Posts Tagged ‘music’

Read about The Singing Window at Tuskegee University in Deep South Magazine here. Enjoy!

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith

Read Full Post »

… I would paint what I hear in this piece of music, Rhapsody No. 1 in D Flat Major by Herbert Howells.  The entire piece is only five minutes and 35 seconds long, but it is the segment between 1:30 and 3:00 that moves me most. I first heard it being played a few weeks ago at Trinity Church in Copley Square.  The organist, Colin Lynch, was rehearsing for Sunday services. I appreciated the beauty of his playing but at first the music itself did nothing for me … and then something happened. I was hooked.  And then released. As he kept rehearsing the piece, I wanted to dash into the church and stop him to ask what in the world was he playing but that seemed inappropriate.  I thought I’d catch him at the end of his rehearsal but I missed him.

Time passed, lots of traveling took place but I could still hear that music.  I tried to describe the piece to other musicians and people who knew classical music far better than I. Keep in mind I have no language for music (which is why I want to paint what I’m hearing). I kept saying, “It’s the kind of music that, you know, leads you someplace,” and other not especially helpful phrases.  I was about to give up my search when I did chance upon the organist. This time I stopped him in his tracks and asked, “Hey, Colin, what was that piece of music you were playing two weeks ago?”

He lifted an eyebrow but he indulged me.  He helped me find the language to describe what I’d heard. And as we narrowed down the possibilities of what he may have been playing, he finally asked, “Was it loud? Did it get really loud?” “Yes!” I said, and so he nodded and then wrote down the possibilities.

It was Herbert Howell’s Rhapsody No. 1 in D Flat.  Imagine my pleasure when I found this Youtube recording by Nigel Potts. Listen at your leisure. And that’s my random story this bright Monday morning.  Have a good day, folks. 😉


Read Full Post »

Caustic in Black & White 1

Okay, I first remember reading about John Cage in a story by Alex Ross of The New Yorker. The piece opened with a description of the 1952 performance of John Cage’s composition, 4’33”, which turned out to be four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. It’s a bit more complicated than that, or maybe not, but you can read more via this article link.  John Cage and silence came to mind recently because I was sharing a video I’d made with the physicist in my life and when I asked him what piece of music should I pair with these images, he suggested, “soundtrack by John Cage.”

Caustic in Black & White 2

Caustic in Black & White 2

At first I thought he was kidding.  There had to be a short classical piece to fit the light and motion so reminiscent of northern lights.  When I’d asked him what music to pair with a short video of sunlit water flowing over rocks, he’d suggested Faure’s Requiem in Paradisum.  Now he recommended silence? On my own, I found Bartock’s Evening in the Village. I tried the pairing. He appreciated Bartok but he still favored Cage.  I read a bit more about Cage, his compositions, his performances, his poetry … an interesting man to say the last.

Caustics in Color

Caustics in Color

So what I captured on the wall one morning took place in less than four minutes and thirty-three seconds.  It involved a rippled window, a different one in the house.  Light shone down through the gaps in the leaves and branches of the oak tree that towers over the house.  That light made its way through the glass refracting through the ripples producing a dynamic pattern of caustics on the wall.  Most often that pattern of light is static but this particular morning the wind was blowing. The branches and the leaves they moved creating what that physicist described as “a pattern of illumination that varied in space and time.” It was a good moment inspiring some experimentation as you can see in the video below.  The flickering on the wall is as it happened … in less than four minutes and thirty-three seconds.

A Silent Dance from Cynthia Staples on Vimeo.

Read Full Post »

… there was a school and on the campus there was a chapel and inside the chapel there was a stained glass window known as The Singing Window.

photo by Carol M. Highsmith

photo by Carol M. Highsmith


Sources and Additional Readings

Learn more about the photographer Carol M. Highsmith on the Library of Congress website: Carol M. Highsmith Archive.

Learn more about Tuskegee University including its tours and the history of the chapel.

