Vocabulary in Old Books

While surfing the internet looking at t-shirts one day, I came across a shirt with an image of a raven spelling the word “nevermore.” Immediately recognizing the reference to Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem The Raven, I went and grabbed my copy off of the shelf and began to read. However, upon opening the book, a small piece of paper fell out, and upon looking closer I realized it contained a bunch of words on it meant for further research in the dictionary.
One of the great advantages of reading older books is the expansive use of vocabulary found in them. While by no means a universal truth, many older authors (especially the ones who have lasted the test of time) maintained a much stronger mastery of the English language than people do today. This makes old books a great way to learn new (old) English words. However, like just about anything, vocabulary growth cannot be obtained in a desultory manner, because then we just end up writing words down to reference later and stick them in a book.
After rediscovering my list of vocabulary from Poe’s book, I continued on to reread The Raven, it took me all of 5 minutes, but in the process I had discovered several more words to add to my small paper. So, find a good book, and whenever you get a chance – read and learn. There’s a whole wealth of words out there that the majority of people do not know, a whole treasure chest just waiting to be discovered. Here are some of the words that I found through reading Poe:

  1. Quiescence –adj. in a state or period of inactivity or dormancy
  2. Asphodel –n. an immortal flower said to grow in the Elysian fields
  3. Desultory –adj. lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm
  4. Nepenthe –n. any drug or potion bringing welcome forgetfulness
  5. Castellated –adj. having battlements
  6. Surcease –n. cessation; relief or consolation

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done

This is the story of the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Okay, fine. This is not the story of the worst thing I’ve ever done; this is the story of one of the worst things I’ve ever done. And, obviously, it’s not even really all that terrible, because I have no qualms telling any of you about it, ye anonymous internet reader, ye not-so-anonymous internet reader, or ye rando I’m swapping anecdotes with at a party.

So here it goes. When I was a sophomore in college, I semi-routinely went two-steppin’ with a group of friends at the local dance hall. Not for any great love of country/western music, as I actually dislike the genre. I can claim no higher motives than that all my friends were doing it, I’m a bit of a social caterpillar, and dancing can be objectively fun, especially with people who are good at it. Also, the guy I was into at the time sometimes made an appearance, so I was always hoping to run into him.

This one time, though, this time I’m telling you about, it was just me and a friend. We’ve lost touch since then, this friend and I, for a few valid reasons, but I still think fondly of her. She was, well, the fun friend. Some of you will know what I mean by this very simple description; for others, you should know that she was charming, clever, cheeky and opinionated, extremely generous and also incredibly impulsive. Arguably flighty, and openly flirty, she was fun, and she persuaded me to accompany her and her alone to the dance hall one night, because no one else could go, but she still wanted to go dancing.

It was she who would be the victim of that very bad thing I did, which occurred between the hours of 10 and 11 p.m., on the left-hand side of the first dance floor in the building.

We, two unaccompanied girls, stood on the edge of the shuffling couples, thereby signalling that we were ready to jump in at a moment’s invitation. We didn’t want for partners (well, she especially didn’t). Like most country/western halls, I gather, the atmosphere was congenial, and you, a male, could ask unknown females to dance without being inherently creepy. Unless, of course, you yourself were creepy.

This is the juncture where I will introduce the third player in the upcoming scene: Fedora Guy. In the spirit of charity, I should state that “creepy” is perhaps too strong a word for him. In all of this that I am about to tell, I never felt threatened, and he was perfectly polite in every interaction. But, he was…weird.

First off, he was wearing a fedora, a buttoned vest, slacks, and a pair of dress shoes that had, I think I recall, slightly pointed toes. Not to belabor the point, but this was a country/western dance hall, meaning that jeans and cowboy boots were the unofficial dress code, and if a hat was worn, it was obviously also a cowboy one.

Secondly, it was the way he danced. He danced much as I imagine an oily octopus might. He oozed his way rhythmically across the floor, attempting to exude what he thought was pizzaz while draping his tentacles as best he could around his partner.

