Tag Archives: aesthetics

Why cannot I sing?


Curious Friends,


        I have always loved listening to songs sung by legends. But I have never been able to sing properly.No matter how much effort I put in, the voice is just not right. If only God could let me sing just that one song, I would not complain anymore and treasure the gift forever. Just that one song:


                “Aye Gulbadan, Aye Gulbadan

                 Phoolon ki mehak, kaaton ki chubhan,

                 Tujhe dekh ke kehta hai mera mann,

                 Kahin aaj kisi se mohabbat na ho jaaye”


        Today, in VERITAS we will try to understand why some people cannot sing properly. Is it a biological thing or can training improve it? Is it that their brains are out of tune? And what is it that good singers have?

        Most of the information that appears in this VERITAS is due to my father who is an ENT surgeon and has been taken from the book “Diseases of the Throat” ( Ballantyne and Groves) which my father gave me to read.

        First, note that a bad singer like me can “sing” any song perfectly in the head. So if I dont open my mouth and try to remember the tune and the highs and lows of the song, I can do it perfectly. So the problem is not in the brain( and thank God for that!). The problem lies in the translation of what the brain wants to sing and what the throat actually sings.

        Second, note that by hearing two people speak you will never be able to judge which one is a capable singer and which one is not. So singing seems to be a much more specialized and involved affair tha speech even though speech and singing come from the same organs.

      The human singing voice has three important parts:

1) The role of bellows played by lungs: The lungs pump air much like bellows in a mechanical musical instrument. The loudness of a person’s voice depends on how much power the lungs have and how well the air is pumped. A good singer usually has a good lung power and is able to inhale air rapidly and release it in a very controlled manner. A bad singer does not have the power in his lungs and is not able to control the exhalation while singing.

2) The role of reeds played by vocal cords: The lungs pump air into the throat where the vocal cords vibrate to create sound. The frequency of a person’s voice depends on the thickness of his vocal cords. The vocal cords can be streched and loosened by the muscles that are attached to these cords. When the vocal cords are stretched they become thinner and produce a higher frequency sound. When loosened they become thick and produce a lower frequency sound. So the pitch of the human voice depends on the vocal cords and their thickness. Imagine a violin. If its strings are tight they may be able to produce a higher pitch sound.

But if we make the string really loose the sound is pretty dull. A good singer is able to tighten his vocal cords to make higher frequency sounds.

So a good singer is subconciously able to alter the thickness of his cords to suite the voice that he tries to create. A bad singer does not have this control over his muscles and in turn the cords.

        The range of a person’s voice is decided by the difference between the maximum frequency that he can attain by stretching his cords the maximum and the lowest frequency that he can attain by loosening them the most. Women usually have thinner cords and thus operate at a higher pitch(!). Men have thicker voices because of thicker vocal cords.

At puberty the voice of males becomes thicker than their voices in childhood. The higher pitch may fall as much as 1/6th of its previous value.

The lower pitch may fall by 1/8th of its earlier value. That is why some male singers have a loss in range after their voice thickens.

3) The role of resonators played by cavities of the throat and the mouth: We have seen how the loudness(power) and the frequency(pitch) of the singing voice is decided. But that is not all. We can differentiate between the sound produced by a violin from a sound produced by a guitar even when the sounds have the same loudness and frequency. This is because the instruments have a different timbre(or quality or color) in their sound. This needs some more explanation: A musical instrument string or button never vibrates at a single pure frequency. There is always a mixture of sounds. So if you pluck a string to try to produce a 125 Hz sound then what will actually happen is that the 125 Hz sound will be produced and also several other frequency sounds will be produced in a lesser measure. Some of these lesser sounds would be magnified(resonance) by the shape of the instrument( the air cavities etc) and some will be suppressed. So the shape of the instrument is important to create the proper shape of the music wave( or proper timbre of the sound). Only a tuning fork can produce a pure sound of a single frequency. It produces a pure sine wave. Every other instrument produces a mixture of sounds which combine to form a unique sound.

            Similarly the human vocal cords cannot produce a single frequency pure sound. When the air is pumped from the lungs the cords vibrate as a whole and also in parts in a very complicated way to produce a mixture of various frequencies. Some of these frequencies are magnified( resonance) and some are suppressed as the voice passes into the throat and mouth cavities whose shapes also changes by the placement of the tongue and its thickness. This property of sound lets us differentiate between say Rafi’s voice and Talat’s voice even if they sing the same song.

              In short the resonators in the human body add to the beauty and texture of the voice. The shape and size of mouth, tongue and throat matter. Good singers have the shape that adds beauty and richness, bad singers just dont.

