Some Thoughts For T.

I would be very interested in hearing the views of the person who commented with a comparison of traditional doctors practicing trad and holistic medicines. Your views on that as well – if this is something you can share.

Hi T., thanks for your comment. I think I can share some of my thoughts, but first I need to admit that I have received some training as a “traditional doctor” and have an M.D. (although I abandoned clinical medicine as a career over a decade ago), have worked in mainstream science as a research scientist, and am currently employed as an imaging scientist / scientific programmer / software engineer. I have also finished a Master’s program in biostatistics about a year ago! So, I might have some natural bias towards mainstream science and medicine.

That said, I am most definitely not a fundamentalist Materialist. By “materialist”, I mean that philosophy — sometimes it seems to me to be a full-blown religion unto itself — that contends that there exists nothing except matter and the four forces of nature. Once can make these minimalist assumptions (Occam’s Razor; the Wikipedia entry has some interesting stuff about Controversial Aspects of the Razor and Anti-Razors) and go quite far, but just because you assume something doesn’t make it true. For example, they are now beginning to consider the possibility that there are actually five forces of nature; so the assumption that are are only four forces of nature might actually be incorrect.

I have friends who are true-believers in materialism. Their argument in support of materialism often seems to be as follows.

  1. Based on the materialist philosophy, science has accomplished impressive things: computers, modern medicine, the NASA space program, etc.
  2. Therefore, the materialist philosophy is correct.

I hope you can see the fallacy of this argument. An analogy might be negative numbers (or irrational numbers, or transcendental numbers, or imaginary numbers) in mathematics; one can derive a lot of true theorems based on the assumption that there are no negative numbers (or irrational numbers, etc.), but that doesn’t make the assumption correct.

Another argument in support of materialism that my friends seem to use is:

  1. All smart people believe in the materialist philosophy.
  2. Therefore, the materialist philosophy is correct.

I hope you can see the fallacy of this argument as well.

Another thing that I have noticed my materialist friends doing is mistaking a scientific model for reality itself. They are forgetting that The Map Is Not The Territory.

I would consider myself an open-minded skeptic; open-minded enough to consider the possibility that there’s more to reality than physical matter and the four (five?) forces of nature. Still, I have become a little pessimistic about the ability of the human mind to understand certain things, especially consciousness itself; in this respect, I think my sympathies lie with “the New Mysterians”. This doesn’t mean that I think that no research should be done on consciousness, or that you should abandon your investigation of the relation between consciousness and BodyTalk; it just means that I think it quite possible that the human mind cannot understand how the human mind works. My friends who have a strong faith in materialism (they are, after all, true-believers) insist that science will some day explain everything; this sounds to me like promissory materialism.

See also my recent post about the Decline Effect; just because something makes it into the scientific literature doesn’t mean that it’s true. Also, something that always bugged me during my medical training was that some of the things being taught didn’t seem to have any basis in science; instead, they seemed to be traditions that were foisted onto mainstream medicine by strong-willed — but wrong — scientists/physicians in positions of power.
See, e.g., this recent online article about spinal fusion. This reminds me of an old saying: “If you go to a barber, he’ll tell you that you need a haircut.”

For some thoughts about the problems with materialism,
I strongly suggest the book Modern Physics and Ancient Faith
by Stephen Barr, who is a practicing physicist. Another book of potential interest is Charles Tart’s The End of Materialism, but I have to admit that I haven’t finished that one yet.

Stephanie Trick, Virtuoso Stride Pianist

On Sunday July 19, 2009 D.G. and I attended a concert delivered by Stephanie Trick, as part of the Northern Virginia Ragtime Society concert series. Walking into the Jordan Kitts, M.C. and his daughter were ticking off names as NVRS members checked in, and M.C. said to me “Great license plate!” He was referring to my C.R.V.’s license plate, “FATS WLR”. Most NVRS members will know the reference; and my close friends know that Fats is my favorite classic jazz pianist.