Being that partner dancing with him was exactly as awkward as it looked. I know this, because I danced with him when he asked me that one time. I attempted to make small talk with him as we slimed our way across the floor. I thanked him for his trouble when we were done, though it was really all mine. I was determined to never dance with him ever again.

So, on that night out dancing with my Fun Friend, it was with quite a bit of panic that I watched Fedora Guy seep his way over until he was in front of us, and faux-suavely hold out his hand between the two of us, mutely asking: “Do either of you want to dance with me?” And so at last we come to it: the moment of the kind of bad thing I did.

I picked up my friend’s hand, and placed it in his.

He sucked her into his eight-legged orbit, where she remained for the next three to four minutes, while I went and hid.

Afterwards, she was, honestly, pretty much fuming at me, and she did not appreciate my defense at the time: “You said you needed a wingwoman, and look at me! I think I’m being a pretty great wingwoman – I just got you a guy to dance with!”

Postscript: I actually met Fedora Guy a couple years later, outside of the dance hall, at a wedding. Turns out he was good friends with both the bride and groom, who were also friends of mine. He was not wearing a fedora at the time, and he seemed pretty, well, normal. Thus, I’m not really sure whether the moral of this story is “Know when it’s worth it to throw your friends under the bus,” or “don’t wear fedoras.”

Life Lessons From My First Snowboarding Trip

  1. At times, if you are like me, you will end up in a situation that you agreed to be in, but without fully understanding what you were signing up for and the risks involved. This is why a lot of wiser, older folks opine about experience being the best mentor; sometimes it’s good to listen!
  2. Lace your shoes securely.
  3. You will fall down a lot at first; the important thing is to not break any bones and to get back up and keep going. If you do this, eventually, one of the following will happen:
    1. you’ll break something and have to stop.
    2. your bum will go numb and you’ll stop minding the falls as much (preferable to option 1).
    3. you’ll gain experience and fall less (the most preferable option).
  4. Often, an inexperienced boarder (I have no idea who you might be thinking of!) will pick up speed, lose control, and wipe out. Learning to slow down takes practice but is 100% worth it.
  5. Be sure to pack the right equipment for the activity (snow pants, beanies, snowproof gloves, etc.).
  6. Learn from each mistake, and don’t get discouraged when you’re sore and it hurts.
  7. Try not to collide with other people during your journey; it’s less fun for everyone.
  8. We all make it to the bottom of the mountain eventually, just at different speeds and in different conditions; some arrive at the bottom on stretchers (not to be too macabre, but I did see it happen). Experienced boarders tend to arrive at the bottom quickly and with minimal injury.
  9. Regarding chair lifts – sitting and waiting is a big part of snowboarding, and of life! It helps to have a friend alongside you, to pass the time.
  10. While you’re sitting and waiting, remember to enjoy the scenery. Oooh! Ah!

IMG_20190322_144111

To those who may be curious: no, I didn’t collide with anybody (whew!). I did fall a lot, but I returned safely home with no major injuries, and with more skill as a boarder than when I arrived. Since I had no experience when I arrived, this is not remarkable. Whether snowboarding is something I would ever do again, well…that is another post.

Divisions on Dividing

We are excited to welcome back our guest author Caroline Bennett! Read on to enjoy her latest music-related contribution.


Music historian James Webster posits that, “One cannot think about, still less investigate, the ceaseless, infinitely complex flow of historical events without segmenting them into time spans.”[1] Webster was speaking of the Classical-Romantic divide in music, but structure in any discipline allows people to understand concepts for themselves. Perhaps more importantly, it enables them to share this knowledge and communicate with others more easily. Thus, dividing music history into distinct periods is logical. The separation between with Classical and Romantic musical eras continues to be useful because it allows people to easily communicate with others by providing the structure and context necessary to better appreciate and interpret music.

