Music: The Stars and Stripes Forever

Self-tutoring about music: the tutor shares a couple of finds about the famous Stars and Stripes Forever.

Since I was a kid, I’ve known The Stars and Stripes Fovever to be one of America’s best loved band compositions. Just to clarify: I’m Canadian, yet still familiar with it. The Stars and Stripes Fovever was written by John Philip Sousa in 1896. It’s America’s official march, by act of Congress, 1987.

Interestingly, in show business, The Stars and Stripes Fovever is known as a “disaster march,” meaning it is played, all of a sudden, to signal an emergency to management without panicking the spectators (who, presumably, aren’t aware of its significance). The Stars and Stripes Fovever served that function in 1944, in Hartford, Connecticut, when a fire broke out during a live circus. Merle Evans led the band.



Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Music, history: the 85-key piano

Seeing an antique can trigger self-tutoring: the tutor shares a find.

A few days back my son, visiting a historic site, was invited to play the piano. After awhile he pointed out that it starts – and ends – with an A key.

The pianos that I’ve seen, as both my sons pointed out, start with a bass A but end with a treble C. Our piano at home is like so. Such pianos have 88 keys.

The antique one that starts with a bass A, but ends with a treble A as well, three keys earlier than I’ve ever seen – is it common? Well, common enough, especially among pianos from the 1800s, apparently.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Canadian Culture: Peter and Lou

Tutoring social studies, you might wonder how your own experience fits. The tutor contemplates Valdy’s Peter and Lou.

I recall hearing Peter and Lou on the radio as a kid. Yesterday I suddenly felt great importance about looking it up, so did. It took a couple of tries; I didn’t know for sure the song’s title.

As it played on the computer, I wondered if I’m a sentimental middle-aged parent who can’t leave his own childhood behind. However, within a minute and a half, my fifteen-year-old son was up from playing video games, peeking in the kitchen. “We saw him in concert,” he commented.

Peter and Lou is about kids who skate “on Winter’s frozen lake.” They “take their turn” skating, painting…being kids. By the second stanza, they’re “hanging their skates on the wall” and leaving town: they’ve grown up.

Stanza three finds the narrator “standing alone on the ice”, realizing there’s nothing left for him but to leave town, as well. Yet, he anticipates, “If I should miss them….” Whether the narrator is their parent or friend, he doesn’t say.

Kids take for granted that they will change what they do: they know when to “hang up their skates on the wall.” The end of each stage of their childhood, then its ultimate end, is a reality they don’t question. Yet, a parent might realize the greatness of a kid at a given stage, then consider it, “standing alone on the ice”, long after the kid has forgotten.

Valdy is Canadian. I think he was about 31 when he wrote Peter and Lou. I’m impressed that someone so young would realize that song.


youtube: Peter and Lou

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Music, Art: piano lessons

Tutoring, you notice different knowledge students bring from their backgrounds. The tutor reflects about piano lessons, including his own exposure to music as a child.

By my recollection, my family got a piano when I was about six. At first, we kids didn’t play it; my mother did. She had been a music teacher and knew lots of old show tunes, the music for which she purchased. From the dining room came those old tunes, hours each day, from then on. Often, she sang along. (That house had hardwood floors: I’m sure most musicians would proclaim that the acoustics were probably favourable.)

My mother and I have rarely had much in common, but I’ll admit that she always could play the piano. (Really, she wasn’t a bad singer, either.) I learned the piano because of her. Back then, my tastes didn’t point to show tunes. However, hearing, day in and day out, those songs by Gershwin, Cole Porter, and many others, was an education that, to quote Otto Harbach (lyricist of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes), “cannot be denied.”

My kids (12 and 15) are both in piano lessons. I’m not formally their teacher, but most days of the week I run their practice sessions, and I direct them through the summer. This past one I told them to learn some Gershwin–I guess you could say it goes back to my mother’s playing. They didn’t like Gershwin’s style at first, but my wife and I held the line; they’re doing well now with a couple of songs each.

My kids often don’t want to practice; ironically, they like performing. I’ve watched their progress since they started around 2010 – only seven years ago. What can happen in seven years is unbelievable, as any parent knows:) Moreover, I have no doubt that learning the piano has helped them with every other academic pursuit they’ve faced.

I studied the piano for seven years, some without even a teacher. When I finally gave it up, I didn’t know what value it might have given me. However, I didn’t know I’d be a parent, either. Playing the piano has become a family tradition.

