Sight, Sound and Beyond

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Animals in Heaven, One Catholic’s Perspective

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St. Francis Preaching to the Birds – Gioto di Bondone (c.1267-1337)

“We were taught that animals don’t go to heaven because they don’t have souls, ” my mother once told me.  She and my father had attended at 12 years of Catholic School.  My father also continued on to attend a Catholic College.  Then there is me who attended Public School and attended regular college, so what do I know right?

As a Roman Catholic, one of the things I struggle with the question of whether or not animals are included in God’s plan of salvation.  In other words, do they go to heaven or do they cease to exist all together after physical death?  I have received mixed answers from various sources.  Some people have told me that animals do not have souls because they lack free will.  Some, like St Thomas Aquinas, have mentioned that while animals do have souls, their souls are not immortal.  Therefore, when they die, their souls die as well.  Then there are a couple priests who have told me that, yes, animals do go to heaven because God is Love and thus He would never destroy that which He creates.

The thought of animals, especially my two avian companions, ceasing to exist after physical death is an upsetting thought for me.  I don’t know why I am so sensitive about it.  I am probably the only Catholic who prays for animals.  Animals have been a great service to us, providing us with transportation, clothing and food.  I pray for them all because like us, they are God’s creatures too.  Whenever I learn of an an animal companion who has passed away, I pray he or she has been reunited with God in Heaven.

One friend once said something like, “Oh I understand why you feel this way.  It’s okay to love your birds.  After all, you don’t have children.”  Perhaps, if I were married with children, I might sing a different tune about animals right?  Nah, I doubt it.

Another friend of mine said: “Well, you believe that your birds go to Heaven because you can’t stand the thought of never seeing them again after they die.”  I have to admit, she was partially right, but my ideas are not purely based on emotional attachment.

The Garden of Eden

In the bible, there are examples of God’s love for animals.  In the book of Genesis, God created everything: time, space, land and sea, vegetation, birds, sea creatures, land animals and human beings.  God created everything and everything was good.  Why was it good?  Everything was good because God created it.  It was not something that to be earned.  Prior to the fall of our parents, Adam and Eve, everyone lived in perfect communion with God.  You could say that all living creatures were in a perfect state of grace where there was no separation between God and them.  It is quite beautiful to think about, but this paradise didn’t last long.  After the fall of our parents,  the world became cursed and evil began to spread.  Thus we human beings became separated from God.

I imagine Heaven to be an extension of the Garden of Eden, which was meant to be an eternal paradise for God to live among all creation in perfect harmony.   If this is how it was in the beginning, why would God not want to include all creation in His kingdom yet to come?  The book of Revelations tells us that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth.  Surely at the very least, our non human brethren would be included in the New Earth.  Wouldn’t you think?

Noah’s Ark

Everyone is familiar with the story of Noah, the guy that was chosen by God to build an ark or large boat for his family and himself to escape the great flood that God was going to send in response to humanity’s wickedness.  Because of Noah’s righteousness, He and his family would be spared.  Oh and wait, quite a few others were spared as well.  Who else came along for the ride in Noah’s ark?  Animals of course.  Remember that?  God told Noah to gather two of every kind.  This is quite interesting don’t you think?  God can create anything out of nothing.  I mean that’s how the earth came about right?  He could have easily told Noah to forget about the animals and just gather his family.  I mean after the flood ended, God could just recreate new animals right?  Why would God include the animals to be part of Noah’s ark?

This story illustrate God’s mercy and saving power for not just human beings but for all creation.  God is a lover of all creation.  His love is inclusive, not exclusive.

Someone once told me that animals reflect the innocence of God.  Sure, they don’t have a free will as we human beings do, but animals have something that we as human beings lack: the ability to live in the present moment.  Animals don’t fret about the future or get stuck in the past the way we do.  They live completely in the present moment and to continuously live in the present moment is to truly be in the presence of God.

St. Francis of Assisi

Why did St Francis address animals as his brothers and sisters?  Why did he treat them with such respect?  St. Francis viewed animals as part of God’s family.  He said of animals:

“Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.”

It is his love and respect for animals that makes him one of my favorite saints.

I had Sunny and Nikki blessed the day prior to the feast of St Francis to confirm their membership of God’s Family.  I got a lot of laughs from people but it felt like the right thing to do.   To learn more about Sunny and Nikki’s blessing read “To Bless or Not to Bless”

Why Do I Want Sunny and NIkki to Go to Heaven?

