s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: March 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A list

Things that keep you young forever:
The Fountain of Youth
The juice from Death Becomes Her
Being Peter Pan

Things that keep you from dying (but don't necessarily keep you young):
The Philosopher's Stone*
Being translated
Being dipped in the river Styx

Things that keep you at the same age forever (whether young or old):
Drinking the spring water from Tuck Everlasting
Being revivified by The Pie Maker
Being bitten by a vampire
Cursed Aztec Gold in Pirates of the Caribbean

*Depending on the incarnation, this could also belong in the first category.

What am I missing?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Christmas carols: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Sorry about missing last week's post. I was cavorting in Indiana and didn't have time to do a Christmas carols post.

The carols in the The New Oxford Book of Carols are arranged chronologically by the oldest known version of the song. Veni, veni, Emanuel isn't the first song in the book, but it is the first song that I know. (It may also be the earliest song that I'm able to find recorded on YouTube, since the others strike me as fairly obscure.)

Many Christmas carols celebrate Christ's birth joyfully. This song, by contrast, is a plaintive melody sung by those who are still waiting for Christ to come and liberate them from captivity.

Another beautiful thing about this hymn is how every verse addresses Christ using a different name for Him. He is referred to as "Emmanuel," "the Branch of Jesse," "the Dayspring," "the Key of David," and "Adonai."

One of the things I like best about this song is how very old it sounds, and yet how it works well in modern arrangements. I've accordingly tried to find a range of recordings and I've put them roughly in order from more traditional to more modern.

solo guitar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIc0cKzCQ2M ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Z0NjFEVels
electric guitar:


A very traditional arrangement.

Aled Jones:

An a capella version.

Christina Sonneman, 2007:

A version for harp and voice. The sound quality on this isn't great, but I think it's still a lovely arrangement.

Bonus: Future of Forestry, 2008:

Because everyone loves rock versions of Christmas carols, right?

Honorable Mention: A trio of guitar solos: Satiel on electric guitar, and "Latin Guy" and "lladnekj" on acoustic guitar. Also Sufjan Stevens, on Optimistic.'s recommendation.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

b is for bed

When I was about five years old, I was completely enchanted by the way the English word bed has the shape of an actual bed, complete with headboard and footboard. (It could also be a four poster bed, I suppose.)

Bed with a capital "B" doesn't work quite as well, unless the upper loop of the "B" is an extra fluffy pillow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Christmas carols: Puer natus in Bethlehem

Puer natus in Bethlehem ("A boy is born in Bethlehem") has been around since at least the 13th century. It has been arranged by many composers, including Michael Praetorius, J.S. Bach, and Dieterich Buxtehude.

The first arrangement is by Praetorius, the second by Bach, and the third is a modern arrangement by an unknown composer. (I usually stick to traditional melodies for these posts, but I thought this arrangement was nice, so I'm including it.)

Christ Church Bronxville, 2007:


St. Mark's Youth Choir, 2007(?):

Saturday, March 07, 2009

For anyone who's keeping track

I can now add Rhode Island to this list, under "states I've spent less than one day in."

(Yes, Petra, I did something "meaningful" while I was there.)

Friday, March 06, 2009

Christmas carols: Infant holy

"Infant holy, infant lowly" is the English version of the traditional Polish carol "W żłobie leży." (If you can pronounce that, you're more talented than I am; I had enough trouble just finding the proper diacritics.)

This traditional carol first appeared in English in 1921. In the spirit of improving your music snobbery, I must inform you that the final notes are generally sung wrong in English. Due to an early misprint, the last three notes are often sung F-D-C (where the song is in the key of C), but they should actually be sung E-D-C. (It's a shame, because that quirky cadence is actually one of the things I like best about the song.)

Here's the original Polish version (with the words, so you can sing along!):

And here are two English versions:

East Nazarine College a capella choir, 2007:

AcaBella, 2006:

Bonus: Singing Christmas Tree, Broadway Church, Vancouver, BC, 2006:

This is a very nice rendition but the setup of the "Singing Christmas Tree" is more than a little quirky. It's kind of like "Hollywood Squares" meets Christmas.

Honorable mention:

This is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing beautiful arrangement by Mack Wilberg. I can't embed it because of copyright reasons, but do click on it if you get a chance.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sharing the faith

Last weekend, I had the unexpected opportunity of hearing a lecture by Dr. Kathleen Flake at a conference on Latter-day Saints in Religious Studies. This opportunity was so unexpected, in fact, that I actually missed most of the lecture and arrived just in time for a Q&A session.

The theme of the conference was "Faith and Knowledge" (and the presumable tension between the two). Along those lines, someone asked Dr. Flake if she had a lot of opportunities to share her Mormon faith with her academic colleagues. She responded that it doesn't really come up much, which seemed to disappoint her questioner. (After all, why squander the opportunity of hobnobbing with so many academic elites?)

I wasn't disappointed with the answer, rather, I felt as if something I'd fuzzily tried to figure out for years was finally coming into focus.

I'm a private person, generally, but especially when it comes to matters of faith and spirituality. As you might imagine, this means that I'm not exactly handing out copies of the Book of Mormon to strangers on the bus or siccing the missionaries on my coworkers.

Of course, this was all sort of a moot point when I was growing up in Utah because almost everyone I knew or interacted with was Mormon, and I certainly wasn't going to be one of those people who terrorizes those poor Utah non-Mormons. But since I moved out of Utah, my behavior hasn't changed much — I've had a lot more opportunities to talk about or explain the Church — but I'm still not aggressively trying to convert people, and I've felt a bit guilty about it.

A couple of weeks ago, I read the transcription of a speech that Richard Bushman gave at a conference sponsored by the Pew Forum. The speech was given in May 2007 and is now somewhat dated because the primary focus was Mitt Romney's bid for the presidency. However, a large portion of the meeting consisted of a fabulous Q&A session where a panel of religion reporters from the top newspapers and news magazines grilled Dr. Bushman on various topics pertaining to Mormon culture and history and he answered their questions expertly. So the transcription is still well worth reading, even if the presidential race turned out very differently than Mitt Romney might have hoped.

Dr. Bushman said many interesting things, one of which was that he hoped more Mormons would become involved in public life so that people would have to question many of the false stereotypes commonly held about Mormons. (I.e., Mitt Romney is clearly not a polygamist, regardless of how you feel about his politics.)

So, all of this was in the back of my mind as I sat listening to Dr. Flake's lecture and her response to the person who asked if she shared her religion with her coworkers. I raised my hand and asked if she thought it was possible to bear one's testimony "in reverse," in a sense — not by constantly talking about the Church but by calmly going about one's life as a testament to the fact that Mormons are, in fact, basically normal people.

Dr. Flake agreed with my basic idea and expressed it this way: "If you're willing to enter into the world of another person to engage with them, they'll be willing to learn about your world, as well."

I can live with that.