Read Full Post »

There’s an office park in Woburn that has the remnants of a river surfacing here and there running through concrete culverts and pooling in overgrown fields.  In the culverts there’s paper blown in from the nearby dumpster but there are also beautiful rocks.  In the field, there are branches, dead leaves and green growing stuff.

One windy, partly cloudy day, I was photographing the water and the fall of the light.  And then, just to try something different, I decided to record what I saw, in short intervals.  With the aid of online tutorials, I managed to figure out how to thread the shorts together.  As I watched the scene flow, I could hear background wind and the call of wild geese.  But what would it be like with a different sound?

I texted a certain fellow.  Now I knew he liked Bach, so I asked, “Is there a piece by Bach that you might pair with scenes of running water?” His reply included Vivaldi, 4 Seasons, Spring, Handel, Water Music.  In the end, I selected his suggestion of Faure’s Requiem in Paradesum because he wrote that “It sounds like a waterfall.”  Just over three minutes in length.  No Oscars to be had just yet, but it is fun to try new things. 😉

Running Waters in Woburn Take Two from Cynthia Staples on Vimeo.

Read Full Post »

I was racing around the Back Bay of Boston and decided at some point that I needed to rest for a bit and so I stepped inside of the Old South Church at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth Streets.  There were so many people sitting quietly that I decided that perhaps I should too (especially given the weight of my backpack).  And so I sat and focused my camera mostly on one window.  A large window above the chancel said to illustrate the announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds.  Designed and produced by Clayton & Bell of London and installed in 1875.

Learn more about Old South Church, its history and current activities, via this link.

Read Full Post »

Blues 1

Blue Rose in the Hall

Maybe it was fear that made the young men shout “Nooooo!” as I stood next to a For Sale sign in front of a house in a suburb outside of Boston.  Fear of change, fear of something different coming into their midst.  And maybe it was fear that made a woman look me up and down as I questioned her entrance into a building (part of my job at the time).  As she left the building she made sure to look at me in that same way and I had to think, “Well, if looks could kill, I’d be six feet under.” And maybe it was fear that made the waitress do some things during a meal, such that once I’d left the restaurant with my friend (whose favorite restaurant it was), she said, “I’m sorry.  I didn’t expect that to happen.”

Now if I were to say that all of those fairly recent events happened, in part, because all the other individuals were white and I am black … well, I think there are folks who might say, as is often said today, why does everything have to be attributed to race?  Because race does matter.  As does class, gender, and economics. It all matters.  But here’s why race stands out for me:  slavery. “Slavery ended,” someone said to me once. “Why keep bringing that up?”

Born in the 1970s USA, I have never been a slave.  I have never been shackled or forced to give up a child or beaten if I tried to put pen to paper or pick up a book.  I’ve never stood in a market while an overseer pointed out my attributes so that someone might buy me as a companion for their children or an extra servant in the kitchen.  Never needed to carry papers proving freedom (or ownership), nor been branded, or had to hope that my master would free our children in his will.

As former slaves did about 150 years ago, I’ve never been in a position of celebrating freedom and, on the other hand, having to deal with the realities of having little but the clothes on my back and waiting for forty acres and a mule.  Never had to deal with “separate but equal” or segregated schools (my older brothers did who were born in the 1950s and 1960s).  Never been in a position or location where I had the right to vote but other forces, those perhaps suffering from fear of change, were putting strategies into place to prevent me from voting (my parents dealt with that).

Nor have I had to watch a loved one (or even a stranger) brutally beaten, mutilated, hung from a tree or a telephone pole, and burned.  I’ve heard a few stories from older family, watched the documentaries and read quite a few articles.  When I read the stories of lynching, especially in old newspapers recently digitized, and see the images, I cry.  I cry for the people who died, the people who watched and tried to help, and even for the people who watched and did nothing.  I did wonder what the people who did nothing were thinking? And what about the people who sang and danced and even cut off parts for souvenirs or mailed those parts to white politicians trying to effect some change?

