Aug 28, 2008

My Anniversary Gift to Mary Ann...

Nothing says "I love you" like a flying pig.

A Project for a Friend...

Years ago, Tom Morgan, a skilled luthier from near Dayton, Tennessee, built me an autoharp of Brazilian rosewood and hundred-year-old spruce. It has since then been my favorite instrument (...and I've owned a lot of autoharps.). More recently, Tom brought me some Brazilian rosewood and spruce and asked me to build a dulcimer for him to give to a friend. I'll probably finish it this weekend.

Aug 17, 2008

A "Relatively" Great Outing...

Image from the PHENIX experiment

This weekend I stayed in New York and did some work on Saturday. This morning, I decided to check out a newspaper and just see what looked interesting to occupy the day. The resulting outing took me to the Summer Open House Series at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The event featured a tour of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). The people at the lab actually pronounce the acronym as if it were "Rick." This national research treasure is described on their Website as "a world-class scientific research facility that began operation in 2000, following 10 years of development and construction. Hundreds of physicists from around the world use RHIC to study what the universe may have looked like in the first few moments after its creation. RHIC drives two intersecting beams of gold ions head-on, in a subatomic collision. What physicists learn from these collisions may help us understand more about why the physical world works the way it does, from the smallest subatomic particles, to the largest stars."
The tour took us to the 2.6-mile main particle accelerator, as well as to the sites of two major experiments -- PHENIX (Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Interaction eXperiment) and STAR (Solenoidal Tracker At RHIC). The scale and complexity of these facilities are overwhelming.

We went underground into the tunnel that houses the accelerator. A staff physicist described the equipment, its origins, function, and purpose. He answered several questions ranging from "Is this tunnel radioactive?" to "How do you make sure no one is left in the tunnel before you activate the equipment?" We also saw a static display of a section of the "tube" that carries the ionic stream and the magnets that guide the beam. It must have been a challenging construction project, and we were informed that it was the only project in recent DOE history that was completed on time and within budget.

The experiments were both undergoing maintenance, so we were able to see their "innards." These are gigantic structures that normally surround a segment of the collider.

The facility is used to study high-energy subatomic particles. In a typical experiment, clusters of ionized gold atoms are accelerated in opposite directions to speeds of 99.995% the speed of light. They are then allowed to collide and disintegrate into thousands of subatomic fragments. The experimental equipment attempts to record the identity and paths of the constituent pieces. These are then studied by the experimenters to try to gain insight into what goes on at these energy levels and conditions. The results have surprised the researchers. The Website describes much more than I can describe here.

Needless to say, I was impressed. Almost exactly fifty years ago, I was a semi-finalist in the Westinghouse Science Talent Search as a result of my interest in the nature of subatomic particles. My project was the design of a liquid freon bubble chamber. That would have been the state-of-the-art way of observing subatomic particle tracks in 1958. Today, bubble chambers only exist in museums and memories. How times change!

Aug 7, 2008

In Memory of David Schnaufer...

Several years ago I was taking a music class at the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops in Elkins, West Virginia. One day at lunch in the cafeteria, my friend Keith Young, a well known mountain dulcimer builder, introduced me to David Schnaufer, a brilliant dulcimer player. At one point, David had lived with Keith and his wife Mary in their home in Falls Church, VA.

I learned later that David was THE significant dulcimer player in Nashville. To quote his Web site, "Schnaufer won the first National Mountain Dulcimer Competition in 1976 as well as winning seven additional local, state and regional contests. He was a member of N.A.R.A.S. (Nashville Chapter), and was the first dulcimer player to ever accumulate enough major label master sessions to qualify for membership.

Schnaufer's Nashville projects included award-winning videos of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and "Fisher's Hornpipe" and special musical projects with Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash. His session credits included work with The Judds, Kathy Mattea, Holly Dunn, Dan Seals, and Hank Williams, Jr. He toured as opening act with the Everly Brothers and appeared on Mark O'Connor's "New Nashville Cats."

Schnaufer's solo recordings included collaborations with several of the world's most respected pickers including Chet Atkins, Mark O'Connor, Mark Knopfler, and Albert Lee. He also developed learning materials including "Swing Nine Yards of Calico," a book and tape set, and "Learning Mountain Dulcimer," an instructional video.

A dulcimer program at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music began in 1995 under Schnaufer's guidance as Adjunct Associate Professor of Dulcimer. This program grew to include over 50 community and university students. A Master Class in the summer of 1996 brought 14 students representing 9 states to Blair for dulcimer study. Schnaufer also taught numerous workshops throughout the United States including Appalachian State University, Boone, NC; Kentucky Music Week, Louisville, KY; Augusta Heritage Center, Davis & Elkins College, WV; and the Denver Folklore Center."

He was a very influential musician. I saw him in concert a couple of times and was amazed at the music he could produce from such a humble instrument.

David playing for our anniversary, July 2005
In July 2005, Mary Ann and I celebrated our first anniversary by spending a weekend in Nashville. I learned that David was going to be presenting a dulcimer workshop on Sunday at the Country Music Hall of Fame and suggested to Mary Ann that we attend. While she was in the CMHOF Gift Shop, I sneaked into the venue where David was setting up and asked if he would play his rendition of "Southwind" as an anniversary gift to Mary Ann. We sat in the front row, and halfway through David's performance he turned to Mary Ann and announced to the audience that he was dedicating his next song as an anniversary gift to both of us. We both cried at the beautiful rendition of this haunting melody.

Sadly, David died a few months later. It was a huge loss to those of us who treasure traditional and old time music. I invite you to enjoy this video:

YouTube Video of David Playing "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"

In Humble Gratitude...

Today, through the grace of God, the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the love and support of my loved ones and friends, I celebrate 25 years of sober living. Mary Ann gave me a beautiful sterling silver commemorative medallion to carry. I trust that I'll never forget where I've been.