   Friends, we have seen that making the right sound is a very complicated thing and depends on a lot of different organs and their ability to work properly together. Training cannot achieve much, it can improve a person’s breathing so that he does not loose breath before the words that require power. The rest of the factors are natural gifts. In fact trying too hard can be dangerous. Singers who try too hard to create higher frequencies than they naturally can may end up with diseases like Singer’s nodules and non-infective laryngitis.

   I realize that I am not a gifted singer. But no one, NO ONE can stop me from admiring that great singer when he sings those lines:

            ” Kya haseen mod pe aa gayi zindagani

                  ke hakeekat na ban jaaye meri kahaani.

                  Jab aahein bhare yeh thandi pawan,

                  Seene mein sulag uth-ti hai agan.

                  Tujhe dekh ke kehta hai mera mann

                  kaheen aaj kisi se mohabbat na ho jaaye”






  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 

  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 

  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                          

  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                             



Ludwig Van Beethoven


      In today’s VERITAS we shall meet one of the greatest musicians of all time. His story is the story of a constant struggle to create the deepest music known to man. He searched for beauty in his life. He could not find beauty in the real world.

He found it in music.

      Beethoven was born in Bonn on 17 Dec 1770. His father was a singer. His father pushed Ludwig into music from the very early age of 5 years. Sometimes the father used to come drunk at night, would wake Ludwig and ask him to play. Ludwig was sometimes forced to play in front of his father’s drunken friends. Inspite of his father’s brutal teaching methods Ludwig developed a love for music. He went to study music in Vienna in 1787. There he met the great Mozart. But his stay in Vienna did not last long. The same year his mother died and he had to return home to earn for his two younger brothers and a sister. Ludwig’s father spent all his money in getting drunk and Ludwig had to support the family.

      He went back to Vienna in 1792. He tried to study music under several famous musicians but did not like any of them much. He decided to find his music himself. He earned money not by composing but by playing piano in front of audiences. In 1800 he composed his first symphony and in 1801 the moonlight sonata.

      In 1801 Beethoven realized that his hearing was not as good as what it used to be. He was going deaf! That caused a great turmoil in his life. A musician who could not hear!!! He started avoiding friends and retreated to himself. He did not want other people to find out his condition. He started mistrusting people around him and got involved in several arguments which he later felt guilty about. His career as a pianist was over.

      A doctor friend sent him to Heiligenstadt, a village outside vienna with the hope that the calm countryside would improve his hearing. Beethoven was hopeful again. The calm countryside cheered him and he produced the joyous Symphony no 2. But soon he realized that his hearing was getting worse and that it had no cure. Beethoven decided to commit suicide. He wrote a long suicide note to his brothers. His note is now known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. In this document he explains his point of view about life, he explains his tragedy of deafness, he also says that only his music could inspire him to live. Perhaps his music did inspire him to live and he dropped the idea of killing himself.

      After this his music became deeper. In 1803 he wrote the 3rd Symphony(“Eroica”). The years from 1804 to 1808 were pretty bad for his personal life. He fell in love with several women one after another but his dream of love remained fulfilled. He never married. But his music became more intense. He wrote the 5th and 6th symphonies in 1808.

      He cut off the legs of his piano so that he could place it on the floor and feel its vibrations. He would sometimes place his ear on the piano to feel its notes. After deafness Beethoven imagined music and his music became more free.

      In 1812 he wrote a long letter to an unidentified lady whom he addressed as the “Immortal Beloved”. This letter was as long and as emotional as the Heiligenstadt Testament and shows how depressed and lonely he was during that time. This letter was discovered in Beethoven’s secret drawer after his death.

      In 1815 his brother Casper Carl died. This was a great tragedy for Ludwig. He almost stopped composing. He was supposed to take care of Carl’s son Karl. But Karl’s mother wanted custody of the boy. This resulted in a long and abusive legal battle which took a serious toll of Beethoven’s health.

      He composed his 9th symphony in 1823. He was completely deaf at this time. He died in 1826. His funeral was attended by more than 20,000 people. 

      Beethoven’s life reminds me of the following lines from a poem by George Eliot:

             O may I join the choir invisible

               Of those immortal dead who live again

               In minds made better by their presence:

               live In pulses stirred to generosity,

               In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn

               For miserable aims that end with self,

               In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,

               And with their mild persistence urge man’s search

               To vaster issues.





