Thursday, July 26, 2007

An Invitation

Please join us for our annual recital with the Brookfield-Jordan Vocal Studio. If you have attended in previous years, you know what an exciting musical event this is. If not, don't expect an ORDINARY recital. This year will be bigger and better than ever.

This year we are presenting two shows. The curtain-raiser is Mozart's Operatic masterpiece, COSI FAN TUTTE, which will be sung mostly in Italian with English commentary so you will know what's going on. COSI is a comedy of love. Two couples somehow fall for each other's betrothed with the help of a meddling friend and a saucy maid. All's well that ends well and true love triumphs. The singers will knock off your socks!

The second act will keep you guessing with THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD. You, the audience, get to decide the conclusion in this merry romp in old England that helps to answer the questions posed by Charles Dickens' unfinished last novel. The theatrical "4th wall" virtually disappears as the singers/actors engage you.

Admission is $5.00 and tickets may be purchased through Sherri or Gary, at the door (we'd prefer you book in advance) or by sending a check and self-addressed envelope to the Brookfield's address.


WHAT: The 13th Annual Voice Recital

WHERE: Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore, Everett, WA

WHEN: Saturday, August 25, 7:00 P.M. Sunday August 26, 2:00

WHY: Because we love to SING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (and we're darn good)

Directions: I-5 to Broadway exit in Everett. Proceed North to Everett Ave. Turn left to Rockefeller. Theatre is in the middle of the block.

Cast party to follow Sunday evening at the Jordan's.


There you are, a nice little invitation and everything. Everyone has been working extremely hard to make sure this year is a success, and I'm sure that it will be. I will be performing as Despina in the opera on Sunday; it should be excellent fun. =) Oh, and also... I made a blog for the studio I perform with. It's very rudimentary at the moment; it's just a basic outline of what it should look like right now. But before long, it'll have all the information on it that it should. I've put the address in my links section, but for good measure, I'll put it over here too:

Hope everyone is enjoying their summer; I certainly am.

In summer, the song sings itself. ~William Carlos Williams, US poet (1883-1963)

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Can't Stop the Craving.

This is probably the best article about video game addiction I think i've ever read. The media skews gaming so much... it's nice to see that someone who actually IS a gamer is saying something intelligent. As with anything written by a human, take it with a grain of salt. It is someone's opinion, but I think it is well-paired with fact. Pay particular attention to the theory mentioned at the end, which I thought was a quite relevant and scary thought. This hit me pretty close to home, seeing as I play World of Warcraft and other addictive computer games. Kind of makes you want to get a life.

Here's the source, in
case you wanted to read more of his stuff.

"For a bit of fun I decided to try out the new Lord of the Rings Online game yesterday - since they were giving away beta licenses for free. It's one of those massive multiplayer games in the vein of World of Warcraft - I wanted to see what it's all about. What struck me was how incredibly banal the game is. And yet - reports are starting to pile up of people becoming totally addicted. What astonished me was how compelling these games have become despite the fact the overall abysmal quality of the gaming experience (this latter claim I realise I'll need to justify at least to some extent). If the entertainment experience is as poor as I claim - what could then explain the compulsive behaviour? Could deep seated psychological drives be the source? And could their satisfaction by these means be leading to a massive retardation in the creative and emotional abilities of an entire generation? And what is an even scarier thought - could these sorts of virtual environments one day be used as new forms of political control?

