Archive | June, 2014

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The Pioneering:

Posted on 09 June 2014 by Hao Li (Meds 2016)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a pioneer of Western classical music. Though many see his music as primitive, considering the slew of artistic and political restrictions placed on musicians during his day it was actually extremely innovative. It is true that many draconian rules of harmony and composition were developed based on Bach’s works. However, these were simply perfectionist academic products of those who came after. Bach never allowed himself to be bound by regulations, but instead endeavoured always to advance music to new heights to the best of his abilities, and in light of his circumstances. He deserves the credit of revolutionizing two of Western music’s most prominent aspects—harmony and texture.

Students of music theory are familiar with the rules of perfect harmony derived from Bach’s chorales. Many of the most heavily-enforced guidelines concern key changes, which must be carried out at proper times and in proper manner. Paradoxically, in many works other than the chorales Bach changed keys very freely. In an era that emphasized social and artistic stability, such daring modulations highlighted Bach’s compositions as ones capable of creating kaleidoscopic tapestries of varying colours and emotions. They foreshadowed the kind of harmonic liberty that would be such a defining feature of the later Romantic period.

But perhaps an even more significant achievement of Bach, one that he is most well-known for, is his expansion of the possibilities of polyphonic texture. A polyphonic texture is one where two or more melodies occur simultaneously, in contrast to the melody-and-accompaniment model that most listeners are familiar with. Listening to a polyphonic composition is somewhat like keeping track of several people talking at the same time. Each person has his/her own line of speech, but together they form the complete social situation that is sensed by the observer. Out of all the polyphonic genres existing in Bach’s day, he seemed to possess a special predilection towards the fugue, and spent an enormous portion of his creative power bringing the fugue to its extreme musical limits. The word “fugue” is derived from the Latin verb fugare, meaning “to chase”. In a fugue, each line presents a different version of a certain melodic idea (theme), and the versions appear one after another. To the listener it would sound as if every melodic line were on hot pursuit of the line that just presented the theme previously, as the word rightfully describes.

An exemplary masterpiece that illustrates both Bach’s harmonic and textural prowess is the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue (1717-1723) written for the harpsichord. As the name suggests, it consists of two parts: a fantasy and a fugue. Both were designed to be chromatic or “colourful”, a musical term associated with pieces that change keys rapidly. The fantasy is composed as if it were a virtuosic keyboard improvisation. One must appreciate that the harpsichord was an extremely limited instrument mechanically, incapable of exhibiting dramatic changes in volume or subtle nuances in touch. But despite this Bach was able to pour forth an impressive palette of feelings though a relentless variation in rhythm and key throughout the fantasy, filling it with a perpetual torrent of powerful mood swings. At times it can be pensive, and at other times, terrifying. The fugue is composed of three melodic lines, and at the beginning it is not challenging to hear all of them introducing the theme one by one. What is remarkable about the fugue is that even with the obligation to follow a strict form, and the fact that all three lines must somehow be in reasonable harmony, it never for a moment sounds dry. Indeed, it is truly as if Bach were telling a story with the fugue, and every individual chapter plays a unique role that distinguishes it from the others. Though each line is a complete melody on its own, it is the synthesis of all three that makes the piece whole. The Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue is perhaps one of the most feared masterworks in the classical literature because of its daunting difficulty. It is a testament to Bach’s genius, and how during a time of intense artistic oppression he transformed music in a way that it would serve as the model for untold generations of musicians to come.


Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue

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Better than you think

Posted on 09 June 2014 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

Exhaustion from call; PTSD from getting barked at; loss of a social life. For many medical students, the surgical rotation during clerkship is supposedly the “doom and gloom” block. While it is a challenging block with a lot to learn, that is not a phenomenom unique from the other specialty rotations either. In fact, there are a lot of misconceptions on how “brutal” the rotation will be. As someone who is just finishing their 12 weeks in it, my personal testimony* (note: am interested in doing a surgical residency) is that it is not as frightful as many make it. There are in fact quite a few hidden gems about the surgical block that I am really going to miss.

1) Wearing Greens to work. – Sure you might miss out on being able to choose your outfit for the day, but think of all the time that saves as well! Over the past 3 months, I’ve greatly cut down the cost of my laundry (both time and money for supplies) and also get to the enjoy what is essentially pajamas to work. There aren’t many fields of work that let you do that, aside from maybe mattress testers and these guys.

2) Premium Parking – Okay, okay, okay. I can’t really personally attest to this because I’m still cycling my commute to the hospitals, but word on the street from other clerks and my roommate who just finished a few months on general surgery as part of his residency electives is that when you come in at 6am or earlier, you get the best parking in the house. Guaranteed. This makes getting out when you do get to leave all the easier. Also in the winter days this shortens the walk from your car to being inside with the warmth. That definitely makes a big difference.

3) Less road rage, aka less traffic – I don’t think I’ve been in a city with more infuriating traffic lights and less efficient roads than London. Even in some cities in China which have populations the size of Ontario on the road at least there is movement and is programmed to accommodate the flow of traffic. London’s traffic doesn’t make any sense, which is baffling considering how short distances one has to cover to span the city. Particularly in the normal peak “rush hours” the pace crawls by – I am definitely able to move quicker on my bike during these jams. Yet if you arrive early and leave late, you never have to deal with the extra strength Advil requiring headache that is London traffic. Picture it: leisurely arriving to work, air is still clean because you aren’t breathing in idling exhaust fumes, able to actually hear the birds sing in the morning as you go about your way, and smoothly getting to the hospital from home. No fuss, no muss. It’s almost kind of nice, right?

4) Getting to enjoy the sunrise each morning – Lost in the frenzy of the hospital and the pace of clerkship are those moments to just step back and be in the moment. Yes, we’re up at an hour the night owls are just going to bed at. Yes, we have to round on patients so quickly sometimes I get my cardio for the day just through that. But even if it’s just for a few seconds through a window in a patient’s room each morning, getting to see those first rays of a new day break over the horizon is just so moving. Getting to see the sunrise helps charge up my batteries in preparation for the long day ahead.

5) A lot of complimentary coffee – And this has nothing to do with the fact that I was on surgery during Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim contest. But the residents/attendings seemed always willing to buy the clerks a coffee when there was a moment’s of downtime between cases. As a person who enjoys a good cup of the black stuff, this was a very nice touch. Stick taps to that. Yes, some would say that if we had longer hours to sleep we wouldn’t need the coffee during the day, but I just like to drink coffee.  Even if it’s Timmies. 

6) No trouble sleeping at night – My brain is a troll at night. Previously, if I’d try to sleep my mind would keep me up overthinking about things that happened during the previous day, trying to figure out stuff I should be prepared for the next, or just generally screwing around with random streams of consciousness. While on surgery, when I want to sleep I just do the flop. I might have gone to bed earlier before, but I’m actually getting more sleep now.

Detractors might argue that this is simply Stockholme Syndrome reasoning but I feel that there are many overlooked moments to enjoy in the surgery rotation. There’s great teaching, a lot to do, and the feeling of being included in the team while on the rotation, but those are the obvious ones. The above list tries to address some of the hidden, little things that generally go by everyday without appreciation. But really, it’s often these little things that add up and make a difference in the end.


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