The structure of beauty

We watched this video yesterday with Nhim. It was not her first time. In fact the first time she heard this piece was at a live concert. And she withstood the whole piece. I was struck by electricity waves the violins sent through the air. Even the main musician commented outside of the hall to his colleague “It was magic”.

Debussy’s music was not a hard one though. It was especially pleasing to the women’s ear, as it depict personal, private emotion (at least as I see it), or ‘petty, bla bla bla emotion’ as my husband sees it.

But with this animation, it was so much clearer and easier to see the music. We saw all the layers of music played together which could have gone unnoticed had we used only our ears. We saw how each instrument complimented one another. We saw the length of the notes, the pitch of each notes.

I realized just then that to the human perception, the most pleasant pattern of notes is the wave-like pattern. Up and down, up and down. Joy and sorrow. Variation. We are attracted to fluctuation. We don’t like things stay the same. We are drawn to changes.

My husband added: we also like repetition. That the up and down have to repeat themselves. That way they make a wave. That way we see old patterns in new events. That way changes don’t become chaos, and we keep our stability while constantly coping with fresh challenges.

Isn’t it the same pattern of finding beauty in life.

Nhim heard, and she saw a faune, she saw how it runs and jumps, and she saw how it blow life into dead people, and they wake up. She saw happiness in the music. Probably it was not how Debussy meant to write his piece, but it was amazing how music visualization can engage and stir up imagination of a 4 years old.

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Opera is beautiful

My husband (now) and myself 2 years ago couldn’t disagree more.

Surely it’s not the first thing you realize when it comes to opera. It definitely needs a trained ear to appreciate the operatic voices, which are very different from the normal norms of sonic beauty most of us are comfortable to hear, and see. The sky-high pitch, the nasal voice, the loudness which we often accustom to … quarrelling rather than singing. The awkward facial straining including popping out eyes, trumpeting mouth, and all kinds of strange grimaces while making those difficult sound. We prefer soft whispering to shouting generally. Perhaps because loud voices are often linked to anger, aggression, lament, torment, in general unpleasant things that are unbearable.

And in fact, that’s just the point. Opera, for me is emotions being celebrated out. Too much sorrow, too deep pain, too strong joy or affection, the only effective way to depict those emotions are at the top of your voice. It’s so much dramatic, it can not contently be expressed in a milder way. Opera is beautiful as it refuses to be plain and ordinary. Opera is difficult to sing as it’s tricky to both reach the correct notes (whether high or low), paint the correct ‘colour ‘ to the notes, and transfer the correct amount of  mood to those notes while maintaining them technically. It’s a fine acrobatic work of  balancing controlled technically your voice and setting free the content of your singing emotionally.

Often the good arias are when the performers are rather stiff in posture and rather limited in their moving, as they focus on their vocals. But often you can feel a lot from their singing and also from their facial expression as every raise of eyebrows counts if they are good performers. It’s not an action movies where our brain have the easy job of just sit there lazily and the movie does all the work of throwing out quick movements, startling noises, colourful pictures, all possible means on the surface to rob your attention. Opera, don’t rob your attention, you have to pay attention to see the underlying storm of emotions, and mood going on in the soul of the characters. As soul and emotions are invisible, we’re not used to be so attentive and sensitive to observe them well.

I don’t like all kind of operas to call myself a fan of opera. Operas, as well as with books, or friends, or anything you take seriously, you like only few among an ocean of choices. Some that share the same chemistry and beat at the same tunes with your soul, some that for whatever private personal reason, fit with your preference better. A small collection that you pick very particularly and sparingly but once they got there, you like them dearly, they influence you and just as good old friends they might last a lifetime.