  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 

  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 

  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                          

  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                             


The Ceiling Painter


      WE lay too much stress on formal education. When we want to show how much we know we think it is important to list our degrees and the great universities that gave us those degrees. But is that real knowledge. Doesnt real knowledge just need one thing :” a LOVE for learning”. Isnt this love a necessary and sufficient condition for a life devoted to search for knowledge:

      all thoughts, all passions, all delights

      whatever stirs this mortal frame

      all are but ministers of love

      that feed his sacred flame

      In today’s VERITAS we will go back in history to get inspiration from a man who was so learned that transformed how man thought about expression in art. This man had no formal education. His name is Michelangelo Buonarroti.

      He was born in Caprese, a small village in italy in 1475. Since his childhood he wanted to be an artist and sculptor. He went against his father’s wishes and became an appretice at LOrenzo di Medici’s school. AT the age of 15 he realized that knowledge from books and from other people was not enough. He gave up his training and decided to search for true knowledge on his own.

      The most beautiful thing for Michelangelo was the human form. He wanted to capture this beauty with the intensity of thought and movement in his paintings and statues. He decided to study the human form in detail before capturing it in his art. He studied the ancient sculptors who knew how to represent the beautiful human body in motion,with all its muscles and sinews. However, he was not content with learning the laws of anatomy secondhand. He wanted to hold the parts of the human body in his own hands. He wanted to examine every muscle, every bone,every tissue and understand how these organs contribute to the shape of the body. He decided to cut open bodies for his studies. We must remember that dissection of bodies was considered against the law and religion in those days. He bribed the caretaker of the city cemetery and dug up bodies for study. When ths city slept he would go to the cemetery and cut open bodies. He would carefully draw every part. He would go deeper and deeper till a particular body was completely discovered. By the morning he would be filled with blood and stink. He would come back night after night to gain knowledge of the body that he considered was the supreme work of God. His knowledge of anatomy shows in his art. Never was the human body captured in painting and statues in so much intensity before.

      One of his most famous works is the ceiling of Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.The pope Julius II convinced him to do this work. The frescos that Michaelanglo painted on the ceiling are his interpretation of various scenes from the Old Testament. Lying on his back on scaffolding high above the chapel floor, Michelangelo painted some of the finest images of all time. This work took him four years to complete( 1508 to 1512). The ceiling of the church is 100 feet above the floor. Imagine…. for four years he would go to work every morning… he would be climb 100 feet above the ground( the height of a 10 floor building), he would be suspended on a wooden platform. He would paint holding his brush and raising his arm above his head. Try and hold your arm in the air above your head for 5 minutes. You would get tired. Michaelanglo painted in that position for 4 years. Modern artists would paint in their studios and then place the paintings after they are done. Not Michaelanglo! He wanted to paint directly on the ceiling.

      After 4 years of work he got very sick. He got so used to the position of work that if he was given a piece of paper to read, he could not read it at eye level. He would have to raise it above his head and look up to read it properly.

      See the attached picture. This is one of the many paintings that Michaelanglo painted on the ceiling. THis painting is known as the “Creation of Adam”. It shows God touching the hand of Adam to give him life. The small images next to God portray various angels. Now see the background on which God is placed. Some experts think that that depicts the mid-sagittal outline of the brain. mid-sagittal image of the brain is what you will see if you cut up the brain through its middle in a vertical plane. What Michaelanglo thought while choosing that particular background is something that we will never know. But it shows us how influenced he was by human anatomy.




  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 

  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 

  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                          

  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                              



The Beauty of The Physics of Rainbows


      A few days back my friend Manpreet asked me a question :

“why is the rainbow round ? ” . I didnt know the answer so I searched and found some very interesting things about rainbows and their Physics .

I thought that a rainbow is beautiful . The Physics of the Rainbow and the process of its creation is just as fantastic !!!

      The first systematic study of the Physics of the Rainbow was done by Rene Descartes in 1637 . He took a large glass sphere and held it in sunlight at various angles and positions . So he tried to simulate the water droplet in sunshine phenomenon .


      First thing u will notice is that when you are looking at a rainbow the Sun is behind your back . The rays come from the sun and enter a droplet.

While going into the droplet the rays are refracted and when the rays  go to the end of the droplet the rays may be refracted out or may be reflected back into the drop . The droplet acts like a prism and breaks the light into its constituent colors .  So the internal reflection gets the rays back to you broken up into their colors .


Now the angle is important . Descartes noticed that if the angle of the eye with the droplet is about 42 degrees u see a concentration of red color .

If it is 40 degrees u see blue . If it is anything lying outside the 40-42 degrees range u see just white light . So the rainbow is a circle with a angular radius of about 42 degrees .

      SOmetimes not all the light that enters the droplet comes out at one time . Sometimes some of it remains inside and undergoes another reflection and comes out after some time . For red light this comes out at 50 degrees instead of 42 degrees and for bule it is at 52 degrees .

