Monday, April 6, 2009

The Effects of Music on Plants

Many studies have been conducted on communication with plants. Not only do plants react to human touch, but they are listening to us. You might wonder: how do plants hear? Well, they don't have ears. Plants seem to have another way of listening, though, perhaps through some sort of a universal vibe...

Consider Dr. T.C. Singh who, in 1950 when he was performing experiments on hydrillas with the encouragement of Professor Julian Henry Huxley, was excited to discover that the raga, a devotional song rising out of South Indian tradition, did in fact have a "religious" effect on the plant species-- among other physical growth, the hydrillas' stomata per unit area was 66% higher than in control plants. Singh since has conducted his raga experiment with various other types of plants, including economic ones such as radishes and sweet potatoes, and believes that he has "proven beyond any shadow of doubt that harmonic sound waves affect the growth, flower, fruiting, and seed-yields of plants." It is interesting how this relates to the ancient myth of Lord Krishna, the eighth and principal avatar of the Hindu deity Vishnu who induced plants to blossom by singing ragas to them.

Other studies have shown that Bach's sonatas work as a nutrient supplement for plants, and those that listened to George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" 24/7 sprouted earlier than those kept in silence. The following video on an experiment conducted by Dorothy Retallack reveals the music that plants prefer:

In the late 1960s, Retallack created two distinct environments for her test plants that varied only in one element: one group of plants listened to semi-classical music, and the other listened to hard-rock.

The plants that listened to composers of the eighteenth and nineteeth century including Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms, and Schubert, seemed to move toward the speaker and draw strength from the melodius sound. Those that listened to Led Zeppelin, Vanilla Fudge, and Jimi Hendrix, however, drank more water, but grew less, and eventually stopped growing. No wonder my plants are dead. :(

It appears to be the quality of the music that determined the fate of the plants, and while most people were impressed with Retallack's study, one rock musician expressed concern: "If rock is doing that to my plants, man, I wonder what it's doing to me?" I doubt he has anything to worry about -- plants are more likely just extremely sensitive to certain sounds.

I am currently reading a chapter entitled The Harmonic Life of Plants in "The Secret Life of Plants" by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, which is where I discovered most of this information. It is so interesting to learn about the effects of music on plants. I am intrigued by the research that has been conducted in this area, and perhaps one day when I have the time, will conduct my own study on my plants at home.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Music for Animals: More than Relaxing?

Can music affect animals? Well, we all know that music affects humans -- we all get excited when our favourite song is played on the radio, or when we're going to a concert, but what about our pets? Do they rock out and relax to their favourite tunes, or desire to go see their favourite band play? The second part of that question may be out of the question since I doubt your bird knows who Bon Jovi is and you can probably slip the name Hendrix by your hamster without a squeak. Music does have effects on animals, though, and some very interesting ones, indeed!

Contrary to popular rumour that fish cannot hear, they do in fact have ears according to LiveScience and the National Wildlife Federation:
"Fish don't have ears that we can see, but they do have ear parts inside their heads. They pick up sounds in the water through their bodies and in the ear, according to the National Wildlife Federation."
This makes sense because my pink kissing gourami, Splash, appears especially intent when my brother, Justin, jams on his guitar:

Splash swims over to the side of the tank closest to the guitar and sends kisses, which interestingly enough happens more often when my brother is playing -- it looks like he loves the music!

I was discussing the effects of music on animals with musician and fellow blogger, Andrew MacLeod, who informed me that his dogs often lie down and fall asleep in front of the drums when he plays! That's pretty crazy considering how loud drums are, and goes against research conducted by Queen's University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Dogs Trust, formerly the Rehoming Centre of the National Canine Defence League in Evesham, England:
"Dogs seem to relax to soft slow strains, and sometimes become agitated to loud, drum-based tunes."
Some might think that Andrew has very strange dogs, but I believe there is more research to be done. Perhaps certain beats are somewhat relaxing or even have sleep inducing effects on dogs. Consider Pooch, whose nap is interrupted when her master stops playing the drums…

Looks like Andrew’s dogs aren’t the only ones who relax to the drums! Also, it appears that different instruments have different effects because when Andrew plays the harmonica, his dogs go wild! This is probably because the harmonica has a high-pitched sound that dogs' ears are more sensitive to.

It is true that certain music can be used to relax your pets. Janet Marlow, well known for her frequent appearances on Animal Planet, composes and sells her own relaxation CDs designed for cats and dogs. According to Marlow's website,
"The music has been composed and recorded by a specific process for your pets needs. Low and high frequencies can cause stress and anxiety in pets. The frequency range of the music has been modified for your pet's hearing sensitivities."
Pets and Music, and Pet Music are two sites similar to Marlow's. Joy Butler also proposes tips on using music to help your dog relax.