I freely admit I’ve made terrible mistakes as a parent. However, my conscience is clear about making my kids practice the piano, however much they’ve resented it sometimes.

Three interesting points to mention:

  1. My mother, as far as I recall, never made me practice the piano:)
  2. Putting our kids in piano lessons was my wife’s idea; she did it without telling me. Since then, though, I’ve been the enforcer of practicing.
  3. Somewhat ironically, my wife didn’t have piano lessons as a kid; rather, she learned the violin, which her father also plays.



Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Music: decrescendo vs diminuendo

The tutor clears up an issue he’s wondered about for years.

As a kid I was trained in music. Two of the first terms we learned were crescendo and diminuendo. Crescendo meant getting gradually louder, while diminuendo meant the opposite: the the gradual change from loud to quiet. Others I’ve talked to agree they were taught the same.

Since about ten years back, I don’t hear people say diminuendo; instead, they say decrescendo. While the term makes sense, why has it replaced diminuendo? With the curiosity of an academic, I resolved to find out.

According to the website, diminuendo actually means the mark that indicates gradual change from loud to quiet, or else it can point to a passage of music over which the volume adjusts gradually from loud to quiet. The actual trend of going from loud to quiet is decrescendo.

The distinction between diminuendo and decrescendo is subtle enough that I can understand why, as kids, some might only have been taught diminuendo.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Plant identification: elder(berry wine)

The tutor shares a backyard find that is somewhat coincidental.

For an unknown reason, I decided to listen to Elton John’s song “Elderberry Wine” on YouTube the other day. It’s a great song; I’ve just never felt moved to look it up. I heard quite often from a vinyl record decades ago.

At the same time, there’s a tree growing in my abandoned garden (very good soil, just no time to plant it) that I’ve been wondering about. Not long after hearing “Elderberry Wine”, I happened to be thumbing through a field guide when I stumbled upon elder. There were three varieties: black, blue, and Pacific red. Elder, the guide points out, is also referred to as elderberry.

The elderberry description matches the tree in my backyard – especially that of the blue elderberry. It would be tempting to assume the tree to be Pacific red, but it doesn’t have an unpleasant odor. The leaflets, saw-toothed and pinnately compound, occur in groupings of nine, rather than five to seven. The ecology – a cleared, yet neglected place – more closely matches that of blue elderberry as well.

Of course, the real test would be the colour of the berries, but there’ve not been any; perhaps the tree is too young to flower. I guess we’ll see.

It’s tempting to imagine that tree out in the backyard, with strains of “Elderberry Wine” reaching it through the open window:)

I’ll be sharing more of my field finds.


Little, Elbert L., Susan Rayfield and Olivia Buehl. Audubon Society Field Guide to North
   American Trees, western region. New York: Knopf, 1986.

Pojar, Jim and Andy MacKinnon. Plants of Coastal British Columbia. Vancouver:
  BC Ministry of Forests and Lone Pine Publishing, 1994.

Elton John. “Elderberry Wine.” MCA Records, 1972.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Physics: the wavelength of “middle” F

Tutoring physics 11, this topic comes up most years.  The tutor introduces the formula that relates speed to wavelength and frequency.

Most people know that what makes sounds different is that they have different frequencies.  Moreover, a high pitched sound has a higher frequency than a low pitched one.  Likely, that’s whence the idea of “high note” vs “low note” originates.

Every wave has not only a frequency, but also a wavelength.  The two go hand in hand according to the formula


v means velocity (which, for this purpose, can be reduced to speed),
f means frequency
λ means wavelength

Dividing both sides by f, we arrive at a formula for the wavelength, λ:


As I mentioned in my January 13 post, the speed of sound s is given by

s=(332 + 0.6T)m/s

where T is the temperature in degrees Celsius.

Let’s imagine, for temperature, a pleasant 20C. We have, for the speed of sound,


Since speed and velocity are, for this purpose, the same, we can say that v=344.

Next, we need f, the frequency. Specifically, in this case, we want the frequency of “middle” F, which is meant to be the F just three keys above middle C. The physics dept at Michigan Tech provides this handy page, informing us that the F above middle C has frequency 349.23Hz.

With v=344 and f=349.23, we are ready to find the wavelength of middle F:


Therefore, the wavelength of middle F, at 20°C, is 0.985m or 98.5cm.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.