James Webster

Musicians can compartmentalize music history in many ways, and when appropriate they can use different methods of periodization. Ultimately, however, music history should be organized in a way that is easy for others to grasp. Although Webster is dissatisfied with the standard division between the “Classical” and “Romantic” eras, suggesting that historians label the late 18th through early 19th centuries as “First Viennese Modernism,” there are significant advantages to adhering to the traditional periods. Music historians do share their findings amongst themselves, but also with other musicians or students who are not as familiar with historical details. Thus it is important that the historical narrative be divided in such a way that related composers, musical works, and concepts are grouped together. The divisions should not be so minute, however, that they become difficult to understand or distinguish. Webster notes that periodization is like a story’s plot because both create a narrative.[2] This is a useful way to think about how intricate the divisions in music history should generally be. In a standard plot, the more layers and partitions there are, the less focused the intention of the story becomes and the harder it is for the reader to understand and appreciate the story as a whole. Novels with complex layers, numerous descriptions, and a multitude of characters are often worthwhile, but only inviting and accessible to a select audience. Choosing a simpler periodization may seem inadequate, but Webster acknowledges that “even if the understanding of historical phenomena that periods offer is always partial and self-interested, the only alternative is—no understanding at all.”[3] Music historians, when writing for themselves or for a very specific audience, should create as detailed a structure as they wish. Nevertheless, because music history is usually meant to be shared with a diverse audience, its divisions and layers should be more straightforward.

Mozart

Dividing the Classical and Romantic eras allows teachers and students to better distinguish the predominant characteristics of music in those time periods. Although concepts carried over from the Classical era to the Romantic, in general the thematic material, harmonic structure, and messages of the music were different. For example, Mozart wrote in 1781 that music must “give pleasure and never offend the ear” else it would not be music.[4] Many composers in the 1700s used music to simply represent concepts and emotions, not to actually provoke the audience’s feelings. In his opera Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck wrote Orfeo’s lament in C major and if it were not for the libretto the aria would not sound sad at all. The orchestral accompaniment is rather energetic and the vocal melody could easily pass as a love song. Although composers did begin to add more and more feeling into their music over the course of the 18th century, audiences still found Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, written in 1803, rather overwhelming in its magnitude and confusing in its modulations and overall structure. The first movement’s development was significantly longer than the exposition and the coda nearly equaled the length of the exposition. Furthermore, the first movement modulated abruptly to unexpected keys and certain passages had distinctly dissonant harmonies. Values in music continued to change after the premiere of the Symphony No. 3, however. By the time music critic E.T.A. Hoffman analyzed Beethoven’s instrumental music in 1813, many audiences were beginning to appreciate music that made them feel uncomfortable. For example, Hoffman was very pleased that Beethoven’s music could “destroy” a listener and stir up a sense of “endless longing.”[5] This transition from Mozart’s view to Hoffman’s was gradual, so putting Mozart squarely in the “Classical” era or composers after Beethoven in the “Romantic” era is somewhat messy. Nevertheless, as long as teachers and students bear in mind that historical events are actually a progression, it is safe to simply label segments of the 18th and 19th centuries as “Classical” or “Romantic.”

When composers like Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Wagner are grouped together, people can easily make connections between the pieces, and musicians have an innate concept of how to approach the music. For example, some of Mozart’s compositions show the direct influence of Haydn, including his Symphony No. 36 in C Major, which audiences can more easily discern when they already expect Mozart and Haydn to be similar. Romantic composers are connected by a number of commonalities, but especially by the influence that philosophers such as Immanuel Kant had on music, art, and culture. In contrast to the philosophers of the 17th and early 18th centuries, who promoted the use of reason, philosophers like Kant argued for a more subjective approach. This ultimately influenced Romantic composers like Wagner. Not only did Wagner write more for his own purposes and pleasure, but he also sought to make his music excite the emotions of audience members. In Tristan und Isolde Wagner did not pander to the music critics or write what was popular; instead he used the harmonies and melodies that he personally believed to be the most effective in expressing the desired emotions. Because he wished to show that the characters were full of longing, Wagner frequently delayed the resolution to the tonic and incorporated unusual chromaticism. This effectively creates a sense of unease and longing in the actual listener. Because musicians are aware the Romantic composers typically sought to express emotions in music and kindle the same emotions in audience members, these artists can approach Romantic pieces understanding that they must use dynamics, rubato, and the like to create the composers’ desired effect.