As I stepped into the MMORG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) I realised very quickly of what the basic dynamic consisted. You are given a character that runs about the fictional world (which admittedly looks quite grand) - slaying monsters and completing quests. Such activities are rewarded through the provision of experience points. The accumulation of enough experience points leads to the character gaining levels which bring more hitpoints and abilities. As you gain levels, the baddies somehow happen to gain in strength also - so that it never becomes a complete walk in the park. You can go on quests as well. At the earlier levels these are fairly undaunting - such as killing wolves or delivering messages. Quests are also used to deliver plot elements. The plot itself is derived from the works of J.R.R Tolkien - as the name of the game suggests. The multiplayer element allows people to team up to help in the completion of the more difficult quests.Despite all this - progression in the game is mechanical. It's essentially a numbers game - the application of statistical probabilities drives success or failure in combat. The rate at which you attack, the chance to hit, the amount of damage done etc - are all determined by the machine. The quests themselves don't add anything to this essential gameplay experience - it's just the application of these rules to specific in game tasks - i.e. move to some location - apply statistical formulae in combat environment - return to base - get reward. In some cases you might have to perform a task like burying a body - but the game itself does this work for you - you just have to move to the right location (once the dead body is buried - it respawns so that someone else can come along and bury it - so as to complete the same quest).

There is virtually no risk at all. You can't die as such - death only causes you to be respawned at the begining of your current map. The only seeming penalty being that your morale is weakened for 10 minutes (and though they call it morale - it's just a negative adjustment on the statistical probabilities determining the fate of your character). You're allowed to just keep pushing forward endlessly - gaining levels, increasing your stats. By the end of this experience you've paid the purchase price plus a monthly subscription fee, and an enormous amount of your time - for what?

So how is it that this process of application of mathematical statistical probabilities could be so appealing? What about this banal process could possibly be addictive?

I began to read the current research on internet and gaming addiction - but found very few answers. Despite the reports of internet and gaming addiction becoming common in the mainstream media - rigorous research is moving slowly. Mostly its hampered by difficulties in the application of the concept of 'addiction' to behavioural compulsions such as a gambling and gaming. Even in clearly pathological cases of compulsive behaviour - where the compulsive behaviour completely takes over the life of the individual - it's difficult to isolate gaming itself as the cause of the problem - as opposed to simply being an effect of other deap seated psychological problems (depression, anxiety and the like). They conclude in the main that there simply isn't enough empirical data to support the claim that these games are addictive.

Of course - the empirical data is all there - locked away in the servers of the various gaming houses. Because the action all happens on computers - use patterns can recorded and studied. It's almost certain that game designers are spending a lot of effort on this, because they seek to design the system which reels in as many people as possible. Granted this data won't account for other types of psychological problems a person may have going into a gaming experience - but it will detail very minutely the cause and effect of the various gameplay elements. There is volumes of empirical data which outline just which elements of a game keep people playing for so long.

What the game designers will tell you is that it is the reward system of the game which keeps people hooked. It was vital to the success of World of Warcraft that they got this aspect right. What they did that was so successful was that they removed the impediments to character progression and reward (for example - death was taken out as a real impediment of progression - WOW was a innovator in this respect. The fact that LOTRO has adopted this feature of the MMORG is a testament to its effectiveness in keeping players hooked.

Psychologically it makes complete sense. What we are describing here is a relationship between the game and the person - not a relationship between the player and game elements (like characters or quests, etc). Reward and punishment does not take place 'in-game'. It's not the in-game character that is being rewarded - say for killing an orc. It is the player (i.e. the real human) being rewarded - for playing the game. Conversely - when a player is killed and punished for it. The psychological association that is made is not that they should avoid the orc cave where they were killed (this is what we'd do in real life) - but rather that the game itself is punishing them… for playing the game itself. This is what I mean by saying the psychological relationships created do not exist in-game. Hence, a strong punishment for failure in the game, only translates to failure and dissatisfaction with the game itself - not with the action that the character performed that caused the punishment.

What the games have managed to take advantage of then - is the basic reward mechanism built into the brain. It's worth looking at this in a little bit of detail so as to get a better undestanding of what we're dealing with here.

The brain itself has a section devoted to driving reward seeking behaviour. It's called the mesolimbic pathway. It passes through the ventral tegmental area. The ventral tegmental area, when it receives a message from the cortex informing it of reward worthy stimuli, it releases a chemical called dopamine onto the nucleus accumbens, the septum and the amygdala. We don't need to go into detail about exactly what each of these do. The key is the substance dopamine - which is well known for the role it plays in creating the sensation of pleasure. It's considered determinative in the causation of reward seeking behaviour because of the way an organism will continue to seek out that behaviour in order to continue the sensations of pleasure caused by the dopamine.

