A Link Between Listening and Seeing

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:06 pm

Another short news post, before I get back to blogging about more interesting things….

This article is a quick read, and describes a study on why we so often mis-hear lyrics: apparently it’s much easier for our brains to get the words right when we can both hear and see the person singing–shockingly, adding visual information to auditory yields more accurate results than auditory information alone.

“Blinded by the lyric? Study reveals why we get the words wrong”

Maybe this should be The Listening And Watching Blog….


Music Can Help Restore Stroke Patients' Sight

Posted by AJ Harbison at 4:38 pm

I saw an article on MSN.com a few days ago that described a study conducted at Imperial College London. The researchers studied patients who had suffered strokes and consequently had “visual neglect,” a condition where visual awareness is impaired on one half of their field of vision (even though the area of the brain dealing with sight isn’t harmed, the patients’ ability to integrate vision, attention and action is damaged, so even though they might technically “see” something on the impaired side they can’t process the visual information). For some reason, the researchers asked three patients to complete vision tasks in three situations: listening to music they enjoyed, listening to music they didn’t like, and in silence. (The article doesn’t explain why they wanted to test music, of all things.) Apparently, all the patients did better on the tasks when they listened to music they liked; the researchers speculate that the positive emotions created by the music increased the efficiency of their brains’ processing. Interesting stuff.

“Music Can Help Restore Stroke Patients’ Sight”


Two Exciting Opportunities

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:49 pm

I’ve come across two exciting opportunities for myself and my music over the last two days. The first came in the form of an email from a woman named Katie Shields, who is the violist in Quartet Sabaku, a string quartet based in Arizona. Apparently she saw my profile on the American Composers Forum website and then either did a Google search on my name or followed the link on the profile to my website. She said in the email that she loved my YouTube video (a fun project I did for Campus Crusade in 2004, which you can see here), and asked to hear or see any music I might have for string quartet, string trio or violin/viola solo. I emailed her back last night and gave her the score to P.S.Q., a string quartet I wrote at Cal State Fullerton that uses atonal pitch material but rhythms, articulations and forms from pop music to transform the string quartet into an avant-garde rock band. It’s never been performed (never well, at least), and I’m excited about the opportunity to possibly get it performed and get connected with an ensemble. And it’s even cooler that the ensemble actually sought me out on its own.

The second exciting opportunity has been brewing in my mind for some time, but was set into motion today. I met for lunch this afternoon with the worship director at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, the church where my lovely wife and I are members, to discuss the possibility of putting a choir together that I would lead. Redeemer is a church that places a great deal of emphasis on culture and art, and I think a choir would fit right in and add another level of depth to an already profound liturgy. When I was at Cal State Fullerton, I took two choral conducting classes with Rob Istad, and they were terrific; I picked it up quickly, though it was also challenging, and it was a heck of a lot of fun. So, in addition to enhancing the worship experience at Redeemer, it would also be a great opportunity for me to try my hand at conducting and leading a choral ensemble. We would probably start with just a hymn, singing it in four-part harmony (which sounds cool even if it’s just what’s written on the page), and if that worked well we might move on to more interesting choral repertoire. Eventually it might even become an ensemble I could compose for. I’m really stoked on the idea; the worship director will be talking to the pastors and the Session and presenting it to them, and if they give the go-ahead we’ll get started! I’ll keep you all posted….


Nothing New Under The Sun

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:01 am

My lovely wife was in the kitchen the other day, and she hummed a short bit of a tune. I happened to be nearby, and, as I often do, asked her what it was she was humming– it sounded to me like “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” (the Christmas carol). She hesitated, so I next asked if it was from a song from Phantom Of The Opera–I can’t remember what song it’s from, but there was a part of a song (a bridge, I think) that sounded the same as the opening line of the carol. She said no, it was neither one of those; she’d actually just been humming without having any particular song in mind. We also determined that the folk song “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean” also starts with the same melody line. So she was either humming something original, or three different songs all at the same time.

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-11


Listen: Life With Classical Music

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:58 am

To my surprise, I received in the mail a few days ago the inaugural volume of the print magazine Listen: Life With Classical Music. I’d never heard of it before (I suppose since it was the first issue), and I couldn’t figure out how I got on the distribution list for it. The website, which I linked above, was no help, only offering an online subscription and a few email addresses. After a quick Google search, I discovered that it was launched by ArkivMusic.com, America’s leading online retailer of classical music CDs and DVDs, as a lifestyle magazine for classical music fans. A BusinessWire.com article has the story:

“ArkivMusic.com Launches New Venture: LISTEN: Life with Classical Music”

Another few results from Google revealed that complimentary magazines were sent to people who had purchased something (in some cases, only one something, once) from ArkivMusic. I know I’ve made at least one purchase from Arkiv (as chronicled in this post), so I guess that must have been what landed me on the list to receive the magazine.

I read the first couple of articles today at lunch, and was a bit disappointed. If I’m going to get a magazine, I don’t particularly want it to have super-long and very indepth articles, because I’ll never get around to reading it all; but these articles were too short and had no depth. Almost all of the ads are for recordings that you can buy on Arkiv, too, so as one Google commenter noted, “It seems like a once over lightly publication. The features didn’t get very deep into their subjects – mostly puff promo stuff. I suspected it was put out by Archivmusic based on the number of promos in the magazine.” I’ll probably read the rest of the issue; but if it doesn’t get any better, I won’t be subscribing.


