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Lizard10979 via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Lizard10979 via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Why Nova Scotia Sends Boston a Christmas Tree Every Year

Lizard10979 via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Lizard10979 via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1917, Bostonians reacted to an unprecedented tragedy in Halifax with an outpouring of support and resources. Nearly a century later, Nova Scotians haven’t forgotten.

On December 6, 1917, a French ship named the Mont-Blanc was passing through Halifax Harbor, making its way from New York to France. The ship was carrying a staggering load of munitions: 2300 tons of picric acid, 35 tons of benzene, and 200 tons of dynamite. If you think this sounds like an accident waiting to happen, you’re absolutely right. At 8:45 a.m., the Mont-Blanc collided with a Norwegian cargo ship called the Imo. At first, the French ship simply caught fire, inspiring thousands of people to gather into the harbor to watch.

Then, at 9:04 a.m., it exploded—and the impact was devastating. More than 1500 people were killed instantly; everything within a 1.2-mile radius was completely flattened and scorched. In addition to crushing schools, factories, and churches, the explosion destroyed more than 1600 homes and left 6000 people homeless. To this day, it remains the largest non-nuclear explosion in history.

WarBaCoN via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

Boston's friendly relationship with Halifax dates back to the 1700s, when the cities formed a relationship over shipping and the fish trade. When word of the tragedy hit Bean Town, residents immediately sprang into action. More than $100,000 was reportedly raised in the first hour of relief efforts, and $30,000 worth of Army blankets were sent via car. A train brought 30 of Boston’s leading physicians and surgeons, 70 nurses, a 500-bed base hospital unit, and hospital supplies. The Boston Symphony performed a sold-out benefit concert to aid Halifax in the week following the disaster. By the time all was said and done, Massachusetts had contributed more than $750,000 to the relief effort.

To thank Bostonians for everything they had done, residents of Halifax sent them a large Christmas tree the following year. They repeated the gift in 1971 and have done it every year since. The trees, which eventually make their way to Boston Common, are sometimes donated by people who had relatives that died in the blast, and sometimes government officials identify the perfect tree and ask the owners to consider donating it. The trees must meet certain specifications, including height (40-50 feet), type (balsam fir or white or red spruce), and shape (uniform and symmetrical).

Louis Olivera via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Nova Scotians used the 2013 tree delivery to return the city's thoughtfulness in the face of tragedy. Three marathon runners led the tree out of Halifax to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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