Incredibly - other organisms evolved which can either artificially stimulate the production of dopamine - or contain substances which mimic it's ability to cause pleasure. These are the addictive substances we know so well. The opium poppy for instance has an army of humans tending to it's survival - it's hold over us as a species is that astonishing.

As such it's not so much of a stretch to imagine how virtual worlds once they became good enough as simulations of reward worthy behaviour would have the same ability to cause the brain to produce dopamine - and the attendent sense of well being and pleasure.

As an explanation for the explosive growth in online gaming - it's irresistable. And I'm almost certain that in the future the science will prove it.

But by then it will have become such an ingrained aspect of our culture that there will be little that can be done about it. It's very much like the way caffeine, alchohol, nicotine and gambling became established and accepted by the people before the deleterious effects were understood. And it's almost impossible to take it away from the people - particularly in a democracy - when its the people themselves clamouring for it.

I haven't yet made the argument that it's a dangerous thing at all. But I think it follows fairly immediately from the above discussion. The evidence is accumulating to the effect that this is causing people to lose their drive to participate in the real world. And this makes sense. The human organism evolved these physiological structures to drive survival. But with virtual environments - these structures can be sated through means that in the end having nothing to do with survival. Hence the drive toward behaviour which actually enhances our life - is likely diminished.

There are of course examples where people have begun to make a living from virtual environments. The stock example here is the nascent second life community - where people are able to make a living selling virtual property, avatar designs and the like. But this is a different case which would require a separate discussion.

Finally, I would like to raise the possibility that such virtual environments could be used as a form of sophisticated political control. Since this article is already long - I won't go into a lengthy argument. But just consider - if you were a repressive regime - would you like your people spending their time being satisfied online rather than working hard against the regime itself?"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Decisions, Decisions.

I don't eat very healthy, generally speaking. It's bad, I know. But I usually fall back on whipping up some Top Ramen, or nuking a frozen burrito in the microwave. I talk all the time about getting on a good diet, and I recently bought a book called Wicca In The Kitchen all about food on the spiritual level. Sadly, I regularly find myself too lazy to make anything substantial, so my health suffers. Not drastically, of course, but I notice that when I do eat well, I have more energy and just feel better. It doesn't help that I am an extremely picky eater, although I do try to expand my horizons.

One excuse I could make for myself is that it's expensive to eat healthy. God knows that buying an twelve pack of Top Ramen is cheaper than combing the organic foods aisle. When my mom and I go shopping, it's a luxury to get real, good food. A lot of the food we get comes in a box. Only recently (in the past few months) have we become more aware of what we buy, and my mom has turned to buying whole grain breads, soy milk, and things with the big Organic label. We literally pay the price though, because it is so costly. As a family of five, with three older teenagers to feed on one income, it's hard to spend money to live well.

Ridiculous, right? Why should it be so expensive just to sustain life and be healthy? Are we expected to live off of frozen fish sticks and Campbell's condensed soup? I guess so.

This brings me to my main reason for writing this.

"Dried apples preserved with a cancer-causing chemical.

Frozen catfish laden with banned antibiotics.

Scallops and sardines coated with putrefying bacteria.

Mushrooms laced with illegal pesticides.

These were among the 107 food imports from China that the Food and Drug Administration detained at U.S. ports just last month, agency documents reveal, along with more than 1,000 shipments of tainted Chinese dietary supplements, toxic Chinese cosmetics and counterfeit Chinese medicines."

This is an excerpt from a Washington Post article concerning tainted Chinese imports. What I don't understand is how we can do so much business with a country that has such low standards for sanitation and quality. The food is cheap, though, so we buy it. Well, not me. Not anymore. After the melamine disaster, I want to make an effort to be healthier and watch what I'm buying. So that means I have to be broke to be healthy. Right....

The scary part of all of this is that it's getting harder to find products that don't, in one way or another, come from China.

