JenniferWarnes.com
JenniferWarnes.com

"Song of Bernadette"

JenniferWarnes.com
JenniferWarnes.com

“Song of Bernadette”
Written by Jennifer Warnes, Leonard Cohen, and Bill Elliott (1986)
Performed by Jennifer Warnes

The Music

One of the great overlooked albums of the 1980s, Famous Blue Raincoat by Jennifer Warnes features the singer covering the songs of Leonard Cohen. Warnes had toured with the Canadian poet-musician as a background vocalist for years, and had a deep feeling for his dense, lyrical songs.

Warnes even ended up co-writing one of the album's tracks, based on the life of a modern-day Catholic saint. She explained, “I was given the name Bernadette at birth. But my siblings preferred the name Jennifer so my name was changed. In 1979, on tour in the south of France with Leonard, I began writing a series of letters between the Bernadette I almost was, and Jennifer—two energies within me. One innocent, and the other who had fallen for the world. So the song arose in a bus nearby Lourdes. I was thinking about the great Saint who held her ground so well, and was not swayed from what she knew to be true. But the song is also about me longing to return to a place that was more pure, honest and true.”

Here's Warnes performing the song live:

The History

In 1858, near Lourdes, France, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirious had visions of a lady believed to be the Virgin Mary. Soubirious was later canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church, and Lourdes became a destination for religious pilgrims from around the world.

Marie-Bernarde Soubirious was born in 1844, the eldest of four children. Though her family was initially well-off, a series of misfortunes plunged them into poverty. At the lowest point, they lived together in a dank one-room basement that was once used as a prison cell. Marie-Bernarde, nicknamed Bernadette, was a cheerful, kind-hearted girl who always pitched in with the chores to help her family.

The Visions

On February 11, 1858, she was out collecting firewood when she came upon a grotto filled with debris. It was there that she had the first of her 18 visions. As she described it: “I saw a lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white.”

Bernadette said that initially she felt confused by the vision, but was soon overcome with a peaceful feeling. When she told her parents about what she'd seen, her mother forbade her from returning to the spot. But Bernadette couldn't stop thinking about the lady in white.

A few days later, back at the grotto, she had another vision. On her third visit to the grotto, the lady in white spoke to Bernadette, requesting that the girl keep returning over the next month. Soon, hundreds of people were accompanying Bernadette to the grotto. While no one else could see the the lady, the witnesses claimed that when the visions occurred, they felt a change in the atmosphere and that Bernadette's face took on an otherworldly look, as if she was in ecstasy.

Bernadette described the lady as being “so lovely, that when you have seen her once, you would willingly die to see her again.”

In her ninth vision, Bernadette was asked by the lady to drink from the spring. But there was no spring. Bernadette began to dig with her bare hands in a muddy patch near the grotto and drank a few drops of dirty water. In the days after, a clear spring began to flow from this hole. And this was the beginning of the healing waters that have become one of the main attractions for miracle seekers at Lourdes.

During one of her final visions, Bernadette asked the lady her name, and was given the answer: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Though the idea of the Virgin Mary's conception by her mother Saint Anne had been part of Catholic doctrine for centuries, it had had only been formally proclaimed by the Pope a few years before the Lourdes visions. Some believe that as an uneducated child, Bernadette would not have known the phrase Immaculate Conception.

Sister Act

In the years after the visions, Bernadette's life was a constant parade of uninvited visitors, skeptics and religious pilgrims, all curious to hear her recount her tale over and over. Though she always answered questions with sincerity and humility, she grew weary of the attention.

In 1866, Bernadette escaped into the convent at Nevers, and as Sister Marie-Bernarde, assumed the simple, quiet life of a nun. With her positive attitude and patience, she was an inspiration to the other sisters. But over her 13 years there, she had ongoing respiratory problems. Often confined to her bed for months at a time, she never complained. She said her function was to “suffer” and to offer her own “feeble prayers” to God. When asked why she didn't return to Lourdes for healing, she replied, “It is not for me.”

In 1879, Sister Marie-Bernarde died from complications of tuberculosis. She was 35.

Sainthood

After her death, there was a Papal investigation and examination of the evidence surrounding her visions. The Catholic Church believes that one of the signs of a saint is a person whose body remains intact after death. Bernadette was exhumed 30 years after her burial. Though she hadn't been embalmed, she was remarkably well preserved. In 1925, her body was transferred to a glass shrine at Nevers. Thin wax masks were laid over her face and hands, which had begun to discolor.

In 1933, she was canonized by Pope Pius XI, for both her visions and the simplicity of her life. The little girl from Lourdes became Saint Bernadette, the patron saint of the sick and also of the family and poverty.