When you love someone, even a small bird whose head is smaller than your eyeball, you want only the best for him or her.  Many cannot understand what it means to love a small creature like a small parrot.  It is really not that much different from loving a human being.  Sure they do not have our intelligence, but they have the integrity, innocence and curiosity of young children.  Living with Sunny and Nikki is like living with two permanent two-year-old children!

Sunny and Nikki will both be 13 years old next year, and I love them more now than I did when I first adopted them.   I often include them in some of my spiritual practices, which include reading passages from the bible.  This probably sounds ridiculous to many, but in Chapter 16, verse 15 in Mark’s Gospel Jesus did say:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news] to the whole creation.”

Well, the last I checked, the whole of creation included birds.

Anyway, I digress from the question at hand.  Why do I want Sunny and Nikki to go to Heaven?  I want the best for them, and what could be better than to be in eternal and perfect communion with God?

My wish for the girls going to heaven does not primarily stem from my wish for them to be with me, but rather to be well taken care of by God and be included in His plan of salvation.  I have had dreams about what it will be like after I die.  The dream is set in the future, and I do get to heaven.  In the dreams I do see those who have gone before me: family, friends and the animals I have known and loved.  For a short moment I see the girls.  All my loved ones are there, but they are not the main focus.  My main focus is being with God, the source of all Good and who is Love.  I believe that when we go to Heaven it will be exactly like attending Mass.  We will be in attendance as one family, which includes the angels, saints, and our non human brethren, but our focus will be on the one who has created us.  He is the reason that we love in the first place.

At the end of the musical, Les Misérables, a memorable line is sung:

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”

To love anyone, including something as small as bird is to know the love of God.  Like animals, we human beings are creatures.  We are all of God’s creatures and compared to His infinite power and love, we are but a speck of dust, but like I love two little birds, God loves all his creatures both great and small.

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To Bless or Not to Bless

Sunny and Nikki September 2014

Sunny and Nikki
September 2014

That is the question.

The feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Animals, is October 4th, and every year around this time, I always ponder the idea of having one of my parish priests bless Sunny and Nikki.  St. Francis loved all of God’s creatures, and once preached a sermon to a flock of birds. He saw animals as our brothers and sisters because they were God’s creatures, just like human beings are.  He said of animals: “Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission — to be of service to them wherever they require it.”

I love this!  There is no one who would deny the importance of human life, but I find that the opposite is true when it comes to animals.  Animals are more than just creatures who roam the earth.  For many centuries, animals have been of great service to man by providing food, clothing and transportation.  And what about the animals who reside in our homes with us?

People love dogs and cats, but birds are still looked down upon when they are just as intelligent and loveable as their furry friends.  The famous line I hear from people is, “They are just birds.”  When I spoke about having my birds blessed to a family member she remarked: “I could see if you wanted to bless a dog, but birds?” When I mentioned St. Francis’ love of birds, another family member added, “He liked doves, not parrots.”  How did he know?  I think St. Francis would have loved being in the company of parrots.  If he were living on earth today, I bet he would enjoy a nice trip to the Bird Jungle in Scarsdale, NY.

Yesterday, I gathered my courage to call up my church rectory and explain my request to the parish secretary.  She seemed a bit confused.  “What do you want to have blessed?” she asked.  I guess Holy Rosary Church doesn’t get a lot of avian visitors.  Once I got the green light that one of our priests, Father Martin, was available, my father dropped the girls and me at the rectory and waited outside until we were finished.  While I was briefly waiting for Father Martin, I took the girls out of their carrier, placed them both on my left hand and held a towel in the my right.  I held the towel directly underneath them because I didn’t want the girls to leave any gifts behind if you know what I mean.

Father Martin arrived and greeted all of us.  He commented on how cute the birds were and assured me that I was doing a good thing.  It was nice to have one person confirm that I wasn’t completely nuts.  He led us to the sacristy, and before Father began the blessing, Sunny said “Hello” a few times, and Father said hello back.  I was surprised Nikki didn’t say anything since she is known as the big talker.  I guess she got a little shy.

Father recited a special prayer for animals while the girls watched him with childlike wonder.  He blessed them both with holy water, and I thanked him.  His blessing was very sincere.