"'It is not just that food from China is cheap,' said William Hubbard, a former associate director of the FDA. 'For a growing number of important food products, China has become virtually the only source in the world.
China controls 80 percent of the world's production of ascorbic acid, for example, a valuable preservative that is ubiquitous in processed and other foods. Only one producer remains in the United States,' Hubbard said."

Perhaps it would be better if we all just managed our own food. That seems like the only way to truly know what's in it. I, for example, have planted radishes and carrots in my front yard. I've yielded quite a few radishes so far, but the carrots aren't quite ready yet.

For more on this subject, go read what Kim has to say. She's far more eloquent and thorough than I am for sure.

On a completely different note, I'm registering for Running Start on Tuesday. Running Start is a program where you can go to college while still in high school, gaining both high school and college credit. I'll get my high school and associate's degrees around the same time. I have no real idea what I want to do with my life; part of me wants to do something in politics, but the other part wants to run away to New York and go on Broadway. I feel like there are so many things that I want to do, and I want to get a chance to do them all. But it doesn't ever feel like there's enough time.

Well, stepping stones. One day at a time, right?

You're alive. Do something. The directive in life, the moral imperative was so uncomplicated. It could be expressed in single words, not complete sentences. It sounded like this: Look. Listen. Choose. Act. -Barbara Hall, A Summons to New Orleans, 2000

Friday, April 27, 2007

Invisible Children

Today at school, we had an assembly about the terrible conflict happening in northern Uganda. We watched an hour and a half film in which three young (early twenties) Americans went to Africa in search of a good story, and found terror and devastation. The result was a documentary called Invisible Children: Rough Cut, and it has inspired millions.

The LRA, or Lord's Resistance Army, is a terrorist faction in Uganda that, in essence, wants to overthrow the Ugandan government. For approximately twenty years, the LRA, led by Joseph Kony, has been murdering innocent civilians and destroying any chance for hope. But because their support has been dwindling, the main recruits of the LRA are children ages 7 to 14. In fact, 90% of the soldiers are this age. Most of these children are orphans because their parents have been murdered by the LRA, or have otherwise been separated from them. So, children are forced to flee their homes, commuting at night to find new safe places to hide, some making it to displacement camps, others left to fend for themselves. If they don't make it, they face abduction, torture, brainwashing, and murder. And even if they make it to the camps, the LRA conducts raids and could potentially attack anywhere at anytime.

Needless to say, I was captivated and horrified by this film. I nearly cried at the injustice of it. They showed a segment where the camera went over a filthy hospital floor. There must have been thousands of children packed onto the floor. It was strange; in all of the instances they showed, there are rarely any adults, but everyone is organized and cooperates, makes space for people to sleep. No one cries. No one laughs. Everyone is too intent on just surviving.

There is, I think, a certain amount of desensitization that occurs when you live in a country where you can take the simplest things for granted. We see and hear things on the news about people dying all the time; it's become almost normal for people like me and my friends to hear about the Iraq war going badly and people dying. I usually don't give it a second thought. It makes me uncomfortable for a minute sometimes, but then I think, it's a world away, what can I really do. The moment passes, and I move on.

For the first time, I'm really feeling something like this hit me. The loss of any life is a terrible thing, and it's time that everyone wakes up to the realities of our times. Most of my friends brushed off the film like it was nothing, let the messages slide off them easily. I don't see how they can. This is too important to brush off. I feel for once something real should be done; I want to make things happen.

The good news is, something is being done. Schools all over the US have joined the Schools for Schools movement, in which students raise money to benefit schools K-12 all over northern Uganda to buy supplies, hire teachers, refurbish buildings, and more. Also, it's a great way to raise awareness. My highschool, Kamiak, is involved; that's how I came to see the film in the first place. Another movement taking place is Displace Me. This is a demonstration occuring in many cities on April 28 across America, where Americans are becoming displaced, and spending the night away from home outside in a simulated displacement camp. This is one way to raise awareness about the cause. During the event, testimonials will be given from those who have seen or been in the displacement camps, and attendees will be asked to write letters to their senators, encouraging peace talks and urging action. The third movement is the Tri Campaign, in which you can donate as little as 3$ a week to support the various . But this isn't all; there are more events that could be happening in your area, because of the Schools for Schools program. You just have to get involved, know what's going on.

