Monday, December 24, 2012

Carol of the Bells

Happy Holidays!

This is a recording of my duet partner Karuna and me playing at a holiday concert at a local retirement home. Hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Praludium by Shostakovich

My friend Karuna and I have been working up a few duets together this semester. Here is one of our performances at a local retirement home (accompanied by Karuna's mother on the residence's out-of-tune piano):

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday Music at the State Capitol

My violin studio had the great pleasure of being invited to the Maryland State Capitol for a concert to celebrate the holiday season. The concert was billed as a candlelight performance--which it was not for fear the building might burn down. Despite the lack of candles, we all enjoyed playing for the huge crowd in the enormous room with its amazing acoustics.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Dream

The cast of the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream,' directed by Ethan McSweeny. Photo by Scott Suchman.

When mortals and immortals meet, mayhem occurs. And that is just what happens in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The show (directed by Ethan McSweeny, the director of the fantastic Much Ado About Nothing) set its sights high, hoping to explore Shakespeare’s world of fairies and mortals in a new way. Although it is innovative, the production is not completely successful.

The stage itself is a masterpiece. Sidney Harman Hall is transformed into an old theater, long unused, with racks of costumes and props lying on the stage. The fairies inhabit the theater during the night, slipping through trap doors to have their midnight revels, to steal props and costumes, and to observe the mortals. This setting brings the fairies down to earth. Both city and forest are symbolized in the same set, beautifully designed by Lee Savage. This decision allows McSweeny to suggest that the fairy world and the moral world are mapped atop each other, almost like anagrams, rather than being alternative worlds.

Sometimes the audience gets a strong sense that the two worlds are in fact one. At other moments, the director’s effort to distinguish the two worlds creates awkward or meaningless division. For example, during the scenes taking place in the fairy world, pre-recorded bird song occasionally bursts out of nowhere in the old theater. At one moment the theater seems to be the actual world of the fairies. At other moments, the theater merely seems to symbolize a separated forest, removed from the theater of the mortals.

Costume designer Jennifer Moeller has created outfits for the mortals from the era of the 1940s. The costumes ranged from a military uniform for the Duke to prep school uniforms. Lysander (Robert Bietzel) was dressed in jeans and carried a guitar on his back throughout the play. Somewhat incongruously, Helena appears much more formal and adult than her peers, wearing a classic 1940s dress rather than teen garb. The fairies, on the other hand, all wore bits of old costumes, pilfered from the theater within the theater. Many of the clothes seemed to be from fallen empires--from Rome, from Greece, or even from the overturned French aristocracy. Underling fairies wore elaborate Victorian lingerie with occasional touches from those and other fallen empires.

In an effort to emphasize the sameness of the mortal and immortal worlds, the clothing of the teen lovers begins to look more like the clothing of the fairies as they spend the night in the “woods.” During a slapstick brawl between the four humans, they remove their mortal clothes and find themselves in their underwear, becoming fairies in their own right, at least to a degree. At this point, these humans can suddenly use the fairies’ trap doors to get around the forest.

When Bottom and the other “Rude Mechanicals” begin to practice their play, they find themselves on a stage upon a stage, upon a stage! The thespians’ scenes are less inventive than the rest of the production but garner a lot of laughs. Snout (Herschel Sparber) plays Wall with the contents of a recycling bin trailing from his outstretched arms. Flute (David Graham Jones) plays Thisbe as a Disney princess thrilled to be prancing on stage. My favorite costume piece was definitely Bottom’s donkey head. When it first appeared on his head, it looked quite real, but soon it took on an almost “steam-punk" look.

Adam Green as Puck and Bruce Dow as Bottom in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream,' directed by Ethan McSweeny. Photo by Scott Suchman.The highlight of the show was Puck, masterfully played by Adam Green. Whether he was leaping from trap doors or splashing mud and water on the humans, he held the show together with his playfulness and sly humor. This production cast Puck as more of a trickster than a brooding spirit. There was a Cirque du Soleil aspect to the immortal world with fairies turning cartwheels and shimmying up ropes. Puck joined them by conducting many dialogues while swinging from the fictive theater’s dilapidated chandeliers.

The magical portrayal of the immortal side, in contrast with the somewhat cold and uncharismatic portrayal of the mortals, leads the audience to connect much more strongly with the fairies. Despite McSweeny’s attempt to integrate the two worlds (taken to its furthest extreme at the end of the play, which I will leave a surprise), we as viewers are left with a disappointing sense of how separated the two worlds are.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


So Then Order is Round, or…
The Dwindled Supposing And

 box oUt




For this project I made a mesostic using Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons” as the source text and the author’s name as the seed text.  Instead of doing it by hand, I used an online mesostic generator.

