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Looking toward the stars

Looking toward the stars

Posted by: on July 12, 2016   |Comments (0)|Veritas Grant

lahiff-picHi!

My name is Cecelia Lahiff, and I am a humanities/art history major with a classics minor. I am from Goshen in Orange County New York.

This summer, under the guidance of my mentor Dr. Fred Drogula, I will be writing a research paper entitled “Wet Stars: Ancient Conceptions of Stars in the Golden Age Latin Poetry.” This project will include an in-depth look into the writings of Vergil (Virgil) and how he understood astronomy in his time.

Since this is not an already well-researched topic, I am excited to add some insight into the field of classics! Stay tuned for more updates as I try to be as eloquent as possible, while keeping my head in the stars!

Vale! (or farewell in Latin)
Cecelia

Hi! My name is Cecelia Lahiff, and I am a humanities/art history major with a classics minor. I am from... MORE

Understanding the beginnings of Russian chant

Posted by: on July 5, 2016   |Comments (0)|Veritas Grant

music-pieceSometimes, opportunities arise from the most unlikely occasions. When I applied for this grant back in February, I was visiting Ireland with the Providence College Liberal Arts Honors Program. One morning at the hotel — surrounded by books on choral masterworks and 20th century musicians and typing away furiously on an iPad Word document that I would eventually polish up into my grant application — I was approached by one of the theology professors who had accompanied us on the trip and who was curious as to what I was working on during vacation.

I explained the premises of my project to her and what I hoped to accomplish if I was awarded a grant. Before breakfast was over, she had told me she knew of a Russian hymnographer with whom I could get in touch if I received the grant. Grant-in-hand a few weeks later, I began reaching out to Mr. Nicholas Kotar — a fantasy author, Russian translator, musician, and hymnographer with a seemingly bottomless wealth of knowledge on Russian chant history and characteristics. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kotar while in upstate New York and speaking with him about my research.

We met in Cooperstown, a quaint little village about five hours southwest of Rochester, where I was conducting more research at the Sibley Library at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. Outside a local café and market, Mr. Kotar gave me a rundown of the history of Russian chant music — detailing for me when and how it developed. Unlike most other traditions, the Russian Orthodox liturgical practices stemmed solely from Russian folk music and the influences of the Byzantine church presence in the area. This is because the pagan religions, which dominated the area prior to Christianization, had no musical tradition of their own. This explains why some of the Russian chant music still sounds vaguely familiar to more Western ears — it is essentially Byzantine chant with a characteristically Russian spin on it.

Znamenny chant, the first truly Russian liturgical music, developed soon after and is strikingly similar to Stravinsky’s works. Its characteristic elements include melismas (long lines sung on one syllable of text) and thetas (added syllables), both of which elongate important words in the chant. This focus on words would remain central to the compositional style of Russian chant, which always emphasized a conveyance of the text over melodic beauty. As such, sonorities that were unacceptable in the Roman Catholic liturgical tradition were allowed in the Russian canon, including open fourths and fifths, parallel seconds, and closed voicing with frequent voice crossing. When polyphony was introduced into the chant repertoire, Znamenny chant developed into Strochnoe chant, which translates to “line” or “horizontal” singing. This is an extremely appropriate descriptor, since these pieces involve a middle voice singing the original Znamenny chant surrounded by two outer voices that ornament the melody line but have no clear cut relation to it — creating a three-part piece in which each voice is independent. Similar tendencies can be seen in Stravinsky, especially in the interactions between his vocal and instrumental lines, which often are remarkably independent of each other. The included image is one such example. While the vocal lines in rehearsal three are clearly informed by each other, the accompanying instrumental line is largely independent of the vocal movement and either part could be easily taken out of the texture without destroying the other.

Supplied with these, and several other characteristics of Russian chant, thanks to the knowledge of Mr. Kotar, I have begun to create a spreadsheet analysis of the pieces — going through each measure with a fine tooth comb to look for patterns and characteristics that will be helpful in pinpointing how and when Stravinsky’s writing is influenced by Russian Orthodox chant.

The information I’m gathering ranges from the seemingly obvious, like what instruments are used and when, to the less conspicuous harmonic structure over the course of an entire movement or even the entire piece. Ultimately, this type of analysis will allow for the evaluation of Stravinsky’s composition in a way that will highlight the abundant similarities between Russian liturgical chant and the works of Stravinsky.

