The Glaucoma Hymn may well be the most prominent but is assuredly not the sole curiosity to be found at The Association of International Glaucoma Societies (AIGS) web site. It may not even be the most disturbing.
An Aside: I believe that I have amassed an extensive, if asymmetric, aggregation of life experiences. As a physician and administrator involved in the healthcare biz for 25 years, for example, I like to think I know something about diseases, doctors, and medical organizations. As one raised in a fundamentalist church, the creed of which could be condensed to “Everybody else is going to hell, & we’re OK with that,” I’ve heard and sung hundreds of hymns. As a exquisitely distractible, internet-empowered aficionado of weirdness, I’ve clicked my way through more than my share of offbeat web sites. Despite all that, I am certain that have never entertained thoughts that approximated whatsoever the opening lines of this posting, let alone scribbled a similar sequence of words – and never will again.
I first read about the Glaucoma Hymn at the wonderful wonderful Boing Boing blog. My interest piqued by the notion of a hymn about a disease, I checked out the web site that is home to this phenomenon. To any planning a similar visit, be warned that a browser landing on the AIGS site immediately launches, without warning, a particularly unabashed rendition of the Hymn which apparently continues in perpetuity or until one finds either the cure for glaucoma or the camouflaged online media player (hint: the player’s on-off switch is located in lower left corner; you’re on your own with the glaucoma cure). [Update: Inexplicably, the AIGS site no longer features the Glaucoma Hymn. Consequently, a media player with this song installed has been added to this post, just below the lyrics that follow.] The lyrics are helpfully displayed on the web site:
Glaucoma, Glaucoma, Glaucoma
Constricting vision slowly
Halted by progress of science
Vision of a world united
Beyond all science knowing
The Glaucoma Hymn
Catchy, eh? In addition to the lyrics, the site also lists the hymn’s composer, arranger, and producer, as well as the performing soprano, Melanie Greve. Ms Greve’s talents include a capacity for amplification, an invulnerability to embarrassment, and, most impressively, a positively (Bob) Dylanesque ability to generate, de novo, a syllable or two required by the metrics of the score but not provided by the lyrics or, conversely, to cram 10 gallons of lyrics into a 5 gallon music bucket.
The Glaucoma Hymn was written for and performed at the June 2005 Imperial Viennese Glaucoma Ball. I don’t see a way to make that any funnier.
While I urge readers to listen the song broadcast in situ, I suspect one can at least discern the tenor (or, in this case, the soprano) of the ditty from the lyrics. In any case, the one and only Glaucoma Hymn is available for download (even the “download it here” instruction has a exclamation point – this is a web site with a sense of drama.).
To my untrained ear, the Glaucoma Hymn does not sound as though it fits in the same classification as any hymn familiar to me; it sounds, in fact, like Mock Opera, but what do I know? Had I been assigned to write a musical panegyric to glaucoma, my first inclination (well, my first inclination after “fake a seizure ” to get out of the job) would have been to rework the promising refrain of “Oklahoma,” i.e., “You’re looking fine, Oklahoma,” into something like “You’ll be seeing fine, once we cure Glaucoma.” Hey, listen to the original again and then try to tell me the inestimable Ms Greve couldn’t pull that off.
Another Aside: “Oklahoma,” by the proverbial bye, is the State Song of Oklahoma, the State Flower of which is, tellingly, the mistletoe – a parasite. Neither of these legislatively decreed designations is even tangentially connected to the Glaucoma Hymn, but I’ve been determined to use these factoids somewhere ever since I learned them in a mandatory Oklahoma History class I took because I was an eighth grader the one year my family lived in Tulsa.
While the glaucoma specialists (glaucomatologists?) are the first on the medical block, at least to my knowledge, to memorialize the grandeur that is medical research in a musical score, no masterpiece exists in a vacuum. The Glaucoma Hymn clearly benefited from earlier, non-disease songs with an ocular focus, such as “Angel Eyes” and “I Only Have Eyes For You,” and even some symptom-focused lyrics, including “My Eyes Burn” and Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without A Face” (although I suppose the latter is more a plastic surgery sort of thing). I admit it seems unlikely that when Kim Carnes sang, “She’s got Bette Davis eyes” she had organ transplants in mind, but … . This is not unique to ophthalmology. There are, for example, dermatology-oriented songs aplenty. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” for example, is on point as is The Temptations’ “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” (although, once again, this may lean more toward cosmetic surgery). As for psychiatry, well, shrinks don’t have a happy track record (get it – track record? Tracks? Music? I crack myself up), what with “They’re Coming To Take Me Away” and its ilk. Patsy Cline’ singing “Crazy,” while heartrending as all get-out, just doesn’t evoke the pride and inspiration one would expect from a disease hymn. And what can you do with “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time?” In desperation, I ran internet searches coupling “lyrics” with such everyday psychoanalytic terms as “internalized parental imagoes,” “primary narcissism,” and “pre-ambivalent object” without finding a single hit song. I briefly thought I had something with an old Johnny Drummer blues song I’ve always liked, that begins “I Want To Get In Your Head,” before I recalled the full title is “I Want To Get In Your Head, Before I Get In Your Bed,” the implications of which could be messy.
