Beauty and cruelty, and somewhere in between, humor of the gallows variety. That probably doesn't sound too ennobling, but it's how I often see the world. It is filled with beauty, but also cruelty, and we might as well laugh when we can. As the saying goes, no one is getting out of here alive.

So, at my church, the present choir director is a charming older lady who has worked more years than I have memories as a singer, choir director and voice coach. She has probably forgotten more about how to train singers than I have ever known, and while she is not particularly spry, she is surprisingly firm with her singers, and gets remarkable results in terms of balance and intensity with the older (and not particularly skilled) singers at my church. I doubt very much that I could achieve what she is achieving, and certainly I couldn't in her circumstance.

You see, she's old and has many ailments, the oddest being a left arm that has been so damaged by past illness that it is essentially a lump of flesh. And she's reached a decision that it has become more of a nuisance than it's worth, prone to infection, painful edema and a weight that must be carried. So, for purely practical reasons, she's getting rid of it. She's having it amputated. To commemorate the affair, she has been circulating a dummy arm and asking her friends and family to write notes on it, as if it were a cast, to transform the surgery from mutilation to liberation:

The many notes on it are homey and filled with corny attempts at humor. But there is no doubt that she is truly looking forward to it, even though she is already rather old and reduced in strength. The risk of surgery in her case is not negligible, but she wants to proceed. And by the time I am finished writing this, she will no doubt be out of surgery, trimmed of the impediment of her arm. I wish her the best.

Meanwhile, my former father-in-law, a musician of no small reputation, took a fall over the weekend. Yesterday, it became clear that he sustained some sort of head injury and he was admitted to his local HMO, where a concussion was in fact diagnosed. Given that he is on the rat poison Warfarin (relabeled coumadin as a blood thinner), he has been placed in ICU for observation while other means of reducing the effects of hypertension are put in place. Hopefully his stay will be brief.

Finally, I attended an Academy presentation last evening by our new President, Nancy Key, who is also the owner of Key Writing Concepts and a collaborator with the rest of us in Cafe Scientifique. Nancy's presentation started with a discussion of the possible selective value of musical ability within human populations, then segued to a discussion of her great pasttime, which is participating in a taiko drum troup. Her fellow taiko players then gave a colorful and raucous demonstration of some taiko pieces. It was exciting, and inspiring, and the drums they used were all the handiwork of one of the group members, who has fashioned them out of modified wine barrels:

Given all the turmoil some in my circle have experienced the last few days, the energy and joy radiated by this group was a real blessing. As Nancy speculated in her paper prior to playing for us, music is soothing because it allows to express and work out emotions that might otherwise be left neglected.