Although Webster’s argument for a more precise periodization of music history in the 18th and 19th centuries has a place in analyses, the accepted Classical-Romantic divide is still relevant today. No periodization is perfect, but because divisions in history are inevitable music historians should aim to choose a periodization structure that shares knowledge the most effectively.  The simple distinction between the Classical and Romantic era is easy for audiences to grasp—whether they are musicians or not—because of the contextual information that it instantly provides. This means that people can more easily make connections between composers, compositions, and historical events. Consequently, audiences will have a richer understanding and appreciation of music.

Works Cited

Hoffman, E.T.A. “Beethoven’s Instrumental Music.” In Source Readings in Music History, edited by Leo Treitler and W. Oliver Strunk, 1193-98. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. “Letters to His Father.” In Source Readings in Music History, edited by Leo Treitler and W. Oliver Strunk, 965-70. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.

Webster, James. “Between Enlightenment and Romanticism in Music History: ‘First Viennese Modernism’ and the Delayed Nineteenth Century.” 19th Century Music, vol. 25, nos. 2-3 (2001-02): 108-126.


1. James Webster, “Between Enlightenment and Romanticism in Music History: ‘First Viennese Modernism’ and the Delayed Nineteenth Century,” 19th Century Music, vol. 25, nos. 2-3 (2001-02): 110.

[2]. Webster, “Between Enlightenment,” 110.

[3]. Ibid., 114.

[4]. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Letters to His Father,” in Source Readings in Music History, ed.  Leo Treitler and W. Oliver Strunk, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), 967.

[5]. E.T.A. Hoffman, “Beethoven’s Instrumental Music,” in Source Readings in Music History, ed.  Leo Treitler and W. Oliver Strunk, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998), 1194.

Contemplation on “Dover Beach”

Dover Beach has served many purposes.  According to a BBC News Magazine article, this natural fortification once repulsed Julius Caesar, once welcomed returning royalty, once received foreign dignitaries, and now stands as a symbol of England (Winterman).  In “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, two people view the famous strand at night, and the speaker of the poem contemplates the beauty of the view and the thoughts about the world, faith, and love which the scene brings to his mind.  “Dover Beach” suggests that love for another is all that people can possess because the world is futile and faith is inconstant.  The poem’s figurative language, diction, and speaker combine to support this theme.

To begin with, Arnold demonstrates the futility of the world when he utilizes figurative language to contrast the first and final stanzas.  The first stanza is full of assonance, consonance, and alliteration which paint a mysterious, dark, calm, and beautiful scene.  This scene represents the “land of dreams” which seems to lie before the speaker and the audience (30-31).  The short i sounds of words like “glimmering” (5) and “window” (6) create a quiet mood which the repeated s sounds of “is” (2), “cliffs” (4), and “cease” (12) heighten.  In contrast to this lovely scene, the speaker thrusts upon the audience the reality of the world in the final stanza.  Like the first stanza, the last one contains assonance, consonance, and alliteration, but the repeated vowels and consonants in this stanza create ugly sounds.  For example, the recurring p and t sounds of “help for pain” (34), “plain” (35), “swept” (36), “let” (29), and “certitude” (34) produce a contemptuous tone, for the speaker seems to be spitting out the words.  The repetition of “nor” in the middle of the last stanza pounds into the reader the truth about everything the world cannot provide (33-34).  Arnold further emphasizes this point by using alliteration to connect “neither” (33) and “nor” (33-34).  Finally, the onomatopoeia of “clash” (37) and harsh words such as “darkling plain” (35), “confused alarms” (36), and “ignorant armies” (37) evoke a picture of chaotic danger which starkly contrasts the calm beauty of the first stanza.  This contrast reveals how futile the world is by showing how the world’s promises compare to reality.

