Boccherini the bold

I really like learning random facts about the composers who create the music I listen to. Last week, the featured composer on ABC Classic was Luigi Boccherini, and what I learnt about him had me grinning so much, I just had to share.

Boccherini, born in the 18th Century, inherited his father’s talent for playing cello, and showed marvellous skill from a very young age. When he was just 18, the Spanish Royal Family discovered his talents, and he gained patronage from the king’s brother.

However, his career took a turn when the king told him to change part of a composition — something as minor as removing a line from the piece. Boccherini disagreed with this suggestion, and believed (as stated by the radio presenter) that the king should “stick to ruling the country, and leave the composing to him”. In defiance, rather than removing the line as requested/ordered, he repeated it.

Even without knowing anything about the King of Spain of that time, you can imagine that he did not take too kindly to Boccherini’s modification. As a result, Boccherini was promptly sacked. Soon after, he left Madrid, and moved to the Gredos Mountains (which apparently provided him lots of inspiration for composing).

I did some skim reading through Google, and looks like Boccherini died quite poor, so it was possibly not the greatest move on his part to disobey the King of Spain, but I do quite commend his chutzpah.

The moral I took from this anecdote was that if you create something, and you have confidence in what you’ve created, you shouldn’t let anyone — not even the King of Spain — tell you that you’re wrong. Taking feedback is a necessary part of self-improvement, but sometimes you just have to stand your ground.

history books

I’ve been reading more of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures, and I’m finding it really awe-inspiring and thought-provoking. And I’m not even that much further in (haven’t been doing quite as much reading as I hoped, but such is life, and I read slowly).

Yesterday I read the part where some important guy (I forget who — one thing I’m having trouble with is all the names and titles in this book, but that happens with other books too, so it might just be me) — anyway, important guy (some higher-up in the military) is giving a speech to an assembly of staff from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and he commends them for their work. This is set in the years of WWII, so he tells them that they are helping the war effort as much as the soldiers on the frontlines.

And that got me thinking about how, in all my history lessons in school about the World Wars, no one ever mentions the researchers and scientists and engineers that had to invent and innovate and problem-solve to help “win the war”. I remember being told about the surge in women entering the workforce for jobs that involved things like sewing, cooking, and nursing; and I remember learning about large factories and warehouses that employed a lot of people; but I don’t remember being told about the recruitment drive for scientists and mathematicians.

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stretched

She stretched,
A purr curled up,
In her throat.

In the pre-dawn,
The water boiled,
With a grumble.

She took the stairs,
Two at a time,
Three flights up.

Lights flicked on,
Radio, then log in,
Start again.

Another announcement,
One more report,
Scrolling endlessly.

Down the corridor,
She walked briskly,
With soft footsteps.

Reply,
Question,
Wait.

On the wall,
The clocked ticked,
Second by second.

Small talk,
Interspersed with,
Bigger questions.

A journey home,
Through spotlights,
And moving stars.

Nightfall,
Moonrise,
Stillness.

She stretched,
Across the bed,
To sleep again.

uncovering hidden figures

Last week-end, I started reading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. It’s a non-fiction book about the African American women who, as the cover states, “helped win the space race”. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but I’m already fascinated by what I’ve learnt so far.

To be fair, I know very little about space exploration, engineering or physics, so it probably seems extra insightful to me, but it is thought-provoking in other ways too.

At the start, Shetterly writes about what it was like for her to grow up in Hampton, Virginia, with a father who was a NASA research scientist. There were a lot of African American women who worked there as “computers” — essentially mathematical geniuses — and to her, it was always normal to see African American women in this role. It was only later that it occurred to her how significant and under-acknowledged they were.

It really goes to show how one’s view of the world and the future can be shaped by the environment in which one grows up. It made me think of all the uproar many years ago about how girls’ toys were very limiting in their scope — always about fashion and beauty and cute things — but boys’ toys were more about action and adventure. It is easier to aspire to something greater if you are shown what is possible.

Early on, Shetterly introduces Dorothy Vaughan, one of the mathematical geniuses. Dorothy was originally a high school teacher, but applied for other jobs over the summer break to help provide for her family. One summer, in the midst of WWII, she applied for two jobs: one to launder uniforms for the military (a job that would, surprisingly, pay better than what she was getting as a teacher (African American teachers were paid much lower than their white counterparts)), and the other to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).

The book is written really well, in a conversational way, and I’m quite keen to keep reading, so this is all for this week’s post. I will almost certainly write more about this book as I read it.