It appears then that music is usually played to animals to calm them, but what about animals that play music? Sure, hummingbirds can tap a beat, and male chimps improvise drumming solos on their chests, but I bet most people have never considered a musical cat! Let me introduce Nora...

She's been dubbed the Piano Cat and is certainly musically inclined! Nora was adopted from an animal shelter by Philadelphia piano teacher, Betsy Alexander, and since has been discovered the piano. Nora plays solo, and often plays duets with Alexander's students.

Further research, not on the effects of playing music to animals, but on cats like Nora who are interested in making music, is sure to uncover some hidden talent! After all, practice makes purr-fect!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Singers with Sore Throats: Beyond "Normal" Remedies

After numerous long rehearsals for the Brahms Requiem performance, my throat is not doing so well. It dries out especially after we sing Movement VI, which is very vivace and fiercely fortissimo. Not to mention, I have had somewhat of a sore throat this past week, which is causing my voice to crack a bit. What great timing with the concert tonight, and a singing test this coming Thursday in my Music Therapy Skills class.

It is hard to know who to listen to when hydrating by drinking lots and lots of water is recommended by some, and frowned upon by others. Luckily, I know of some unique, and somewhat out of the ordinary techniques that work quite well for throat misfortune...

Lipgloss might sound like a silly remedy for singing difficulties, but it can be truthfully helpful, especially if your mouth dries out easily. When your mouth dries out, your lips dry out. They then stick together, which makes it hard to sing. I find, contrary to popular belief, that all lipglosses are not sticky, and that lipgloss often helps to moisten the lips.

I recommend CoverGirl Wetslicks Amazemint Lipgloss. It's laden with Crest Peppermint Oil, which not only provides a "minty breath sensation," but a solution to respiratory problems. Peppermint oil contains menthol, which numbs your throat when contained in throat lozenges. Menthol in lipgloss, however, provides an aroma that carries up to your nasal passage. This aroma, in turn, makes it easier to breath, and thus easier to sing.

You may wonder where I came up with this crazy idea of using lipgloss to help me out when singing. Well, I'd say I was inspired at her Toronto show on August 27th, 2005, when Tori Amos pulled some lipgloss out of her piano, and told us women in the audience: "Even on stage you need lubrication, girls."

On stage, Tori also drinks what I refer to as "magical lemonade" to rehydrate herself. This soothing and refreshing potion also known as "Duncanade," named after Tori's former chef, Duncan Pickford, is similar to an electrolyte replenisher, and keeps her drooling throughout the show. Here's the recipe:

Start with 2 L. water
2 lemons, chopped, seeded and pithed (1 whole lemon per L. of water)
Blend with 1 1/2 L. water
Strain and discard pulp
Blend that with 10-12 oz. honey that's been blended with 1/2 L. water
Add the remaining 1 L. water
Add ~ 4 pinches of salt (1 pinch for every 1/2 L. water -- more if you sweat a lot)
24 drops of essential lemon oil (6 for every 1/2 L. water)
1/4 t. cinnamon
Strain again

This magical lemonade works wonders for me. The honey in it feels smooth going down your throat, and best of all, provides instant salivation. Duncanade is also extremely tasty -- not too sweet, and not too sour.

Lipgloss and this magical lemonade are just two solutions for singers with sore throats. I recently came across some interesting information on the benefits of pineapple juice for singing -- pretty juicy info, if you ask me! Also, if you're interested in additional guidance, be sure to check out Amber's latest post on natural remedies for sore throats.

Despite how my throat's been feeling, these remedies give me confidence that my performance tonight will go smoothly. I encourage any scratchy-throated singers to try out the lipgloss method, or brew up a batch of Tori's magical lemonade -- I'd love to hear how it benefits you.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Brahms' Requiem: A night out at the Symphony

Tomorrow night at 8:00 PM a triumphant rendition of Brahms' German Requiem will sound throughout Chrysler Theatre, located in the St. Clair Centre for the Arts. The University of Windsor Singers and Women's Chamber Choir will join the Windsor Symphony Orchestra in this delightful, classical performance that blends nostalgia with a hope for wholeness:

"Brahms’ bold and poignant German Requiem lovingly embraces remembrance while echoing a profound desire for completion."
Maestro John Morris Russell will lead chorus, orchestra, and audience alike through Johannes Brahms' seven movements. The voices of competition winning soloists Miriam Khalil (soprano), and Tyler Duncan (baritone) will soar throughout the theatre.
A pre-concert talk titled Instrumentally Speaking will prelude the Brahms' at 7:00 PM, followed by a rendition of The Unanswered Question, a short orchestral work by Charles Edward Ives.