Dover Castle

Within the central section of the poem, the speaker continues to demonstrate the futility of the world while also discussing the inconstancy of faith.  One powerful way in which the speaker covers these themes is by his use of diction.  “Faith” in this poem denotes the general concept of belief, not just religion, for Arnold wrote the poem during the 19th century, which was a time of growing skepticism.  The word “sea” needs careful analysis because it is rather ambiguous, and looking into its denotation and connotation gives insight into the poem.  One common denotation of “sea” is a body of saltwater.  Because of this denotation, the comparison of the ebb and flow of the Aegean to the ebb and flow of human misery becomes even more powerful, for the salty seawater can symbolize human tears (15-20).  The sea thus becomes a symbol of human misery and reminds the audience that the world cannot provide joy or happiness.  While “sea” has multiple denotations and connotations, its most important connotation comes from the poem itself.  After the speaker metaphorically compares the sea to faith, the sea becomes intertwined with the concept of faith, and the natural ebb and flow of the tide represents how the speaker perceives faith to be inconstant.

Matthew Arnold

While the speaker’s views of the pointlessness of the world and the unreliability of faith come from his own observations, the speaker’s motivation for rejecting these and calling the audience to “be true” derives from the nature of the speaker (29).  The speaker of the poem is a person who is looking from a window at Dover Beach with his or her love.  Although the poem does not explicitly state whether the speaker is a man or a woman, the tone seems to be that of a man.  The speaker is well-educated, for he mentions Sophocles’ thoughts on the ebb and flow of the Aegean Sea.  Additionally, the speaker appears to be older or more experienced than his love, for he speaks in an authoritative and instructive manner, saying “Come to the window” (6) and “Listen!” (9).  In the first stanzas, the speaker seems to be a very thoughtful person who contemplates the meaning of life and the world and appreciates the beauty of the sea.  In the final stanza, the speaker suddenly becomes passionate and exhorts his love that they “be true / To one another” (29-30).  As the speaker lists what the world cannot give him, he seems enraged, for his words become a tirade against the world and its deceptive promises of happiness.

Throughout “Dover Beach,” Matthew Arnold uses figurative language, diction, and the character of the speaker to discuss the world’s futility, faith’s inconstancy, and love’s importance.  The poem indicates that only love is reliable.  However, though the world cannot satisfy human desire and often disappoints dreams, this should not lead people to reject the world as a lie.  Neither should people judge the reliability of faith on the number of people who have it; just because the number of humans who have belief changes does not mean that faith itself is inconstant.  Most importantly, if the speaker and his love base their world on each other, then they will have to trust each other to be true.  If faith is inconstant as the poem suggests, then how can love—which relies on faith—be reliable?  Only when the speaker regains his faith will he be able to enjoy love and “be true” to the woman he loves (29).  Only when the speaker realizes there is more to the world than his love will he be able to answer his own call “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!” (29-30).

(Note: This is an essay I wrote for a freshman composition class several years ago, with a few minor modifications. Also, here is a link to “Dover Beach” in case you want to read the poem yourself.)

Works Cited

Arnold, Matthew.  “Dover Beach.”  Poetry Foundation,             http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach.

Winterman, Denise.  “White Cliffs of Dover: Why Are They So Important to the British?”  BBC News Magazine, 29 Aug. 2012, http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19343382.

The Eagle and the Hawk

Seeing a career peak during the 1970’s, John Denver wrote songs with signature acoustic accompaniment and subjects dealing with nature and relationships. Songs such as ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads‘, ‘Rocky Mountain High‘, and ‘Sunshine on My Shoulders‘ put Denver on the charts during the 70’s and remain classics to the present. Characterized by optimism in his music, even more serious songs contain hopeful timbres, and make for excellent easy listening music.