Ms. Trick opened her program with Scott Joplin’s Pineapple Rag, which she described as “one of the finest rags ever written,” and she then proceeded with a mix of classic ragtime, stride piano, terra verde ragtime, and novelty piano pieces. Here is her program as per my notes (I cannot guarantee that my notes are error-free).

Piece Composer
Pineapple Rag Scott Joplin
Grace and Beauty James Scott
Pastime Rag No. 4 Artie Matthews
Viper’s Drag Thomas “Fats” Waller
Liza (from Show Girl) George Gershwin
Bethena (waltz) Scott Joplin
Maple Leaf Rag Scott Joplin (arrangement by Ms. Trick)
Carolina Shout James P. Johnson
Roberto Clemente David Thomas Roberts
… Dance (I didn’t quite catch the first word of the title, but after doing some Google research I believe this was Anitra’s Dance) Donald Lambert / Edvard Grieg (an example of “ragging the classics”, i.e., arranging classical music in the ragtime style)
Doll Dance (duo piano with Alex Hassan) Jacques Fray
Perpetuum Mobile (Perpetual Motion; duo piano with Alex Hassan) Ernst Fischer
Valentine Stomp Thomas “Fats” Waller
Solace Scott Joplin
Bach Up To Me Thomas “Fats” Waller / Dick Hyman
Dizzy Fingers Zez Confrey
Handful of Keys Thomas “Fats” Waller
Fingerbreaker Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton
Space Shuffle (duo piano with Adam Yarian) Robin Frost
The Royal Garden Blues (duo piano with Adam Yarian) Clarence Williams
I’ve Found A New Baby Clarence Williams
Poodlin’ With Pat Neville Dickey

The first duo piano pice performed with Alex Hassan, Doll Dance, is not the same piece that Mr. Hassan performed duo piano with Frederick Hodges in the May 10 NVRS concert; that piece was Wedding of the Painted Doll, also arranged by Jacques Fray.

The latter duo piano pieces were played with Adam Yarian, who is now studying law at the University of Chicago. Mr. Yarian started out on the upright piano with Ms. Trick on the grand; but then he requested to switch pianos. (I believe he was feeling claustrophobic, since the upright was right up against a wall.) Ms. Trick accommodated him and they switched pianos, but in mid-performance she gave up on the upright, strode over to the grand, took over the upper register of the grand, and finished the performance as an single-piano duet. I think that the audience was tickled by the mid-performance switch — it was completely unscripted, and totally cool.

(D.G. noted that Mr. Yarian himself was good enough to be a featured NVRS performer. And Mr. Yarian has indeed been a past featured artist in the NVRS concert series, on more than one occasion.)

Although her selection of pieces in this concert was a big mix — and Ms. Trick also has recorded classical music — I would classify her as a stride pianist. As supporting evidence for this classification, during the intermission I asked her who her favorite ragtime/stride/jazz/novelty composer was, and she answered “Fats Waller.” (I was immensely pleased.) Note that the word “virtuoso” in the title of this post is redundant, since the stride genre is in general very difficult. If you’re a stride pianist, you must be a virtuoso. In contrast, I think it is possible to be a ragtime pianist without being a virtuoso.

During the intermission, I bought Ms. Trick’s audio CD Hear That Rhythm!, and have been listening to it during my daily commute to work. The playlist has some overlap with the NVRS concert, so if you’d like a sample of what the concert was like you can listen to the CD. Sometimes contemporary pianists’ recordings of stride piano seem a little strained, as if the pianists were playing just at the limits of their abilities. Not so with Ms. Trick; I think she strides better than many other pianists, and seems quite comfortable in the genre. She sounds unstrained, as if she hasn’t yet reached the limits of her technique.

In the NVRS concert, Ms. Trick played a duo piano version of Space Shuffle, a piece by Robin Frost, a composer I have mentioned in a previous post on superhumanly difficult piano music. And her CD Hear That Rhythm! has not one but two performances of pieces by Mr. Frost.