There are a few tickets still available starting at only $13, so I encourage you to bring your friends and family, and enjoy a night out at the Symphony!

As a recent member of the University Singers, this will be my first time singing in front of such a large crowd. At the end of November we did perform in A Festival of Christmas at Assumption Church, but Chrysler Theatre is a much larger venue, seating 1,200 -- I'm nervous, yet excited!

Being a part of the University Singers has been a fabulous experience thus far. Our group gathers for "class" every Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00 - 12:50 PM, and is directed by Jeffrey Walker. Although students receive a half credit for each semester, Singers is not your typical academic class. Rather, it is a hands-on, practical opportunity through which I continue to improve my site-reading, vocal, and listening skills. I recommend it not to those looking for an Arts credit, but for those who yearn for dedication and accomplishment.

We rehearsed the Brahms' for the first time with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday night, and again Thursday. Chrysler Theatre presents a whole new realm of sound -- much more crisp and resonant than room 126! Our final three and a half hour dress rehearsal is tonight, and we will be doing a run through of the lengthy piece in its entirety.

Preparing to perform Brahms' German Requiem has been quite an experience, and, at the sound of the last trumpets, one well worth it to be part of something so grand.

Music in a click?

Some of you may have read about my adventure to some of Toronto's used record shops. Recently, I’ve been thinking about why it is important to me to have physical copies of CDs on hand. I always have a ton of fun when I go out and look for new music to buy, and have I’ve come up with a few incentives that I hope will encourage you get out there and make the most out of your music purchases.

Quality: One major problem with digital music files such as MP3s and M4As is that they are compressed. Even files with bit rates as high as 320kbps do not meet the quality of CDs. FLAC files are the highest digital format available, but they are rarely up for sale. FLAC stands for “Free Lossless Audio Codec,” meaning that the files are compressed without any loss in quality. Interestingly enough, when FLACs are found for sale, it’s never somewhere like the iTunes store. Rather they’re offered on the artist’s website, and not all artists will offer such a deal. Thus while good quality does exist in the digital world, it’s a fact that the most convenient way to good quality is to buy the CD, or if you’re looking for even better quality, the vinyl!

Special Features: You miss out on lots of fun things when you purchase music online! A lot of albums now come with stickers, posters, or other goodies. Also, some CDs are embedded with cool technology. Not only does this provide an incentive for purchase, but it provides something interactive for fans on top of the music. Consider Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero -- when it’s warm, the CD changes colour to reveal a binary code that, when translated into ASCII, leads to a website. Pretty hot!

Collectible: Fans are always happy to come across a promo CD or single from their favourite artist. Sure, you can download rare b-sides on Limewire, but that sort of stuff is often not for sale in digital format. If it’s new, perhaps iTunes might offer a certain track for a limited time, but even so, it’s not the same as having that precious, limited edition single in your hands. Plus, if you have a rare collectible, and are lucky enough to meet your favourite artist, what better item to have autographed?

So, next time you think about paying 99 cents for a new song on iTunes, forget it! Physical albums are much more interactive, and, with digital, you’re not getting your money’s worth. There are so many more opportunities when you have the music in your hands!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hand me down the music

Toronto has always been one of my favourite Ontario cities for its widespread arts and entertainment community. When visiting last week, I decided to do something I've always wanted -- to go on a "used record shop hop" in the city! Like most music fans, it's important to me to have a hard copy of what I listen to. With the rise of big box music stores such as HMV, and online stores like iTunes, it's not always easy to find what I'm looking for.

I did some research before setting out on my adventure, and, thanks to OurFaves, was able to compile a list of record stores in the same area. Toronto is huge, but, even still, I never realized I'd find so many music stores on one street! Queen St. W is definitely the place to be if you're a music and memorabilia lover! I must have gone to about ten different independent stores, and found the following four most unique:

Kops Records / Vintage Sounds (229 Queen St. W): Two record shops in one sounds pretty cool, if you ask me! While Kops houses a collection of contemporary vinyl, Vintage Sounds, located upstairs, has piles upon piles of boxes of 45s and LPs from the 50s to the 90s. Being a big Tori Amos fan, I was set on coming across something unique for my collection in my record shop visits. It was my first time at a mostly vinyl store, and, not entirely sure where to start digging, I asked assistance of the elderly man working there. I was excited when he knew exactly where to look, and handed me two hard to find 45s! The prices were great, too -- $3.99 each.