In the first stanza, the awkward syntax of the lines mirrors Stein’s language play. It starts with two negative traits, “disgrace” and “carelessness,” which seem to be magnified by “nor it more.” If one can “box out” that negativity, kindness can come in. This makes me think about Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter where Hester’s shame and disgrace gets her boxed out of society. Interestingly, though, The “A” boxed on her chest for all to see eventually gives her the gift of both strength and kindness.

The second stanza makes complete sense syntactically as well as poetically: “So then order is round.” Although we think of order as being a straight line, it always bends and twists, circling back on its self. This idea seems to complement Gertrude Stein’s poetic style.

The third stanza tells us that while the images we use in our poetry might seem to be full of splendor, Stein is no imagist. Instead, she recognizes that in reality the image is “dirty” and not an expression of true resemblance at all. The poem is suggesting that it is through experimental language, not some na├»ve goal of the exact image, that poetry can come alive.

One of the most interesting parts of the third stanza is the sixth line. Although the word chosen by the mesostic generator is “amusing,” the capitalization of the “U” (from GERTRUDE) gives the word an additional meaning: “am using.” Perhaps this is Stein speaking through the mesostic to tell us again that language gathers new meanings by sounds and space rather than mere meaning. I’m sure she’d find it “amusing” that I “am using” her sounds to generate new sounds, her language to generate new language.

The final stanza concludes with “the dwindled supposing and.” We imagine what is to come, what is to be added, but our suppositions become limited even as we try to expand them. We circle back in our round order to that initial cycle of disgrace to kindness.  I love the slant-rhyme words that end the two STEIN stanzas: "round" and "and." This happy accident joins together the ends of the circle.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's for Lunch? Sardines and Oranges


Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter” displays many of the features of New York School poetry. First, it uses a modified “I-do-this, I-do-that” style. It is not a list of daily behavior but the poem does have a conversational, even improvisational tone suggesting the poet is sharing his thoughts as they occur to him. In addition, “Why I Am Not a Painter” is exclusively in present tense, adding to its immediacy. This approach allows O’Hara to use the NYS’s classic wit.

NYS poems often make use of references. Here, O’Hara refers to modern artist Mike Goldberg, whose work hung in the MOMA where O'Hara worked. The fact that O’Hara talks about a museum in New York City illustrates the movement’s reliance on both the both the urban and urbane. The intellectual quality combined with the casual tone adds to the humor of the poem.

O’Hara makes use of the NYS technique of pastiche as he plays off of the work of painter Michael Goldberg. He combines the two meanings of pastiche as ironic stylistic copying and as jumble. Goldberg’s sardines and O’Hara’s oranges are both simple everyday unromantic objects, both words which become dissociated from their meanings, and both ideas that motivate the production of creative art.

It is this dissociation between letters and art that leads O’Hara to explore the concept of palimpsests. O’Hara watches Goldberg paint sardines (both the object and the painting), then sees him remove the object in order to complete the painting. The echo is heard in the painting by leaving the visual “letters” of the word “sardine” in the work. And if one views the actual painting, one sees that O’Hara means quite literally that the letters remain. For the poet, the color orange works in a similar way. The idea of the color orange allows him to write multiple poems, poems about subjects as deep as life itself, even though the poet finished without ever actually discussing the color orange itself. His use of palimpsest is to use the plural “Oranges” to title the collection of poems inspired by the color. Interestingly, the pluralization of his inspiration implies a shift in meaning: the food (oranges) rather than the color (orange). In a sense, this is an example of the traditional use of polyptoton (use of repeated versions of the same word), another feature of NYS poetry.

Perhaps the most obvious NYS style used in this poem is parataxis. While the title of the poem promises an explanation of why O’Hara is not a painter, or perhaps a direct statement explaining why he does not paint, we never get a straightforward answer. Instead, we get two images, that of the painter and that of the poet, that we have to work to reconcile. Although O’Hara makes it clear that he is making a comparison between the two, his argument is unclear. The two seem similar in their usage of palimpsests and in their reliance of words in their art. The two seem different since the painter has to remove from his work while the poet simply stops adding. Unlike the limit the painter felt when he removed the original sardine (“It was too much”), the poet has infinite freedom to write with no restrictions on how much to put into his poems.

