Thursday, March 31, 2011

Playing the Glass Armonica at Colonial Williamsburg with the MasterHimself, or at Least Trying to!

While at Colonial Williamsburg last Saturday afternoon, we had a unique opportunity to play the glass armonica!  Many of you may have attended one of the glass armonica concerts with the Colonial Williamsburg master, Dean Shostak!  The glass armonica was invented by Benjamin Franklin. We had learned about this at the preceeding link a few years ago when we studied the 18th century in school (we do DEEP 4 year cycles through world history). Now we would have a unique opportunity to play one ourselves! Figuring out the knack of playing one of these is extremely difficult. The young girl there was very good at making sound come forth from the bowls and worked patiently to help my kids.  The idea is to wet your fingers and run it along the sides of the bowls while they spin. It is not as easy as it looks!
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This armonica has 7 bowls in graduating sizes nestled almost within each other on a pipe that rotates by turning the handle.  A high sound is achieved by rubbing the finger along the smaller bowls, while they are moving at a fast rotation. A low note is achieved by rubbing the finger along the larger bowls, while they are moving at a slower rotation. Alas, neither of my kids were achieving many sounds, if any, so we asked the girl to play it some more for us.
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Then the master himself, Dean Shostak, came over to help! One problem was that the bowls got dirty from all the fingers. Fingertips must be extremely clean, but wet. He handed out paper towels to rub the fingertips clean of any oils. Next my son inserted his finger back in the bowl of water to wet it down again for playing. Mr. Shostak  also cleaned the bowls a bit from the previous oils that were rubbed on by dirty fingers. Someone asked how we could make one of these ourselves. He told us that this is a basic model for us to learn on and experience. He has an extremely nice one with an 18th century treadle to turn the bowls. The bowls are specially blown in Massachusetts, for his fancy one and even for this simpler version. In other words, it sounds expensive! To the left of the photo you can see glass goblets filled with varying amounts of water. When you run a wet finger across the top, they produce the same sound as the armonica. This goblet arrangement goes back to the days of the Renaissance. When Benjamin Franklin heard music from goblets, he decided to invent a more convenient device...hence the armonica.  After Mr. Shostak's help, my son was able to more effectively produce sound.
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When my daughter took her turn with Mr. Shostak, she kept using her fingertips even though he kept suggesting that she flatten her fingers. Then I got an idea. Brace yourself! I told her to play it with the flats of her fingers like she does on the piano. I know, I know. I'm forever telling her to use her fingertips for the piano but instead she uses the flats of her fingers. Mr. Shostak and I were laughing about that, as I told him I did realize what the proper method was. If only she would switch technique on the two instruments, she would have an easier time! =)

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Here he is showing my daughter how to hold her fingers to achieve sound.
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After everyone had a turn, he looked up, smiled, and asked, "Who's next?" My son grinned and said, "Mom!" Me? Why not? Sounds like fun! I love to do things like this! Imagine, getting armonica lessons from Dean Shostak! Huzzah! I had some trouble like my daughter.  You just want to use the fingertips on glass and be dainty.  Mr. Shostak showed me, like my daughter, and I finally felt the vibrations. Of course, you need more pressure on the glass to feel the vibrations to produce sound. Sound is vibrations. However the right amount of pressure is needed...as well as the proper flatness of fingers...as well as clean fingers...as well as wet fingers.

By then, a concert was about to begin! Mr. Shostak asked me if we had been to the armonica concert earlier. Um, no. There had been several armonica players from around the world playing different pieces. He said that one lady played "Flight of the Bumblebee!" I couldn't believe it and he said neither could he until he heard it! He had asked this man from St. Petersburg, Russia to play for us. Mr. Shostak said the acoustics in the room would be perfect! He played about 5 pieces, like Fur Elise, Ave Maria, and Lara's Theme from Dr. Zhivago.  The sound was rich and full, like an orchestra. Absolutely beautiful.
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You can listen to some sample armonica music played by Dean Shostak here and purchase the DVDs for yourself!  Next time you're in Colonial Williamsburg, be certain to check "This Week" (schedule) to see if he is performing.