Take Me Home, Country Roads
Rocky Mountain High
Sunshine on My Shoulders
The Eagle and the Hawk

Diary of a Date-o-Phobic

This story is a work of fiction but inspired by the true experience

Her name was Janet. We were in the same Engage group during my first semester at Northwestern at the campus Wesley Foundation—a semester-long bible study group for freshman. I didn’t know her well, but I did see her at an open mic night hosted by the college radio station towards the end of fall semester. I was playing a couple songs—“Ring Them Bells” by Bob Dylan and the reindeer song from Frozen, which had come out a month or two before. I was explaining what songs I was going to play to her, and she was excited when I said I was doing the Frozen song. Well, I was the second performer of the night—which was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because I got my performance out of the way and was then free to enjoy the rest of the night. A curse, because the crowd was just getting warmed up and everybody was paying more attention than they would be later on. I led with “Ring Them Bells,” and I’m not sure how it sounded because my guitar wouldn’t output audio to the PA, so I was playing purely acoustic next to a cardioid microphone, one for me and one for my guitar. I know I mis-played several of the chords, but ultimately wound my way to the end of the first song. People clapped, but they felt like claps of sympathy more than anything else. “My next song,” I said, slowly. “Is about reindeers. And people. From Frozen.” I know I got a few laughs for this, and then I sang it. I remember, as I played the last, intentionally discordant notes of the song, seeing people smiling and laughing and clapping, and Janet on the front row, on her feet, laughing.

Which I didn’t think about much at the time.

2 Years Later

“Hey,” I said as I looked over at the new person who had just walked into the classroom—it was Janet. “It’s been a while,” I said.

Smiling, she agreed, and we talked for a bit. Except for a couple times in passing sophomore year, Janet and I hadn’t seen or talked to each other since freshman year. Now, it was spring semester of junior year—two summers had gone by.

The class was an introductory legal policy class, taught by a local attorney—Professor Stevens—and it met for 3 hours every Wednesday night.


It was late on a Friday night. I had participated in a sound check and setup that morning, competed in a debate competition all afternoon, and had then headed straight to a local church to get ready for a worship night happening at seven. Fighting a headache due to lack of food, I awkwardly mingled with the other musicians until seven o’clock rolled around and some friends arrived for the show. I sat most of the service, enjoying the music, playing when my turn finally came.

All of these details are mostly irrelevant, but I’m just trying to set the stage.

It was 9.30, and the service was finally over. Musicians began to drift out. I mingled with some of the other musicians and friends who had attended.

When I finished, I texted my friend Will that I was on my way over to his place—the Incubator, as I had christened the house he lived at with his three roommates. I needed to borrow a soldering iron to fix an audio cable that had been torn earlier that day while setting up for the sound check. The weather was cool in the darkness of a southern spring, and I kept the radio playing loudly to help maintain my alertness as I drove by the gas station, over the railroad tracks, and through the woods to the Incubator. Will and his roommates were watching TV, but when I walked in, Will took me to his garage, where he kept all his soldering irons. I say “all,” because apparently he had two cheap old irons in addition to a bigger, nicer one he used himself. Unsure which one actually worked, Will plugged both of the cheap ones in to test. While we waited for them to heat (and later cool), we sat in the garage and talked (the garage was well-equipped with a coffee table, two couches, a fridge, and many, many, other odds and ends).

We talked about all sorts of things, from the doctrine of original sin and backslidden Christians to the behavior of electricity at power plants. I mentioned Janet to Will, just noting how she had come by the programming competition I participated in the day before and had seemed really interested in it.

“You have her number, right?” said Will. “You should ask her out.”

“Yeeeaaah,” I said, skeptically. “But it’s so close to the end of the semester. And I’m not sure I really feel like trying anything romantic right now.” I paused. “But. Since summer’s almost here, I’ve really got nothing to lose. I mean, if we go on a date and it’s awful, then I get to leave for the summer and not see her again.” I realized that my thinking, while pragmatic, was not very nice. “I’m an awful person, aren’t I?” I said.

Will shrugged. The topic changed. We talked some more, and I left.

The next morning, I woke, late, if I remember correctly. While drinking coffee, I pulled out my laptop and opened Facebook. Scrolling through my news feed, a picture appeared. It was Janet, next to a man. It was a sorority formal, and the man in the photo was her date—a football star, no less. He had a championship bowl ring and everything.

