Anja’s Violins



FICTION: Anja’s Violins By Anna Franco

[Author’s Note: Anja is a minor character from my book Hummingbirds in WinterAnja’s Violins centers around her life as it developed some years later.  (Spoiler Alert: some passages in it do refer to events in the book)].

Anja plucked her violin softly in her room.  For a moment, she was sure she could hear an echo from the far end of the living room.  She listened carefully as she plucked a few more strings.  The she picked up the bow and played her piece.  The wispy light strands of her hair were cut just above her shoulders and grazed the side of the violin under her chin.  She was tall and thin, too thin, with bony wrists that bent awkwardly when she held the bow.  The frame of her body swayed slightly, and her knobby knees bent slightly to absorb the rhythm.

Anja lived in the city of Ronne, on a small island called Bornholm, off the coast of the mainland of Denmark.  Her first violin came to her when she was 5 years old; it was a child’s violin.  In the beginning, Anja played with the violin more than played it, but that was many years ago, in 1939, before her lessons.  Over the years, while Denmark was at war, she sometimes took lessons and sometimes stopped.   In 1947, Anja was thirteen years old and started taking lessons again, with a larger violin.  Her first violin was carefully stored in a closet.  One day, friends of the family sent a piece:  Northern Hummingbirds. It was too difficult for her to play at first, but over the next few years, she worked at it and finally mastered it.

Anja was sixteen now, and she was performing in an important recital.  She had to decide what piece to play and submit a proposal for the program by the end of the day.  The proposal form sat on her desk.  She knew what she wanted to perform.  She was going to perform Northern Hummingbirds, the piece sent to her by her friends, whose father was a composer.  All week, her family and classmates had asked her what she would perform, and when she told them her choice, it invariably produced a surprised reaction.

“But why not a piece by Mozart or Beethoven?” a classmate at the music school asked her.  “What about a composition by Niels Gade?”

“No,”  Anja replied. “I love Niels Gade, and I performed a piece by him last year, but this year, I will play something different.”  She stuck to her decision.  Northern Hummingbirds was beautiful; it was new; it was exciting for Anja to play, so she would.

“But we don’t even have hummingbirds in Denmark.  Why would anyone want to hear a piece called Northern Hummingbirds?” asked one girl from her class.

“People will hear the piece, and they can imagine the birds,”  she replied.  It was true that people in the audience would be unlikely to know or even care about hummingbirds.  Anja herself never knew they existed until she got the piece.

Her grandmother frowned when she heard Anja’s choice.  “Anja, the school will give scholarships based on the this audition.  Shouldn’t you be more prudent—it is an important opportunity.  You should play a piece that the judges will recognize.”  Anja disliked disappointing her grandmother, but she loved the piece more.

“Anja,” said her uncle, “be more strategic minded.  Play something the audience will remember, something that they can identify with.  Play something that fits the purpose of the event.”

“I don’t know if they will identify with the piece,” replied Anja, “but if they have any love for music, they will remember it.  As for fitting, the piece fits my violin, and it fits my ears, and that is all the fitting that is necessary.”

This afternoon, Anja would submit her decision for the program.  She looked at the form she had to fill out.  Taking her pen in hand, she nearly attacked the blank line as she wrote the title of the piece and the key.  Below that went the composer’s name, Solansky, and the year the piece was composed.  Finally, the last line called for the length of the piece.  Anja played the piece with her watch nearby.  When she concluded, she wrote ’12 minutes, 18 seconds’ on the last line.  Then she signed the form, sealed it in the envelope, and put it on her dresser to be delivered after lunch.  The next day began the serious practice sessions that would occupy her for the next 8 weeks until the recital.

The piece started with a series of high-speed chromatic trills, like the beating of wings.  The starting note of each trill would change and dart up and down within a few intervals of the central key, giving the opening a sense of urgent but well controlled motion.  After these introductory trills, the main melody broke out: a theme that rose and fell in triplets.  Anja navigated through the first section leisurely, a little on the slow side.  That was how to practice: start out slowly and gradually increase speed. The section needed to go faster to achieve the right sound, but getting there, Anja would take all the time she needed.