Moog Audio (442 Queen St. W): An interesting store, especially for those who are interested in working with vinyl. Although Moog carries a selection of records, they also sell a wide range of equipment. The layout of the store is very modern, with stations set up in an open space -- you are able to choose from a selection of unique records to test out various turntables and other DJing equipment. Not quite what I was looking for, but it was still neat place. The staff is very knowledgeable, so it would definitely be worth the visit if you're thinking about picking up a turntable.

Criminal Records (493 Queen St. W): There were actually quite a few music stores on Queen St. W that I hadn't seen listed online, and Criminal Records was one of them. The name was hilarious, though, so I had to check it out! I recall a few steps or a ramp leading down into Criminal, and the lights were dimmed toward the back of the store where the independent music and vinyl was located -- what a great underground feel! Closer to the front of the store were contemporary records. Criminal also had a large selection of vintage band t-shirts -- unfortunately I wasn't able to purchase any because I haven't robbed a bank lately! ;) I'll definitely have to go back when I have more money. Overall, Criminal Records had a great selection of music and memorabilia! Best of all? It's legal!

Neurotica (642 Queen St. W): This was the last store I visited, and I was pretty impressed. It was well organized considering the small amount of space and large amount of product... music was literally spilling out onto the street -- there were CDs arranged on shelves outside the store. Inside, CDs were arranged around the perimeter of the store, as well as on shelves hanging on the walls. A large vinyl section is located in the middle of the store, and is nicely organized on racks rather than in the usual boxes. There was so much stuff that I wanted to buy at Neurotica! I was happy to find a few CDs I'd wanted to check out, but hadn't seen at any other used store I've been to -- The Tragically Hip's Road Apples, Sinéad O'Connor's The Lion And The Cobra, and Suzanne Vega's Nine Objects of Desire. $7.95 each -- not a bad price for some great finds! You've got to be careful when paying though because Neurotica's counter is partially made up of a very high pile of CDs, tapes, and DVDs! Oh, and a secret shopping tip... if you make conversation with whoever's working while you're at Neurotica, they'll give you a 10% off card for your next visit!

If you've never gone on a used record shop hop, I recommend it! Definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon, not to mention a great way to support independent music stores.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Looking for a cure? Just Askher!

I recently attended a breast cancer benefit -- what an awesome way to spend a Sunday night at Norma Jean’s, London’s home of live music! The $5 donation at the door was more than worth it to support such an important cause and to see the night’s line-up, four talented female-fronted bands, singing for a cure: The Stone Angels, Jenn Marino, Stop’n’Askher, and Shelly Rastin. While all of the bands were fantastic, one really caught my ear!

At the event I was fortunate to hang out with self-taught guitarist, and singer-songwriter Lori Girard, whom I was introduced to by my drummer friend, Julie Howes. Lori’s performance with her band, Stop’n’Askher, was phenomenal! Lori sings lead vocals and rocks out on her acoustic guitar with Ron Van Boheemen on bass, Barry McKeon on drums, and Andrew Malo on guitar. The band opened with a cover of Sheryl Crow's All I Wanna Do, and played a great set including Girard's very own I Told You So, Teeter Totter, Head Games, and Karma, among others. They also performed an incredible cover of Janis Joplin's Me and Bobby McGee:

While she often plays with the band, Lori also has been playing a live solo show for four years under her stage name, Askher. She also plays in three duos -- Askher and Newman (who opened for April Wine), Askher Fonti, and Askher and C!

When she’s not on stage, or recording in her home studio, Ms. Girard can be found teaching high school English and French! The multitasking musician is also a mother of two, and one who has a fun sense of humour -- when asked by a new fan whether she likes playing alone, her reply was, “I like to play with myself!” Lori then spoke more seriously about her love for music, and how it has helped to guide her:

I think everything in the world comes in waves -- sound waves, light waves -- waves go up and down, and life goes up and down. When I’m up, I know I’m going down again, but then I’ll get up again.” – Lori Girard

Askher's words can certainly speak to anyone -- we all have our ups and downs, but we need to know that the sun will shine again even when we're feeling low. Lori's positive philosophy comes out in her song Karma:

This particular video was taped in 2007, but I'm posting it because the sound quality is much better than it is in the video of Karma I took at last week's show. Both are amazing performances, so it's not hard to see why Lori has been nominated for two London Music Awards this year! Make sure to vote for her as your favourite London singer-songwriter under “Lori Girard” and as your favourite composer under “Askher.” By the way, Lori's opening for Cheryl Hardy on Saturday, March 14th, so if you're in London, be sure to head on over to Norma Jean's!

Askher’s lyrics are filled with emotion and, with over 10 years of experience, her energy on stage shines through to show her passion for performing. Lori is one of those artists whose music really speaks to my soul. I have a feeling that one day she'll strike a record deal. After all, such would be karma for playing so many wonderful shows!