Cheers,
Joan

Sometimes, opportunities arise from the most unlikely occasions. When I applied for this grant back in February, I was visiting... MORE

Summer Study: Stravinsky’s Style

Posted by: on May 24, 2016   |Comments (0)|Walsh Fellows

joan miller picMy first personal experience with the music of Igor Stravinsky was in 2014 when I sang Symphony of Psalms with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Two years later, I’m still fascinated. In an amalgamation of styles and techniques, Stravinsky takes elements of music we’ve all grown up with and reinvents them to conform with his own unique conception of music. For an example, you need look no further than the double fugue in the second movement of Symphony of Psalms, which takes a technique perfected by Bach and puts a stylistic spin on it that is unmistakably Stravinsky.

But what is this personal style? From where did it emerge? Is it fed solely from the Western tradition, or are there other influences at play? An examination of the influences on Stravinsky’s style and music is the focus of my research this summer. More specifically, I will be looking at the influences of traditional Russian Orthodox liturgical chant on Stravinsky’s Catholic liturgical works, namely his Mass and Symphony of Psalms. As a member of the Russian Orthodox church, it is highly probable that elements of Orthodox liturgy would have worked their way into Stravinsky’s style and come across in some of his most spiritually powerful compositions.

To accomplish this project, I will be spending my summer traveling to various libraries and archives in southern New England and New York, where I will be studying the development and evolution of Stravinsky’s style and the characteristics of Russian Orthodox liturgical chant, in an attempt to discover the common ground between the two areas. To develop a better grasp of the nuances of Russian Orthodox chant, I will also be in touch with a Russian Orthodox hymnographer throughout my research. Once this portion of the research is completed, my next task will be to complete an analysis of both of Stravinsky’s works to determine the extent to which they were influenced by Russian Orthodox chant. If I’m correct, there will be substantial crossover in style, which will help to explain some of the anomalies in the traditional Western, tonal theory based interpretations of the scores that fail to fully account for the presence of certain chordal progressions and voice leading choices Stravinsky presents us with throughout both Catholic liturgical compositions.

And so begins my summer research project. Having been an avid admirer of Stravinsky’s music for some time now, I’m looking forward to taking a closer look at some of my favorite of his compositions, while simultaneously indulging my love for music theory and analysis — an opportunity made possible by my Veritas Research Grant. I couldn’t be more excited to begin.

Cheers,

Joan Miller, Class of 2018

My first personal experience with the music of Igor Stravinsky was in 2014 when I sang Symphony of Psalms with... MORE

Redemption and the Civil War

Posted by: on April 20, 2016   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research

Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War – Nicholas Lemann

Redemption – “the act of making something better or more acceptable”

colfax2The dictionary definition of redemption seems pretty self-explanatory, but how about redemption in relation to the Civil War? A book I read recently dealt with this concept in terms of what happened once the war “ended.” Yes, the quotes around “ended” are deliberate because, after reading this book, I questioned whether or not the war ended in 1865 with Lee’s surrender to Grant in the Appomattox courthouse. After reading this book, it would seem that the war continued on — but in a different and crueler way.

This cruelty can be seen in Colfax, Louisiana, which was the site of what became known as the Colfax Riot. I bet when you first read the name nothing came to mind – which happened to me. It holds significance that cannot be overlooked or forgotten, but most people have no idea what happened. As the picture included shows, the riot is commemorated by a sign that reads, “On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 negroes were slain. This event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South.”

Yikes. The simplicity with which this even is remembered is kind of shocking — even more so once the whole situation is known. On Easter Sunday 1873, eight years after the “end” of the Civil War, a riot broke out in which politics was the main culprit again. Voting was the actual issue, but underneath lay the tensions that caused it all. After 1865, with the “end” of the war and the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, slavery was abolished and voting rights were given to all men. On the surface, this seemed to solve the problem, but it did not. The inherent racism that was carried out by many White Americans continued, and they simply found other ways to oppress Black men and women.

The Colfax Riot was a prime example of this because it showed the corruption that ensued even after the creation of those amendments. The election for governor of Louisiana was contentious because White, Southern Democrats created shadow governments behind those that were legally in place and created an institution called the White League. Members of this group intimidated and attacked Republicans in the South, as well as Black citizens. The tensions came to a head with the election of governor. Requests were sent to Washington when it became obvious that the White League was going to show no mercy and eventually almost all Blacks that were part of the riot were murdered.