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Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
The 'David Bowie Is' Exhibition Is Coming to Your Smartphone
 Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images
Ralph Gatti, AFP/Getty Images

"David Bowie is," an exhibition dedicated to the life, work, and legacy of the pop icon, concluded its six-year world tour on July 15. If you didn't get a chance to see it in person at its final stop at New York City's Brooklyn Museum, you can still experience the exhibit at home. As engadget reports, the artifacts displayed in the collection will be recreated in virtual and augmented reality.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, the curator of the exhibit, and the David Bowie Archive are collaborating with Sony Music Entertainment and the sound and media studio Planeta on the new project, "David Bowie is Virtual." Like the physical exhibition, the digital experience will integrate visual scenes with the music of David Bowie: 3D scans will bring the musician's costumes and personal items into the virtual sphere, allowing viewers to examine them up close, and possibly in the case of the outfits, try them on.

"These new digital versions of ‘David Bowie is’ will add unprecedented depth and intimacy to the exhibition experience, allowing the viewer to engage with the work of one of the world’s most popular and influential artists as never before," the announcement of the project reads. "Both the visual richness of this show and the visionary nature of Bowie and his art makes this a particularly ideal candidate for a VR/AR adaptation."

"David Bowie is Virtual" will be released for smartphones and all major VR and AR platforms sometimes this fall. Like the museum exhibition, it will come with an admission price, with a portion of the proceeds going toward the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brooklyn Museum.

[h/t engadget]

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iStock
Why Do Orchestras Tune to an A Note?
iStock
iStock

When orchestra members tune their instruments before a performance, it almost always sounds the same. That’s because across the world, most orchestras tune to the same A note, using a standard pitch of 440 hertz.

This is the result of international standards that have been in place since the 19th century, according to WQXR, a classical music radio station in New York City. Currently, standard tuning frequency is set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), an international group that makes recommendations on everything from what safety labels should look like to how big the hole in a pen cap should be. A standard called ISO 16, first recommended in 1955 and confirmed in 1975, “specifies the frequency for the note A in the treble stave and shall be 440 hertz.”

The ISO didn’t pull that frequency out of thin air. During the Industrial Revolution, a rush toward standardization and universality led to multiple international meetings that aimed to bring orchestras all over the world to the same pitch. Standardizing pitch had important ramifications for the international music scene.

Historically, the pitch that orchestras tuned to could differ wildly depending on where the musicians were playing. “In the course of the last 400 years in Europe, the point that has been considered ideal for a reference pitch has fluctuated by some 5 or 6 semitones,” musicologist Bruce Haynes explained in his book, A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of ‘A.’ In the 17th century, a French performer might tune his or her instrument a whole tone lower than their German colleagues. The standards could even change from one town to the next, affecting how music written in one location might sound when played in another.

As a writer for London's The Spectator observed in 1859, “It is well known that when we are performing Handel's music (for example) from the very notes in which he wrote it, we are really performing it nearly a whole tone higher than he intended;—the sound associated in his ear with the note A, being nearly the same sound which, in our ear, is associated with the note G.”

In the 19th century, a commission established by the French government tried to analyze pitch across Europe by looking at the frequencies of the tuning forks musicians used as their reference while tuning their instruments. The commission gathered tuning forks from different cities, finding that most were pitched somewhere around 445 hertz. Over the years, due to bigger concert halls and more advanced instruments, pitch was rising across most orchestras, and instruments and voices were being strained as a result. So the commission recommended lowering the standard to what was known as “the compromise pitch.”

In 1859, the French commission legally established diapason normal, the standard pitch for the A above middle C, at 435 hertz. (The music world would still be debating whether or not pitch had risen too much more than a century later.) Later, 435 hertz became enshrined as a standard elsewhere, too. In 1885, government representatives from Italy, Austria, Hungary, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and Württemberg met to establish their own international standard, agreeing on 435 hertz. The agreement was eventually written into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

But not everyone was on board with 435 hertz. The Royal Philharmonic Society in London believed the French pitch standard was pegged to a specific temperature—59°F—and decided to adjust their pitch upward to compensate for their concert halls being warmer than that, settling on 439 hertz. Meanwhile, in 1917, the American Federation of Musicians declared 440 hertz to be the standard pitch in the U.S.

In 1939, the International Standardizing Organization met in London to agree on a standard for concert pitch to be used across the world. A Dutch study of European pitch that year had found that while pitch varied across orchestras and countries, the average of those varied pitches was around 440 hertz. So it made sense for the ISO to choose A 440. Furthermore, radio broadcasters and technicians like the BBC preferred A 440 to the English A 439 because 439 was a prime number and thus harder to reproduce in a laboratory.

World War II delayed the official launch of the 1939 ISO agreement, but the organization issued its A 440 decision in 1955, then again two decades later. A 440 was here to stay. That said, even now, pitch does vary a little depending on the musicians in question. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra notably tunes to 443 hertz rather than the standard 440 hertz, for instance. While A 440 may be the official “concert pitch” across the world, in practice, there is still a little wiggle room.

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