er rat er from paul

Arid Heat from Memories of Corsica

This from Cincinnati composer, Rick Sowash:

Hello —

Have you ever thirsted beyond the edge of agony?  I have, once.

Could such an experience be expressed musically?

Could music capture the accompanying elements:  the silence, the stillness, the heat?

Seemingly not.

Silence?  By definition, music must be audible.  It can be very soft, sure.  There can be brief rests between notes, phrases, movements.  But silent?  No.

Stillness?  By definition, music must move.  We are quickly bored by a changeless chord.

Heat?  By definition, music reaches us through our ears, unaffected by Fahrenheit or the frequency of fluid intake.

Yet these were precisely what I wanted to express in the first movement of my Trio #3 for violin, clarinet and piano, “Memories of Corsica.”

You see, the Verdehr Trio, performers world-wide, had asked me write a piece, suggesting that I seek inspiration from exotic places I have visited.

Exotic?  Corsica!  The scrubby landscape, the sleepy stone villages, the crumbling watchtowers scanning the azure Mediterranean, the pristine beaches, the chestnut forests, the strong wines and cheeses, the spicy salads topped with eggs fried in olive oil, larded with the bacon of wild boars.

I remembered the intense, dry heat and my desperate thirst when, foolhardy, I hiked out from Corté, the capital city, into the wild, with a half-bottle of water.  I knew better, but Corsica is a strange, timeless, enchanting place; Corsican bandits were legendary; it’s a place where the banditry of one’s usual good sense is a possibility.

My water gone, I ought to have turned back.  But the landscape was thrilling and mysterious, like the Sonoran deserts of Arizona; my curiosity drew me around the bend, around the next, then the next.

Suddenly I felt unwell.  A dizzy, ringing head.  A sandy, swollen tongue.  I turned around.  There was Corté, further off than I expected.  I started back but my knees weakened.  I had to sit down.

I was tiny and vulnerable, a speck of humanity, very hot and very dry, my fundament plumped on one small rock amid ranges of jagged mountains, sawtoothed against a depthless sky.

Nature?  Beautiful, harsh … and indifferent.  Our predicaments concern her not.

Abandon me there for a few minutes, seated on a hot rock in the sun-baked Corsican wilderness, while you listen to the Verdehr Trio performing the first movement of my Memories of Corsica, subtitled “Arid Heat.”

Be warned:  the music begins VERY quietly.  If your hearing, like mine, is fading, you may not hear any music for several seconds.  Be patient.  The violin and clarinet are melting in and out of one another, quietly intoning a middle C, back and forth between them.  That’s the ceaseless heat of the sun.  Then you’ll hear the pianist playing, in both hands, two octaves apart, a hollow, desolate melody, slow but rising and falling in sharp jerks.  That’s the zig-zagged outline of the moveless mountains.  The ideas intertwine ….

Click here to hear the pianist.

To see a PDF of the score, click here.

I’d love to know what you think about this music; reply if you’re inclined.  But please don’t feel that you are expected to reply.  I’m just glad you let me share my work in this way.

As always, feel free to forward this message to friends who might enjoy it.

Anyone can be on my little list of recipients for these mpFrees (as I call these musical emails).  To sign up, people should email me at, sending just one word:  “Yes.”   I’ll know what it means.   To unsubscribe, reply “unsubscribe.”

Rick Sowash
Cincinnati, OH
August 21, 2016




Junior Engineers

If I were to try to build a robot that could walk, or roll, around a room, avoiding objects, I might start with some type of model car chassis. I would need some electric motors, probably, or just one. Then I would have to make some type of sensor system, perhaps some tactile ones: plungers hooked up to electric switches from Radio Shack, or more ambitiously, a diode or viewing system  — a camera that would require a program, a computer and software, to recognize shapes and respond appropriately.

There would be a “master” program that would react to the events generated by the sensing system(s). Some kind of logic to control speed and direction — turning angles. The master program would have to “know” how to get out of a corner, or what to do when running into an object. Maybe backup, turn right 45 degrees and try again.

And how fast to go so it didn’t destroy itself.

If it was desired for this robot to be able to do anything useful, beyond reacting to things, it would be necessary to program for this, also. And perhaps attach useful machinery. For example, there already are vacuum machine robots that move around the living room carpet, cleaning as they go.

After some time the robot, if it were ever completed successfully, would break down, run out of batteries, or a part would break off, or it would fall down a staircase, or run into some horrible demise, unforeseen by its creator: thrown by a child, chewed by a dog, stepped on by a guest? And eventually it would be forgotten.

How different are living creations. 