Blossoms March-ing in to Colonial Williamsburg Before the Snow

I used to garden prolifickly in Texas and down there, freezing temperatures and snow was bad news for gardens. However in San Antonio,we were not able to grow these lovely plants. Not knowing how the predicted snow would affect them, we scurried around on Saturday to take all the pictures we could.  Also we don't know when we'll return to Colonial Williamsburg and this weekend was my last chance to capture the spring blossoms.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Weaver Dying in Shades of Red

Saturday we were able to see the weaver dye wool yarn for the first time! The buckets to the left of the photo have the yarn soaking in a solution of water and alum. They soak for about 72 hours, so that the alum can work into the fibers.  The alum helps the fibers take the dye. 
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I loved how all the colored yarns were laid out with the source of their color.
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Blue...there's a name for these rocky looking things.  Eliza Lucas Pinckney of South Carolina was boiling an indigo plant and these "slugs" developed.  The interpreter told us about these "slugs" but I can't find any information to determine their proper name, which I forgot.  I did, however, learn a lot about Eliza Lucas Pinckney.  I suppose if I were to ever interpret a person of the 18th century, I would want to find someone who reads books as much as I do.  Abigail Adams of Massachusetts comes to mind.  Now I have found Eliza Lucas Pinckney.  Unlike most ladies of the 18th century, she and her sister received an English education. Her particular interests revolved around botany, hence her experimentation and success with the indigo as a teenager. At the age of 16, necessity required that she manage the three family plantations, which she did effectively. She taught slave children to read.  She has a beautiful love story.  After her marriage, she continued her study of plants with a Dr. Gardner (he was destined for botany), after whom the gardenia was named! Although she was a free thinker, she was completely devoted to her husband and family.  On a trip to Europe, she presented the Princess of Wales with a silk dress she had handspun. She and her daughter were spies for the swamp fox, Francis Marion. President Washington paid her a visit in 1791 and an oak tree was named for him.  Upon her death a few years later, President Washington asked to be her pallbearer.

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On this day, she was using cochineal bugs, wrapped in this bag, to dye the yarn.
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Checking the coloring of the yarn...She decided to let it dye some more, for a deeper effect.

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Various shades drying...
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Then on Sunday afternoon, escaping the cold snowiness, we returned to the weaver for an indoor demonstration of the spinning wheels.
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This is an embroidery project that was common in the 18th century.

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The Prentis Store in Colonial Williamsburg sells items made in the historic area.  Having learned embroidery as a little girl, I am hoping to refresh my technique for some period accurate costumes, like embroidered pockets and petticoats.  I am slowly building my collection of CW yarns.
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This label says:

Wool Yarn

Hand Dyed in the 18th century manner

by the Staff of The Weave Room

With roots of the Madder Plants

Grown in the Wythe House Garden

At

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation   

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Plato's Republic

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This has been our most prodigious reading assignment ever in school, with nearly 300 pages of seemingly mindless Socratic questioning...yet with a point.  Fitting into our studies of Classical Greece, it fulfills our requirements for history, literature, government and philosophy. It has kept me busy, finding moments here and there to read through it. I even read portions of it at Colonial Williamsburg, I've been studying in out of the way niches, listening to rumblings of tyranny, while reading about tyranny and the "ideal" government, according to Plato.

Sunday afternoon I was talking to one of the interpreters, who portrays James Madison, and somehow we got on the topic of this book.  It was interesting comparing notes. Madison studied previous forms of government and philosophies of "ideal" governments, including that of Greece, before devising a plan for America's new government in preparation for the Constitutional Convention. This is a book the Founding Fathers would have read, as part of their classical education.