I would be very interested in hearing Ms. Trick try her hand at some of Jelly Roll Morton’s more lyrical pieces such as The Pearls, or perhaps King Porter Stomp. (I have a soft spot for lyricism.)

Here’s a link to D.G.’s blog post on Ms. Trick’s concert.

If I recall correctly, when he was introducing Ms. Trick to the audience, Alex Hassan said that the existence of young ragtime/stride/jazz/novelty pianists of Ms. Trick’s caliber gives us hope for the future. I must heartily agree.

Rare Piano Scores in PDF Format

I found this website recently: You purchase the scores online, and in a follow-up email they send you hyperlinks. You then click on the links to download the sheet music in a ZIP file.

I purchased transcriptions of performances by Horowitz, Volodos, and Pletnev. I also bought a Rimsky-Korsakoff collection, hoping to see an interesting transcription of Flight of the Bumblebee. No, I am not saying that I have the technique to play these very difficult pieces; I am just interested to see how some interesting pianistic effects were achieved. For example, Cziffra’s rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee really does conjure a big, fuzzy bumblebee buzzing menacingly about your head.

Years ago, I bought a whole collection of rare piano scores in PDF format from a guy in Belgium. The breadth of his collection was remarkable; he must have been collecting for many years, and he must have been very determined. Unfortunately, I can no longer find his website!

I am wondering whether there is some relationship between and that Belgian collector. Perhaps the collector upgraded his website, and is the result? Or perhaps was a rival website, and they cornered the market and the collector had to shut down?

Published in: on 17 July 2009 at 6:50 am  Comments (4)  


Years ago, in grade school, the teacher tasked us students to write our own epitaph. Here’s what I came up with.

My friend, it’s sad
That we may never meet.
But wonder about me a while,
And then pass on.

Published in: on 7 March 2009 at 7:24 am  Leave a Comment  

Whither The Beast?

For Y.R.

O Lonesome Heart! That aches and weeps,
With unanswered email at thy feet.
The dead letters groan with the weight of days
Stretching into long weeks:

“We remember his name,
That many-syllabled phrase.
But whither the Beast?
Has the Beast withered away?”

Published in: on 2 February 2009 at 12:00 am  Comments (2)  

Tunes Performed by Alex Hassan Tonight

For D.G., regarding Alex Hassan’s performance at the Millenium Stage tonight (unfortunately, requires RealPlayer to view the video; link goes to the Millenium Stage’s video recording of the event).

The first piano roll tune that Alex played was Your Feet’s Too Big.

Your Feet’s Too Big, Fats Waller (listen for the humorous lyrics)

Your Feet’s Too Big, Sesame Street

And the opening tune for the J. Fred Coots medley was For All We Know (it later reappeared in the medley).

For All We Know, sung by Nat King Cole

This is the version that I am familiar with; the golden-voiced Nat King Cole is accompanied by a string arrangement by Gordon Jenkins.

Superhumanly Difficult Piano Music

For D.G.

I had mentioned an interesting musician who composes jazz piano pieces that are very difficult, some so difficult that they are probably impossible to be performed on a physical piano by a non-enhanced human. But the music can instead be “played” by using music synthesizer software, generating MIDI files one can listen to.

The composer I was talking about is Robin Frost (hey, that web page says that he’s originally from D.C.!). Mr. Frost’s music is in a 20’s-30’s classic jazz style very much like the novelty piano genre that Alex Hassan specializes in. Much of Mr. Frost’s music has been performed — perhaps a better word would be rendered — by an electronic musician named John Roache. In the liner notes of one of his CD’s, Mr. Roache describes his electronic musicianship as “sculpting” sound. I think that’s a great description.

For samples of this music, try some of the buttons here. One of my favorites is 3 Sheets in the Ocean, One Foot in the Sunset, & You.

Published in: on 20 December 2008 at 10:57 am  Comments (4)  
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