I laughed, and then I told my roommate, David, what Will had told me, and what I discovered. David listened, then he shook his head. “Nah, having a date to formal, that’s just a…formality—you’ve still got a shot.”

I shook my head, and I didn’t really think about it again.

You’re probably wondering when I’ll get to the important part of the story. Well, hang on.

The following Tuesday, around 11, Dr. McCullin, the computer science professor teacher teaching us the theory of computing, let the students take a five minute break, halfway into his 2 hour long lecture. Stepping out into the hall for a drink, I noticed as I was returning to the classroom a poster on a bulletin board advertising a drive-in movie showing of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Back in the classroom, I mention to the classmates sitting around me, “They’re showing Avengers tonight. That would probably be cool.”

At this, Ron, who I had several classes with—including the one with Janet, leaned forward and said in a quiet, quirky tone, “You should ask Janet to go with you.”

I turned around and stared at him with a quizzical smile.

“What?” he said, giving an impish grin in reply. “Penny for your thoughts?”

I didn’t have time to reply because Dr. McCullin resumed teaching at that moment.

After class, as I hurried to pack up my notes to head to my next class, I turned to Ron. “The reason I gave you that look is because you’re the second person who’s told me I should ask Janet out in the past week.”

Ron shrugged. “I just noticed both of you seemed like really…normal people. Who are both friendly. And I thought—” he motioned with his hands, bringing them together in a figurative gesture. “And I notice people. When I’m sitting in the back of that class, every time I look over at her, she’s looking at you.”

I laugh. “That’s because Professor Stevens stands over where I am,” I said, but I had been convinced. I pulled out my phone, composed a quick message to ask Janet if she’d like to go with me, and sent it off. Normally, I would have re-read the text 10 million times before sending it and said at least one prayer, but this time I was quick to tap the send icon—as I had told Will, I had nothing to lose if she turned me down.

Sitting at the back of the lecture hall at my next class, I checked my phone periodically. No response. It had only been 10 minutes. She’s in class, or busy doing something. I said. Don’t worry. That didn’t help. I felt like I was being torn apart with anxiety for the next 20 or so minutes. But then, a reply!

That sounds like fun. Yeah, I’m down!

So it was settled. Looking over at Ron, I whispered, “It’s happening.”

“What?” he said, confused for a moment.

I gestured at my phone, and he realized what I was saying. He smiled that same impish grin, “I told you so.”

At 7.15 that night, I rolled up to Janet’s apartment in my freshly washed and vacuumed Nissan Sentra. She came out almost immediately, and I drove us to Sonic, where we got drinks for during the movie—her a Cherry Coke and me a Cherry Limeade.

We chatted about class, and sports, and about favorite hobbies. It was not memorable conversation, but it was pleasant.

Pulling up to the parking lot where the movie was scheduled to play, an attendant guided us to a spot at the front of the lot, a great position for viewing the screen. The rest was an agreeable blur. I learned about Snapchat (which I had not used before and have not used since that night), and we both ended up angling our seats back—Janet did first to get more comfortable, and I did too when I realized it enabled me to see the screen better without contorting my neck as much. The movie was good, but I’d seen it 3 or 4 times already, so I’ll admit I was slightly bored throughout.

On the way back to Janet’s apartment, we talked about movies and TV shows. When I pulled up at her apartment again, she thanked me for inviting her and told me how she’d never been to a drive-in movie before and had wanted to try it. I told her I’d enjoyed it, too.

“See you Wednesday!” she said, as she got out.

“Yep!” I said. We were all friendly smiles.

And that was that. The most normal, regret-free date I had ever had. I didn’t ask her out again or do anything in the remaining week and half before school let out for summer—we were both incredibly busy, so it probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. I’m not saying it was a ridiculously good, best-date-ever sort of thing. But it was fun, and I regret nothing. Which, for someone who had mostly awkward, cringy memories of interactions with the opposite sex up to that point in life, was something very refreshing.