Because a lot of moms ask me how I fit it all in, (which I don't) I thought I'd let you know that after prereading the chapters (which are called "books" in my version), I marked it up for the key points (to model for my kids how to mark a book with key ideas) and even downsized the reading.  Of the 10 "books", I had my kids read "Books" I, II, parts of III, IV, parts of V, VII, VIII, IX.  The rest I'll pull a few quotes from for discussion to tie things together.

One of the greatest values I found in having the kids read this book, is how it cemented the various historical elements we have learned about Classical Greece.  In our history studies, we learned that Greece was the land where democracy was founded.  Every man had a vote.  Note that slaves and women did not.  Note that every year one of the greatest offenders, voted on by the democracy, was ostracized.  (See my activity for that here.) Note that this was a biased decision, for better or worse.  Note that the beautiful things we note Greece for today, like it's beautiful architecture, was because of the decision of one man, Pericles.  Note the insertion of dictatorship.

The Republic is all about Plato's theory for an ideal theoretical government.  His ideas allow for lively discussion. In fact, tonight while I got dinner ready, I heard the kids commenting on radical components of his ideas.  I am assigning a paper with an arguable thesis on this book.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Meeting Baptist Preacher James Ireland

One of our stops on the weekend of my daughter's birthday was to see the Rev James Ireland.  This was a wonderful program! I took a lot of notes.  We had missed church and I would say I got more out of this than I do some sermons that I hear in modern church.  He gave his testimony and shared about his experiences with George Whitfield and John Wesley.  He was down to earth, open, honest, and humble. He didn't preach. He shared.

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The Reverand James Ireland was a Baptist preacher who had suffered much persecution because the state religion was Anglican. More details of his story is here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Visiting Colonial Williamsburg in Costume for the First Time

We are home from another visit to Colonial Williamsburg, to frolick about town in costume with friends! This was especially fun for my daughter because it was her birthday!

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We enjoyed the gardens. The hyacinth filled the air with a heady aroma...

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and took photos...
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The next morning I arrived in the historic area wearing modern clothes. It was a cold day for me. The kids wanted to see Lafayette.  They said, "Mom, we haven't been able to say hi to him all weekend. We don't want him to feel left out!"  I had to laugh. I don't think we're that important to him but it sure was funny!

Lafayette, as always, was wonderful! Guess what? He mentioned that bright moon as part of his monologue!  He said that's how bright the moon was when he first landed in America. That was great because we had had a Super Moon the night before that we were all talking about. Love how he works things in to his program!    

Afterwards we went to ask questions.  In the last few weeks I've been wanting a Frenchman's perspective on Montesquieu. He always mentions him in his talks, so I thought perhaps he'd be fair game to talk about. His answer pretty much validated some of my thoughts and gave me things to look for when I start digging into his book.
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 Then my son asked for a comparison between Generals Washington and Cornwallis.  He had run that question by me earlier.  It seemed like a rather basic question, but it was an appropriate question. I knew Lafayette could make it great if he wanted to.  He did!  Wow!  He linked his answer to some stuff that we've been studying, which opened a whole new door of possibilities in our studies!  Wow, that man gets the wheels of my brain turning!  As we walked to our lunch spot, I talked over some of my developing ideas with my kids.  is!

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Daughter's Birthday and her New Floral Varied Block Quilt!

I've been secretly making a badly needed new quilt for my daughter's birthday while she has been out to Awana club on Monday nights. At long last it is finished!  Instead of buying more gift wrap I decided to use my gorgeous ribbon collection to showcase everything.
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The quilt is on the right. I half price pink feather edged pillow was purchased at Homegoods. I also made a minky pillow roll (with leftover fabric and used an old pillow form that was in the closet), in the front left. There was a new pink bedskirt in the green package on the left. There's enough money left in her birthday budget for chintz for an 18th century gown!

I used all scrap fabrics from my closet to do the quilt. Can you tell that her favorite colors are purple and pink? I tied it off with lavendar embroidery floss. She loved it!
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Her completed bedding ensemble!
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