The second section was not as fast, but it was much more rhythmically and melodically complex.  She set the metronome to andante, playing it twice at slow speed.  Then she increased the metronome speed a few beats and repeated the section.  If the first section was a close up of the hummingbirds, with the trilling wings, the second section was a wider-shot, capturing their jaunty journeys across the gardens.  She repeated the second section several times before moving on to the last part of the piece.  Anja spent most of her efforts that first week on the second section of the piece.

The third and final section was the longest and the most challenging for Anja, though.  The delicate changes in articulation demanded her total attention.  The shifting meters that were as unpredictable as the path of a hummingbird required Anja to be just as nimble in her response to the music.  The melody was lyrical, but foreign and exotic.

Most of the time, she practiced in her room.  Once she played in front of her house, and two neighbors stopped to listen.  “Is that Grieg?” they asked her.  She shook her head and smiled.  They shrugged their shoulders and walked on.

Anja also played in her living room, where the sound seemed strangely amplified as it traveled through the hollow hallway.  She played in the practice room at school, in a narrow slip of a room with a piano in it.  There, the sound seemed diminished, almost smothered out of existence.

Once, when the recital hall was being cleaned, she slid through the half-opened doors and brought her violin to the stage.  There, she played for the cleaning lady, who applauded, with a towel on her shoulder and broom by her side.  Anja had played on this stage before—this was where she had performed the Niels Gade piece a year earlier.  She closed her eyes and played the piece one more time after the cleaning lady had left.  When she was done, she turned the lights and closed the door behind her quietly.  The day’s work was done.

On the day of the recital, Anja’s uncle brought her to school.  No one mentioned the piece—it had been talked about enough already.  The recital hall was rapidly filled with students and their families.  Anja sat in the first row, with the other performers.  She looked at the program and saw she was to play just after intermission.  That was an important spot to be assigned, she realized.

The first half of the program seemed eternal; Anja struggled to listen to her colleagues perform, while her own piece lurked in the back of her mind.  She could not fully concentrate on the music played before her, nor could she fully rehearse her piece in her mind.  She settled for a rather mechanical studying of the program page, and she looked at each name on the list, wondering about the spelling of the composer’s name or about why the piece was titled such.  At intermission, while the rest of the audience stretched their legs, Anja sat in her seat thinking of her piece.  Finally she could get the meters accurate without interruption.

Eventually intermission ended, and the master of ceremonies reappeared and announced Anja’s name.  She stood onstage looking out across the darkened hall.  She tried to find her uncle or her grandmother at first, but after a moment, she changed her mind and fixed her attention on the edge of her violin.  The moving trills broke the silence.  The audience heard a musical story about birds of another continent; they heard a song of delicate but relentless energy that was channeled unpredictably yet sensibly from start to end.  When it ended, Anja bowed and took her seat.  The second half of the program remained for her to sit through.

A week after the recital, Anja received an envelope in the mail.  She opened it and read the letter that congratulated her.  She had won a scholarship for her performance.

Copyright © Anna Franco, 2013, 2014, 2015. [Archived from Objective Motifs, March 2013, with minor edits, revised again in 2014 and 2015]

Notes on Hummingbirds in Winter

by Anna Franco

My second book, Hummingbirds in Winter, was first released in November 2014, and the second edition was released this March (2015). A review of the book can be found at Anna Horner’s book blog, Diary of an Eccentric Bookworm:

The story is about a composer, Ben Solansky, who leaves Poland in 1938, with his wife and children, before Poland is invaded.  First they go to Denmark and settle in Ronne, on the island Bornholm. They move through different parts of Europe, as the Nazis take over. Eventually, Solansky tries to take his family out of Europe altogether.  His compositions are a source of strength to him, as he faces the challenges of finding a new home.

Title Why do I call the story Hummingbirds in Winter?  This is the name of one of Solansky’s songs. When I describe his song, as sung by his wife, I wrote: “Solansky’s song was no tribute to anything of springtime, but instead to a rare quality that lets fragile life survive a devastation.”    There is some symbolism here: I am abstracting some aspect of the hummingbird that makes it unusual and using it to illustrate a struggle for life.  The composer focuses on this artistically, in order to make his song more meaningful, and his son focuses on this to make his life more interesting.