I don’t know if the girls got anything out of it, but it was quite special for me.  Actually, it was like an avian baptism so I was thrilled.  I once read somewhere that looking at a bird can lead you back to God.  I believe there is truth in that, especially today. We live in a high tech world full of wonderful things created by man, but this is no match to the wonderful living creations God made.

Though we are the most intelligent creatures on the planet, we are still lacking in one area and that is love. I have found that animals are great teachers when it comes to learning how to love. Their love is so simple and unconditional, and I believe that this is how our Lord loves all of us.

Let’s Recap

Sunny and Nikki

Sunny and Nikki

It’s been a while since I written a blog entry.  I am not sure why.  Perhaps my life has not been that interesting lately.  Well, I shouldn’t say that.  I live with two birds remember?  They always keep life interesting and they think my life is interesting because they always want to be involved in whatever it is that I am doing.

Anyway, let’s briefly recap what has happened over the last few months.

My four compositions were premiered on Saturday, November 17th at the New Jersey Music Teachers Association State Conference.  The conference was held at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ.  It was quite the experience.  After all, it isn’t everyday that you get to hear a live performances of your own music.  These student works include:

  • Peaceful Pause (beginner piano solo)
  • Avian Adventures (intermediate piano solo)
  • Modern Dance (advanced piano solo)
  • Shades of Blue (violin and piano duo)

My music will be performed at the Aram Khachaturian House-Museum in Yerevan, Armenia.  One half of the concert will include music by New York Women Composers, and the other half will include music by Armenian composers.  Works by New York Women Composer include:

  • Joyce Orenstein – Three Pieces for Clarinet
  • Jennifer Castellano – Reverie for Flute Solo
  • Binnette Lipper – Trialogue for Flute, Clarinet, and Bassoon
  • Marilyn Bliss – Murali for Flute Solo
  • Rain Worthington – Duets for a Duo, for Flute and Oboe

I never dreamed that my music would ever be heard outside of the country.  It is pretty wild.

Marvin and I are almost ready to send our CD project off to production.  We got all the licensing done, we have our cover art, and all our CD text is all set.  We are just finishing the design and layout of the inside booklet.  Our CD is titled Child in the Garden: Contemporary Music for Piano 4 Hands, and we expect the CD to become available in early March.

Is Summer Really Over?

Well, summer doesn’t officially end until the first day of autumn, which is September 22nd so I have a few days left, but seriously, where did the time go?  I think it went to the same place that my twenties went.  What I love most about the summer is the long hours of daylight.  I will miss how how it would still be light out at 7pm.  However, I won’t miss the heat and humidity.  We had a lot of that, and it was pretty uncomfortable.

So what did I do over these past few months other than get an iPhone?  Well, I thought I give you a recap of some of the exciting things that I did so here we go!

Gold Master Disc

     Piano Duo Venti Dita

Marvin and I recorded our CD.  Yes, we have the gold master disc and we are in the early stages of production.  We are quite happy with how the master sounds and are looking forward to the finished product.  We also have an official name now: Piano Duo Venti Dita (It. Twenty Fingers).  We are playing in a concert together this Sunday, September 23 in Bristol Chapel at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, NJ.  Actually it’s Marvin’s concert.  I will be acting as his sidekick, but hey, I am still in it.  Yea!  I love being included!

Squawk Back (excerpt)

     Squawk Back

I composed a piece for flute and tape called Squawk Back.  The girls, as usual, managed to squeeze in to this project.  The work was written for flutist, Meerenai Shim, who is looking for new works to perform and possibly record.  I don’t know if this work will be chosen but I am quite happy with how it turned out.  The tape consists Sunny and Nikki’s squawks altered to sound like a drum track.  It is a rhythmic ostinato that repeats through out.  In addition, Sunny and Nikki’s natural calls are mixed in to add an avian flavor.  The flutist plays along with the tape.  It is quite unique but then again, the girls always bring something unique to the table don’t they?

Vito

An Avian House Guest

I birdsat a 20-year old White-Eyed Conure named Vito.  He stayed with us for two weeks while his family visited Italy.  H and the girls squawked back and fourth.  I have birdsat Vito several times and it is always an experience because he he sounds like a bugle.

