Archive | April, 2014

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The Innocent:

Posted on 27 April 2014 by Hao Li (Meds 2016)

One of the most obvious trends in the evolution of classical music (and perhaps the entire history of music in general) was the movement from the complex to the simple, from the courtly to the everyday. Perhaps nowhere was such progression more conspicuous than in opera. As a form of musical theatre, opera is like an intricate fabric woven from a countless myriad of elements, any and all of which serve as media in which change can take place. Opera is not only composed of instrumentals and vocals, but also features with no lesser importance delicate choreography and complex plotlines. In other words, it is a perfect fusion of the appropriate music with the appropriate subject matter. While this discussion focuses largely on the latter, one must be aware that subject matter cannot stand alone without music, and that both are intimately connected with the social atmosphere which gives rise to their birth.

Many see the Baroque period (1600-1750) as the dawn of opera. During this time, the subject matter of the genre consisted largely of the ancient classics, that is, mythology and classical history. Greek gods and Roman wars dominated the plots, and accompanying such formality of storyline was the formal ideal of a notoriously complicated musical texture. This kind of theatrical entertainment could only be understood and appreciated by well-educated people, and not so surprisingly, the audience that enjoyed these early operas was made up almost exclusively of kings, princes, and other members of nobility.

As this early phase in the history of classical music gave way to the Classical (1750-1825) and Romantic (1825-1900) periods, opera did away with themes centered upon classical literature. Serious plotlines yielded to foolish comedies and flirtatious affairs. However, the theatre retained some of that “royal atmosphere” as most of the stories took place in palaces and homes of the noble, or at least focused on noble members of society. Notable exceptions stand out. Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magical Flute) is like a fairy-tale, featuring an other-wordly set of characters such as birdcatchers and sorcerors. Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore (Elixir of Love) tells of the desperate love of a common, poor country boy for a beautiful girl in his village, and how he gives up all his money to buy a potion that he hopes will fill her with a similar desire for him. Bizet’s renowned masterpiece Carmen revolves around the ill-fated love between a Spanish soldier and a seductive gypsy cigarière. Perhaps the most notable change that took place in opera during this time was the increase in freedom and intensity of musical expression (as in the case of musical genres other than opera), brought about by an expansion of techniques in composition. In terms of structure, there really was not much variation from work to work. For the most part, composers followed the strict format of a prelude followed by a series of musical numbers separated by blocks of libretto (that is, text sung quickly in order to move the plot forward).

Then, in the late 19th century, there spawned a stylistic movement in the world of opera. This new fashion was called verismo, which is Italian for “realism”. The idea was to shift attention from grand palaces and fancy ballrooms to the lives of common, everyday citizens. There existed hints toward such style throughout the Romantic period, as seen above, but it did not truly take root until the Romantic period approached its twilight. In verismo, not only did the subject matter change, but the orchestration similarly underwent dramatic innovations. No longer conspicuously demarcated into numbers and “filler material”, the musical score blended seamlessly into the action and became one with it. Thus, instead of simply accompanying the vocal passages, it now collaborated with the plotline to create a rich, unified tapestry of emotional expression.

There is debate as to which work kicked off the verismo revolution. Most scholars seem to agree that it was the one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry), written by the Italian composer Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) in 1890 as actually a submission to a contest in composition. The story takes place in a Sicilian village, and tells of how a young man cheats on his fiancé so that he can be with his childhood lover who is now married to someone else. He is eventually discovered by the merciless husband, who upon knowing challenges him to a duel and kills him in hot fury. While the plotline is dark and tragic, it is simple and innocent in the sense that human nature, whether goodness or vice, is allowed to manifest freely without the confines of rank and politics. The music is incredibly beautiful and flows smoothly from one scene to the next, like a pictorial background setting the atmosphere for the stage. Cavalleria Rusticana was an instant success upon first performance, but even more significantly it signalled the modernization of the musical theatre. It would pave the way for the universally popular melodies of Puccini, the last great composer of classical opera, and whose works would eventually lead to an even more refined era of musical theatre that everyone knows and loves: Broadway.