Solansky’s Other Compositions Solansky’s compositions are often expressions of his life and aspirations.The first cello piece expressed his own uncertainty about his future.  What about the piece Pointed Flame?   Solansky was feeling frustrated at this point, and he started to sense that he did not have a permanent home.   Without a definite home, he needed to express something intense that would serve to remind him of how important his life is.  Pointed Flame did just this.  It is an abstraction of the quality of heat and energy, infused into the music and instruments of the piece. Some of his pieces are expressions of his support for the United States.  There are numerous “water battle” pieces which show Solansky’s dedication to the American war efforts.  He had an interest in the US winning the war, of course.

Romanticism in Music

Romanticism in Music by Anna Franco

[Revised from a post originally posted on Nov. 12, 2009 on a previous blog, Ledger Line Notes.]
I once said about Brahms that he portrays a certain sense of life: that life is neither trivial (as is sometimes expressed in Mozart’s music), nor impossible (as is sometimes expressed in Beethoven’s music). This is not to say that everything by Mozart expresses only triviality — or that everything by Beethoven expresses the impossibility of life; but I do detect a tendency towards those two poles in their music.
The essence of Romanticism is far more complex than just the unusual in music, although this is a factor in characterizing the style; a more full explanation is needed.  There are relationships between music (and art in general) and cognition. For more on this subject, including on music as an imitation of the cognitive process, see Ayn Rand’s The Romantic Manifesto.
I think that Romantic music is structured in such a way to also imitate the direct pursuit of values, without accepting structural conventions that interfere with this goal.  I think it does so through a variety of ways that can be observed in the music, including chromaticism and acceleration. The result is the unusual, just as following principles leads one to conclusions that might seem unusual in comparison to those of traditional rules. What might be unusual can actually sound “right” to me, if it follows a principle, though it may still be unexpected or rarely heard.
Further, I don’t think the essence of Romanticism is that it “breaks the rules”. In general, Romanticism does “break *with* the rules,” which is different, and still not necessarily its essence.  The atonalists broke with something as well: with the *principle* of tonality, and Serialists came up with their set of arbitrary rules.  The great Romanticists have a set of musical ideas of their own.  The essence of their style may depend more on what the Romanticist does accept rather than what he breaks with.
Some close relationship between reason or rationality, and the principle of tonality might be at the center of Romanticism, although earlier musical styles (such as Baroque music), adhere to the principle of tonality as well and also rely on rational compositional techniques.   Musicians’  reasoning about music must have progressed in some way. Perhaps this shows up in a degree of higher complexity in the material and again, some tie to pursuit of values, some goal-orientation that is expressed in the music through the tensions created by the intervals.
On the question of whether Beethoven is a Romantic: Beethoven retained a classical style, though he made changes.  His way of expressing things, I think, much closer to Mozart’s style than to those of Mendelssohn or Schubert.  If there were a transitional period, he could be at the center of it, but it still would not make him a Romanticist.  He inspired some Romanticists, and to be sure, they attribute much to him. Some musicians may want to claim Beethoven as a Romantic, but I am not convinced. Others want to claim that he had some important role in bringing the movement about. That is different, and there may be a case for that, but it should still be shown. In the meantime, to those concerned, I can only suggest that they listen to many different Romanticists and then to Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, and Clementi. The similarities between Beethoven and the latter three should be more pronounced then any similarities between Beethoven and Romanticists such as Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Brahms, Verdi, Schumann, or even with the earlier Romanticists such as Karl Maria von Weber.
Copyright © Anna Franco, 2009, 2015

Measure Our Advances, Not Our Footprints

This piece was revised from a post from May 2011 on an earlier (currently inactive) blog of mine, the earlier post itself was revised from an original version, written in February 2010.

Measure Our Advances, Not Our Footprints
by Anna Franco

We are continually told by the environmentalists and their supporters that we should measure our carbon emissions, cap our energy use, and limit our use of certain technologies for fear that we might cause destruction by raising the earth’s temperature by a degree or two. As people learn of the actual disasters faced on earth, they need to question these claims.

In the last several years, numerous earthquakes struck the world. The earthquake which brought such misery to Haiti was devastating, yet earthquakes are not new: they have been documented across history since ancient times. They are not set off by our footprints, carbon or actual, large or small.   An earthquake-tsunami pair that causes high death toll and damage is not caused by climate change, but by underground pressures.  The giant tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in 2004 was terrifying, yet a tsunami wave is no stranger to coastal cities; they have been documented across the globe. They are set off by earthquakes and are known for their destructive potential.