T-Coil Headphones

For years, I have always had trouble listening to music with headphones.  Because I wear hearing aids, that go behind the ear. wearing tradition headphones often both my ears.  Everything would sound distorted.  I also often get some interference and sometimes even feedback, depending on what I am listening.  I obviously can’t wear earbuds since I already have the earmolds that attach to my hearing aids in my ears.  So what did I do?  I purchased my very first pair of headphones from TecEar, which are designed for people who wear hearing aids that have a telecoil program.  Telecoils, also known as T-coils, are nifty little devices that are found inside a hearing.  T-coils allow sound to bypassthe hearing aid microphones and travel directly to the hearing aid via a magnetic field.  In the past I would wear a pair of headphones over my hearing aids, the sounds would travel through the microphones and thus become amplified.   Telecoil or T-coil headphones allow the sounds to bypass the microphones and travel directly to the hearing aid itself.  What is the result, crystal clear sound.

This is how the T-coil headphones are worn.

Yes!  I love these things.  I use them on my iPhone religiously and they work on any audio source that have a standard headphone jack.  My T-coil program is set to a t-coil and microphones mixture in both ears.  So I can listen to music on my headset and still hear environmental sounds around me.  It’s a win win situation!

T-coil headphones don’t look like conventional headphones.  In fact it is kind of like wearing coat hangers on your hears.  Okay, maybe not quite like that, but the ear hooks that sit behind your ears resembles that of a hook that you find on a coat hanger.  There are colored markering on each of the hooks: the blue is for the left ear and the red is for the right.  These are the standard colored markings used on hearing aids so people don’t try putting the left hearing aid on their right ear and vice versa.  It took me a while to get used to putting on and and taking off my t-coild headphones, but after a few days I became a pro and use them whenever needed.  They are a great invention and I am very happy with them.

Parrots 101

Sunny and Nikki in the Studio Art Department, Manhattanville College, 9/23/08

I realize that I have not written in a while.  In fact, I think it has been a bit over a month since last wrote a blog post.  Anyway, I thought I would move in a slightly different direction and discuss a topic that probably doesn’t have much to do with color and sound.  Although, what I am about to talk about are very colorful and make interesting sounds.  Yes, you red the title correctly.  I am going to give you an introductory lesson to the wonderful world of parrots.  Perhaps, you or someone you know is interested in adopting one of these stunning creatures.  If that is the case, there are a few things you should know before deciding to add one to your family.  I have seen too many parrots get re-homed and so if you want to live with a parrot, it is life-long commitment.  Unlike dogs and cats, parrots can live a long time.  My girls can live an average of about 25~30 years, for example.  The much larger ones can live as long as 80 years old.  Winston Churchill had a blue and gold macaw who lived to be over 100 years old.  In fact Churchill died before the parrot.

Anyway here are some things about parrots that you should know.

1.  Parrots Make Noise

Parrots are very vocal animals and there is no such thing as a silent parrot.  Even very small parrots like budgies vocalize.  That’s just what parrots do.  They are birds and all birds vocalize.  In the wild, parrots live in flocks and squawking is how they communicate with one another.  They are most vocal in the morning and evenings.  This is because it is during these times of day that they let their other flock members know their location.  So, no matter what kind of parrot you decide to bring home, it will make noise.  If a parrot is constantly screeching or screaming though however, this is not normal.  Your parrot is obviously trying to tell you something that you are not quite getting.  For example, my parrots will scream if they are afraid of something or if they want food, especially if they want what I am eating.  They will also become quite vocal if it is past their bedtime and the lights have not been dimmed or turned off.  Parrots like to go to bed early and require a good amount of sleep.  Mine will not stay up past 8pm.  My girls get 10-12 hours of sleep in the lighter months and 12-14 hours during the darker months.

A happy parrot will rarely scream, so it is important to make sure that their is nothing in the birds environment that could be causing them distress.   Also, parrots who receive very little attention will revert to these behaviors out of frustration.  As I said previously, parrots live in flocks so they are very social creatures.

2.  Parrots Poop A Lot

If we all pooped as often as parrots do, we would not be able to leave our homes.  Of course this varies from bird to bird.  The larger birds go less frequently but when they do, BOMBS AWAY!  A rule of thumb: the bigger the bird, the bigger the turd.  Mine go about every 20-40 minutes.  So it is always important to be ready to wipe it up when it enters the scene.  Also, while it is fun to have your parrots sit on your lap or sit on your shoulder, I recommend wearing machine-washable clothing since they will always leave you a special token of their appreciation behind.  It is very important to clean up after them.  While they seem to make a mess, parrots like to live in a clean environment.  This brings me to my next point.