I love that the poet best known for his “lunch poems” writes about sardines and oranges even when his bigger theme is the analysis of different approaches to creativity and art.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jackson Pollock

830 Fireplace Road
by John Yau
clr gif
“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing.”
When aware of what I am in my painting, I’m not aware
When I am my painting, I’m not aware of what I am
When what, what when, what of, when in, I’m not painting my I
When painting, I am in what I’m doing, not doing what I am
When doing what I am, I’m not in my painting
When I am of my painting, I’m not aware of when, of what
Of what I’m doing, I am not aware, I’m painting
Of what, when, my, I, painting, in painting
When of, of what, in when, in what, painting
Not aware, not in, not of, not doing, I’m in my I
In my am, not am in my, not of when I am, of what
Painting “what” when I am, of when I am, doing, painting.
When painting, I’m not doing. I am in my doing. I am painting.

(This poem is based on a real Pollock quote: "When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of "get acquainted" period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.")

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Election Day


The US election has passed and Barack Obama has been elected president for a second term.  Instrumental in this process were hundreds of people who staffed the polls at every precinct, passing out information about voting procedure, manning catalogs of registered voters, and preventing the technically complex and extremely heavy electronic voting machines from falling down.

Yesterday I got to volunteer to help  as part of a program called the Future Vote Initiative, getting "future voters" (otherwise known as kids) to volunteer to help for three-hour shifts at local precincts. I was instructed to get to the polls at six o’clock in the morning, meaning that I had to get up around 5:30--which as a homeschooler is a very unusual event for me. While I had to get up early, it was worth every minute of missed sleep. I did everything I could to help, running Voter Access Cards back and forth, handing out "I Voted" stickers, or doing whatever was needed.

I had so much fun in the morning that I came back to help put everything away as soon as my fencing class had finished in the evening.  By the time I got home, it was just a few minutes before the outcome of the election was announced.

During the next presidential election four years from now, I hope to become a full election judge!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Doctor Who

I spent months knitting my main accessory!

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Der Golem

The swashbuckling hero Zorro, fencing away the evil oppressors of colonial California, gallops off the screen, followed by his worst enemies.  His ride is accompanied by traditional Spanish folk tunes and other live music.  At least it was accompanied that way today at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

The action of the movie was exiting, but even more exciting was the music, provided by the band Hesperus.  The band plays all sorts of instruments, from viola de gamba (a six stringed, fretted cello) to Renaissance violin (lighter weight and shorter than a modern violin) to single-drone bagpipe.  The music made the movie so much more compelling as the hero performed his dramatic, death-defying stunts.

While the performance itself was great, my favorite part was after the show when I spent some time talking to the musicians.  The violinist offered to let me actually play the special violin, a reconstruction of an instrument made during the Renaissance.  While it was very difficult to play because of its different size, it was tremendous fun to see how instruments have changed throughout the centuries.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Ecological Model of Health Behaviors: Eating Vegetables

As part of my study of heath this semester, I have started watching the Coursera lecture series Introduction to Global Health Policy, taught by a professor from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins.

In the first lecture, the professor introduced the concept of the “ecological model” of health behaviors.  To demonstrate the model, he used the example of the use of insecticide-impregnated bed netting intended to prevent malaria and other mosquito-carried diseases in Africa.

The model involves 5 layers of influence on the eventual outcome of heath related decisions. I decided to try to apply the model to different health behavior: eating vegetables.

1. Individual: I like the taste of vegetables. Apparently, I’ve liked vegetables since I first started eating solid foods. My parents tell stories about how when I was a baby, I would cry and scream while pointing at bowls of steamed broccoli, delayed from serving while the family lit the Shabbat candles with friends.

Some people choose to eat vegetables because they are healthy, but I wouldn’t say that thinking applies to me. Although I don’t choose to eat vegetables because of their “healthiness” per se, I do often decide not to eat junk food because it isn’t healthy.

2. Family: I have always eaten the food my family cooks and grows in our front-yard garden. We eat most of our meals at home as a family. Since my parents have always bought and prepared a lot of vegetables, and then modeled eating them happily, I’ve always eaten lots of vegetables. While both parents stress the importance of a healthy diet of unprocessed whole foods, they serve vegetables mostly because they love to eat them.

3. Community: We live within walking distance to two wonderful Farmers Markets. I live around many vegetarians and other people interested in the politics of food, local food, unprocessed food, organics, etc

4. Institutions: I don’t go to school which I have heard feeds students poorly-prepared vegetables. And we live within walking distance to both a natural foods co-op and a chain natural foods grocery store.

5. Policy & Law: Most things I can think about don’t affect me directly, like the fact that organic farms have regulations, making organic foods more expensive. I have been exposed to national campaigns focusing on healthy eating such as Michelle Obama's Let’s Move as well as national guidelines like the food plate (and formerly, the pyramid).