Please, click on the links. Learn about Invisible Children. Education is the first step. I put up a couple banners on my sidebar, and I'll post all of these links on there as well.

Get informed. Take action. Make the world see these invisible children.

Saturday, March 31, 2007


Well, another competition has come and gone. For those of you that don't know what NATS is, it stands for the National Association for Teachers of Singing. My teacher and his wife that also teaches singing, Gary and Sherri, are members, so they take part in judging competitors and have many of their own students compete. I entered into the Broadway category again this year, in which you sing two showtunes and on classical piece. My selections were Love, Look Away from Flower Drum Song, An Die Musik by Schubert, and Green Finch and Linnet Bird from Sweeney Todd. Green Finch was my favorite one; the composer, Stephen Sondheim, is amazing and the show, Sweeney Todd, is incredible.

Overall, I gave a good performance. My voice has matured considerably since last year, and I'm able to get through my
passagio without as much resistance. Also, for the most part, I didn't lose control of my breathing. The two biggest issues for me when I perform for the judges (there were three again this year) or a small group are that I lose control of my breathing and I get tense, and also I just think way too hard about what I am doing. I do my best singing when I'm not concentrating on every little thing. When I do think about it too hard, I often mess up on little things like... oh, words. I got a couple bars of words wrong in two of my songs. I was able to stay with the music and pick it back up, and the whole time I was thinking, "No! What are you singing?! Just keep going, look happy, look like you are having a good time! Oh god!" Talk about stressful. But as far as big errors go, that was the only thing that really stuck out.

I usually hate watching my performance afterwards, because I cringe at every little thing and kick myself, because I know I can do better. But I still think I did a pretty good job, and I've made a lot of improvement over the past year.

The funny thing is, I don't nearly as nervous when performing in front of a large group. I used to in middle school; I'd get solos in choir and then perform at the choir concerts, and that was really nerve-wracking. But in the musicals, it's a piece of cake. But eventually it'll all be no problem. It just takes a few hundred tries.

I know next year will be even better.

Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable. -Samuel Johnson, English author, critic, & lexicographer (1709 - 1784)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sick Sick Sick.

That is what I am. What an awful way to spend the first day of Spring; laying around with a pulsing headache and red throat, with only aspirin for comfort. And I am still sick the day after.

What is even more awful about this is that next week on Friday I have the NATS competition. Yes, it's that time of year again; I am much more prepared and bet it will be great, but my throat has to get better. If I talk too much I'm going to lose it and then I'll be screwed.

Anyway. I'll give a full report on the outcome of the competition when it's all over.

I don't think I've mentioned that I am, and have been for some time, considering Wicca as a good religion for me. I've been reading about it a lot over the past year, and the more I read the more I think it suits me. Yesterday I got to read a bit about Ostara, a Wiccan holiday celebrating Spring and the renewal of life, from one of my books, a work by Scott Cunningham. He's an excellent writer, and really makes Wicca easy to understand.

But I think that once I have some space to experiment with the religion, perhaps practice casting a circle and such, I'll be able to make a decision whether it is right for me.

Aside from that, there isn't a whole lot going on right now. I have to figure out what classes I'm taking at Everett Community College next year, since I'm doing Running Start. It's a program that my high school and the college have worked out so people in grades 11 or higher can go to community college for high school and college credit. I'm going to do it, but I have no idea how to figure out my classes or what to take, and it's just stressful. I'm not going to worry about it too much; I know it'll get done before the deadline, which is May 1st.

Well, that's all for now. I'll post again after the competition with lavish details.

It is a fine thing to establish one's own religion in one's heart, not to be dependent on tradition and second-hand ideals. Life will seem to you, later, not a lesser, but a greater thing. -D.H. Lawrence, English Novelist, 1885-1930