I was tipped off last month to this video by @foxonthedocks, a Londoner on Twitter who tweets “about classical music recordings, broadcasts and performance. And other stuff.” It’s a video on TED.com, a site that I’ve heard about but successfully avoided till now. Foxonthedocks actually posted a link to the video the day of my wedding, February 22nd, but I just got around to watching it today. The video is a performance by the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. The site explains that the orchestra “is the national high school age youth orchestra of El Sistema, Venezuela’s groundbreaking, life-changing musical education program. To put this ensemble’s musicianship in context, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela is the next step for many of these young musicians. That orchestra, containing musicians from 18 to 28 years old, has toured the world with conductor Gustavo Dudamel and has made a number of recordings on Deutsche Grammophon. The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra is the next level below, and will succeed the Simón Bolívar.” The T.C.Y.O. is conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, a hotshot young conductor (himself a product of El Sistema) who was named recently as Esa-Pekka Salonen’s successor as the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Although his name is not quite as cool as Esa-Pekka’s (come on, though, how could it be?), he does have the hair to be a great conductor, and even though he’s only 28 he’s probably the world’s hottest conductor right now.

In the video Dudamel conducts the T.C.Y.O. in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, 2nd movement, and Arturo Márquez’ Danzón No. 2, with a brief speech in between. The video is 17 minutes long in its entirety, but the Shostakovich is contained within the first five minutes if you don’t have that much time.

If he can make a group of high school students, even one as great as this, sound this good, what do you think he could do with the LA Phil?


I found an article in the Tech section of MSN.com a few days ago that gives a good explanation of how noise-cancelling headphones work. If you can get past the groaner of an introduction and a slightly confusing diagram, it’s got some good stuff in there.

“Noise Cancellation Headphones”


Honeymoon Pictures and Twitter

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:05 pm

Forgive me for not posting in a little while, loyal readers; I’m still getting settled in at the apartment, still enjoying the start of married life and still catching up on things at work. I’ll try to write some interesting posts in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’ve posted my honeymoon pictures to Facebook, so if you’re interested in seeing them, you can find them at the links below:

Honeymoon in Costa Rica, Part One!

Honeymoon in Costa Rica, Part Two!

(N.B.: You don’t need a Facebook account to see these photo albums.)

And, for those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, I tried my first live-micro-blogging experiment this past Saturday evening. My lovely wife and I went to see a local songwriter at a local coffee shop, and I twittered from my cell phone throughout the night. It was kinda fun. Happened as follows:

Going to see Amanda O’Brien, local songwriter, at local coffee shop tonight with the wife. I’ll keep you posted. Twitter is fun. . . .
6:51 PM Mar 7th from txt

Nice low, sultry-ish voice and a keyboard (though there’s a guitar standing by). Some of her progressions are really creative. Good so far.
7:30 PM Mar 7th from txt

Guitar was for a “guest appearance” by some guy. Not nearly as good as she is. And he keeps making the amp feed back. Ouch.
7:42 PM Mar 7th from txt

Unfortunately she suffers from a common malady: too simple piano figures, and no high-end (cause her voice and playing are all mid and low).
8:27 PM Mar 7th from txt

Ah, she plays guitar too. I’d guess the keyboard is her primary instrument, though. Her songwriting is better than average for such artists.
3:06 AM Mar 8th from txt [somehow this came in at 3 am, although I actually sent it prior to the final message]

A well-spent evening – I may join her email list (maybe). Better than average, she is; good if not great. Thanks for listening!
9:04 PM Mar 7th from txt

I don’t know if anyone was following my notes, but I had fun posting them. Any readers who are Twitterers out there that I’m not aware of?


I'm Back!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:09 am

Greetings, loyal readers–I have returned! My lovely wife (woohoo!) and I got back from an amazing honeymoon at the Doubletree Resort in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, on Sunday; we had Monday and Tuesday off of work and were able to open our wedding gifts and cards, buy a few gifts we hadn’t received and generally settle in to our new apartment in Costa Mesa (sounds similar, but is actually quite different). I have yet to import and organize all the pictures we took, but once I do I’ll let you know, for anyone who’s interested in seeing them.

Not much to post on at this point. My wife and I signed up on Monday for Netflix, an online movie rental service, so you can expect to start seeing a few more score reviews here at TLB. They may end up as brief 140-character reviews on Twitter, too, though, so be sure you’re following me there as well. Our first rental, since I was reading Shakespeare’s play Hamlet on our honeymoon, is Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet from 1948. The score is by William Walton, an English composer who wrote a really cool oratorio I sang at Cal State Fullerton entitled Belshazzar’s Feast. I’ve seen this film version of Hamlet once before, but I don’t remember much about the score. Stay tuned to Twitter later tonight….

I feel as if I’m in danger of making TLB into a Coldplay fan site, since I post about them so frequently; but at the risk of seeming so, I have one more note to make before I sign off for now (although I still do want to do a week’s worth of posts on Prospekt’s March sometime soon as well). It appears that Coldplay has posted a complete discography on their website, including 60-second audio clips of every song and (most exciting for me) band-approved lyrics. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.

Farewell for tonight–it’s good to be back; look for some new posts coming up soon!


The World's Most Unwanted Song

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:50 pm

Last week I came across this website that looked intriguing (I can’t remember how I got there). Apparently some scientists and artists did a research study to determine the least desirable qualities of songs, and put them all together to create “the world’s most unwanted song,” supposedly one that “fewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population will enjoy.” (For all you math fans, that’s 0.00000296% of the population of the world.) The song features a length of over 25 minutes, instrumentation including accordion, banjo and bagpipe, and styles ranging from atonal music and rap to advertising jingles and elevator music. I haven’t listened to the song myself yet, but it’s there on the page for you to check out–if you dare.

World’s Most Unwanted Song