Manufactured Drama

We all know that scene in the movie or TV show. Some great change has come, or is about to come, to the protagonist’s world. The music, which can be either diegetic or non-diegetic (there’s your two million-dollar words for the day), slowly swells. Before you know it, our protagonist is contemplating their life while wandering around an empty house, or while staring off into the distance as neon lights go by, or while listening to the waves crash on the shore, or while watching the sun and wind flicker through green leaves. If it’s a popular enough movie or show, whatever song is used to convey said desired emotional atmosphere might even enjoy a slight spike in traffic on Spotify.

Then, of course, there are those times when we, the audience, just happen to be sitting in our car and gazing at the raindrops tracing their way down the windows. A sad song will come on, and we will take the opportunity to pretend that we are in one of those introspective film scenes. Or at least, I will freely admit that I have done so.

I will also confess these moments are not always, shall we say, “organically produced.”

The most obvious statement I hope to make today: Music calls forth emotion; music has power. Sometimes, more than once or twice, I’ve sought some sense of catharsis by playing the right song at the right time. It does not always work, as life is not a movie (fine, there’s a second obvious statement). Manufacturing drama doesn’t always go according to plan.

There are times that I’ve done it successfully. After a Year of Very Big Decisions, I sat at the top of a mountain, looked out across the miles, and very intentionally listened to Cat Stevens’ “The Wind” as the real wind whistled around me. I felt all the better for it. And I did some gazing and reflection again the next year, after a Year of Strange Changes, to Gillian Welch’s “Winter’s Come and Gone.” Again, the year after that, after an Eventful Year and It’s Not Even Half Over, I listened to “Should Have Known Better” by Sufjan Stevens, and felt, well, something like peace.

But these are the times when the stars align just so. My “headspace” was clear, so to speak. Very few, if any, people were around. The sun wasn’t overly hot. Other times, I’ll try to reenact the pensiveness one sees on television, only to be pulled away by a rogue mosquito – literally, the song had just reached its crescendo, and I was forced to divert my attention to slap at a bug. Or my own thoughts will betray me – eggs, that’s what I forgot to buy, I don’t really need them this week though, I’ll just have to remember to put them on my list when I get back, also peanut butter.

I wonder why I, and anyone else, might do this contrived musing to certain chosen tunes. I said earlier that it was for catharsis, and it is, to a certain extent. But also, if I’m honest, it’s because I want my life to be like a movie. I want to start the song, which is just a few minutes long, and, when it is over, I want my brooding to be done and the next plot point to arrive. I also want to be the director of my own movie. I choose the song, I choose the set, and I control the feeling.

I think this is mostly harmless, if a bit silly of me. And I mustn’t forget that some of the best moments of music-induced emotion, of that catharsis, have come through the power of shuffle. Something quite random, from my perspective, at least, chose to play “The Night We Met,” by Lord Huron, just at that time, and it turned out to be just what I needed to hear.

Sing a Song for Springtime

Green leaves unfold, flowers blossom, and songbirds line the tree boughs and flit in the bushes and on the ground.  Every day, the world seems more intensely green.  Driving home on winding highways that dip through forest tunnels and by meadows of cows, I sometimes see entire fields that are so covered in yellow blossoms that they glow like a splash of sunlight.  Without a doubt, winter has withdrawn, spring is here, and soon summer will arrive.  To celebrate the season, I thought I would share with you some choral music that reminds me of spring.

Immortal Memory: A Burns Night Celebration by Paul Mealor is a delightful album with beautiful choral arrangements and recitations of songs and poems by Robert Burns.  To give you a taste of the album, here’s the song “Immortal Memory.”

Acclaimed choir director and composer John Rutter teamed up with harpist Catrin Finch to create the lovely album Blessing.  The songs on this predominately harp album range from lullaby-like to peppy and leave me with a smile on my face.  Who would have thought that harp and bassoon could pair so well together?

And to finish with two lovely songs arranged by John Rutter, here are “What Sweeter Music” and the upbeat “Sing a Song of Sixpence.”

Are you an enthusiastic traveler or spring-cleaner who likes to belt out favorite songs while hard at work?  What are some of your favorite springtime songs?  Please share in the comments.