New World Symphony

JUMBLE!

jumble 2

Jumble! – we have been playing our own version of the popular-since-1954 newspaper word game, “Jumble”.  I mix up the letters of a word, and my son unscrambles the letters. My son LOVES this challenge!  As opposed to this:  I thought my son might be interested in watching a plant grow from seed, so a few nights ago I brought up a packet of radish seeds to the STORIES AND STUDIES CENTER and was met with (in Victorian terms) “the cut direct”.  Well, bummer.  But at least I can tell when my son is engaged and when he is not.  And whether he likes it or not, we are going to be serving up home grown radishes in a few short weeks.

radish

Farmer Brown grows radishes (story problem) – (oh my, this one is so easy) It is rather late in the growing season, but Farmer Brown is laying in another crop of radishes – Le Fictitious Local Diner will buy all that he has to sell, and the radishes grow so fast.  If Farmer Brown plants 1,000 radish seeds and is able to harvest 800 radishes, what percentage of the seeds transformed into an edible (vocab) vegetable?  If rabbits ate half of the unharvested radishes, how many did they consume?  If the local diner garnishes every salad with two sliced-up radishes, how many radishes do they need for a PTA luncheon of 150 attendees and a bowling league dinner of 20 team members? (answers at bottom of post)

Cixi

“Cixi – Evil Empress of China?” – we are half-way through yet another book from the “A Wicked History” series.  These books NEVER disappoint.  So: China in the 1800s – we thought the book would be about inner-court intrigues or friction between royalty and peasants.  But no.  So far, the lead story is about the most preposterous foreign invasions. China had a centuries-long tradition of NOT welcoming foreign trade, so GET THIS – during the 1800s, Britain and France (I am sorry to say), using vastly superior military might, forced China to trade.  How upside-down is this?  My son and I seem to have this small discussion every night: does a country with any sense at all go to war to force a clearly reluctant other country to engage in COMMERCE?  Suffice it to say, we open this book every night hoping we will start to understand, and in the meantime learn more about Empress Cixi.  We are sort of hoping that her evilness doesn’t disappoint…tonight is promising – we will be reading a short essay that appears to infer that Cixi poisoned her enemies. Yikes!

greek quiz

Greek Mythology a la Ken Jennings – The fact is this: my son and I are still loving “Ken Jennings Junior Genius Guide to Greek Mythology”.  The fact is this:  the Greek mythology family tree is hilariously confusing.  There is a dizzying quantity gods, goddesses, muses, nymphs, and super-strength mortals.  Just to make sure my son had a grasp of the basics, I gave him two quizzes – one that matched Greek gods with Roman gods and a multiple choice quiz that covered mythology vocabulary.  I also gave the quizzes to my husband. They both did so well!  (And if you are looking closely at the photo above – my son selected correctly – researchers now say that Pandora had a JAR, not a BOX!)

“Penny from Heaven” – we’ve just finished this fun fiction read by Jennifer L. Holm.  As we found from another of her books, “The 14th Goldfish”, Holm excels in characterizing family dynamics – in this case we ended up wanting to be a part of the protagonist’s father’s extended Italian family.  For us, this was a captivating book with a handful of serious discussion topics.  Tonight we start on another Holm novel, “Turtle in Paradise”.

cake with sparkler

Bohemian Birthday – Classical music listening – Last Friday (September 8th) was the birthdate of composer Antonin Dvorak. So, after finding his birth country on our globe (Bohemia – now the Czech Republic), and a few basic arithmetic questions (Dvorak was born in 1841, how old would he be if he were still alive to celebrate this birthday?  Dvorak died in 1904, how long did he live?), we enjoyed three favorite recordings.

Sidebar notes –
1) For no particular reason at all, we selected Dvorak recordings conducted by international treasure Seiji Ozawa. (Not to be jerky, but it is hard not to take notice of Mr. Ozawa’s hair.)
2) Two of our selected compositions were recorded by the acclaimed Vienna Philharmonic – and if the music were just not SO great, we would have been preoccupied by trying to find women musicians in the orchestra.