President Grant was contacted, but he did not send troops, and that worried Black residents of the Southern states. The political Civil War had ended, but the social Civil War was still raging on in the South. But, in a way, that was less overt. Many White southerners used intimidation, as seen in Colfax, and eventually loopholes that allowed them to continue to suppress members of the Black population — without technically breaking the law. Redemption then becomes another battle for Black residents, and one that is necessary for their safety in the free country they called home. They did not feel like redemption was being worked toward, and nothing was getting better for them. If anything, their lives were getting worse.

Abby Norberg

References
Definition: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/redemption

Picture: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Colfax_Riot_sign_IMG_2401.JPG

Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War – Nicholas Lemann Redemption – “the act of making something better or... MORE

Lincoln’s Ascent to Power & Lessons in Leadership

Posted by: on April 6, 2016   |Comments (0)|Undergraduate Research
  • In February 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln traveled from Springfield to Washington, visiting his supporters and finding his voice on his way to taking the Oath of Office on March 4.
  • In February 2016, I traveled around campus, learned a few things and concluded the month with Spring Break.

lincoln-cattlecarIn my last post I gave you a super brief summary of the Civil War and presented the case that Lincoln faced many problems leading up to his presidency — and even during the war. In this post, I want to talk about some of those.

For the most part, Lincoln’s trip to Washington D.C. from Illinois was uneventful. He stopped in 27 cities and was greeted by crowds of supporters who he spoke to about his plan-of-action while in office. However, one city in particular posed a slight problem for him — Baltimore. You may have heard about the Baltimore Plot, or you may not have. It was a supposed plot to assassinate Lincoln upon his arrival at the train station. His security caught wind of the plan and insisted that he bypass Baltimore — so he proceeded directly from Pennsylvania to Washington. Lincoln did not want to do this, but despite his many reservations about skipping the city, his convoy continued straight onto Washington.

Many people did not actually like this move, and Lincoln was ridiculed because of it. Some newspapers created caricatures of him as a coward, like the picture included, and they said that he was weak and would not be able run the country to the standards the people would have wanted. The people of the Union began to question their decision and his ability to lead them.

Even after the Baltimore Plot was cleared up, Lincoln still faced issues and problems with the people around him. He had cabinet members who made decisions behind his back, generals who did not take action against the Confederate troops, and a nation that was divided and unable to stand together as one. You would think that people would be more inclined to listen to their Commander-in-Chief, but with the tensions surrounding Lincoln’s presidency, it is more understandable why people did not listen. Now, I’m not saying this is a valid reason for not listening to your boss, and his words and actions should not be undermined at any point, but this is the root of all the problems. Secretary of War Cameron essentially went behind Lincoln’s back and tried to create actions that directly countered his ideas and weakened Lincoln’s relationship with his other cabinet members. General McClellan was cocky, hotheaded, and timid — he continually set up attacks on Confederate troops and then failed to attack further and defeat them when he could.

This was Lincoln’s biggest problem area and the one with which he struggled the most. General McClellan was a West Point graduate and extremely knowledgeable of war tactics — much more than me, so I’m going to do my best to explain what was going on. During the war, more specifically the Peninsula Campaign in which the Union forces attempted to take Richmond, McClellan failed to keep the trust of Lincoln. Trust was necessary to win the war, and this is what I have taken away from this reading and learning experience. The war was a complicated political situation that cannot be summed up by one thing. However, trust was something that every participant needed to have. Lincoln’s actions in removing McClellan from his position and appointing General Grant taught me that sometimes you have to make a decision that is not always the easiest or most popular. I know this sounds trivial or makes it seem that I’m diminishing the decisions Lincoln had to make throughout his presidency and the war, but it is true. There are times when I have to trust my own judgment and make an unpopular decision, not at all like the ones Lincoln had to make. His resiliency and ability to stand by what he believed shows me that even through the darkest times, it is still possible to come out on the other side and “win.”

Abby Norberg

References

Image: https://www.google.com/search?q=lincoln%27s+journey+to+washington&
rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS579US579&espv=2&biw=1280&bih=608&source=
lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiOkaaH4ZPLAhUEWD4KHQJzArcQ_AUIBigB#tbm
=isch&q=lincoln+in+baltimore&imgrc=czAy3FbbsnqkTM%3A

Opening fact: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lincolns-whistle-
stop-trip-to-washington-161974/?no-ist

In February 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln traveled from Springfield to Washington, visiting his supporters and finding his voice on his... MORE