Cavalleria Rusticana

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The Other Side

Posted on 07 April 2014 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

Last weekend I got a chance to be an interviewer for the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry admission’s weekend. I didn’t originally expect to be a part of the panel, it was going to on a post-call day while on a busy General Surgery service and earlier in the month received an email stating that all the spots were filled and I would not be needed.

Fortunately, someone could not make it last minute and I was given the opportunity. Post-call or not, I was going to take it.

While this was not my first experience interviewing others for important roles nor was this the first time I was helping out with the Schulich Medicine Admissions weekend. This was, however, this was the first time my role would be part of the interviewing panel. The weight of having my opinion, experience, and judgement be made into part of the consideration of what gets a medical school hopeful accepted or not does not escape. It’s a tremendous honour and I was initially a little nervous about being suitable to fill such a role.

Then I did a gut check and realized whatever anxieties I may be having are dwarfed by what a good chunk of the interviewees must be feeling. #Firstworldproblems? More like #MedStudentProblems.

So what can I say about the experience of being on the other side? Well, first of all, not much in terms of details. That contract of confidentiality we all sign at the beginning of the day was fairly clear on that. So, sorry hopeful premeds (who I doubt are reading this anyway), no hints here.

The experience did let me to think back and try to remember what it was like to be one of the interviewees again. That whole memory was only 3 years ago, but it seems so distant in the past. Yet, that time seemed to past so quickly as well. Very strange how alien the memories of pre-med school Jimmy feel to current med school Jimmy.

There was a deja vu sensation in how tired I was that morning, coming off post call following a whole night in the OR (10:30pm – 7am of operating, I’m not joking) will do that to you. I didn’t sleep the night before my Schulich interview either, as I was spending it on a turbulent red-eye flight from Vancouver to London. It was also a little fitting that I was still stuffing my “dress-up” clothes – a suit and tie back in 2011, business casual slacks and a button-down in 2014 – in beat up trekking backpacks. Wrinkles be damned.

However, prior to my medical school interview, I had never been to either Western or London and I remember being incredibly confused on figuring out how to get from York street to the Western Campus. The sense of being lost and almost late to an interview doesn’t help one’s nerves, and I could imagine that for a lot of last weekend interviewees that they, too, would be leaving their home schools, home towns, home provinces for this one day. In 2014, I have a much better sense of London, and even a tiny bit of the surrounding region. At least I could easily find the stupid purple balloons at the entrance this time.

Surprisingly, thinking back, I was a lot more self-assured prior to entering medical school. I knew the undergrad system that I was in at UBC, I knew how to excel in that setting. These days, not much at all. I’m constantly feeling lost in medical school. Information I thought I had studied just the night before, suddenly can’t recall it when I’m being pimped. There’s always something new to learn and yesterday’s achievement is today’s square one. Looking and listening to these fresh, well rested, faces, I know a bunch of them deep down think they are the shit. Without a doubt they are incredibly decorated and accomplished people. I wonder if they really realize what’s lying ahead for them (Somedays the only solace I can take is that hundreds of other students have gone through the same experiences as I have, faced the same challenges, and emerged out of it MDs). As an old rugby coach used to say, “Trust the system.”

One last stark difference is this time I’m in the know. As an interviewee, it was hard not to try to read in between the lines and try to figure out what exactly the question used was getting out. Turns out there definitely is a method to the madness. As an interviewer, it’s quite clear how we were supposed to be directed in our panels. That’s the most I can divulge I believe, due to the aforementioned confidentiality clause.

One final thing I should mention is that as both an interviewer and interviewee I had a great time. Being new to Western in 2011 I was blown away by the hospitality, enthusiasm, friendliness, and community spirit shown by the admissions volunteers. That impression definitely was a driving force in my decision to choose London in the end. On the other side of the panel, I had a great time connecting with the other panelists on my team. There were also breaks to get to catch up with some classmates and other volunteers. There are definitely a fair share of good feelings behind the scenes as well.

With the past weekend over, that wraps up the 2014 Admissions Weekend for Schulich. It’ll be a nervous and exciting time for the interviewees I’m sure. I am curious to see if the people who went through my panel got accepted and end up choosing Schulich for next year. If one of the them do end up coming to school here, I do hope that at some point within their 4 years they get to have a chance to side on the other side too.

So the cycle continues.



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