The only thing I remember, well the first thing that comes to mind I guess, about Mrs. Nichol’s sixth grade music class is the way she’d draw a circle on the blackboard and make me stand there with my nose in it for most of the period.  I mean who cared about Saint Saens, whole notes, or the fact that Anton Dvorak had actually been in Iowa?

  The only interesting thing I recall was listening to her describe her husband’s malaria.  He’d been in the Navy during WWII.  I never’d heard of anything you couldn’t shake. Anyway, I didn’t like music, the circle didn’t work, and I became intimately familiar with every corner of the principal’s office. 

  The sounds of the sixties perked up my ears, but being a-political and an emotional nitwit nothing found more than passing resonance.  I began to wake up in college – I’m probably not alone in having had an epiphany in front of Disney’s Fantasia.  The Beethoven’s Sixth segment was to my mind what Kool-Aid was for the Dead. 

  All of a sudden I had an incredibly eclectic taste in music and an incipient thirst for understanding.  What is it?  It’s got to be more than epiphenomenal…  Everybody has at least a little rhythm.  Why is it so great to hear Gene Kelly “Singing in the Rain” by the produce at the grocery store when the mini-sprinklers go on?  Wasn’t that a wonderful movie?  Can’t you just see him twirling about the lamppost, drenched?

  Long determined to launch a serious investigation, I didn’t have a clue about how to begin until wife fixed me up with guitar lessons recently.  Month into it now and I’m fascinated.  I can read a few notes, make annoyingly recognizable sounds, and am amazed at the mind state that’s induced.

  The first lessons were a bit awkward for sure.  I’m easily three times as old as most of the students in the facility.  Years older than most of the parents reading People Magazine in the lobby as a matter of fact.  But after practicing a little bit every day I have begun to feel like I did the first time fiddling with buttons on a shirt that was not my own…

   What’s up with the elephants?  In February of 2007 on the radio program “Speaking of Faith” was a segment with acoustic biologist Katy Payne.  It is going to be rebroadcast Sunday.  You should listen.  Or visit the site: http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/  Her descriptions of whales composing complex songs are incredible.  Her stories of emotional networks maintained between and among elephants miles apart are enthralling. 

  She’s a Quaker working at the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell.  “I see my responsibility as being to listen.  My church is outdoors.  And I must say that if I could ask these animals that I like so much if there’s anything equivalent to what we speak of as being faith, I would love to do that.  We just don’t know.”

  “Many animals make sounds, everything from crickets to humans to whales.  Birds, of course.  Frogs.  And these sounds, in the case of animals, are thought of in relation to reproduction and courtship.  In humans, although they may serve exactly the same function, they’re thought of in relation to aesthetics.  And one of the aspects of my work has been to say, ‘Look, we don’t have to have two languages for this.’

2 Responses to “Buttons”

  1. Susan Says:


    After watching the “Singin’ in the Rain” segment, I wonder, why don’t men wear dress hats anymore? Is this part of the evolutionary process?

    Are you REALLY studying guitar? That’s way cool.

    Love, Susan

    • bgierke Says:

      Hi Susan

      I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m proud of my mane, I mean pate.

      And yep. No groupies yet though.

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