One of the things I was curious about was where pop-culture would fit into the ecological model. For relatively isolated communities in Africa, this factor might not be relevant. But for us here in the US, I think it is very important. So I have added a sixth category:

6. Society: While it is not something that affects me greatly, because I don’t go to school or have a tv, I know that it is a great influence on many kids my age. That eating vegetables is uncool. While it could fit into community (what people in our community tell us) or that it might fit into institutions since so much of it is corporation and ad based, it could very nicely fit into policy as a social policy. Because of this overlapping nature, maybe it should be its own level of society and pop-culture (at least in America.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Free Verse: Flat and Hard upon the Page

(Comparing Two Versions of a William Carlos Williams poem)

The second version of William Carlos Williams’s poem “Young Woman at a Window” is an excellent example of imagism, employing many of the movement’s techniques and goals. The first version of the same poem fails to meet the requirements of the Imagist Manifesto and explores other poetic techniques instead.

Although both versions of the poem employ free verse, the cadence in the second version disrupts conventional speech more than it does in the first. For example, Williams uses line breaks to emphasize his breaking up of prepositional phrases. In both versions, he breaks after the preposition “on”: “tears on” and “her cheek on.” In the second, he brings this new speech further even more by beginning with a similar break: “she sits with.” At the end, the poet allows “in her lap” and “to the glass” to be presented together, nevertheless continuing his emphasis on the importance of prepositional phrases.

In the second version of the poem, Williams relies exclusively on a static visual image to convey his meaning. In the first poem, the boy acts and moves, rubbing his nose. But in the second, the image is utterly still and unmoving. Here the boy’s nose is pressed against the window, not dynamic and not in flux. The intense use of the prepositions of placement (such as "on" and "to" and "in") further emphasizes the staticness of the description by pointing out that everything is already placed in physical space. Similarly, the first poem assigns the active very “robs” to the subject of the boy, while in the second version the verb assigned to him is both passive and subsumed in an adjectival clause.

The static image the second version of the poem presents uses language and imagery that is never indefinite. While the interpretation of the poem as a whole might be open, the way the words describe the image itself is quite specific and closed. The image can easily be imagined as a painting hanging in a museum. The first version, on the other hand, states that the boy “who robs her knows nothing of his theft,” a claim that does not refer to a specific fact or image but instead to an abstraction. This phrase is highly open, and therefore the poem contradicts the goals of the Manifesto. Interestingly, at least in my view, the closed, definite image of the second version creates a poem with a more open meaning.

Finally, while both poems are condensed and concentrated, the second version is tighter than the first. Williams cuts his word count from twenty-nine words to twenty-three. He cuts the number of stanzas from six to five. In addition, in the second version but not in the first, no word is more than one syllable.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dadaist Poetry

From an online dadaist poetry generator:

Dada Barack
One Barack: On blue dogmas
on elected states and end to,
and most was end. Promises, politics
of the Obama’s We states.
Recriminations, dogmas
of the a, the far a was
have been of our politics.

Dada Barack 2
Barack on, and address strangled states.
In inaugural to promises,
worn out long most the elected,
We too.
One previous address, the an that have
appealing things, its dogmas.
Barack was collection states,
Was his have.

(Text from The Economist: "One of the most appealing things about Barack Obama’s previous campaign was its promise of bipartisanship. On the night he was elected, he insisted: “We have never been a collection of red states and blue states.” In his inaugural address, he declared “an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics”.)


The idea for this poem came from Tristan Tzara's "How to Make a Dadaist Poem":

To make a Dadaist poem:
  • Take a newspaper.
  • Take a pair of scissors.
  • Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
  • Cut out the article.
  • Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
  • Shake it gently.
  • Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
  • Copy conscientiously.
  • The poem will be like you.
  • And here are you a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Onegin Dines at the New Japanese Restaurant

I recently read Alexander Pushkin's novel in verse, Eugene Onegin.  The style the author uses for his poetry is fascinating, similar to Shakespeare's but more convoluted because of the combination of masculine and feminine endings as well as the fact that each stanza uses a different rhyme scheme.   Overall, Pushkin uses iambic (da-DUM) tetrameter (four beats).  He uses 3 quatrains followed by a couplet, similar to Shakespeare.  The whole thing, with unstressed endings denoted by lowercase letters, is as follows:  aBaB-ccDD-eFFe-GG.  Since I love writing Shakespearean sonnets, I thought I should give this style a go.

When you are hungry, think of sushi:
Ginger, soy sauce, bits of fish,
Wrapped inside some nori seaweed.
It makes for such a tasty dish.

If you’re a vegan, try some tofu--
Or carrot, cuke, and avocado.
Wasabi adds a twist of spice
Then set upon the sticky rice.

Sushi is divine in flavor;
The food of gods, I do attest.
Sushi is indeed the best;
A plate of pleasure meant to savor.

When I am done, please bring to me
Some mochi and a cup of tea.