locked.

Threadgill’s was important in the development of the Austin music scene. While Threadgill sang Jimmie Rodgers songs, Janis Joplin developed her country and blues hybrid. Other performers brought in rock & roll or music from Mexico.

Claude Matthews produced and directed a very good documentary video about Threadgill and his restaurant, Singin’ the Yodeling Blues. Here’s part 1, with links to parts 2 and 3 on Youtube:

Udderbot

This may be a big mistake, but I’m now learning about udderbots.

This coming Friday at 8 pm there’ll be the “World’s First Udderbot Recital” at the UC Independent Media Center in Urbana. But here and now are some samples: “Queen of the Nite” and “kleismic joy”.

Jacob Barton is a co-inventor of the udderbot, and undoubtedly its greatest virtuoso. He’s now an Americorps worker at the IMC, who earlier studied composition and performed on the udderbot at Rice University, my alma mater. There’s a feature article with photos in the News-Gazette today, and you can also read about it on the udderbot wiki [photo from the wiki].

My father’s birthday

My father, Bertram Camp Bruce, was born on November 19, 1915. Had his heart been healthier, he might have lived until his birthday today, but instead he died on December 12, 1969, almost 40 years ago. His death punctuated a tumultuous decade, for the world, for the country, and for my family and me.

This week I’ve been hearing 60’s music everywhere–Ray Charles, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, The Supremes. There’s no need to make that time more vivid, but the music amplifies it for me. My father loved opera, musicals, symphony, classical and romantic chamber music, big band, jazz, and popular singers of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. But his wide-ranging love of music didn’t extend to 60’s pop and folk. He enjoyed talking with the young people who visited Bruce Piano Co., and was of course happy to sell guitars or amps, as long as he didn’t have to attend the next concert using them.

I enjoyed, and still do, 60’s music. I even listened to it while working in the shop during the summer at Bruce Piano Co., since Fred, the technician, liked it too. But I’m very glad that my father taught me to enjoy other kids of music as well.

I wish we could listen to music together again.

Elizabeth McMaster

Elizabeth McMaster lived a short life that was filled with music and art, and she brought two beautiful daughters into the world. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia cc. 1897 and died there in October, 1931. At the time of her death, her daughter Betty was 12 and her daughter Catherine was 10.

Elizabeth was a talented singer. Among her favorites were “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life” and “Charmaine.” She also painted in oils (see first photo below).

In 1917(?), she married Charles Whitfield Holloway in Atlanta. He was two years younger. Betty was born while they lived there. The family then moved to Chattanooga, where Catherine was born. Charles’s sister Pauline and her mother lived with the family there after her father died. They then moved to Lakeland, Florida, and later to Richmond, Virginia, then back to Atlanta, where they first lived in an apartment on Ponce de Leon street. These moves were due to Charles’s work as a salesman for the B. F. Goodrich Rubber Co.

Elizabeth’s mother felt that Charles was too young and wouldn’t amount to much. Because of this, Charles and Elizabeth had eloped. Despite the estrangement of Charles and her mother, Elizabeth and her daughters kept in close touch with her. However, they didn’t hear from her again after Elizabeth’s funeral.

Elizabeth suffered from nocturnal epilepsy. It was her daughters who discovered her death. Catherine was asked to go outside while others removed the body. After her death, Betty and Catherine went to live with Charles’s brother Emmett and his wife in an apartment in Decatur, Georgia. After a few months they all moved to a house in Atlanta.

Charles then married Eva Lassiter (aka Sugy) and was chosen to manage a Goodrich store in Augusta, where the family moved next. Betty and Catherine were then in high school. He later proved his mother-in-law wrong with the building of the very successful Holloway Tire Co., which sold tires and recapped truck tires. He was also a partner with Ralph Snow in Southeastern Rubber Manufacturing Co. Near the end of the War or possibly shortly afterwards, they went to Washington and received an allotment of rubber and started a company to make camelback for tire recapping (or retreading). Eventually the Holloways built a house at 2727 Hillcrest Avenue and moved there for the remainder of the lives of Charles and Eva.

See more on the Hall and Holloway families.

Visual literacy in the information age

ching-chiu1Ching-Chiu Lin is a founding member of the Youth Community Informatics project. Her work with Timnah, Lisa, and Karen at the Urbana Middle School integrated art, music, story-telling, cultural heritage, and multimedia in an after-school program. That’s one of the models for our current work.

michoacanChing-Chiu’s dissertation, A qualitative study of three secondary art teachers’ conceptualizations of visual literacy as manifested through their teaching with electronic technologies, analyzed similar arts and new media projects in three schools. I’ve learned a little while ago that it was awarded second place for the 2008 Eisner Doctoral Research award. This was officially announced at the National Art Education Association (NAEA) convention in Minneapolis this month.

Congratulations, Ching-Chiu!