Out of Thin Air

i282600889620228683._szw1280h1280_This did not begin as a banner morning for me. I jumped on my scale first thing, just as I have been doing for weeks, only to discover that I have somehow gained weight in the last couple of days rather than losing. So much for living off of a low calorie count of fruits and veggies and low fat meats, not to mention three mile walks each day. Next, as I ate my two hard boiled eggs and a banana I perused the news on CNN learning that Donald Trump carried the day in the latest primaries. To top it all the big rain that I was counting on for my plants didn’t seem to have materialized in my neck of the woods. We got some sturm und drang but only a smattering of precipitation. I was bummed out but determined to be the master of my own outlook on life when I saw today’s Google doodle peeking curiously out of the corner of my laptop screen. With one click I was soon grinning like a kid who had discovered a big refrigerator box in the middle of the living room. I forgot all of my temporary woes. 

If you have already discovered today’s doodle you probably don’t have time to read my blog because you are busy attempting to learn how to play the theremin. If you have not noticed the doodle you have no idea what I am raving about so a bit of an explanation is in order. Today would have been the one hundred fifth birthday of Clara Rockmore. Clara was born in Russia and proved to be a child prodigy on the violin which she learned to play at the age of two. By the time that she was four she had been admitted to the St. Petersburg Imperial Conservatory, the youngest person ever to do so. She was known for the clarity of sound and perfect pitch of her playing but her seemingly magical life was eventually threatened by the revolutionary government of the USSR. 

She and her parents fled the country hoping to find refuge in the United States. Theirs was a dangerous journey fraught with great uncertainty. They crossed borders illegally looking for a country that would give them a visa. Luckily they did eventually gain entrance to the USA and settled in only to find that extreme arthritis would sadly cut Clara’s musical career quite short. The pain in her bow arm was so extreme that she could no longer play. 

Clara later met an inventor named Louis Theremin who had invented an electronic instrument that could be played using hand gestures. Clara took to the strange contraption quickly and became one of the premier theremin performers in the world. With her unique understanding of music she translated the electronic sounds into beautiful melodies. Before long she was traveling the world playing the other worldly instrument that consisted of two vertical and horizontal antennas that controlled pitch and volume with hand fingering. Clara’s ability with the theremin was so unique that she performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony.

The analog theremin was the precursor of the digital synthesizer that would eventually revolutionize music. Perhaps the most famous use of the theremin can be heard on the Beach Boys‘ mega hit Good Vibrations. The strange sound that dominates the piece is played by Brian Wilson. Other rock bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin used the theremin in some of their work. Still, it was Clara Rockmore who was the maestro of this instrument. 

To play the theremin one uses the hands, seemingly producing sound in the air. Different notes come from moving the hands closer or farther away from the vertical antenna. The closer one is to the antenna, the higher the notes. The horizontal antenna controls the volume and the farther away the hand is, the louder the sound. Clara Rockmore understood how to make incredibly subtle hand gestures that created vibratto and a warm and pleasant tone. Aerial fingering allows the performer to change notes with only a subtle movement.

The Google doodle uses interactive white light. Moving up increases the volume and moving to the left or the right creates the notes. It is an addictive past time that I suspect will lure many people away from their work and chores today. I know that it sucked me in for quite some time. It is actually great fun.

I seem to recall a man playing the theremin on the Ed Sullivan Show many moons ago. I was fascinated by the strange instrument and the eerie sounds that it made. It reminded me of outer space and took my imagination into overdrive. I can still recall a vague image in grainy black and white of a very professorial looking individual making the interesting sounds using only his hands. He seemed like the kind of person who might have invented his music inside his garage while neighbors scratched their heads in wonderment and his family smiled with resignation. He was much like the people who now work at Google producing a seemingly useless product that in fact has revolutionized the world.

The funny thing about mornings that start out badly is that they can be rescued in the blink of an eye. After having fun attempting to play the theremin on the Google doodle I surfed the Internet to gain more information about Clara Rockmore and the instrument that she played so well. Thanks to Google mine was an easy task and I was soon enough happily enlightened. Education has always had the power to chase away the blues for me. I found myself feeling quite content and now the rain that I so wanted for my garden has started to fall with abandon. I am definitely back to being my optimistic self and willing to work on the things that I can control and shed my worries over those that are beyond my power. 

The mind of mankind is a beautiful thing. There are so many creative, talented and inventive people on our planet. They are the ones who will ultimately make this old world a better place. Their routes my be long and wrought with challenges but history has shown that the good ultimately prevail and that one out of sync morning doesn’t define a blessed lifetime. 

So go find that Google doodle and try your hand at playing the theremin. I absolutely guarantee that it will bring a smile to your face and chase away any semblance of frustration that may be lurking in your corner of the world. 

 

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