The actual disasters, which naturally happen over and over again, can kill hundreds to hundreds of thousands of people within a short period of time. These known dangers are the killers, not the hypothesized man-made global warming. The world needs to prepare itself for those disasters which can and will strike again. It needs to do that with energy-using technologies that have saved lives before and will continue to do so, as long as we do not stop relying on them.

Science has given us the means to prevent terrible destruction; technology has made it possible to create buildings that withstand the shocks of the earthquakes, and early warning systems which alert people of the oncoming earthquake. The world can either can follow the path of reason, science, and technology, which makes life possible and safer, or it can follow the road of environmentalism, a road of endless attacks against mankind and its use of energy. This road has nothing to offer Japan and Haiti, while reason, science, and technology have much to offer the world, now and in the future.

Copyright © Anna L. Franco, 2010, 2011, 2014

Support Oil Platforms, Not Environmentalist Platforms

This piece was revised from a piece originally written in August 2008 and posted on my earlier (currently inactive) blog (FinalCausation) in May 2011.

Support Oil Platforms, not Environmentalist Platforms

by Anna Franco

Environmentalism places the value of the Earth above man’s own life. The movement has harmed the oil industry’s productivity by convincing people that the selfish pursuit of earthly resources is morally wrong.  Selfishness is a human virtue, as explained by philosopher Ayn Rand. In her novel Atlas Shrugged, her character Ellis Wyatt was a dramatic hero whose brilliance was matched by the flame burning at his oil refinery. If that flame goes out, so does a good part of civilization.

Today, in the name of the environment, the flames of future oil refineries are at risk. These flames represent great efforts and achievements: the ability to take part of the Earth and create energy to improve all aspects of our lives. People should be proud of this ability because it allows them to go beyond their physical efforts at work and rely on their minds, giving them the energy, time, and wealth to live as humans, not as self-made slaves.

Fuel is vital to our happiness and to the functioning of this country. Three important sources of unrecovered oil in the US are: offshore, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the huge Green River Basin oil shale bed in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, which by itself, if recovered, could make the US a major supplier of shale oil.

Lifting drilling bans would be is a major step towards a freer energy economy; however, to resolve the longer term issue, Americans need to recognize and assert their moral right to use the earth for their own purposes. Safety procedures are always an important consideration, as they are in our own best interests, but environmentalism and the resulting legislation that puts the environment on a higher plane than our lives is itself a dangerous policy.

Copyright © Anna L. Franco, 2008, 2014.

At the Stossel Show on FOX Business

by Anna Franco

I was in the audience of a Stossel Show on FOX Business.  The show aired on Thursday, October 2, 2014, at 9PM:  It’s a Mean, Mean World?   John Stossel discussed the crime rates, gun laws, and even Hollywood celebrities. Here is a link to John Stossel’s related blog entry:

Here are two clips from the show, and I also updated this post with the full episode after the clips.  In the first clip, which really takes place towards the end of the program, John Stossel and guests on the show take questions from the audience.  I ask a question (around 1:02 seconds in the clip), and it was answered by John Lott.

Stossel: It’s a Mean, Mean World,

Stossel: It’s a Mean, Mean World:

(Updated post)

Stossel: It’s a Mean, Mean World?:

Notes on recent release: Courage With a Cure

Notes on Courage With a Cure, by Anna Franco

Courage With a Cure is my play, released in August 2014.  I started writing the play around the time that I was researching medical innovation for a talk that I gave in 2012.  The play is about a patient who needs medication that is not available in the US.


Courage With a Cure is about a woman, Ginnie Searlyse, who discovers that she has a neurological disorder that prevents her from playing the piano, typing, writing, or doing other things that use fine motor skills with her hands.  She has ataxia/dysmetria, a disorder that prevents her from accurately judging distance, which causes her to have trouble striking the right keys on a piano or keyboard.

Ginnie seeks medical help and is referred to a hospital in Taiwan, where she can be treated with a drug that is not available in the US.  Cerebesil (a made-up drug for the story) has a strange side effect.   As she progresses through her treatment, Ginnie learns that the side effect of this drug has attracted the attention of some who are neither doctors nor their patients.