More ominously, the Glaucoma Hymn poses a catastrophic threat. Consider the plight of my medical school chum, now the Duke of Derm, who is also involved in medical research but, unaccountably, has not a hymn to hum — unless one counts “I’ve Got Warts In Low Places,” a jingle composed by one of his residents. If unchallenged, the incalculable morale boost the Glaucoma Hymn provides your typical International Society-joining, Glaucoma-researching Doc could lead to discontent and mutiny among his own dermatology researchers, who are, as previously noted, sans song. Worse, this siren song might cause patients, once perfectly content with, say, a straightforward, unadorned blistering skin disorder to demand an anthem for that syndrome, lest they and their children be ridiculed by their friends and neighbors fortunate enough to be afflicted with glaucoma, which, after all, has its own damn song. One can imagine what would follow. Derm, the other specialties, and primary care medicine are forced into a hymns race. Song-writers become hot commodities as the competition becomes heated. Residents are no longer interviewed but compete in karaoke contests. Production values of the songs become increasingly more ornate with full orchestration and cutting edge electronic enhancements. Healthcare research grant requests routinely include a spreadsheet for media creation. Regularly scheduled doctor visits open and close with the clinic’s theme song. Soon, more contemporary and aggressive styles prevail over classical, mutually respectful formats. Trash-talking between the creative teams aligned with various specialties escalates as does tension. It’s only a matter of time until the dermatology-sponsored gangster-rap artist and his posse clash with the retro heavy metal band fronting for the plastic surgeons, shots are fired, and battles on the street ensue.
The AIGS web site, however, is not a One-Hymn Wonder. Its strangeness has depth.
I, for one, have a difficult time comprehending the purpose of the organization itself. Are there so many International Glaucoma Societies that a meta-guild is necessary lest chaos rule? Or are there renegade International Glaucoma Societies that would run amuck without the intervention of the peacekeeping forces of the Association? Or is it possible that the Association itself is yet another incarnation of the Evil Empire, dedicating to eradicating independent rebel forces to acquire absolute power for itself?
Just for Google-grins, I ran a wild-card search for “association of international * societies” and found, in addition to the glaucoma folks, only a few analogously named groups:
- The Association of International Marathon Societies
- The Association of International Mission Societies
- The Association of International Classification Societies, which was previously known as the International Association of Classification Societies (I couldn’t make this stuff up)
- The Association of International Friendship Societies
- The Association of International Sport Societies
- The Association of Student International Law Societies
Admit it; if you had to guess the one organization from this list of “Associations of International X Societies” that had commissioned its own Hymn, wouldn’t the Association of International Glaucoma Societies be your last choice? And if you had to guess which one organization on this list was a fake, wouldn’t AIGS be your #1 response?
Nor is the AIGS resting on its laurels as “The Only Association Of International Whatever Societies With A Hymn.” Looking closely at the media player in the lower left corner of the web site, one discovers that the Glaucoma Hymn is supplemented by Callas singing from Figaro, a rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne, and, my personal favorite, Elvis Presley musically warning his woman about the dangers of Suspicious Minds, which, come to think of it, sounds as though it has more to do with psychiatry than glaucoma.
And there’s still more. Clicking on a gallery of photos from the Imperial Viennese Glaucoma Ball opens up a second media player, this one featuring Beethoven’s Ode To Joyand Strauss’s Blue Danube. I don’t want to sound petty, but, c’mon, doesn’t Ode To Joy paired with Blue Danube call to mind Bipolar Disorder rather than Glaucoma?
I can only come up with two possible explanations (that don’t involve alien interventions) for the images on the AIGS site:
- There is an extraordinarily sophisticated and subtle marketing strategy at work
- Somebody on the AIGS web site technical staff had just discovered the wonders of Macromedia flash animations
The on-off controls of the media player, for example, are graphically represented by two surgical tools. It’s been a couple of decades since I was in an operating room (at least, awake and standing upright), but the top implement looks suspiciously like bandage scissors while the lower one could be an ocular clamp. Regardless of how closely integrated these tools may be with Glaucoma surgery, using them as buttons for the media player seems a stretch.
There is also a graphic of an eye that, when clicked with the mouse, blinks (the same movement that used to impress my Aunt Hazel when she saw it on a billboard advertisement in the 60′s). Searching might turn up more examples, but you get the idea.
Keep in mind that I actually like gimmicks, gizmos, and whirligigs. When a friend rhetorically asked me what I thought I would do with all the “bells and whistle,” my first thought was that if I could scrounge up some wood blocks, a tambourine, and a triangle, I could set up a dandy 1st-3rd Grade Rhythm Band.
So, I’m not objecting to the technology; I’m just not picking up on the goals here.
For the piece de resistance, I offer The Glaucoma Guys. In the top left corner of the web site, various heads (different ethnic groups, all male except one of ambiguous gender, all old enough to know better) move up and down.
At any given time, 0, 1, 2, or 3 heads are completely or partially visible only to eventually disappear when they sink below the top margin.
Why? When the heads pop into view, are they looking at the viewer? Is this an adult version of Peek-A-Boo? Are the ones who appear together buddies? Are the ones peering over the top standing on the shoulders of the others? A more disconcerting question is — what are they doing when they bob below, out of sight? Isn’t it a tad worrisome that some of them look pretty blissful about whatever is going on? And what the heck does this have to do with Glaucoma Research?
The AIGS site does, however, have one message that is unmistakably and immediately apparent, and that, grasshopper, is our moral for today:
Deal With It
Update: Play It Again, Sam: Another Look At The Glaucoma Hymn Site