Thursday, July 31, 2014

Don't try this at home!

In the early 1930s Nicolas Slonimsky stayed at home to take care of his baby daughter Electra while his wife, Dorothy Adlow, was writing art columns for the Christian Science Monitor. Mr. Slonimsky would speak Latin to his daughter at home. To ask for milk he taught her "Da mini lac," and he taught her the Latin names of the items in their household. He sang her to sleep with songs in Latin, and when it came to teaching her music, she learned the Latin names of the pitches as well as the modes. When she entered school she announced to her father that other kids didn't speak Latin at home.

[I can't find extensive biographical information on Adlow in the usual internet places, but you can read about her on this page].

Slonimsky tried to condition Electra to like dissonant music, and in Perfect Pitch he quotes a story that Henry Cowell was fond of telling:
When Electra would demand a bottle, I would sit down at the piano and play a Chopin nocturne, completely ignoring her screams. I would allow for a pause, and then play on the piano Schoenberg's Opus 33a, which opens with a dodecaphonic succession of three highly dissonant chords. I would then rush in to give Electra her bottle. Her features would relax, her crying would cease, and she would suck contentedly. This was to establish a conditioned reflex in favor of dissonant music.
Electra did eventually survive her unusual childhood. Here's an interview with her that might be of interest, and another which is much more personal, and certainly would be of interest to anyone who has read (or is reading, or is planning to read) Perfect Pitch.

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