3.  A Clean Home is a Happy Home

This includes spot cleaning on a daily basis.  What do I mean by that?  Well, every parrot cage has a pull-out tray.  The tray is lined with paper to catch the bird’s droppings.  So it is important to change the paper lining in that tray on a daily basis to prevent parrot poop and other things like uneaten food scraps and feathers to pile up.  Above the cage tray is a cage grill which allows the bird to walk on the bottom of the cage without walking in its own droppings.  However, even these things manage to get a bit dirty so it is important to spot clean that as well.  If you are lucky like I am, the cage grill also slides out of the cage to allow for daily cleanup.

Once a week, the entire cage should have a good cleaning, especially the cage bottom.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Wash it with hot water and soap or you can use distilled white vinegar instead of soap.  However you clean it, make sure you rinse it good.

4.  Every Birdie Needs a Vet

I have been laughed at because My birds have an avian vet and they have gone for checkups.  It really annoys me that I have to constantly defend myself when it comes to bird health.  “Oh they don’t need a vet,” someone will say to me, “It’s not like having a cat or a dog.”

The second part of the statement is correct.  Yes, birds are nothing like cats and dogs and I will tell you why.  In the wild, a parrot who is feeling under the weather will hide his symptoms.  Why?  Well, since parrots are prey animals, a sick bird will cause the rest of the flock to become vulnerable to predictors.  Even though my girls were raised in captivity they still have their wild instincts.  Should one of them become ill, the symptoms will not become apparent until it is too late.  Therefore, I need to have them checked out to make sure they are not hiding anything.  In addition, an avian vet can help you learn about the latest in bird care.  So much has changed over the years.  Years ago, people only fed their parrots water and seed.  Now, the bird diet has changed and birds eat a pellet diet with fruits and vegetables.

Honestly, I would rather have my girls checked out only for them to have a clean bill of health then the other way around.  It has been such a rewarding experience living with them.  They are just wonderful.  Should I come up with any other points about parrots worth discussing, I will do so.  Until next time!

My Two Muses

I know that it is has been awhile since I last posted but hey, I didn’t mean to disappear for almost two months.  I have been quite busy you know.  I have been practicing, writing, working and living with Sunny and Nikki.  Let’s not forget that living with my two avian companions is an adventure all in itself.  In fact, they are happily vocalizing as I compose this entry.  I am not sure what they are up to, but I am willing to bet my bottom dollar that they are happily shredding the paper that lines the bottom of the cage.  I caught them doing that this morning as well as yesterday.

Anyway, I decided to write a post about them today.  As many of you know, the girls are my two muses.  When it comes to creativity, they always manage to pop up and squeeze their way into everything.  Besides providing me with their constant inspiration and guidance, they also show great support for what I do.  Well, I see it that way.  Here is a classic example of what it is like working on a creative project while the two of them are sitting just a few feet away from me.

Last winter, I was working on a piece that Max Lifchitz asked me to write for his chamber orchestra.  The work, Revelations, had it’s world-premiere performance on October 30, 2011 at Christ & St. Stephen’s Church in New York City.  Due to a snow storm, I arrived late at the concert and missed the performance.  However, according to my sources, the work sounded great!

Now back to my story.  I was working very diligently on my piece while the girls chattered between themselves  As usual, I hit a roadblock and needed some words of encouragement.  I don’t remember what I was trying to “fix” in the music, but it probably had to do with either counterpoint, voicing or orchestration.  Anyway, I heard the girls having a very elaborate conversation with one another.  “Hello,” Nikki said to Sunny in her clear, parrot-sounding voice.

“Hello” Sunny replied in a soft, scratchy and muffled tone.

“Hello,” Nikki said again

Hello.” Sunny replied again.

This went on for a good couple of minutes.  After hearing about 20 hellos, I interrupted them.  “Girls!” I called out.

chirp chirp chirp chirp chirp!” they both chorused.

“I need some words of encouragement,” I began, “Say something positive to help boost up my confidence.”

They briefly chattered to one another and finally Nikki spoke up.  “Nikki is a pretty bird,” she stated with full confidence.

I burst out laughing.  “No girls,” I said while laughing, “Say something positive about me, not the two of you.”

They didn’t say anything more, but strangely, they managed to lighten up the mood.  I finished up my work on a happy note.

If Revelations turned out to be a great piece of music, it is because of the girls and there positive influence.  It is nice to hear their enthusiasm while I do my work.

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