Is Ginnie affected by the side effect?

Unity of Purpose

This play does not uphold the unity of time and space, although it does have an integrated plot idea.  It takes place over several months and spans two continents.  This was necessary for the plot, as the main character is being treated with medication over this time period, and the medicine is only available on the other side of the world.  I had to show Ginnie over several months, and I had to have her travel from the US to Taiwan for the treatment to happen.

I was not bothered by this fact about the play; it still remained logical.  Unity of time and place are classical ideas in drama.  One of my favorite plays, Cyrano de Bergerac by Rostand also does not hold to the unity of time and place.  Cyrano travels to the Spanish border, and the play concludes many years later, after the main action has taken place.  Still, the play upholds a integrated purpose and plot.

I tried to uphold an integrated purpose in the plot and action of Courage With a Cure, as the main action centered around Ginnie getting her medicine, despite whatever obstacles come her way.


Two of the biggest challenges I faced when writing Courage With a Cure were (1) having the doctor and the biochemist explain the drug’s side effect, and (2) working through a scene with bad guys.

Challenge #1.  Explaining the side effect of the drug was difficult because the human mind is complex.   I did not want the message to be that the drug can substitute for character, or that virtue comes in a pill, but I did want the effect of the drug to be significant in the plot and in the character’s lives.  I also wanted to show a separation between reason and emotion.  To bring these theoretical ideas into a plot was challenging.

There were so many opportunities for the characters to misunderstand or misinterpret the side effects, and in fact, that is what I was counting on with the criminal characters.  Even the good characters had valid concerns and questions. Ginnie understandably worries that the side effect of the drug, with its behavior altering ability, could defeat the overall purpose of the drug, which is to give her more control over her fingers’ actions.  Mr. Isaki questions whether the drug makes a person more moral, or whether it just effects their emotional experience.

Although I think the length of the play was appropriate for that story, I realize that the drug’s side effect could be explored in far more depth (perhaps this is the basis for a sequel).

Challenge #2.  Creating evil characters is a challenge, at least it is for me.  There is a tendency on my part to distance myself from them, yet I do not want them to be cardboard characters.  In Courage With a Cure, the two criminal characters do not even have names, apart from Man #1 and Man #2.  This is not unique to the bad guys, though; even the guards have names Guard #1, 2 and 3.  Still, it is a sign that I could not consider the villains beyond their necessary place in the plot.   I do show that as criminals, they are also cowards, aptly so in a book about courage.  They are short-range characters with no appreciation for the independent human mind, unlike the heroes of the play, the doctors, biochemist, and some of the patients.


Courage With a Cure was not initially meant to be humorous.  In fact, it covers very serious subjects (illness, crime).  For the most part, the play is serious, but elements of humor do crop up,   Still, the fact that people are trying so hard to get on with their lives, despite their medical condition, shows that the subject truly is serious (although this is not incompatible with the humorous elements).


Courage With a Cure is available on and CreateSpace e-store.

Light Motifs: August 2014

August 2014: News & Announcements

Just released: 

Announcing my new play:  Courage With a Cure:  A Play in Three Acts by Anna Franco

Courage With a Cure is a play that is being self-published using CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.  It is available on the CreateSpace e-store, and will soon be available on

[Update: (August 12, 2014) On  Courage With a Cure

Ginnie Searlyse develops a neurological disorder that affects her fine motor skills, and the best known cure is not available in the United States.  She travels to Taiwan with her family to receive the treatment.  The medicine has unusual side effects, and others besides doctors and their patients have an interest in it.

Soon to be Released:  Hummingbirds in Winter by Anna Franco

Boston Tea Party Opera Premiere at Fringe Festival, NYC August 2014

[Disclosure:  I know the composer personally, and I received a free ticket to this event].

The Boston Tea Party Opera will premiere in NYC at the Fringe Festival, with shows on August 9, 13, 16, 18, 22. The Boston Tea Party Opera (BTPO) by M. Zachary Johnson is an operatic musical, with songs depicting American colonists during the events leading up to the Revolutionary War.  The BTPO plot shows the conflict between two lands: one is a monarchy, bent on rule by force, while the other seeks independence and liberty from the first.