Also: A question from China about the U.S. Congress. And music from Regina Spektor’s latest album.
Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. Today, we answer a listener question from China about American lawmakers...
And we play music from singer Regina Spektor's latest album...
But first, we visit the national air guitar championship competition in Washington, D.C.
Anyone can try to play the guitar. But it takes a special talent to play an invisible guitar. To play "air guitar" you move to the music as if you are playing an imaginary guitar, maybe like a famous rock musician. Believe it or not, air guitar has become a competitive sport. We attended this year's United States Air Guitar Championships in Washington, D.C., to learn more about this unusual activity. Mario Ritter has more.
JUDGE: "Like the song, like your attitude, spirit, costume, crowd response, five point seven!"
Last week, 25 of the top winners from cities across the country gathered for this year's United States Air Guitar Championships.
Each performer had 60 seconds to perform his or her song. Many of the performers wore funny clothing and wore their hair in unusual styles. They made up names to go with their air guitar characters.
Three judges rated each performance based on technical skill, stage presence, and "airness." Event organizers define "airness" as the ability of a performer to go beyond playing an imaginary guitar to create a new art form. The whole event was very loud and very funny. Everyone pretended to take the event very seriously, which made it even funnier.
The United States Air Guitar Association organizes the event. It says the aim is to bring air guitarists out of the house where they secretly perform and onto the world's stage.
We asked competitor Chuck Mung from Portland, Oregon why he thinks air guitar is so popular.
CHUCK MUNG: "Air Guitar is the embodiment of the music that you hear, and so when you hear a rock song that really grabs you, just those steel hooks in your rib cage, you start miming it out. Basically, it's like lip synching with a guitar."
Lance "The Shred" Kasten from Washington, D.C., made it to the final round of competition.
THE SHRED: "It's a passion for the sport, it's like, you know, you can be that rock god for a minute, you know, without playing anything. And you know, I don't know, it's exhilarating."
This year's national champion is Andrew "William Ocean" Litz from New York City. He will now travel to Oulu, Finland for the Air Guitar World Championships starting August 19th.
Our listener question this week comes from China. Zhao Ya wants to know the difference between the United States House of Representatives and the Senate.
The United States Congress is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Congress is the legislative branch of government. It is responsible for creating, debating and changing laws in the United States. Both the House and the Senate must approve a bill in order for it to become law.
The House of Representatives has 435 members elected by voters in congressional districts. The representatives are divided among the 50 states based on population size. States with more people have more representatives than states with smaller populations.
California has the largest number of representatives - 53. Six states have only one representative. The House of Representatives also has six non-voting members. They represent the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and five United States territories.
Members of the House are elected every two years. They must be at least 25 years old, an American citizen for at least seven years and live in the state they represent.
While representation in the House is based on population size, all states are equally represented in the Senate. There are 100 members of the Senate, two for each state. Senators are elected every six years by voters in the states. They must be at least 30 years old, be American citizens for at least nine years, and live in the state they represent.
Each house of Congress has several special powers. Only the House of Representatives can introduce bills that deal with taxes or spending. The House can also remove federal officials from office. And it can elect the president in the case of an equal number of votes in the electoral college.
The Senate approves or disapproves treaties. It also confirms or rejects presidential nominations for positions like Supreme Court justices and ambassadors.
Thousands of bills are introduced in Congress every year. Only a small number of them are signed into law. After a bill is introduced in Congress, it is then sent to a committee for review. If the committee votes to approve the bill it is sent to the House and Senate for further debate and votes. Only after both the House and Senate have reached an agreement on a bill can it be presented to the president for his final approval.
Regina Spektor is known for her playful voice, fine piano playing and unusual songs. The 29-year-old performer became very popular after her album "Begin to Hope" was released in 2006. Her latest album, "Far," is filled with creative songs that talk about love, God, and the environment. Critics say it is her most musically expansive album yet. Shirley Griffith has more.
That was the song "Folding Chair." Like many of Regina Spektor's songs, it tells a story filled with unusual details and sounds. Spektor worked with four different top producers to make this album. She has said that she will not be making a record every six months, so she might as well work with as many experts as she can.
Here is the song "Laughing With." It tells about different reasons people turn to God. Regina Spektor says she has always been interested in faith and religion and she is always thinking about them in different ways.
Regina Spektor was born in Russia and moved to the United States with her family when she was nine years old. She studied classical piano and later became interested in singing and songwriting.
She borrowed sound recordings from a musical project by the singer David Byrne to make one song on her new album. She says the drum beats sound like robots walking in the snow. We leave you with "Machine" from the album "Far."
I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program.
It was written by June Simms and Dana Demange, who was also our producer. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, go to voaspecialenglish.com. You can also comment on our programs and send us questions.
Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.