For some, did the actions they witnessed mean nothing because the people to whom the deeds were done looked nothing like them?  Or was it just that they did not know what to do? Were some people truly scared or were they simply seeking pleasure in establishing control over another?  All of those incidents are part of the fabric of this country, as are the people, of all races and backgrounds, who fought to end slavery, the people who fought to end routine lynchings and the people who continue to fight for economic and voting rights for all people.

Yes, I do indeed bring up slavery and other injustices from the so-called past because of present-day incidents like in Ferguson.   Slavery is an institution, one of many, that this country has yet to deal with. I don’t care about politics or how people choose to identify themselves in this country as Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Libertarian and so on.   Political labels and tenets change over time.  But what about human behavior?  How has that changed over time?  Or has it?  Why do we treat people the way that we do?

You can “follow the money” in terms of why slavery was entrenched in this country for so long.  Economics, economics, economics.  In too many venues of late, I have read people saying stop talking about race and focus on the economic issues in a Ferguson.  Of course, economics is an issue and powerful factor leading to injustices happening in many communities.  But it comes down to a bit more than money to treat people as inferior or to hear their screams of pain and laugh or to make assumptions about their children’s ability to learn regardless of resources provided for education.  And it is about more than economics to see all those things taking place around you and to do nothing. To some extent, I feel little right to judge others because I do not always know what to do as I learn about the horrors around me, in this country and abroad.  I do know with regard to slavery and the seeds that were planted that continue to sprout, I do not want to forget.

I’ve been researching the past, including slave times, quite a bit of late for various projects as well as to better understand current events.  In the remembering, and rediscoveries, I don’t come to hate people who look different than me.  Not at all.  A part of me mourns.  I mourn the horrors, and I also celebrate the courage of so many different peoples, their hopes, their activism and their creativity in finding the beauty in this life.  And I celebrate such in the people who are active today.

As a final note in my Sunday ramblings, if you chose to read so far, … I came upon a 1920s newspaper article about a lynching. The reporter recounted that witnesses heard the dying man sing a song with his last breaths as the flames consumed him.  I looked up the song and came upon the following 1950s rendition by Sam Cooke.  A powerful piece.


Read Full Post »

Transmigration is a 10 minute and 53 second composition by Michael Veloso, written for organist Joshua Lawton.  Seven years ago, I heard it performed at Trinity Church in Copley Square during its Friday Organ Concert series.  I’d been listening to Lawton rehearse all morning and so I knew something happened for me as listened, a build up that was visceral, starting about 5 minutes into the work.  During the actual event, at about the 8 minute mark, a woman raced from the performance in tears.  A man followed, perplexed, and said, “I don’t know what happened.” I could say nothing because I too felt the well up of emotion triggered by something in that marriage of the composer’s work, the organist’s skill, and, likely, the acoustics of the church.

I later wrote the composer asking him about the piece.  At the time it was not available publicly, but I just happened to do a search this morning, and voila.  Not quite the same as listening to a live performance in a building known for its acoustics, but well worth a listen if you have a chance.  You can learn more about the composer here: http://mjveloso.com/.

Read Full Post »

Between fish in the previous post, the rain today and reading a book set in coastal South Carolina, well, I guess there’s plenty of reason why Wade in the Water came to mind as I worked with this image.  If you’ve never heard the song, this is a pretty good link.  Have a good evening, folks.

Read Full Post »

Recently, a family of swans swam past me. As they did so, several spread their wings in the sunlight.  Slow movements that made me think of motion and music.

I took many photos, and I wondered what am I to do with these images? Then, I listened to a particular piece of music and suddenly wanted to put the images and that music together somehow.


I’m going to give it a try. I’m not sure that I will be successful, but it is good to have a goal. I’ll let you know what happens. But until then, here are a few images of the beautiful birds.

p.s.  As for the music that moved me? Just one of those very popular pieces out there in the world, Adagio in D Minor by John Murphy, composed for the film, Sunshine (2007). So many variations on the theme available online, but here’s a link to a nice one. Enjoy.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »