Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Balance Test

How Long Can You Stand On One Leg?

Here's a simple balance test. How long can you stand on one leg with your eyes open? How long can you stand on one leg with your eyes closed? Try it. Get a stopwatch of some kind. You can use a kitchen timer. Maybe there's one on your phone. I recommend a hard flat surface, but whatever feels right is fine. You can try barefoot or with shoes, you can gyrate, wiggle, hop, whatever you feel like doing as long as one foot is off the ground the whole time. Try it a few times and see what your longest time is.

I have no data to compare your times with so you can see where you stand in relation to other people. I don't think the value of this test is to see how normal or abnormal your results are. I think the main value of the test is simply to show you how long you can stand on one leg, just to allow you to let that information in. A secondary value would be to inspire you to practice this exercise regularly in an attempt to improve your times.

As of February 21rst 2011, I am 53 years old. I did this in the early part of the evening and my best time with eyes closed was about a minute and a half. I did it several times and was mostly in the minute to a minute and a half range. With my eyes open, I stood on one leg for 4 minutes, at which point I stopped because my hip was beginning to hurt a bit and not being used to holding one-legged positions that long, I decided to stop to be on the safe side.

I felt good about my times. Nothing extraordinary, but pretty good for a guy my age.

A bit later in the evening, I decided to try again. My eyes closed times were all in the same minute to a minute and a half range. But with eyes open, this time I was able to stand on one leg for 10 minutes. I found all kinds of interesting positions that rested various parts of my lower body so I could sort of rotate the stress around without any one part getting too sore too fast. When my eyes are open, for me, it's more a matter of stamina, than the act of balancing that is the challenge. My ankles are not my strongest joints. I really sprained my right ankle very badly when I was young and to this day it doesn't quite sit right on my foot, so perhaps I need to use more muscle strength to stabilize it.

I found it interesting that I more than doubled my eyes open time but didn't improve my eyes closed time at all.

I'm going to keep coming at this and see if I can improve my eyes closed time, just by doing it over and over, not trying to figure out any tricks, just letting my body figure it out...I would love to be able to stand for 3 or 4 minutes on one leg with my eyes closed and that does seem within reach. I think the level of grounding and spatial awareness that being able to do this requires would be helpful to me in many ways. So I'm going to see what will happen with more practice.

I'm very curious about balance, especially unforced balance. I teach balance for a living (T'ai-Chi) and it's a big part of my life.

Balance is always important, but it gets more obviously so as we get older, when even a relatively minor fall can cause real and sometimes fatal injuries. Just doing this simple exercise of timing how long you can stand on one leg, eyes open and eyes closed, a few times a week can really improve balance and who knows maybe even extend your life. It's almost certain to extend the life of your vitality in any case.

Do it for one commercial for every half an hour or hour that you watch TV. Or do it while your water is boiling, or your toast is toasting, or your microwave is waving. Just standing on one leg without timing it at all, just to see how comfortably you can do it, is beneficial. If you are elderly or for one reason or another your balance is particularly precarious, I recommend doing this in a kitchen with waist high counters very near by, so there's no danger of falling. Also, try different hand and foot positions and see which feel the most comfortable and stable. And be sure to alternate between your left and right legs so both sides of your body get the workout and balance lesson.

If any of you who live in Ashland, Oregon are curious about this exercise and how to do it better, I'd be happy to give you a donation basis, whatever you can afford including nothing, lesson that will steer you in the right direction. Just email me at mail@gene_burnett.com

Friday, February 11, 2011

Singing The National Anthem

Oh Say Can You See?

I don't have a TV and I don't care about football. During the Super Bowl I was at a meeting of our local Bad Film Society meeting watching a hilariously funny bad movie. I had a blast.

Anyway, I heard some people complaining about the National Anthem the next day on facebook so I checked it out on youtube.

I thought it absolutely horrible. Putting aside the fact that Christina Aguilera got some of the lyrics wrong, the actual singing was a Celine Dion-esque nightmare. I hate all this pseudo-soulful gargling, screeching and embellishment. I hate it because it has nothing to do with the feelings in the song or the singer. To my ear it is a bunch of just vocal pyrotechnics that call attention to the singer, but nothing else. Whitney Houston's version, I find equally atrocious. Just a bunch of show-off wanking, devoid of feeling.

I think, if you don't trust the material, don't sing the material. This song has been a "hit" for over 200 years now. I say, just sing it. Not absolutely flat, but with minimal embellishment. Let the song speak for itself, or shut up and let someone else sing it.

The most moving version of the song I've ever heard was while watching a routine baseball game on TV. The singer, who's name escapes me, (it was a long time ago), was not a big star, but he was a noted soul singer. He sang it mostly straight, but the minimal embellishments he added were heartfelt and always served the song. It actually brought tears to my eyes.

I hear this song not as a big uplifting rabble rouser but as more of a slightly melancholy battle hymn, where you thought you'd lost but no, through the smoke and rockets, you see that you indeed are still in the game. It should, in my opinion be sung with gratitude and humility.

Look, anyone can forget the words to any song. I've forgotten the words to songs I wrote myself! I don't care that much about that, although I don't believe she was "overwhelmed". I think she just didn't rehearse as much as she should have.

hat I object to is embellishment that has nothing to do with the meaning of the song or the feelings of the singer.
They can sing, no doubt about that, but to my ear, Whitney and Christina have no feeling or soul whatsoever. All I hear is technical riffing and showing off.

This song does not need "pimping", it is powerful and stands on its own. Sung straight, with a hint here and there of genuine feeling and embellishment, it can be breathtaking. Cranked through the nozzle of thousands of little scales and gospel tricks that were once, long, long ago, genuine expressions of emotion, but are now mere gestures aping real human feeling, it is boring at best.

I feel this way about all singing: I like embellishment that is inspired by feeling, not embellishment for its own sake, or to call attention to the singer's vocal chops. Sometimes the tiniest variation from standard, if it's emotionally inspired can be breathtaking. When it's just the gestures of emotion, which I think these divas all are great at, I am unmoved at best, bored and pissed off at worst.

And yet this kind of singing is what so many singers do. I like singers who are about the song first and everything else has to either support that song or it has to go. All their skills and style are there to serve the song. I call it "wankless" performing and it is my favorite kind. Alas, though, the trend is towards songs being merely a structure or platform for the singer's ego.

I like to do what little I can to toss my two cents on the other side of the scale.

One of my facebook friends had what I consider a great idea. How about just the fans in the stadium singing the song and we give the Diva's the night off?