There are more examples than I can cite, but one will suffice to make a point. The Paramecium (

This is a microscopic, water-born, lozenge-shaped animal that motors around using cilia (hairs) attached to its elastic outer shell. The cilia act in an oar-like fashion, with a brisk forward “stroke”, and a gentle recovery backstroke to get ready for the next stroke. The numerous cilia “oars” work together in a wavelike fashion.

A Paramecium, when it runs into something, backs up, reversing the direction of its stroke. Then it retries the passage. It continues this attempt/retry until the object is passed. In the water things move around a lot, so apparently this strategy, encoded in its DNA, works well. 

A Paramecium has other smaller sets of cilia which sweep bacteria food into its mouth. It has a digestive system which uses enzymes that turn the bacteria into energy to keep it alive and moving. The food waste is propelled out the anal cavity. It has a system to regulate water intake and outflow, also. Apparently, merely by eating what it eats and being eaten by its predator, Didinium, Paramecium fulfills an important role in the food chain that helps keep life rolling along.

All of this, so far, represents a light-years advance on the robot I was considering building — and all in a package of 50 to 330 micrometers in length — much smaller than I am capable of bread-boarding.

But there is more. The Paramecium can reproduce itself in two ways: either on its own, spontaneously splitting into two; or by combining with another Paramecium of a similar type.

Needless to say, our human-designed machines are not programmed to reproduce and thus create a new generation of themselves. Cars, washing-machines, smart-phones. No. Fortunately.

Let all of us humans who build things, or use things other humans build, and think we live in an enlightened age of technological wonder, just take a step back and literally apologize in all humility to the Supreme Creator of Nature, the Master Engineer.

We should continue to study life, like the protozoologists Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and Christian Huygens did in the 17th century, when they discovered the Paramecium.

We’re not so smart.


Daily I walk my son’s dog, Remy, to the Little Miami River near me. It’s a past-time, a respite from her cage for Remy, and a bit of exercise for my arthritic knee.

It is always refreshing, and I realize, always new in some way. Gradually the weather has warmed up, and the once barren, cold (and frequently muddy) patches along the trail have become green. Buttercups erupted first. Now grass and weeds have grown up and the trail has nearly closed off with growth.

The river itself has varied from a brown torrent that came up over part of the path at one point, to a dry puddle in one of the forks. There was a tire stuck on an island one day. A few days later the rising waters buried it, or swept it away.

As I looked into the river one day I realized that I was looking at a concrete representation of an abstract idea: “change”. A river is change happening right in front of your eyes. At any given moment, it seems to be a constant, and in fact, when you reflect on a particular river, the Mississippi, the Little Miami, the Amazon, it is something that’s been around for a long, long time — longer than any one of us in fact. Yet, daily, it changes. In less than a day, it can change. Once dry, rocky channels become filled with fast-flowing, roiling, muddy water. Days later, a vibrant channel becomes a pond as that particular channel drops its level to  a point that it no longer flows back to the main stream. It becomes stagnant, putrid, fishy-smelling. Then just a rocky place again.

But the main stream itself flows constantly — before I and Remy arrive, and after we have left — all night carrying water from points north to the Ohio River, then to the Mississippi, then to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is a process. It is entropy in motion, water seeking a lower level.

And as the water moves, it carries bits of debris, natural and man-made. Concrete blocks somehow, apparently very slowly, roll downstream. Tires, clothes, water bottles, plastic strips. Some get deposited in trees that sprout up in the higher boundaries of the river. And they stay there. Tree limbs and snakes get washed downstream.

The stuff that sails past, animals and trash, that is just temporary — unless you are an animal or a canoeist or a piece of trash, or a bug on a floating limb — flotsam and jetsam.

But to behold change in action — that is a wonderful thing. In our lives, with our friends and loved ones, we are often so close that we don’t realize the changes of the rivers of our lives as they are happening. It’s only when we can’t visit for a long time, and then we renew an old friendship, or see someone after a long time that we can appreciate what time has wrought.

If we could only see the waters of our lives moving, right in front of our faces, how riveting and blessed — and perhaps scary — would that feel.

This Blog

This will be a place where I write some thoughts. My first will be about rivers. 

I searched for essays on rivers. I’ve been spending weekdays walking my son’s dog down by the Little Miami River, and have noticed how each day the river is somewhat different, somewhat the same.

When I have some more energy (it’s late now) I plan to talk about rivers — I suppose, generalizing somewhat from this recent experience.

So thanks WordPress developers for making it so easy to do a blog. I hope to be able to say something that someone can resonate to/with — with which someone can resonate. 🙂