Slavonic Dance No. 1 – composed in 1878, under full encouragement of Johannes Brahms.  We think if we were musicians we would like playing this sweetly rambunctious folk dance, and we would definitely like to be somewhere in the orchestra hall if only to gaze upon Ozawa’s CRAZY cartoon-style coiffure.  Nonetheless, superbly conducted:

Humoresque – It has been written that Dvorak’s “Humoresque” (referring to the seventh of his eight “Humoresques”, composed in 1894) is probably the most famous small piano work ever written (after Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”).  We first listened to this as it was written (for piano), and our thought was, “yeah, yeah, yeah – this sounds familiar – sort of boring”.  THEN we listened to to a recording of Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Orchestra, showcasing Itzhak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma: GAME CHANGER.  Who knew “Humoresque” was a heartbreaker???  This is proof of the power of a conductor’s vision:

“The Largo Movement” from Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World Symphony”, movement 2) – composed in 1892. Majestic loneliness. Ozawa’s hair under control:

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(story problem answers: 80%, 100 radishes, 340 radishes)

Quandary

Here is the quandary (vocab):  I do not like reading to my son about man’s inhumanity to man; he has enough to deal with without trying to grasp the perplexing notion of cruelty.  HOWEVER, the “Wicked History” series books are so well written, organized, researched, and crazy fascinating – we can’t stay away.

leopold-book-cover

We just finished the book on BAD BAD King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909); and he was indefensibly bad – Hitler and Stalin BAD.  There were passages in the book describing atrocities under his leadership of the “Congo Free State” (his PERSONAL colony) so barbaric, that while reading aloud to my son, I had to skip over paragraph after paragraph.
On the plus side:
– we learned a LOT about what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo and came away fascinated
– we added to our hero list:  George Washington Williams (a journalist), Edmund Morel (a most alert shipping clerk) and Roger Casement (a British consul). These men brought the brutal policies of Congo Free State administrators to world wide attention and censure (vocab)
– AND Leopold II died with just about everyone (well, maybe everyone) despising him. (ridiculously small consolation)

amazon-pic himalayan-pic

from “The Wonder Garden” book by Williams and Broom – stunning

The subject matter gets a LOT happier, but DRAT:  we just hate it when a good book ends. We loved EVERY page of “The Wonder Garden” by Kristjana S. Williams and Jenny Broom; luscious illustrations accompanied by solidly interesting facts.  This startlingly beautiful book showcases animals of five distinct habitats around the world. We were familiar with the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, but we really hadn’t read anything about the Black Forest, the Chihuahuan Dessert or the Himalayan Mountains.  This delicious book is SO on our “read-it-again list”.

Last night my son took a simple matching location-to-fact quiz and then we paired up one piece of music with each habitat.

habitat-quiz

Music to remind us of five living wonders of our world:
– The Amazon Rain Forest – hosting around 1,500 species of birds, Camille Saint-Saens’ “The Aviary” (from his “Carnival of the Animals”, 1886) was an obvious selection.  The music is prefaced by an Ogden Nash poem read by Roger Moore.  Elegant:

– The Great Barrier Reef – again, from Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals”:  “The Aquarium”. Gloriously haunting music provides a backdrop for the world’s largest living structure (however, as beautiful as this linked video is, “The Aquarium” takes up only the first 2.5 minutes; the carnival’s donkey and the cuckoo movements follow, for some unknown reason):

– The Black Forest – the habitat for not only the world’s largest owls, but also the setting for several fairy tales from the brothers Grimm.  My son and I listened to “Evening Prayer” from the opera “Hansel and Gretel”, composed by Englebert Humperdinck in 1893.  We twiddled our fingers during the three minute LONG introduction; however once we got to the meat of the composition we enjoyed possibly the most comforting lullaby ever:

SIDEBAR:  another Englebert Humperdinck??? we followed Humperdinck’s “Evening Prayer” with a short discussion of British pop star (of the ’60’s and ’70’s) Englebert Humperdinck (but really Arnold George Dorsey) (obviously NO relation to the composer of the late 1800’s).  My UCLA college room-mate, J’nette, warbled a mocking version of  Humperdinck’s giant hit “Release Me” throughout our undergrad years, so I made my unappreciative son endure a trip down memory lane:

– The Chihuahuan Desert – Well, first of all, we had no idea where the Chihuahuan Desert was (southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and northern parts of Mexico) and we are practically living in it!  We felt the second movement (the “Largo” movement) of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” evoked the loneliness, uncertainty, and the grandeur of this habitat:

– and finally, The Himalayan Mountains – we paired “the rooftop of the world” with  “Approaching the Summit” composed by genius genius genius John Williams for the 1997 movie “Seven Years in Tibet”.  We could hear how this music captures themes – majestic and mysterious – from both sides of the Himalayan Mountains (India and China):

Welcome to the best part of my day!
– Jane BH
(The story problems from this week seemed painfully frivolous after reading about the human suffering provoked by King Leopold II.  I just couldn’t post any of them.)