So we see a secondary rainbow with the colors reversed and at an angle of about 50 degrees . This secondary bow is less bright .

      The rainbow is a semicircle because the earth comes in the way of what could be a full circle .

      Sometimes ( as Thomas Young observed ) the light near the top and the bottom of the rainbow interfere to form alternate bright or dark patterns . These are called supernumerary arcs .


      Notice that the difference in the brightness of  the sky inside and just outside the rainbow arc . The sky is  brighter inside the arc .

The reason for this is that the maximum angle at which light can come out a droplet is 53 degrees . It cannot be deflected more by our tiny droplet .

So beyond that no light comes out of the droplet and the sky is dark there .

      The light that comes out of the rainbow is almost completely

polarised . So if u look at it thru the poloroid glasses u will not

be able to see it .


      And sometimes u have lunar rainbows too . The light from a

full moon is bright enough to produce a faint rainbow .


      So the next time u look at a rainbow dont just admire the

beauty of the spectrum . Also admire the phenomena and the Physics of

the creation of the rainbow . 


The works of Escher

Today’s VERITAS is about paintings . So you have to see each link through ur web browser . Otherwise it is no use .

      Today we will talk about the works of a very imaginative painter .

His name was M.C Escher . He was born in 1898 in Holland . His father

was a civil engineer . M.C was not very good at studies and never managed to

pass high school . But he had a great interest in paining and architecture .

      In 1921 he started experimenting with a very different style .

His paintings were not related to relatty as we see it . It is more

fantasy. It is a different way of looking at reality .


For example see his drawing hands : Each hand draws the other :



Escher experimented with trying to represnt infinity in his paintings .


His paintings also have “infinite loops” . For example see his waterfall.

The water is always at the same level . But still it falls down at the end :

or see his Ascending,Descending . One set of people is forever climbing

the stairs . The other set is forever coming down :



This one is really wow . This is “Another World ” . The great thing is

that whichever way u look at it you see a replication of a whole

world . You feel that you are standing on a cross road between

worlds whicg are images of each other .



Another one that can “hit” you is Day and Night . This is one of his

most popular works . See this and feel it . Half the painting is

day and the other half is night .




Escher died in 1972 . By this time he had become really famous .

He is really respected by Mathematicians and Atrists . His

works contain the description of matematical concepts of infinity ,

endless loops , self swallowing sets … in the form of paintings .

Painting Styles

I tried to understand the distinction between different painting styles.

I am not sure if I achieved my objective . There are some styles that I understood quite well . Some others are quite blurred .

The following are the major styles alongwith examples and an artist who was a master of that style . Comments/corrections are most welcome .

But make sure that u look at the paintings . There is no point without that . Some styles I dont understand at all so I have kept that section blank .



CLASSICISM : A style of painting inspired by ancient Roman/Greek paintings and literature . Emphasis is on form , proportion and restrained emotion .



ROMANTICISM : This is the exact opposite of Classicism . This stresses

on strong emotions,imagination and freedom from classical norms .

The stress is on the individual , the personal , the spontaneous …


Delacroix was the greatest French Romantic painter .

See his painting “Combat of Giaour and Hassan ” :






EXPRESSIONNISM : The stress here is on the expression of inner experience

and not a portrayal of reality . So the emotions of the people come out

using colors , brush strokes . The emotions that are aroused in the artist

when he sees a scene are depicted .


Vincent Van Gogh was a expressionnist painter . Remember that even in his

self portraits or in his painting of the sunflowers his own turbulent

emotions come out is the form of wild brush strokes .


See his ” still life with four sunflowers ” :



see Van Gogh’s seff portrait :




Notice how wild the colors are .



IMPRESSIONNISM : Opposite of expressionnism . The aim is to concentrate on

the general scene and the impression it creates on the artist . Primary

colors were used .



Claude Monet was an impressionnist painter .


see his painting : The waterlilies( The clouds) and notice the difference

from Van Gogh’s sunflowers .






REALISM : To give an accurate objective description of nature or life .

This style rejects imaginative idealization .


Caravaggio was a realist . See his painting ” The fortune teller ” :






Renaissance : I could  not understand this one . Or its differences

from the rest 😦



CUBISM : The subjects are portrayed using geometric forms without realistic

detail . Often there are intersecting cones , cubes etc .


eg Picasso , and Joan Gris . See his ” Man in a Cafe ” 







SURREALISM : An attempt to express the subconscious by fantistic imagery .

Dreamy wierd stuff .


eg Salvador Dali , Yyes Tanguy . See Tanguy’s “Indefinite Divisibility ” :





Fauvism : Dont understand

Futurism : Something about mechanics and modern life etc .

Baroque  : Dont understand .